UKKUSIKSALIK The People’s Story

    An Excerpt

    Theresa Kopak (left) and Sarah Sivaniqtoq — each of their grandfathers was a valued informant — visiting the land of their ancestors around Ukkusiksalik in 1996. © David F. Pelly

    A Legacy

    Ukkusiksalik remains a special place in the hearts of the families in the Kivalliq region, on the west side of Hudson Bay, whose ancestors lived there. Some still hunt there, though not nearly as much as their forefathers did. Some see it as a tourism opportunity, knowing the landscape’s intrinsic appeal as they do. In the mid-1980s, three men with family connections to Ukkusiksalik opened Sila Lodge on the north shore of Wager Bay, to attract naturalists and provide employment, but the economics of the operation could not be sustained. Even at that time, there was already talk that one day, after the land claims were settled, the federal government would establish a national park there. Wager Bay had been selected in 1978 as a potential site for one of five proposed national parks north of sixty (north of the provincial boundary across the top of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta).

    “reading your words is like travelling on a well built sled skimming across the deep blue sea ice on a bright spring day.”

    — Norman Hallendy, arctic researcher, writer, photographer and fellow traveller

    The process accelerated in the 1990s, especially after the Nunavut land claim was settled in 1993 following many years of negotiations between the Inuit of Nunavut and the federal government. The settlement allowed developments of all sorts to move forward, from mines to national parks, and gave Inuit a measure of self-determination within the new territory. In 2003, Parks Canada signed the Inuit Impact and Benefit Agreement, which provided the green light to begin operation of Ukkusiksalik National Park, one of Canada’s most remote. Nevertheless, it means that a few local Inuit now have jobs with Parks Canada and others may in the future find opportunities in guiding and outfitting. Inuit retain their right to hunt for subsistence purposes within this and other national parks in Nunavut.

    Francis Kaput, an elder in Rankin Inlet, said, “I would like to see Ukkusiksalik become a national park. Every bay, every point around Wager Bay has a name because this is where so much happened. It is important to preserve that knowledge. Ukkusiksalik is us. It’s part of our culture.”

    Guy Amarok of Chesterfield Inlet added his support: “If it becomes a national park, then there will be no development that will destroy the land.”

    These are ringing endorsements which, while not universal, are widely shared among Inuit of the region. Such is the emotional attachment to Ukkusiksalik still today.

    Mikitok Bruce telling stories during a 1996 visit to the old post where his wife grew up.
    Mikitok Bruce telling stories during a 1996 visit to the old post where his
    wife grew up.

    There is a reverence among Ukkusiksalingmiut toward their homeland. Yet, when asked, there was nowhere that any of its former residents thought should be off-limits to visitors, but always with the important proviso that visitors not harm the land or the old sites, and that they not interfere with Inuit use of their traditional hunting grounds.

    During a return visit in 1996, her first in nearly thirty years, Elizabeth Aglukka sat on the ground at the site of her family’s old spring camp in Nuvuk&it*, examining the artifacts they had left behind, and she said, “I would like these things left here, alone, untouched.” It’s acceptable in her eyes (though against the law that protects archaeological sites) for someone to pick up an item to look at it, she offered, so long as they “put it back where it belongs” aerward. “I would not like to see someone take something
    from here to put in a museum or to sell. I’d rather leave all the things here.” Even Elizabeth left the site of her childhood home without taking a souvenir.

    AB_MAYJUNE16_Feature_3Today, Wager Bay is one of those spots, found frequently in the North, where a wild and rugged landscape opens the visitor’s eyes to a new sort of beauty and appreciation of natural splendour, yet which somehow remains in complete harmony with its depth of historical occupation by other humans. The duality is a difficult one for the typical visitor from southern Canada or the United States or Europe, where the experience of human occupation has typically meant the destruction of the natural setting. Here in Ukkusiksalik history is everywhere, and yet it is apparent only upon close inspection. As with a wildflower, you can’t see it from the air, but once standing on the shores of Ukkusiksalik, when you look down at the ground beneath your feet, the colour and detail and enduring nature of that tiny flower — and the history of that land — will enter your soul. Once discovered, it is captivating.

    As Marc Tungilik said only weeks before he passed away in 1986, reflecting back on his life, “People are always happy to go to a plentiful land — that is how I felt about going to Ukkusiksalik.”

    * The ampersand symbol “&” is used to mark the so-called voiceless
    lateral fric ative in writing Inuktitut. Designated ɬ in the International
    Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), the ampersand, combined with Inuktitut
    vowels, results in the approxi mate sounds: &u = “-shlu-”;
    &i = “-shli-”; &a = “-shla-”.