On my first weekend, I had the incredible opportunity to join my host on a trip to his spring cabin. Most families own 2-3 cabins out on the land, usually tailored for different seasons and a variance of wildlife. The cabins or tents are built by hand and all the necessary construction materials are brought by skidoo or 4-wheeler, sometimes over trails 100km long. Moreover, camps usually aggregate a number of families and friends, which makes the experience very social. In the present case, the cabin is located close to a number of lakes, renowned for iqalukpik (arctic char).
We leave on Friday evening. Just prior to leaving, Tommy, my local collaborator, offers me one of his ski-doo. I accept despite not (never?) having riden of one these machines. I start hesitantly but the mechanism is quite straight forward: throttle and break… The day is glorious and I feel an urge to scream to the top of my lungs. The fresh breeze and the blazing sun help overcome my initial fears of driving on the slushy river. Unfortunately, about 10min in, my engine shuts off. No problem, my host invites me on the back of his qamutik, the traditional Inuit sled which almost everyone owns. We leave the ski-doo idle on the river. Clearly, a huge downgrade on my part but I try to clear my mind and enjoy the view. On the far horizon, I catch a sight of the open waters of Hudson’s Bay.
After a wet and bumpy ride of roughly an hour, we arrive to the camp. Some families are already installed and kids are running around. I opt for a short walk to the top of the hill to admire the sunset while also searching for goose eggs. I fail to find any of the prized eggs but the colourful sky more than makes up for it. If it weren’t for a threatening falcon (maybe his nest is near?), I could truly enjoy the view peacefully. Nevertheless, I am left breathless by the setting. All of a sudden, it hits me. Away from the hustle and bustle of town, I realize where I am and what it took to get here. Just over a year ago, I was still working for Bombardier in a downtown office. The contrast could not get any starker. When I get back to the camp, we start a huge fire and a guitar player sings in inuktitut.
In June, Nunavimmiut are still ice fishing.
From noon to 8pm on the following day, we fish, moving from lake to lake. Unfortunately, we fail to catch any fish. The brother of my host tells me that he’s been coming here for over 5 years and never caught anything: “I come here for my wife”, he explains. I laugh while secretly hoping to break the curse (I did catch a fish a few days later!). We meet with a family that caught a number of iqalukpik. One of them is cut in raw pieces on the snow; they invite me to try it. Once back at the camp, without any catch, I’m expecting a meagre dinner. To my surprise, we hold a true feast with delicious caribou, vegetables, and other northern delicacies. We close the day with another cozy fire. We even get a glimpse of aqsarniit (northern lights) dancing over our heads.
According to Elders, aqsarniit represent the spirits of those who passed away. The spirits will chop off your head if you don’t wear a hat. On the other hand, if you whistle, they will get closer and more colourful…