The transcribed words of Sam Oliktoak and Rene Taipana, Eskimo elders, describe how they would travel according to the best fishing and hunting patterns of the region, even waiting for the caribou to grow longer and thicker hair for better clothing. In a world of ice and meat, they were dependent upon the animals and a deep knowledge of how to survive.
The Northern Copper Inuit - A history
Rene Taipana: When I first remember. My first memories--like when I first woke up myself. People in the spring would gather at the coast. It was in the spring-–like this time of year. We would travel to a lake and stay there until late spring waiting for the land to dry up so we could hunt caribou. We would fish and get an occasional caribou for meat while waiting for the hair of the caribou to become good for clothing. That's how people lived back then. And when the land was good to travel on and when the caribou hair and skin were good, we traveled inland hunting for caribou - for clothing and food. We fished along the way, going to where there are kiidjiyuq [ fish that sit in warm water] in the mouths of rivers and along the shores of lakes. We lived inland until it started to get dark out. We used to live on the land that way throughout the summer. And when it was around the end of August or September, we would start our gradual trip back to the coast. When the caribou hair is thick, we would hunt for those caribou with a thick hair for the outer parka called qullitaq. That's when the weather is starting to get cold. That's when we started our walk back to the ocean.
At that time, the beginning of a trip back to the coast was called hivuqamuyuq. When the lakes started to freeze over, then we would know it was around the Fall season. We made sleds where they are caribou skins which were called uniutik [skins dragged on the ground] rather than alliak. And then it's late fall. That's when the ground starts to freeze over and we leave our trip from hunting Caribou with the thick hair and descend to the coast. That trip was called ataupluta. That was our way of life.
When we got to the coast, we built our igloos. We finished building our igloos at a place where we left our spring caches of seal fat from seals caught the previous winter. Our caches were for the specific time of year when we head back for the coastline. That's where we camped while we sewed clothing to use when the sun starts to shine again after Christmas. That clothing was to be worn then.
Sam Oliktoak. In the fall, when the ocean first freezes up along the coastline, we built snow houses and later clothing. At the end of Christmas, when we have done our clothing, we headed out on the ice. Before we left for the ice, we spent a day playing games and feasting. Food of all kinds was gathered and prepared. That's how we feasted then.
Renee Taipana: Nattiqut. That's what we called the platform on which the food was placed on top of a sealskin. We feasted in a snow house built for that purpose every year.
Sam Oliktoak. We built three snow houses. In the middle to connect the three, we built a large snowhouse. This is where the dancing took place and the playing of games--in the center of the igloo. Some akhunaaq [thongs made from sealskin] were put up for people to swing on.
Renee Taipana: My parents would talk about those times. Those are the times that I remember. They danced with a qilaut, an Eskimo drum.
Sam Oliktoak: They would gather there to play games and dance for one bit one day. They danced until late at night and after that day, we were all ready to travel down onto the ocean. We had to wait for the sea ice to be covered with hard packed snow so we could build snow houses out on the ice. We also had to wait until the snow on the ice was good for drinking water.
Renee Taipana: That's right. We had to wait until our snow wasn't salty-tasting for snow water. Even without any doctors, people knew back then that the snow on the sea ice is salty with the first snowfall. So they didn't go out on the ice right away.