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Words from Whale Cove – Samuel Arualak

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. Over the next six weeks, 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

(A version of this story appeared in the Summer 2019 issue of The Walrus. See next week’s Kivalliq News for the third part in the series.)

Samuel Arualak

Samuel Arualak is Whale Cove’s Anglican reverend. He became one of the first inhabitants of the community after he was forced to move to Rankin Inlet from Arviat to work in the mine:

Samuel Arualak is Whale Cove’s Anglican reverend. Arualak became one of the first inhabitants of the community after he was forced to move to Rankin Inlet from Arviat to work in the mine.
Cody Punter/NNSL photo

I had an older brother named Arualak. When my older brother died, his only name became my name, and I became Samuel Arualak. In the old days, we had only one name. Nowadays, people have far too many names.

I’m originally from Arviat. My father had two wives in his lifetime, so we had very many siblings. I had quite a few sisters, but I have few family members left from our family of origin.

I was very young when my father died in 1949. My mother was originally from Arviat. I’m just not sure if my father was too. I have very good memories of being with my mother, who raised me so lovingly and carefully. I remember fishing very often with my mom after my father died. We survived on fish a lot.

I remember the way we used to live, the lifestyles we had. Our way of education was done by means of observation — by practical, hands-on exercising. There was no writing system at the time, and we learned all the skills we needed to survive. It was a very peaceful time of living for us.

In 1957, when I was 19, we were picked up in a bush plane by the RCMP from Arviat to work in Rankin Inlet. We moved to Rankin Inlet to work at the nickel mine there, my wife and I, before we had any children. Even if we didn’t agree or we didn’t want to go, we did what the RCMP said because we were intimidated. But it’s not like that anymore. We’re not afraid of them anymore.

I was a young man at the time. It was very, very emotional for me to deal with, especially leaving our elders, my mother, and my stepfather, who needed our help. It was not right to leave them behind. My mother and my stepfather died in Churchill, Man., while I was in Rankin Inlet. There was no farewell. It was terrible.

The first crew that got sent to the mine didn’t make a lot of money, even if we worked really hard. So it was not really worth it financially. The jobs didn’t alleviate poverty, because the wages were so low.

A social worker and an area administrator held a public meeting in Rankin. And so Simon Teenar of Ukkusiksalik, or Gjoa Haven, and I attended that meeting, whereupon the administrator asked if we would like to go back and live our cultural ways and move to Whale Cove, so we raised our hands and said we’d like to go. Lewis Voisey was one of the people that took us over by boat. And that’s how I ended up coming here in August of 1959. I’ve been here since.

When we got here, the land was just so beautiful. There were no buildings, just four tents. It was very clean, very natural. Even if we didn’t know one another at the time, we got along because we had the same values and cultures.

It was only when we relocated to Whale Cove and went back to being able to practice our traditional ways of culture that we became much better economically.

Our main goal was to get wildlife to feed ourselves, so we did it cooperatively. When we came here, there were no qamutiik, no sleds, no rifles, no dogs. Being that everything was administered out of Rankin Inlet, people there arranged to ship dogs for Inuit here in Whale Cove to start up their own dog teams. When we got those dogs, it really improved our lifestyle a great deal. We could hunt again, we could explore again, we could provide again, and we were back to our culture once again.

In 1960, I got a job as a government worker, building roads. I stayed in that job until the settlement became a hamlet in the 1970s. I also taught Inuktitut at the school for four years. Even as recently as September, I took the kids out on the land. When you give them the chance to kill a caribou, it’s pure joy. I will always remember my first tuktu. My parents actually had to borrow a rifle so that I would be able to shoot a caribou calf. I’m not very good with hunting sea mammals or fishing. But I will always remember my first caribou with a .22 rifle we used in those days.

I’ve always been involved with the Anglican Church since my childhood in Arviat. Over time, I’ve seen people who truly believe in God, but it’s not as consistent as it used to be. I’ve tried to never add anything to the Bible or the testaments as they are written. But I share more of my thoughts in my sermons nowadays, even though the instruction was we can never rewrite God’s word.

As you get older, you become disabled by all the ideas and ideology you once held. And so it’s important we remind our children that they have their youth and they have the energy. They are adaptable more than we are. Both the traditional culture and the presence of the government system are useful, but we need a balance. We need to focus on more literacy, both English and Inuktitut.

I will never stop hunting as long as I can do it. It’s a skill I was taught very thoroughly. It’s ingrained in myself, it defines who I am. It’s how I do things. It guides me, and it keeps me here. That’s how I’ve survived, that’s how Inuit have survived, with very little. (Translated from Inuktitut.)