The “People of Islands” need Nunavut’s help


I was greatly moved reading the May 24 article on my people, the Qikirtamiut, or People of the Islands.

First, the RCMP came and shot our dogs and told us we had to move so they could provide for us better. They didn’t care how we felt, as long as they would save some money when we were gathered into one community. Hardly any snowmobiles existed back then. My family depended on the dogs.

I looked forward to a day when my uncle would finally take me out hunting with him. That day never came. The RCMP killed all the dogs in the community. I was devastated.

I was almost a teenager when they put us on a boat and took us to Qullutu in Eskimo Harbour, or Tasiujaq, the place now called Sanikiluaq. I understand that I was too young to question anything, but did anybody ever ask us about that move? It was like being exiled in our own land. It’s just one example of what others thought of the islanders.

I remember spending some time in Kuujjuaraapik for school. I went because they had no books for me on the islands. I stayed with a man after whom I was named. His name was Lukasi Nuvalinga.

Once in a while he would see a plane taking off and he would check where it was going. Sometimes he said, “It’s going down yonder.” It meant that the plane was going to the Belcher Islands, Qikirtait. My people were known as Qikirtamiut, or People of the Islands. I prefer to be called that instead of “Sanikiluarmiut.”

I respect my namesake and “down yonder” simply meant “the Belcher Islands” to him. I wonder if our former territory, the Northwest Territories, and our present territory, Nunavut, see us that way. They are just down yonder.

After spending a couple of years at the Gordon Robertson Education Centre (Inuksuk High School) in Iqaluit, I tried being a hunter. I followed whomever I could. I really think I would have done all right if Greenpeace never existed. We solely depend on the seal and the eider duck. The price of seal furs dropped tremendously to a point where they were no longer worth selling.

We needed that extra cash for ammunition and gasoline so we could have fresh meat. No government, at least I don’t recall, ever stepped in to see how we were affected by that ban on seal pelts. We, the people of the North, know that we are not like those who slaughtered seal pups.

In the past, I’ve never felt easy saying I’m from Nunavut, because it means “our land.” I can say the same for the sea. I’ve always believed that what we get from the land and the sea are given to us from our Creator. And that we are simply babysitting the land and sea, which will be returned to Him.

I’ve never felt easy saying that the land and the sea is for sale. I don’t think it is ours to sell or buy.

But if I must say it is our land and our sea, I will do it so I can have a part in protecting what we are supposed to be protecting for our youth.

I think it is time to educate our youth. There is nothing wrong in saying that once upon a time there were no televisions, no radios, no houses or snowmobiles. We have to remember that this generation will have to answer to the others.

Perhaps, not too long from now, our children will be saying we once used to eat seals, muktuk, and so on. Although I haven’t been to the islands for a decade, I know for a fact that we happily share our islands for walrus-hunting. We also share our soapstone with the East Coast Nunavik Inuit.

I remember quite easily, when I worked at the hamlet, when the staff took much time preparing their presentation to Hydro-Québec. I simply can’t believe that the natives would sell out, knowing that some of their people can no longer fish because of the contaminants.

I actually watched a documentary film on it at a research station in Kuujjuaq. The wildlife that some people are eating is already contaminated, possibly with mercury or PCBs. I have complete trust in the Nunavik people, especially the ones on the eastern coast. They won’t dare dam any river around the region.

To the people of Nunavut, the Qikirtamiut islanders may be far from you. Heck, we’re almost in James Bay. Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba are dumping into the Hudson Bay. We’re surrounded by the Bay and we need your help.

How about the Greenpeace people? Why aren’t you making yourself useful and testing all the rivers flowing into James Bay and Hudson Bay?

Like that MasterCard commercial, we may spend a few bucks here, there and anywhere. But when it comes to protecting our land and our sea — priceless.

L. Nuvalinga Eqilaq

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