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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


July 12, 2003 - Issue 91


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It's harvest time in Iqaluit

by Kirsten Murphy - Nunatsiaq News

credits: (All photos by Kirsten Murphy)

photo 1: Caribou graze in an area north of Upper Base in Iqaluit.;
photo 2: Kakee Joamie carries about 70 kilograms of caribou meat back to the truck.;
photo 3: Norman Nowdluk and Joamie skin and cut the animal in less than an hour.


Caribou hunting on foot is hard but rewarding work

Caribou graze in an area north of Upper Base in Iqaluit.The hunt begins when three caribou appear at close range.

Kakee Joamie studies the animals through his rifle-scope. He lowers the gun and tells the group to move on.

"They're too small," Joamie says in Inuktitut, then in English.

The group - Joamie, Norman Nowdluk, Etuk Koomarjuk, Ning Davidee and Kerry McCluskey - start walking. Although they don't know it now, the friends will return to the Upper Base parking lot six hours later and one caribou richer.

Joamie, 29, is one of many full-time Inuit hunters in Iqaluit. He, like his father John Kilabuk before him, feeds his family and friends with meat harvested from the land and the sea.

Joamie occasionally picks up part-time work - his most recent job reading Inuktitut weather broadcasts for the Canadian Coast Guard.

Kakee Joamie carries about 70 kilograms of caribou meat back to the truck.Not only is Joamie a proficient hunter, but he's also becoming a legendary one. Earlier this month, he shot five caribou with four bullets. One killed two animals because of the way the caribou were positioned.

"I've done it before with ptarmigan, but never with caribou," Joamie says.

The gang spreads out across the tundra. People without rubber boots avoid swampy areas by staying on rocky hillsides. An hour into the hunt, Joamie and Koomarjuk leave the group to get more ammunition.

The people left behind set up camp. They gather armfuls of quijuktaaq, or heather. The dry plant is stuffed into a stone oven. The foliage quickly ignites, heating a half-chicken, lamb sausages, and a kettle of water.

Joamie and Koomarjuk return in time to finish the left-overs and swallow mugs of tea.

The walk continues, up and down and over rolling hills for two hours. There's plenty of wind and sun but no caribou.

Finally, five of the sought-after animals are spotted on the horizon. The group drops to their knees. Joamie fires a shot and a caribou collapses like a folding chair.

He knows the animal is dead before it hits the ground.

"I saw the back of his head explode," Joamie says later.

Koomarjuk and Davidee take the rifle from Joamie and disappear down a hillside. They will return an hour later, smiling but empty handed.

Joamie and Nowdluk stay behind and skin the caribou.

Using a knife, Nowdluk traces the outline of the caribou from the head to the tailbone and back to the head. The blade cuts through moist skin and sinew. Blood gurgles to the surface. The hide is pulled from the carcass like skin from a chicken breast.

Mosquitoes are drawn to the scene.

"Thank god it's windy. Otherwise these bugs would be worse," Joamie says wiping his brow.

Nowdluk uses two hands to lift the animal's head off the ground. With one mighty twist the open-eyed head snaps cleanly from its body. Nowdluk, an accomplished carver, stands up, stretches his neck and accepts a pre-lit cigarette.

Norman Nowdluk and Joamie skin and cut the animal in less than an hour.The qisaruaq, a stomach pocket, is cut and stuffed with gizzards until it looks like a water balloon.

"I can't remember the names, but my old man loves them," Joamie says of the soft-tissue treats.

The cutting continues. Each incision revels juicy pieces of the delicious meat. No one mentions the foul smelling gas wafting from the animal's warm intestines.

Once the carcass is cut into several pieces, the meat, including the heart, is wrapped in the hide and carried 10 kilometres - about three hours - back to the vehicle parked at Upper Base.

A portion of the wild meat, including the satchel of guts, is taken to Joamie's father, who lives at the elder's centre. The remaining meat is divided between friends.

The skin will be tossed. Had it been a couple weeks later, and the caribou's fur thicker and less prone to shedding, Joamie would have saved the hide for camping.

Despite the relaxed atmosphere during the hunt, moments of entertaining distress arose. What alarmed these Inuit hunters was the sight and sound of bees.

Even when loaded with the caribou meat, Joamie easily outran the group when confronted with a buzzing insect.

Later, when asked about the hypothetical prospect of confronting a bee or getting stuck in a blizzard, Joamie picks bad weather.

"A storm I could handle because I'd just stay in one place. Bee's sting," he says.

Iqaluit, Nunavut, Canada Map

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