|Road to Victor Bay|
The 15th annual Fishing Derby, an extension of Nunavut Quest, took place over the Victoria Day weekend (May 17-19). Participants and their families travelled great distances by skidoos to fish for Arctic char at the many approved lakes that dot the northern landscape. One popular fishing spot to the south of Arctic Bay, Ikipikttuarjuk, is 4 hours away by skidoo & qamutik (sled). Sean, my next door neighbour, travelled to Ikipikttuarjuk for the long weekend to see the fishing area for the first time and fish for fun.
The objective of the derby is to catch the largest fish; for some lakes, it's to catch a fish measuring exactly 12.5 inches. This year, adults would compete for large cash prizes ($3K max) while children would compete for electronic devices (ie. iPod Nanos) and gift certificates to the Northern & Co-op stores. The event also gives people a chance to go camping and unwind from all the "hustle and bustle" of community life.
I decided to stay in town for the long weekend, take a break, and observe people ice fishing at Dead Dog Lake (DDL). The lake is located just to the left of the road to Victor Bay and is called that because someone found a frozen dog many years ago. Only small fish reside in the lake. It was a cloudy day on Sunday, May 18th, when I stepped out of my residence and made the trek to DDL. I was expecting to see a lot of traffic on the Victor Bay road, but surprisingly there wasn't any. This led me to assume that most participants were out on the land.
When the frozen lake came into view, I only saw two groups of people fishing. Each group had a tent, skidoo, ATV, and qamutik. They had drilled small holes into the ice and were trying to catch fish using fish lines attached to small wooden sticks. The Inuit call it jigging. I walked around the lake, taking pictures of the people and surrounding landscape. A large white sign at the foot of the lake informed me that the lake is an alternate water supply for the town.
|Arctic Bay - May 18, 2014.|
When no one expressed joy in catching a fish, I headed back the way I came, except I took a scenic detour and hiked up the hills to the right of the road. Since the clouds were clearing up, I wanted to get a few good pictures of the entire town. Originally, I had wanted to hike up these hills last year but instead, I walked past them and reached the cliffs. This time, I kept close to the edges and took careful steps. The snow was still deep and there were plenty of rocks to maneuver around. The sun came out just as I found the right spot to take wide angle shots of the town below. The people looked like ants or small seals. I continued walking until I found a snow covered slope safe enough to slide down. I slid halfway and then walked the rest of the way.
|Community Hall - May 20, 2014|
The winners of the fishing derby were announced at the Community Hall on Tuesday, May 20. I arrived at the C-Hall just after 6pm to see the place packed with people. I hadn't expected to see four tarps lying on the floor covered with raw Arctic char, caribou, and narwhal. There was also a big cardboard box containing freshly caught seal. A community feast would follow the awards ceremony, an element that was absent last year. On opposite ends of the hall sat rows of tables with fruits and vegetables. An additional row of tables was set up at the front of the hall for the town's elders.
|Philip Kalluk - Mayor|
I stood off to the side as Philip Kalluk, the mayor, greeted everyone in Inuktitut. As he spoke into the microphone, volunteers continued dumping more char, caribou and narwhal onto the tarps. Another volunteer began cutting up the seal in the cardboard box. Everyone stopped what they were doing when the mayor invited an elder to say a prayer. Once the prayer was finished, the organizers of the derby took over and began the awards ceremony.
Last year, all the fish that were being judged were put on display for everyone to see and photograph. Unfortunately, that did not happen this year and all the "submitted" catches were judged earlier. I think the change was implemented to prevent cheating.
|Fishing Derby organizers announce the winners.|
|Fresh seal being cut.|
The organizers announced the adult and child winners for each lake, calling them up to the front one at a time to be acknowledged by the audience, receive their prizes, and pose for photographs. The adults who won the large cash prizes were especially happy; some even did a small dance to celebrate. The kids who won the iPod Nanos were shy and just nodded to the applauding crowd. As I documented the ceremony with my camera, I noticed one common characteristic among the participants and those who observed them out on the land: their tanned faces. When Inuit drive skidoos, they wear goggles or sunglasses to protect their eyes, but not much else to protect the rest of their faces. They like the feel of the Arctic winds on their skin. This results in getting a serious tan line around the eyes. They call it "raccoon eyes" whereas the southerners call it windburn. I always put on sunscreen before heading out on an extended walk outside; I don't like tan lines.
After all the awards were handed out, the word was given that the feast could begin. People immediately went after the raw meats laid out on the tarps before lining up to get fruits and vegetables. The elders were served raw meat and freshly cut seal. If I had known there was going to be a feast, I wouldn't have bought dinner. When the feast began, I took a few photos and then quietly made my exit. My dinner was waiting for me at home.
Observing two fishing derby award ceremonies has convinced me to get closer to the action next year in some way, be it travelling to one of the many distant fishing lakes, to actually signing up as a participant. I might even do both, but it will depend on getting a skidoo, qamutik, and the necessary camping & fishing supplies. I'll also have to find someone to teach me how to fish the good old fashioned way because I only know how to fish at the grocery store.