Week In The Life: Teman Avingaq, an Inuit - Finally, a nation can sing `This land is our land'
Saturday 10 April 1999
Teman Avingaq watches with his girlfriend, Ronda, as a green trail arcs over the wooden houses, which are perched on piles clear of the permafrost and snowdrifts. A starburst picks out fishing boats in the harbour. A week of festivities on the ice is Igloolik's way of marking a new beginning in the lives of the Inuit. It is the end of a 30-year legal and political struggle to control the vast wasteland in Canada, which will be called Nunavut, "Our Land", in the Inuit language. It is the beginning, Teman wants to believe, of a time when a people who lost their way after Canada colonised them can feel at home again.
On Sunday Teman takes time off from his three jobs - as a hunter, a carpenter and a radio-show host - to go with Ronda, their two daughters and their son to a feast for Nunavut. "We call it country food," he says. "Caribou, seal, walrus - the animals we have always caught." They travel on a not very traditional Japanese snowmobile, or skidoo. Teman admits: "It would be hard for people here to go anywhere without a skidoo."
There is also church to attend. Teman walks to service with his father, Jacob, who preaches at the hut with a bell-tower - Igloolik's Protestant chapel. When the missionaries first arrived two churches were built. Protestant and Catholics competed to convert those such as Teman's father who had been forced to stop their nomadic life, roaming after the caribou herds. The Protestant missionary converted those one side of the main street, the Catholic those the other side. Then both discouraged their congregations from mixing.
The next day Teman had planned to complete a carpentry contract at the school but it may not be possible. "The school classroom has to have a door. We have no trees. So the door has to be flown up. Now they say it's not on today's plane." Nunavut's fledgling economy must grow to provide work here. Half the Inuit are unemployed. Teman is realistic: "I think the delegates we now have in our assembly will know about things better and try harder. But Canada will still have to help us, help us a lot."
On Tuesday the classroom door arrives and the weather is right to install it "This is a beautiful day for April - a warm one," Teman says. The temperature is minus 20C. Often in April doorways cannot be left open to work on and fingers can freeze to the handles of saws and screwdrivers.
Jacob has spent the day exhibiting the seal hunting tools, once the only trade that sustained Inuit families. Back home he talks to Teman, who has decided to head off tomorrow for the edge of the sea-ice. "The wind should come from the south," father advises son. "A south wind is a good wind for walrus." The following day the wind and the advice prove sound. Teman and his brother-in-law Ike swathe themselves in skins - caribou coats, husky fur trousers and sealskin boots - and harness sled to skidoo for the run to the ice floe edge. They shoot a seal, harpoon it to haul it in and skin it efficiently on the ice. It is a matter-of- fact process. The intestines, a particular delicacy, are stripped out and neatly plaited. A walrus, too slow to notice their presence, is killed. Its tusks are cut off. "A carver might take them," Teman says. "We have been lucky. There's a lot of meat here and this is still the best food we get to eat. The packets and the frozen goods we buy from the store cost so much." As darkness descends, Teman and Ike build an igloo in an hour. This is the best, the only shelter for an Arctic night. The hunters are at peace.
On Thursday Teman takes Ronda to a meeting of the settlement's Alcohol Licensing Committee, which she chairs. Many Innuit drift into drink as their early ambitions are disappointed. There are no bars and no off-sales of spirits in Igloolik. Any resident who wants to drink must apply to have it flown up monthly. Their requests are scrutinised bottle by bottle, can by can. They are frequently refused.
Teman goes on to the third of his jobs where he tackles another social dilemma. "I do a talk show on community radio," he explains. "It's in our own language of course. But we are talking about our language too." The new Nunavut Assembly will conduct the territory's affairs in the Inuit language, Innuktitut. One question is whether children should learn it for longer. "Many jobs have to be done in English," Teman says. "Our children have to be perfect in both."
At the weekend the official celebrations are over. Teman and his family gather. The children chew the dark fibrous meat from ribs of boiled seal. Their grandparents slice raw flesh and liver from the carcass of the animal that has been defrosting in the house since it was brought back from the ice floe. Teman picks from one pot and then the other. He smiles as he acknowledges the parallel. "We have a foot in both worlds as Inuit. We cannot only be a part of the world we once had." Teman's son suddenly squeals and holds out a milk tooth. A seal rib has proved too tough. His grandfather tells him: "You will need stronger teeth for the walrus."
Mike Donkin is a BBC News Correspondent.
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