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 known for 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 fourt part in the series.
Susie and David Kritterdlik
Susie: I grew up knowing my name was Aupilattunnguaq—but for short, Aupak. It means red flower. I’m named after my mother’s cousin’s brother, whose name is Aupilattunnguaq.
We originated from Garry Lake, north of Baker Lake, around the Back River area. Back in 1957, 1958, there was a famine happening in that area. My mother had mentioned two years before that there were already no more caribou. And it was also hard for us to get fish. My parents knew people were dying, and it was important for my dad to go and look for his brother, his older brother, to make sure he was still alive. So he had to leave us, just me and my mother and my younger sister, who was less than a year old. My two older sisters were at residential school at the time.
My mother had been trying to fish but with no luck. We didn’t eat for two or three days. As a little child, I was so eager to live. So I kept urging her, “Just go fishing, go fishing, go fishing.” And she said, “No, there’s nothing.” But I kept urging her and she did, and sure enough, by trying for maybe two days, she caught a fish. So me and my mother ate a little bit.
This was the day—of course I had eaten and was well off, now I was playing outside, and I remember just looking on the horizon. I knew my sisters were somewhere out there, and maybe because I knew that an airplane had picked them up to take them to residential school, I thought to myself, “I wish there could be a plane to pick us up.”
So I went into the tent—our tent was small. All we had was plywood. My mother was crouched down. When I looked at her, I thought, “She’s got no hope now,” and I was kind of worried. I told my mother, “I wish there could be a plane, an airplane to pick us up.” And you know, I can never forget it. She told me, “Don’t talk about things like that which will never happen. You know well there’s no one out there who knows where we are.”
Maybe the next day or that same day, you could hear the airplane circling us. There were three people in the plane: the pilot, Simon Teenar—Agnes Teenar’s husband—along with a government worker or whatever. They had been looking for survivors of the famine. And I guess Teenar was their main guide because he knew the area and he knew where families would be scattered.
We were brought to Baker Lake with some dead people in that same plane, the people that had starved that they had found. I remember very clearly seeing these dead bodies packed on one another. There were no seats on that big plane.
We lived in Baker Lake for about maybe five years. They sent me to Chesterfield Inlet for residential school along with my two older sisters.
My mother mentioned to me that when there was starvation going on, she and others walked over to this mission place and camped there so that they could be given food by the priests. One priest told her, “I cannot give you food because you don’t belong to our church. You’re not a Catholic.” And she said, “Okay, I’ll turn myself and, you know, become a Catholic so that my children can eat.” And that’s how we ended up going to Catholic church.
David: I was born in Arviat. My mother passed away when I was one or two years old. My father was taken to hospital—that was for TB—and he never came back to Arviat. I was adopted by Mary Ilitugak. She got married to Tommy Miseralak in Rankin Inlet. I grew up in Arviat until I was about six and we moved to Rankin for two or three years, and that’s when we came down here, when Whale Cove was just starting.
My family was one of the first few families that came to Whale Cove. It wasn’t so bad for us, because my father, who I was adopted to, already had dog teams and family members living in Rankin, so our family was doing okay.
Other families that were flown in from other places inland, those are the people who had a hard time getting adjusted to living on the coast. They didn’t have any idea about seal hunting or whale hunting or anything like that. The only way they knew how to hunt was caribou or fishing, and it was hard for them. Those who were better equipped were helping the other people who were moving in. I guess that’s always an Inuit tradition: wherever you see somebody in need, you help them.
Susie: In 1964, we were relocated to Whale Cove from Baker Lake. My parents didn’t have a choice. We didn’t know anyone, but my mother was a really outgoing person. She would talk to anyone. The people we started to meet here were mainly from the Ahiarmiut Ennadai Lake area, mainly from Arviat, and of course they started helping us out.
I had a mother who was always sick. So I quit school at the age of 15. The government was starting to hire Inuit in the classroom. And because I had the highest grade level here in Whale Cove, and because I spoke both Inuktitut and English and can write both English and Inuktitut, they offered me this half-time position as a classroom assistant.
I met David when I was 16 years old. But because I was so wanting to support my mom, my family, because of the famine that I remembered so well, I had a plan of my own. I wanted to be single and support my family, my parents, all my life. And I was going to do that—until I met David.
We were just friends for a while. But it came to a point where we wanted to be together all the time. At that time, our parents were not agreeing for us to be together because I came from Garry Lake area, different culture, different dialect. I was Catholic. He was Anglican.
At first, we were secretly seeing each other because they didn’t want us to be together. I don’t know how it happened, but they finally agreed. I guess they started talking to each other: “If we cannot separate them, it’s better if they stay together.”
So that’s how that we started our life together—very tough. I keep telling myself, I’m so glad I was working. I had a half-time job at least. And then, after a year, we had a child.
When our eldest daughter was seven years old, we adopted our second child. In Inuit culture, our parents had a strong belief in having their child grow up with both parents. Our first adopted child came from my younger sister, who was single at the time. Although she had been living with someone, they were not married. That’s when they asked us if we could adopt their baby.
Although we were not prepared, love comes first. And that’s how we adopted our second child, and it was similar with the other three children we adopted. We took those children as our own because we wanted our own children. And then our youngest one, he’s our biological son.
We didn’t want our kids to go through what we went through, but they’re going through things exactly as we did by different means of having to survive and adjust. But they have such little knowledge about our tradition and culture now. And most of them don’t speak Inuktitut anymore. In Whale Cove, there are so many different dialects, so our kids have come up with their own dialect. They understand one another. They come up with words, they make it up. So we have our own little words in Whale Cove.
David: Over the last decade, several new gold mines have begun operating in the Kivalliq. When they first started hiring local Inuit, and the local Inuit hired kept quitting their jobs and staying home, the comments that were coming from our government or the mine were that Inuit don’t like to work. “They don’t want to work. They don’t like hard work.” It’s not that. It’s that Inuit want to be home with their families. Families come first. That’s why the problem with keeping young local people up at the mine was a problem—and it still is, because family comes first for Inuit.
The only thing I know about living in Whale Cove is the longer you live somewhere, the more you want to stay. And oftentimes, elders who move out of Whale Cove, some of them come back here because, for people like myself, we moved out of Whale Cove a number of times. We keep coming back, I guess. We know the land, we know the people. It’s hard to start a family or have a family where you didn’t originally grow up. You know the area, you know where to go for fishing or hunting.
The majority of our children chose to stay in Whale Cove, except for our oldest daughter, who has been living in Rankin with her family. And the rest, they want to stay in Whale Cove.
Susie: We’ve been together for 49 years. Fifty years in September. Since we’ve been together so many years, it’s hard to be apart now. There’s more love between us. Illa. And our kids, I hope that they’ll see that too and have more hope in their marriages.
Last year, David said to me, “I bought this ring for you because I had no chance of buying you something like that when we were getting married at our wedding. Remember, you had to borrow my mother-in-law’s wedding ring? So this I give you because I love you, and I’m giving it to you from me.” And, my goodness, of course I started crying. My own wedding band. After 48 years. I was so proud.
The successful side of being together is both of us are committed. I’ve grown up with hardship, watching my siblings having to suffer. I myself have struggled. And knowing I have survived it, I know I can survive anything. That’s my strength.