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Words from Whale Cove: Molly Okalik

It was only 60 years ago that people began to settle in Whale Cove, recently enough that some of the hamlet’s first inhabitants are still alive to recount the story of its origin. The community is one of several towns the federal government created through forced relocations beginning in the 1920s.

Although its origins were built out of tragedy, today Whale Cove is a tight-knit community that is known for having hockey teams that travel hundreds of kilometres by Ski-Doo to play in tournaments. It also has one of the lowest suicide rates in the territory.

In February 2019 Kivalliq News editor Cody Punter and Suzie Napayok-Short travelled to Whale Cove to record oral histories of six residents. We will be publishing those interviews, which include two of the community’s first inhabitants, one of whom unfortunately passed away last year.

These are the Words From Whale Cove…

Editor’s note: A version of this story appeared in the Summer 2019 issue of The Walrus.

Molly Okalik

Molly Okalik is Whale Cove’s recreation coordinator. The 25-year-old is currently raising three children in the community.
Cody Punter/NNSL photo

My Inuktitut name is Ijakak. That’s my grandma’s name. That was my dad’s mom. And I’m named after the late Uluqsit. My mom had a dream about him in which he said he wanted me to be named after him.

Growing up in Whale Cove, there was always a fishing derby, and that was one thing we would always look forward to. There’s one place we would go every year and never had luck, but we’d go there anyways because my dad’s the driver.

I started a family really young, and I had two of my kids when I finished high school. They were my motivation. Like, “I have to do this for them and continue to get an education so I can provide for them.”

I was pregnant when I was in college in Iqaluit. I took at least a week off of school after giving birth. Luckily, my instructors didn’t mind me taking my baby to class. But I couldn’t focus, so I left her at home and finished. And it was pretty hard. I didn’t get the certificate, but I finished.

A few years later, I went back to college, this time in Rankin Inlet. Moving to a different community — a whole different environment, a bigger place — it took a while for me to get used to it, but I did.

When I finished, I had no job or housing. I had no choice but to move back to Whale Cove. I got a full-time job as recreation coordinator.

I didn’t think I was going to get a job again in a small community, especially full time. And after two years of living in your own home, in your own space, and moving back to your mom’s house, your parents’ house, that was tough.

When I was in school still, I used to be involved in sports. Soccer was my favourite growing up. Back then we didn’t have anyone willing to put in the effort with fundraising and getting a team to tournaments.

Since I started my job, it’s helped me want to fundraise for all the other kids: soccer, basketball, hockey, all those other sports.

This winter, I helped put together the girls’ soccer team that competed in the U-15 territorial soccer tournament

I had received an email about the territorial tournament happening in Rankin. I talked to one of the teachers, and I told her, “We should get a team going.”

So we put out a poster saying there’s going to be tryouts, and then we got a team. My little sister Diana was their coach.

And we told the players, “You guys are going to have to help us fundraise, you guys are going to have to attend practices and make sure you’re 100 per cent into it.”

It was kind of hard at the beginning but once it got closer they were pumped up and they were running bake sales, penny sales, bingo, movie nights.

Our gold-medal game in Rankin, that was intense for us, because we were losing 1-0. But then one of the Iqaluit players did something to one of our girls in the goalie crease. That was a penalty shot, and we tied the game.

From there, the team got pumped. The time was up, so we went to a shootout. The first shot went to Iqaluit, and the shooter missed.

And then it was one of our girls, and she scored. Then the whole team ran to her, and the ref started whistling and saying, “You guys didn’t win yet, you guys didn’t win yet.”

And then Iqaluit shot again, and it hit the post and never went in. Then it was our turn again. It was either Adina or Macy — one of them shot, it went in. Then the ref whistled three times, and then we started jumping. Everyone started cheering. It was probably the best feeling ever.

‘Something to be very proud of’

The community was very, very happy for the girls, because they’re so young, all under 15, and for a small community to beat a city —because Iqaluit is considered a city, a bigger community — it’s something to be very proud of for us small communities.

I know living in a small community can become really hard and dark when you’re growing up. Sports are an escape, especially in small communities — they’re an escape from whatever people are going through.

There are more opportunities for these kids, and I can tell they need to be seen, and they have more to life than just living here and being stuck in a small community.

I know it’s home, but as a young person you want to explore, get outside of your bubble, what you’re used to. Home will never move anywhere. You’ll eventually have time to go home and visit family.

And me thinking of my kids all the time, I want my kids to experience growing up in a city or in a different community, to have more opportunities that I didn’t have growing up here.

I think it would be a huge change for them. They would have to adapt to that.

I’ve lived in Nunavut all my life and never had the opportunity. I want my kids to know our traditions, because that is how we have survived. It’s harsh sometimes living in the North, but you still survive. You learn to adapt to your surroundings and a new lifestyle.