Peter Katorkra’s memory will live on
I would like to say how sorry I am about Peter Katorkra’s death. I want to dedicate this letter to my friend and my mentor of Naujaat-Repulse Bay, who just died at the age of 74 years.
Growing up in beautiful Naujaat, I remember Peter very well. He was part of that group of Inuit who call Naujaat-Repulse Bay, heaven. My mother, Irene Katak, had Peter and I call each other, Piitauqatigiik – “those two who share the same name, Peter,” so all my life I called Peter Piitauqatigiga.
In 1982 when Piitauqatigalu and I went to Barrow, Alaska, we joked around a lot; because that is what Inuit do. Our Alaskan brothers and sisters enjoyed our company, and during one of our trips to the flow-edge to look for arviit (bow heads), one of the Inupiat called us Naumiunahaa! I asked him what it meant, he said, it means you guys are “fun to have around, because you are humours.”
Ever since then, each time Piitauqatigalu would see each other or talk to each other on the phone, we’d say “naumiunahaa”. Each time, I would call him in Naujaat, his little daughter would tell him, “it’s naumiunahaa.”
Peter Katorkra was a man of great vision. His ancestry is from the Nattilik region of Nunavut, and he grew up in Arviligjuaq (Pelly Bay). He cared dearly about Inuit culture and language. We would talk a lot about how to keep and save both Inuit culture and language and how we both felt; we needed to promote Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit.
Peter helped many people in Nunavut and in the South. He was often on CBC Radio during phone-in programs, whether talking about how to keep the Inuktitut language alive or how to be a search-and-rescuer. Peter chaired the Nunavut Surface Rights Tribunal and that took him traveling between Naujaat-Repulse Bay and Ottawa. And he did a good job of it. Peter was also part of our delegation in July 1970 in Coppermine (Kugluktuk), when we first discussed aboriginal rights in Nunavut, Nunakput and Nunavik.
One of Peter’s major accomplishments is Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit. A few years ago, First Air asked me if I knew anyone who knew about building an Inuksuk and the meaning of Inuksuuit. I chose Peter and we went to Ottawa to build an Inuksuk for the Ottawa International Airport. Our Inuksuk is traditional and has a “window” to look through.
Using an age-old expression of the Nattilingmiut dialect, the words on the plaque read: “Ingilrattialhaalujjavuhi – May you have a pleasant and safe travel.” The window on the Inuksuk faces where the planes land and take off. I will remember Piitauqatiga through the window of that Inuksuk at Ottawa International Airport.
Since its creation in 2000, Peter was also heavily involved in the Huqulajiit Committee (Drum Dancing Committee). Peter traveled to Talurjuaq, Ursuqtuuq (Gjoa Haven), and Kangiqsliniq (Rankin Inlet) to help celebrate life with drum dancing festivities.
Peter had many endless talents. Just by being there, you can tell he was an elder and was respected by those he met. The last meeting I attended with Peter was at the end of April in Kangiqsliniq where he was part of a delegation to contribute ideas on Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit to Heritage Canada.
He was successful in meeting his objectives. Peter’s memory will live on for many years to come and no doubt, he will be greatly missed by Nunavummiut and Canadians whom he knew. Youth of today will benefit from Peter’s traditional knowledge and his wisdom. You just need to follow his footprints.