Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Jack's stories

I have no photos or crazy adventures to talk about at the moment, but I do have some stories from Jack.

I met him Monday evening. He is an Elder, originally from Holman, living in Cambridge Bay for the past twentysomething years, and was in town to talk to the students about the Lands Claim Agreement.

We didn't get to talking about that, but he was telling enamouring stories with endless humour about what it was like to grow up in the North. This man was so interesting to listen to. I will try to recount them as accurately as possible.

Eric asked him, "Where's home for you?".
His response: "It's in my house. It's got a bunch of walls and a roof."

He told us about how he had TB when he was a young teenager, and had to be sent to Fort Smith for treatment that lasted over 2 years. He could have left sooner, but living in a part of the world that is so cold and so windy, it was likely that his TB would come back and that he would end up back in Fort Smith for more treatment. Plus, he didn't want to leave because he liked the school he was going to there. He liked it so much that even when they told him he was well enough to go home, he wanted to stay. At the time, Fort Smith was 100% Catholic, but Jack is Anglican. He did his best to practice Catholicism, learned their prayers, the routine of church services, etc. He became so good at it that he was asked to become an alter boy. Jack respectfully declined the honour, saying that as an Anglican, it wouldn't be proper for him. He was told that he could finish the school year (this was early spring), but then he would have to leave Fort Smith. So he finished his year and they shipped him off.

He told us his memories of, in the day of the igloos and before snow machines and ATVs, the RCMP would travel from town to town by dog sled delivering medicine to the various camps. He never knew until later in his life that the RCMP were cops, he thought they were just nice people, maybe doctors.

He told us that before drugs and alcohol were introduced to the North, the Inuit people were the happiest people you could find. They lived together on the land and no one had locks on their doors. He could go hunting, come back late and leave his sled with all his camping gear, shot guns, etc. out all night and come out again in the morning and not a thing would be missing. He ranted about the problems caused by the involvement of the Government with the regulation and distribution of alcohol in the North.

He knows a man who was such an excellent athlete that he was working towards qualifying for the winter olympics. He had skidoos and hondas, a house, a wife, children. He had furniture and many of the nicest things you could have. He met Drugs and sold what he could and lost the rest. Drugs took his family and his machines and left him in an empty house. Jack, whose family never knew what he needed, gave him too many coffee makers and too many watches. What Jack really needed was a new truck, so he gave his friend, who now had nothing, a coffee maker and a watch. The following week Jack was visiting again, and neither were to be seen. Drugs took them. Then Drugs started to take Jack's son. Jack took his son to the empty house to give his friend an electric frying pan. His son looked around the empty house, telling Jack that he remembered that this house had had everything at one point. On their way home, his son asked, "that frying pan isn't going to be there tomorrow, is it?", and Jack knew that their visit to the empty house gave his son the message he had been hoping to give him. His friend in the empty house has been in and out of rehab, but he is always sent back, and he is not getting better. Jack can see from his window three dealers, though his hope in getting drugs out of his community has withered. Every time one dealer is taken down or taken away, another one comes. There will always be another one coming to fill the gap and feed the addiction.

I hope I meet Jack again one day, to talk to him more about what life was like, as there are so few Elders still around who lived in igloos who can speak English.  How interesting it was to hear a first person account of the history of the North and the changes that have caused so many struggles for the Inuit.

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