The best of both worlds
Healthy food, good companionship
The boat’s cabin fills with the sweet aroma of boiled seal. Steaming slabs of meat are pulled from the bubbling pot and placed on cardboard.
Members of the Kunuk family crouch down and dive into the dark, flavourful meat, mixing the tender morsels with mustard-soaked pickles.
Country food is one of the healthiest forms of wild meat. Marine mammals are full of omega-3 fatty acids, which fight heart disease. Caribou is lean and full of protein.
While debate continues about regulating traditional Inuit foods, especially in the wake of Mad Cow disease, thousands of Nunavut families enjoy year-round the same kind of meat and fish their ancestors subsisted on.
In the summers, boating trips are one way of stocking up freezers. More than food gathering ventures, though, the overnight excursions are about sharing traditional knowledge, skills and drinking lots and lots of tea.
A recent weekend boating trip began Friday after work at high tide.
With Iqaluit still in sight, Methusalah Kunuk and his brother drop a net. Twenty minutes later, nine Arctic char are flip-flopping on the deck.
The 28-foot boat speeds down the bay and the fish are cleaned, gutted and cut into pieces. By the end of the long weekend, two caribou, one seal and clams have been harvested. A wolf, bowhead whale and various birds are spotted but not killed.
Qamaniq Kunuk, 21 months, is the youngest of the group. Unconcerned about who feeds him, the chubby-cheeked boy happily accepts fresh fish from various outstretched hands. He gobbles up the char, the same way he devours cheesies and peaches.
A massive kettle sits on the Coleman stove within the boat’s cabin. Despite the never-ending cups of tea, one female passenger limits her beverage intake. Unlike the men who relieve themselves off the edge of the boat, women must squat on a coffee can, or wait for land.
There are nine people on the trip, five adults and four youths between the ages of 21 months to 17 years. Philip Ningeongat is in the middle in terms of age. At 17, the avid biker, skateboarder and snowmobiler knows the hunting trips, summer or winter, make him a stronger, wiser young man.
The second day of the trip begins at 6:30 a.m. Tony Ashoona pumps the stove full of fuel and boils the first of many pots of tea. Bannock is passed around while people wipe sleep from their eyes.
The boat bounces and crashes along the swelling sea. Some people search for caribou through binoculars, others take turns napping in a crawl space that is layered with mattresses and sleeping bags.
By mid-afternoon, the group arrives at the family’s cabin. Once the food coolers and bags are unloaded into the unfinished cabin, Methusalah sits down for a game of cribbage with his brother, Paul.
Methusalah started building the cabin, about an hour from Iqaluit, after he discovered a piece of an old boat of his washed up on shore.
The location is remote and spectacular. In early summer a fast-moving stream provides delicious drinking water. The rushing stream flows into a small lake, which divides a homemade two-hole golf course.
A drying rack for char sits was built near the cabin. By September, the surrounding tundra will be blanketed in berries.
Outside, the kids start their own game. Caribou antlers are placed upright in sand. From several metres, the youths take turns lassoing the antlers with rope, like cowboys rustling cattle. A successful landing is met with quiet cheers.
That night, after a dinner of fresh char, vegetables and sweet tea, two more boatloads of people arrive. A canvas tent is set up outside to accommodate the overflow of bodies.
The next morning, Michael Qappik shoots a seal on a nearby piece of ice. His children and nephews watch silently as the mammal’s fat and rich, bloody meat is removed.
His wife, Maggie Qappik, who is Methusalah’s daughter, grew up watching her relatives hunt and fish. Packing up their kids, the food, the gear and their dog Twee-Twee (short for Tweedie) to go camping, takes patience and time, she says, but is worth the effort.
“[What I enjoy are] no phones, no television and no distractions. I want my kids to know how we grew up, the Inuit way,” Qippik says.