More than nine months since his harrowing experience being trapped in a blizzard on the land near Arviat, Ernie Eetak is all smiles adjusting to his new steel hands.
“I’m doing fine with these,” he said, looking down at his new hands, which he controls by extending or retracting his arm, causing the ‘claws’ to open and close.
He had been trapped for five days in a blizzard while hunting Nov. 28 to Dec. 2, 2021. The severe frostbite he experienced on his hands forced doctors in Winnipeg to amputate them, but Eetak was just glad to be found and alive.
“It was really cold that day I was lost,” he remembered.
He credits his traditional caribou clothing for helping keep him alive during the ordeal.
His right hand has three pieces of rubber, he explained, because that’s his dominate side, while his left hand has two. He’s managed to work on his snowmobile, use some tools and spend some time catching char this summer.
When he first got his steel hands, Eetak remembers trying to drive his parents’ side-by-side.
“Little bit difficult steering first time,” he smiled, saying he figured it out in a low gear.
The 42-year-old hunter has two children, ages 10 and nine.
“They were really happy when I went back home that I was still alive and went back to my family,” said Eetak.
Small tasks like opening doorhandles – the flat kind, at least – picking up items and other daily needs are manageable.
“Surprising when they see my steel hands,” said Eetak about the reception he received from Elders. “They help me out. When the doorknob has a circle, they open the door, or they give me a cup of juice or tea or coffee.”
One passion he wants to get back to and test out with his steel hands is drum dancing, as well as participating in local musical festivals.
He’s hoping he can figure out a way to put his rifle on a stand so that he can hunt with his steel hands.
Eetak still has the snowmobile he was trapped with on the land, but he also has a new one now, and he can’t wait to go riding this winter.