'Our heart is here'
We're a community, say the 'people; of Bathurst
BATHURST INLET – At the site of an ancient coastal camp, Jason "Pudjuk" Akoluk gently holds up a broken qulliq, telling visitors at the Bathurst Inlet Lodge about the Inuit who crafted and used it.
Akoluk, 25, works at the Bathurst Inlet Lodge during the summer, where he helps with boat trips around the inlet and displays his mastery of drum dancing, knuckle-jumping and high kicks at the lodge's weekly cultural shows.
During the winter, Akoluk works at the co-op store in Cambridge Bay, but he calls Bathurst Inlet home. His girlfriend, Jocelyn Allukpik, and their two young sons, Braden, and baby Bryson now spend their summers with him at Bathurst Inlet.
Bella Kapolak, 28, has always lived in Bathurst Inlet. She's rarely been away from the community, where she lives with her boyfriend Peter Atatahak, their daughter Shanisha, 1, and her grandmother Jessie Kapolak, 82.
During the summer, Kapolak wakes up before 6 a.m. to head up to the lodge, where she helps her mother Susie, 46, in the kitchen, cleaning, preparing food and setting out everything guests require for breakfast and lunch.
The winter brings slower times. Then it's cold and dark, Kapolak says, with lots of wind. She passes her time quietly sewing.
Summer increases the population of Bathurst Inlet to about 30 people, including 15 children of all ages.
Throughout the long days, the kids play endless games of baseball, or run their toy trucks along the paths and ride their bicycles. On hot days, they go swimming. The older kids always take care of the younger ones, making sure they're included in their games.
This carefree, community life is what Connie Kapolak, 34, an Inuinnaqtun teacher at Kiilinik high school in Cambridge Bay, wanted her children to experience.
So last year, Kapolak, husband, Allen, 43, and their three children, aged three to 15, spent the entire year in Bathurst Inlet.
Kapolak said her children tackled the "hands-on stuff" that they don't get to do in Cambridge Bay and they heard more Inuinnaqtun, which is still spoken by adults in Bathurst Inlet.
"It brings back our traditions. It gives them more of an identity, to know who they are," Kapolak says.
Kapolak will return shortly to Cambridge Bay but vows "I will always get to come back."
"Our heart is here," she says.
Ask anyone at Bathurst Inlet if they live in a community and they'll say yes, although the Government of Nunavut considers Bathurst Inlet to be an outpost camp.
This puzzles people in Bathurst Inlet, because they consider their actual outpost camp to be a spot further down the inlet. There, they live in cabins and fish and hunt caribou in the spring or pick berries in the autumn on Kingaun, the nose-shaped mountain that gives Bathurst Inlet its Inuinnaqtun name.
They point to the long history of Bathurst Inlet, the evidence for which lies everywhere around the inlet, where there are hundreds of ancient stone tent rings, caribou drives, fox traps, kayak holders and food caches.
At one place, a group of old low-lying Thule houses poke out through the willows. Directly across the water from this settlement lies an island, covered with scores of large stone food caches.
The entire complex, likely inhabited for a long period, might be larger than today's Bathurst Inlet, similar to the Nadlak site, 80 kilometres to the south. Nadlak is a partially-excavated site with many houses, fortified by stacked rings of antlers, similar to those found in Siberia.
Bathurst Inlet's recent history follows the story of development in the Kitikmeot. Explorer Sir John Franklin came to Bathurst Inlet in 1821 in two birch bark canoes, looking for a passage to Hudson Bay.
The Dominion Explorers company set up a mining camp, the region's first, in 1929. That was followed by the Hudson Bay Co. trading post and a Catholic mission.
Behind the frame church, insulated from the cold by yellowed Belgian newspapers and caribou skins, there's a cemetery, filled with the graves of Kingaunmiut who died in an epidemic brought in by a sick RCMP constable.
Called the "Shangri-La of the Arctic" by missionaries and traders who vied to be posted there, Bathurst Inlet still looks like a Garden of Eden, with its hills covered in wild blue lupins and Arctic cotton.
Today's Bathurst Inlet has several houses, its own tiny diesel power plant, make-shift water system and gravel airstrip. But kids now have to live in Cambridge Bay to go to school.
Food must be ordered in from Yellowknife. A nurse from Cambridge Bay recently made a call to Bathurst Inlet – but this happens only infrequently.
The lack of services is having an impact. This winter Bathurst Inlet may be empty for the first time, as Jessie Kapolak has been advised to move into Cambridge Bay for medical care.
Bella Kapolak says she and her family will follow if her grandmother leaves.
Then, most of Bathurst Inlet's population will be found in Cambridge Bay, where a 2004 list shows 30 adults originally from Bathurst Inlet.
The Government of the Northwest Territories considered Bathurst Inlet to be an "unorganized community," worthy of receiving some services.
However, since 1999, the GN has maintained that Bathurst Inlet isn't a community at all, but an outpost camp.
Some say Bathurst Inlet is just a lodge with housing for its staff, but the Warners, who founded the lodge in 1969, say they've got it all wrong: Bathurst Inlet is a community with a lodge.
"It's sad. This community is older than Rankin Inlet. They should be receiving the same services here," says Trish Warner.