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.
In February 2019 Kivalliq News editor Cody Punter and Suzie Napayok-Short travelled to Whale Cove to record oral histories of six residents. Over six weeks, we are 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
Editors’s note: A version of this story appeared in the Summer 2019 issue of The Walrus. See next week’s Kivalliq News for the fifth part in the series.
We always have to fight that extra mile in Whale Cove. It’s not like other communities. We’ve had this boil-water advisory for four years in a row now. The territorial government wants to get that water plant fixed up. If Whale Cove was a bigger centre like Arviat or Rankin Inlet it would’ve been dealt with, done, finished. There’s a bit of money we use from the hamlet to be able to get ice from the lake and deliver it to the community, because that ice water is so much better than tap water.
That’s how hard these smaller communities have to fight with our own territorial government. In fact, I’ve heard people in the Nunavut Legislative Assembly say that small communities aren’t viable in the North. I’ve heard that. And I’ve told the premier that if they ever say that again, I’m suing our own government. It stresses out people. They’ll never pay us enough money to move anymore. We’ve gotten to love this place.
I was born in Churchill. My family was moved here to Whale Cove back in 1964 from Garry Lake. From what I know, there was starvation in Garry Lake, so my family went to Baker, and then from Baker they were moved — from inland to the coast.
I started my education here in Whale Cove. At the time, it went from beginners to Grade 9 in our school system. Three of my parents’ daughters were just taken from them and brought to school in Chesterfield Inlet. When I was on my Grade 9, I told my parents that the teacher was confident I was going to finish my school here now and go to high school in Iqaluit or Yellowknife. First thing they said to me was, “You’re not going.” That’s when I just dropped out of school right there. I guess they knew something.
I ran for council back in ’92, and I got in. There were people that were pushing me to go in. I was 22, maybe? It was like going back to school.
I have been mayor twice, from 1997 to 2002 and from 2012 until 2019. When you don’t have the diploma of a Grade 12, you tend to work harder to get what that Grade 12 person has. I wanted to learn more, and I knew I could help the community at the time. When you understand English and Inuktitut, that’s a big help.
In the region, there are a lot of graduates now without any jobs. I’ve always been supporting mining, even though I want my land the way it is, without being touched. Young people have to be busy. Not just young, even the older people, if they’re not busy doing work, they’re going to hunt caribou and sell it, because it’s money. We were always taught when we were harvesting fish or caribou to get only what you need. When we were kids, hunters would share all the time. Today, they’re getting more than what they need and more to sell. Once in a while, you listen to the radio and hear, “I want to buy this part of a caribou,” which is sad. I’m not used to it.
I hope in 20 years’ time Whale Cove will have its own member in Nunavut’s legislative assembly and a lot more infrastructure for kids. It’s never anything to brag about, but many say Whale Cove has the least suicides in Nunavut. That’s because we’re a tight-knit community and we still help each other. And we still make sure our young people are active.