For every reason and season, there’s a rock
Suzanne Evaloarjuk knows the best stone for severing a limb or healing a spirit
“I’ll tell you quickly about rocks, first, then I’ll tell you the way my grandmother would.”
Suzanne Evaloarjuk sits in the middle of her Iqaluit home jewelry studio, stones and silver ring-settings scattered all around her, and offers to share stories about her relationship with rocks.
Really, there is no way Evaloarjuk can talk “quickly” about rocks. She loves them too much.
But to tell someone about Inuit and their relationship with rocks, as she did during Northern Mining Week at the Nunavut Sunakkutaangit Museum, Evaloarjuk also has to go through a mind-boggling list of ways Inuit traditionally used hard clumps of stone from the ground.
Evaloarjuk points to rocks on the land, and can tell how each one were used by Inuit to build houses, protect food, and mark the way to a good fishing spot, with what’s become the Inuit’s universal totem.
“Those are the major uses of rocks,” she said. “Inuksuit would tell you where the lake is and people would know right away where the lake was, or which way home is.
“The scenery changes from winter to summer so much, you have to have them.”
But it doesn’t stop there. If Evaloarjuk holds out a handful of rocks to a stranger, she can also tell you how some are best for amputating a limb. Some are best for cooking. And some are best for helping a hurt spirit.
Since becoming a trained jewelry maker through Arctic college, Evaloarjuk has spent the past years polishing her old memories of walking the tundra with her mother near Apex as a child, hearing about how to survive on the land with little more than a jacket, kamiks, and gloves. All you need are rocks, she says, to light a fire, build a house, and throw like a bullet to catch a rabbit for supper.
She’s also been digging up the names for special rocks, the ones that are good for curing headaches, and the ones that would guard a precious flame for re-lighting the qulliq, after a traditional Inuit family left a camp to travel to their next home.
“In the old days, when they were travelling by dog-sled, they would make a pouch with qijuttaaq,” she said, holding a smoothed example of qijuttaaq, or coal stone. “They would take a pouch, lined with mica, put in wet moss – not too wet – just enough to keep the flame going.”
But while Evaloarjuk holds a firm grasp of the roles of rocks in her ancestors’ time, she doesn’t expect a lot of Inuit youth will know them in the coming generations.
To counter the knowledge lost, she makes an extra effort to teach her seven grandchildren, one of whom declared at the age of two that she wants to be a paleontologist.
“I don’t want them to grow up not knowing exactly who the Inuit were, where we came from, and how they survived,” she said. “If they know that, they can move on with pride. People need pride to be successful in sewing, carving, or meetings.
“First, they need to be proud of who they are.”