The Coppermine River, stretching across the North Slave Region in the Northwest Territories and into the Kitikmeot Region of Nunavut, is shedding its winter sea ice during annual breakup season.

Taking place over the June 20 weekend, crowds sporadically gathered to watch ice floes move North to the mouth of the river near the Hamlet of Kugluktuk at Coronation Gulf.

Kugluktuk Elders, however, are noticing the conditions of the breakup are not quite what they used to be.

Zane Nivingalok, 4, enjoys watching the icicles during the breakup of the Coppermine River near Kugluktuk.
Rita Pigalak/NNSL photo
ᓴᐃᓐ ᓂᕕᖓᓗᒃ, 4, ᐊᓕᐊᓇᐃᒍᓱᒃᐳᖅ ᖁᙱᐊᕐᓂᖓᓂ ᑯᓱᒐᕐᓂ ᓯᑯᐃᖅᐸᓪᓕᐊᑎᓪᓗᒍ ᖁᕐᓗᖅᑑᑉ ᑰᖓᓂ ᖁᕐᓗᖅᑑᑉ ᖃᓂᒋᔭᖓᓂ.

Elders Mark and Martha Taletok remember when things were different.

Mark was born and raised at Contwoyto Lake and moved to Kugluktuk, formerly Coppermine, in 1988. 

“We were inland people and my family made our move,” he said. “The river provided an abundance of fish for our community and the water was as clear as glass, it was so clean.”

But now Mark says the waters, where many collect crystal ice for tea, is weaker.

“We watch the breakup every year and the changes are noticeable, the river is weak and low. Everyone sees the changes. I wish it were the same but we can’t go back,” said Mark.

“The winters were cold and we had snow, lots of snow, river breakup back in the days were so much more stronger than they are now, the water levels were high because of the amount of snow we had. The river was powerful, very powerful. We are old and we relax, still always looking forward to watching the spring breakup of the river. I cherish my memories, all my memories,” he said.

Doris Elatiak, born and raised in Kugluktuk, recalls when she was a young girl during river breakup.

“It was an exciting time for us, we would get together as a family and watch the roaring ice come down the river,” she said.

“My parents, along with others, would set up tent across the river on the island and wait for breakup to happen. The river sounded like thunder and it was loud, ice would pile up along the river banks and on top of each other as they get pushed down the river. Today it is not so any more, too many changes. 

“I was so happy as it was a time to prepare the fishing nets to harvest fresh fish and the driftwood and logs we would collect as much as we could, it would gather all along the shores even out towards the islands.”

Despite changes in recent decades the people of Kugluktuk continue the traditions of spring and summer harvesting, preparing their gill nets for the char run, the making of fresh piffi (dry fish), gathering the clear crystal ice that is collected for tea and the collecting of driftwood for firewood.

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  1. Yes, the Coppermine River sure has changed! As a youngster, I recall the mighty river, was more powerful. When the ice broke , ice would flow in front of the old Hudson Bay area And the ice would jam and clash so high! The ice would pile high and it was a sight to see! The noise of ice clashing was something to hear! This year I watched the ice breaking up days apart, where the ice would jam at the pump house, then start flowing again. You can still hear the clinking of the ice, slowly moving down to wards the front dock area. Sure has been a lot of changes through the years since I was a youngster!

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