Monday, November 24, 2014

Country Food, Awards, & Sushi

On Thursday, November 13, I received an important piece of information from one of the Inuit staff at Inuujaq School: a community feast was being held at the community hall later that evening.  It had been months since I attended a feast and I had been wanting to get my hands on caribou meat & arctic char for some time.  I thanked the lady for the information and promised to be at the "C-Hall" for 7pm. 
Community feasts are cultural events. Country foods are either laid out on a floor tarp and/or served to community members for free.  The Inuit tradition goes back to when families lived out on the land in camps and hunters would divide the animals they caught among the families.  The country foods that would be offered are raw caribou, arctic char, seal, and narwhal.
I arrived at the C-Hall at 7pm on my recently purchased skidoo.  I had to park it next to the hockey arena because the parking lot in front of the hall was filled with trucks, atvs, and other skidoos.  With so many vehicles parked around the building, I was right to assume that the place would be packed with people.  I slowly squeezed my way through the crowd before finding a place to stand at the back.  A tarp had been laid out in the middle of the hall and it was covered with chunks of raw char, and narwhal.  A seal was being cut up at the front and the caribou meats were in large black & grey boxes on stage.  With so many people sitting around the tarp, it appeared as if the whole town was in attendance.  Inuit children ran around the hall but were careful not to touch the country food before the word was given.
I took out my digital camera and started snapping pictures as people got their ulus, pocket knives, plastic bags, and cardboard boxes ready.  The plastic bags are used to collect country food and cardboard boxes are broken into large pieces so they can be used as plates.  I had three plastic bags, and a paper plate, in case I was invited to sit down with a family.  I usually stay for several minutes to eat but I couldn't this time because of school work.
MLA Isaac Shooyook
There were several speakers who addressed the audience including our Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) Isaac Shooyook.  I'm not entirely sure what they said exactly in Inuktitut but I think it was along the lines of thanking the Hamlet Office for arranging the feast and the hunters who brought the seals, chars, and narwhals.  The caribou meats had been ordered and flown in. 

After a short prayer, the word was given to begin the feast.  People surged into the middle, picking whatever they could find.  With a plastic bag in my left hand, I grabbed two chunks of arctic char with my free right hand.  I then stood in one of the long lines that snaked towards the stage where volunteers were handing out raw caribou meat.  The line slowly moved forward, and with every person that walked by, I wondered if there would be anything left when I would get to the front.  I was surprised to see two people walking with caribou heads.  Yes, full-sized caribou heads!  Unfortunately, I didn't have my camera out in time to snap pictures. 
I hope I don't get a caribou head, I thought, there isn't enough room in my freezer.
When I got to the stage, a took several small pieces of caribou meat from a large black box a volunteer was tilting in my direction.  "Qujannamiik (Thank you)," I said.  I photographed elders & adults eating & cutting pieces of seal meat before leaving the community hall.

Inuujaq School held a sports assembly on November 21 to recognize the boys and girls soccer teams who competed in Cape Dorset in late October.  The assembly was extra special for the girls team because they won silver at the competition.  The assembly was organized by Sarah Cole, the assistant coach and Grade 9 teacher. 
"The tournament was awesome," commented Sarah.  "I wanted the younger kids to see & hear how much fun the girls had, to celebrate their accomplishments, encourage sports participation across the student body, and build school spirit." 
Sarah presided over the assembly as the English emcee and Kataisee, the high school Inuktitut teacher, acted as the translator.  The audience was presented with a slide show of pictures that were taken in Cape Dorset.  Many of them were funny prompting many laughs from students.  After the slide show, the girls were called up one at a time to receive their silver medals from their coach, Weslie.  Each player received an applause from the audience.  The soccer team posed for pictures with their medals as students went back to their classes to get ready for dismissal.                

I took my skidoo out for a drive towards King George V Mountain the next day because it was Saturday and I wanted to get pictures of the Greater Arctic Bay Area at noon.  I was curious to know if I could see the sun from on top of the mountain and if not, at least get a picture of the polar twilight.  Unfortunately, things didn't go as planned. 

A path of clear ice had formed along the coast, preventing access to the frozen bay, and forcing me to drive next to the road to Nanisivik.  I had to drive slowly to avoid the rocks on the road because prolonged exposure would damage the skis and treads.  I also had to use the road to Sewage Lagoon to get to the skidoo trail that snakes up the mountain.  But when I got to the turnoff, I noticed there wasn't enough snow on the ground for my skidoo to drive over.

Undeterred by this shortcoming, I left my skidoo behind and began walking up the mountain like I've done many times before.  I took a break halfway up and ate two apples while enjoying the views.  The temperature was around -26.  The final straw came when I took out my camera to take a picture: the battery had died.  I replaced it with the second battery but it too was dead.  The cold had zapped all the energy out of my batteries.  I abandoned my hike and walked back to my skidoo.  I'll take the picture some other time.

Things were a little more upbeat when a couple of us southern teachers held a sushi night on November 23.  I finally had the opportunity to use the chopsticks I brought with me in August.  The vegetable & fish rolls were prepared by Sarah and Agniezska.  Agniezska is the high school art/English teacher.  There was plenty of sushi, ginger, wasabi, and soy sauce to go around.  The food was excellent.   


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