September 02, 2009


Monday morning, Kitchen Table, August 31

Like I mentioned, last night I went to Louis’ for dinner…ham that could melt in your mouth, lamb cooked to perfection, baked potato with Italian seasoning, baked tomato with a crumble topping, homemade Yorkshire pudding with gravy, fresh sugar pie infused with pure almond extract and a smothering of cream. I’m going to weigh a ton if I keep going there!

However, there was a struggle going on with the moral code of the whole thing. I had gone to the Lodge early to get some internet use in (NB: pics on picasa now…don’t know how clear they are…had to take down the pixel count), and I met an Inuk named Lasaloosie. This man, who speaks no English, has so many stories to share. And so many lessons to teach. At 61, I’ve never seen someone look so young.

You can sense Lasaloosie before you can see him if you’re sitting around the corner. Yesterday he had spent the whole day out on the land with a group of troubled teens showing them how to call, catch, and kill a seal. Did any of you actually know you can call a seal by wading into the water and scraping a stick on the rocks? It works…he showed me the video! Anyway, after he was done with the seal, he has pictures of a woman from the village scraping the skins with her ulu (traditional blade). With his super high-tech digital camera, he showed me videos and pictures he had just taken close to where the Pangnirtung Fjord meets the Cumberland Sound.

His smile and laugh is like none I’ve ever experienced…you can’t help but catch the joy in his spirit. When he begins to speak, however, there is an element of sadness; he mourns the loss of his traditional way of life. Yes, he uses a digital camera, snow mobile, and the occasional rifle, but he still builds his own igloo, runs a dog team, and works mainly with a harpoon. He uses a kudluk not as a symbolic sign at the beginning of a conference in Iqaluit, but for warmth in an igloo using seal oil as opposed to that of the Crisco vegetable variety. He is a guide of a dying way of life…how can I say it in any other way? Whoever originally wrote those words most closely felt what I’m feeling.

This man, who had so much to share, eventually got up and left me sitting there with my computer, iPod, all my fancy insulated MEC clothing, and the surety that something was inherently wrong with so much of the southern way. Somewhere in my head I know that’s not true – that it’s just different – but it still made me feel like a bit of a fraud.

About a half hour later, Lasaloosie reappeared with a creased 8 ½ X 11 envelope which held a part of his life. Pictures of his family in the 50s and 60s, him carrying a caribou on his shoulders back from the land about 2-3 days after he had killed it, pictures of him with French (from France) politicians who were more interested in the northern way of life than the Canadian government itself, laminated Certificates of Achievement (which, of course, he couldn’t read but was proud of nonetheless), a long French article, and a lengthy published interview sharing bits of his life. Amazing.

He no longer takes groups of tourists out on the land because he feels it’s not his place to showcase his culture; he feels it’s his place to share and teach his culture to those who have never had to depend on it. He prefers to work with the teens of Pang to give them an idea of where they come from. He tells stories of when the ice floe carrying him, his father, and their dog team broke off and drifted out to sea in the fog leaving them to wait and pray to Sedna that they would somehow be returned, killing a caribou and carrying it for days on his back, seasonal moves alternating from skin tents to igloos and back again…and the argument with his wife that he eventually lost: the one which had them accept the government’s offer to move to the new hamlet, Pangnuktuq, which had been created in the fjord.

Back to Louis’…

For that wonderful ham, lamb, potato, tomato, Yorkshire pudding, gravy, pie, and cream, what had I done other than pass over a few bucks? How did I really deserve it? I read somewhere that, in Inuit culture, catching something from the sea or land is not something which should be celebrated to the degree we celebrate in the south with hunting lodges and trophies…it’s a time to give thanks to the animal for giving its life so you could survive. I need to remember that the next time I bite into a gourmet meal…what have I really done to deserve it?

…just a thought…

1 comment:

chris said...

Tara that entry was so touching.We have so much to learn from the elders. How fortunate that you had the gift of meeting a "teacher" so soon.

The visual of you and the dogs and the stove smoke cracked me up sides still hurt!