Nadia Ootoovak has been spending time on the land with her family for as long as she can remember.
The 20-year-old from Pond Inlet, who is the second eldest of six siblings, has participated in fall narwhal hunts, spring fishing trips and lots more.
She enjoys all of her time on the land, but said her favourite activity comes in the late spring, when she and her parents and siblings load up their qamutiiks and venture far out of town in search of snow geese eggs.
“One thing I look forward to every year is the egg picking,” she said. “It’s one of my favourite things to do. My siblings too.
“You get a lot of eggs from the land. We also get the geese every now and then – not a lot, just enough for us.”
One of Ootoovak’s favourite memories on the land occurred on one such egg-picking trip. It was about two years ago, she said, when one of her younger sisters, who was roughly 11 at the time, had just started riding a snowmobile.
Ootoovak’s father, who was riding with her mother and another sister, was leading the family on the trip. When he came to a river, he paused to decide the best course of action.
“We all had backpacks and we were going out for geese eggs,” Nadia recounted. “Everything had just started melting. The rivers were flowing and the current was strong.
“My dad was staring at the river for maybe a minute or two, thinking about where he should go to cross that river. Then he looked at my younger sister and said, in Inuktitut: follow my lead exactly.”
Ootoovak’s father crossed the river first, moving “pretty fast” on his snowmobile. Her older sister, who was riding with her boyfriend and son, crossed next.
Ootoovak, who was riding with her younger brother, took her turn next, and also made it across.
That just left her 11-year-old sister, who had an even younger sister riding with her.
Their snow machine made it across the river – but barely.
“Instead of going fast like my dad did, she went so slow,” Ootoovak said with a laugh. “The Ski-Doo almost tipped over, but she made it across the river.”
Ootoovak created lasting memories on that egg picking trip, but it also reaffirmed the importance of knowledge sharing as it pertains to surviving on the land.
A lot of Inuit wisdom, she notes, has not been written down, and is therefore best absorbed by speaking to older generations on the land.
“These things are not usually documented,” she said. “Just recently they started documenting information here and there. It’s important that you go [on the land] in person so you can see how [Elders] look at things and how they describe things out there.”
Ootoovak hopes to keep spending as much time as she can on the land – not only because it gives her a “sense of self” as an Inuk, but because it helps her escape the strains and stresses of her life in town.
“All of my other feelings disappear,” she said. “I feel calm. I don’t feel stress. I don’t feel overwhelmed with work or anything.
“I don’t have to worry about anything – other than big animals.”