Articles

How I Become An Eskimo

Here’s the remarkable story of a traveling salesman who returned to the Stone Age. Adopted by an Eskimo family, he lived for a year on raw meal and slept on skins. This is what he learned — from the inside of an igloo

DOUG WILKINSON November 15 1954
Articles

How I Become An Eskimo

Here’s the remarkable story of a traveling salesman who returned to the Stone Age. Adopted by an Eskimo family, he lived for a year on raw meal and slept on skins. This is what he learned — from the inside of an igloo

DOUG WILKINSON November 15 1954

How I Become An Eskimo

Here’s the remarkable story of a traveling salesman who returned to the Stone Age. Adopted by an Eskimo family, he lived for a year on raw meal and slept on skins. This is what he learned — from the inside of an igloo

DOUG WILKINSON

FROM APRIL, 1953, until May, 1954, I lived as the adopted son of an Eskimo family. My father was Idlouk, a strong and able hunter. My mother was Kidlik, a short woman in her mid-thirties, with jet-black hair, slanted eyes and dark skin. I had nine brothers and sisters. We were one of the five families living at Owlatseevik, a speck on the frozen wastes of north Baffin Island.

I lived with these people not as a white man but as an Eskimo. I came to them with only my rifle, ammunition, binoculars and sleeping bag. I had only sufficient money with me to buy my share of the communal items from the trading post seventy miles away—tea, kerosene, flour and candy.

I lived as a hunter, my highest ambition a full stomach. I existed chiefly on the meat and fat of

the animals I killed: seal, walrus, polar bear, small whale and sometimes caribou. I ate most of the meat raw, but occasionally it was boiled over the slow heat of a seal oil lamp or primus heater.

My outer clothing was made of the skins of the seal and the caribou. In summer, I lived in a canvas and sealskin tent and traveled in my frail kayak. In the fall, the tent was as cold as a deepfreeze locker hut when the early snows came and I was hunting on the trail, my home was a cozy igloo. This was the season when I killed and killed, helping to fill the caches with meat for the winter.

In winter, much of my time was spent trapping for fur. With dog teams we would cover sixty miles a day in sixty-below-zero weather. Then I did not see the sun for three months from Nov. 14 until Feb. 11. Winter is the trapping season in the Arctic. The catch is the white fox, a poor, stupid creature of no value in the Eskimo way of life but given value by the white man’s desire for its pelt.

In short, I was a white man, the product of twentieth-century urban life, living with a people who are ten thousand years old in thought, feeling and action.

Why did I go north? What drew me to this vast inhospitable land? I's it true that the Arctic has a fascination for certain people?

There was nothing in my background to suggest a predilection for Eskimo life. Most of my 32 years were spent in southern Canada; in Toronto, where I was born, or in the other cities of Ontario and the Maritimes where I made my living as a traveling salesman. In the army, during the war, I became interested in photography. I was discharged in 1945. and a year later I was put in charge of the film coverage of Exercise Musk Ox by the National Film Board. In this army-air force operation, fortyseven men in ten snowmobiles traveled across three thousand miles of Arctic barren lands. I was awed by the country. It was cold, stormy and bleak. I couldn’t see why men journeyed back to this hostile land time and again.

To me then, as to most outsiders in the north, the Eskimo race was as silent and mysterious as the

northern lights. But that was before I had met an Eskimo, before further trips into the north to make films for the National Film Board taught me something about him.

I saw my first Eskimo in the outer room of the Roman Catholic mission at, fittingly enough, Eskimo Point. I was warming myself by the stove when he entered, clad from head to foot in caribou skins. He smiled at me across the room, then opened a parcel containing a large hunk of raw caribou meat. Cutting oflf chunks with a knife, he ate three pounds in the next five minutes. Then he gave a tremendous belch and shyly grinned at me once more. An qnlikely meeting, perhaps, but it started questions racing through my mind.

Who was this man? How could he exist in a land

where the white man had been starving and freezing for the past three hundred years? Why did he choose to live in the Arctic, existing in the same manner as his forefathers of centuries ago?

During four trips I made between 1948 and 1952, 1 studied the Eskimo and the Arct ic, searching for the answers to these questions. But this was not enough. I was always a white man living in Eskimo country but not living as an Eskimo. I nt*eded something more. I wanted to become an Eskimo.

So I went to Idlouk, aged thirty-eight, and asked him to take me into his camp as his son. I had met Idlouk before and he had impressed me as an able, intelligent and enterprising man who had a perspective on Eskimo life that wasn’t to be found among his companions. Others shared this opinion. It was Idlouk who was chosen by the Queen to receive a Coronation Medal for his outstanding ability as a hunter and trapper. I told him I wanted to help his people.

AJI members of my Eskimo family share tlie chores necessary to tlie constant struggle for warmth, food and shelter

The Eskimo was going through a difficult period because of the coming of the white man and his goods. He was now spending five months each year trapping the white fox and using the pelts to buy white man’s food and supplies. This dependency on the trading post had robbed him of much of his initiative to hunt food. Furt her more, the demand for white fox, tied as it is to the vagaries of fashion, was not a steady one. Sometimes a fur pelt fetched thirty dollars, and sometimes only three. “There is some way out,” I told Idlouk. “Perhaps I will be able to make some suggestions. But first I must know the Eskimo his way of life, his thinking, what he is capable of doing.”

Idlouk said he would be glad to adopt me as his son. I returned home and consulted the Arctic Institute of North America in Montreal. This is a private, nonprofit organization interested in sponsoring and conducting research in all phases of Arctic life. I was given a small grant, enough to pay for my transportation and to support my wife and child while I was away. There was also enough money for me to pay Idlouk fifty dollars a month for acting as my parent. Idlouk was not to get the money until after I had left the camp, lest it affect life in the camp.

My specific assignment was to prepare a report on the everyday life and problems of the Eskimo. And so I went back north to live with Idlouk, his wife Kidlik and their children.

Did I succeed in becoming one of the Eskimo people as I had intended? In a physical sense, yes; in a psychological sense, no. I could not comfortably accept many of the Eskimo ways of thinking. The Eskimo accepts discomfort as a normal way of life and doesn’t strive hard to make things easier for himself. He lives in the immediate past or in the present, but rarely thinks of the future.

I recall a newborn infant lying on a caribou skin in the snowhouse still attached to his mother by the umbilical cord. No one had thought to keep a knife handy with which to cut the cord. Nor had anything been set aside for the baby. He was simply bundled in a piece of old caribou skin. Every misfortune could be explained by “Iyonamut!” (“It can’t be helped!”). Perhaps my failure to bridge completely the gap between my own race and the Eskimo was best summed up by one of the names they gave me, Inoongwah, which means “in the likeness of an Eskimo” and has provided me with a tentative title for a book I am writing. Ordinarily, my Eskimo brothers called me Kingmik, which means “dog.” That’s the closest they could come to translating my English name “Doug.”

I was soon to discover that the daily life of the Eskimo was a constant struggle to keep himself warm and fed. Take a typical day in February—a day that Idlouk and I planned a trip to our trap lines.

Our camp is four snow huts on the edge of the frozen Arctic sea. They are twelve by nine feet and only a bare five feet from the floor to peak. The sleeping platform, made of wood, is about a foot high and covers the rear half of the hut. Here we all sleep in a row. Next to the wood there is a layer of buffalo hide, and next to the body comes caribou skin, hair up.

It is early morning now. Idlouk and Kidlik are getting up. “Ikee,” they say (“It is cold”). Kidlik

reaches to the seal-oil lamps and replenishes the fuel. Each lamp is half-moon-shaped and hollowed out of native soapstone; along the straight leading edge is a wick of Arctic cotton grass, soaking up the oil from the shallow centre and burning with a soft yellow flame. The hut now smells of seal oil but at other times it will be filled with the odor of the whale or of kerosene from the primus stove.

At no time is there any physical privacy in the Eskimo home. Relations between husband and wife, dressing and undressing, are carried on when all are present, yet are done discreetly. Only infrequently does one have the hut to oneself. When a baby is to be born, the men will go outside, leaving the mother alone with the midwife. On Saturday nights, when we take turns in having baths in a tin tub containing three inches of water, the igloo is temporarily given over to the bather. But apart from these instances, the only privacy one has is in the mind.

The children are amusing themselves while waiting for their early snack. Paneelo, sixteen, lies quietly reading the daily text from the New Testament printed in syllabic writing. The people of north Baffin are Anglicans, but only since 1930 when the first missionary came into their land.

Mosesee, Pauloosee and Noahkudlik eleven, eight and five— are acting out imaginary hunts for polar bear, walrus and seal. They have a toy P A made by their father. For dogs, they use fox paws or seal flippers. Leah, fifteen, is sewing a patch in her brother’s sealskin boots. She is worldly for an Eskimo. She had been in a TB sanitarium in Quebec City for seven months. She often talks of the strange things she saw, like the vehicle with two wheels that only carries one man, has to be pumped with the legs. Sometimes the white man puts a motor on one of these and this makes it easier to go but noisier.

The kettle is boiling over the seal-oil lamp and the mugs are lined up in a row. The tea is strong and so hot that it has to be cooled with little lumps of ice before it can be drunk. There is no sugar, for the supply has run out two weeks ago and it is seventy miles to the trading post. The bannock - a kind of rancid-tasting bread made of flour, water, seal oil and baking powder—is distributed. Even year-old Susan gets her share.

I dress carefully today because I am going on an eight-day trip with Idlouk to examine the traps. We will cover more than two hundred miles and travel by the light of the moon all the way. The sun has been gone now for more than two months.

Kidlik has put two fish on to boil— Arctic char (trout), each about ten pounds. They were brought in last night to thaw and now they are cut up in sections to be boiled. The kerosene-burning primus stove is used, for we must leave shortly. Too bad, really, for there is nothing so tasty as fish boiled slowly over the flamd* of the seal lamp. When we eat the fish raw and frozen, it tastes like ice cream without a flavor; when it is unfrozen it tastes very fishy.

Food is not enjoyed primarily for its taste; the pleasure comes from having a full stomach. Almost all the food is meatespecially fat meat. When we eat rabbit meat we must accompany it with slabs of seal fat or else we will feel hungry. We must also eat large quantities of meat. It took me several weeks to get used to eating all the meat I required to put in a day’s hunting. Yet even with this high caloric diet, I lost fifteen pounds in a year.

In the few weeks when there is no snow, a few vegetable items that grow wild are added to the menu. There are the rhubarblike leaves of the sorrel plant which grows to a height of six inches. When boiled, the juice makes a pleasant drink. There is a nameless root that is the size of a small carrot, looks like a parsnip, and tastes like a banana.

We pack the sled for our trip. We take a grub box and another box with extra traps, sealskin boots, mitts, ammunition, and snow knives to build houses. We carry a primus stove and two quarts of fuel—not enough but all we can afford since kerosene costs $1.50 per galbn. A kettle to boil water, a pot to boil meat, and our packing is complete. There is not much food aboard but we will hunt seal and rabbits as we go along.

Anyway, we don’t think much about this now. Why worry about tomorrow? Idlouk melts snow, paints a layer of ice on the runners of the sled, harnesses the dogs, and we are off. It is at least fifty below zero. But deep inside the layers of fur and with my belly full of hot fish, I feel snug and warm. I am elated and ready for anything. This land is my home. Idlouk cracks his whip at the dogs and the sled moves off over the vast white wastes.

Hunting With a Harpoon

After we leave, Kidlik returns to her chores. Making and patching sealskin boots is an endless job. The soles last ten days in winter and often only one day in summer. She visits the local food cache for seal meat and fish; she lays in a supply of seal fat and pounds it soft with a stone. She makes frequent visits to a nearby iceberg, fills a bucket with pieces of ice, then melts them down for water. Now that Idlouk is gone, she has more time to gossip with her neighbors, in the meantime keeping her eye on the children who play around the igloos.

Sometimes the children go over to see what Akomalik, the old man of the camp, is doing. He is Idlouk’s father and is seventy-four years old. The children follow his activities with interest. Sometimes he cleans foxes or repairs sleds or walks over the sea’s surface near the shore, with harpoon gun in hand, searching for the seals’ breathing holes.

There is no fixed bedtime in the camp. Kidlik and the children go to sleep when they are tired. This may be at six in the evening or at four in the morning. Apart from the early morning snack and breakfast, meal times are not fixed. The Eskimo eats when he’s hungry.

Our sled breaks fresh tracks in the snow, mile after mile. Here is my diary of the trip:

Wednesday: Camped for night.

Very cold in snowhouse. There’s a high wind blowing and we haven’t enough fuel to use the prirrius for heating. It is dark outside. The dogs are fighting among themselves. Idlouk is

shouting at them. Today is the second day of the trip. Yesterday was clear and cold. Today, despite heavy wind, we covered thirty-five miles. Had hard time to keep face from freezing. Visited ten traps yesterday, fifteen today, but only one fox. This is worth seven dollars. Should have had fifteen foxes by this time. Looks like a bad year for fur.

Thursday: Camped early today as both of us ill. May have been the rotten seal meat we ate for supper last night; it is really our dog food but had to eat it since no rabbits or other game around. Hope I feel better in the morn-

ing; diarrhea with three suits of clothes on is no fun at forty-five below. Igloo very small tonight, barely room for two of us to lie side by side in our sleeping bags but not strong enough to make it bigger. No supper tonight, only two cups of tea.

Saturday: Over illness okay but still a little weak. Have lots of food since shot five rabbits and Idlouk got one seal at a breathing hole. Twice, much to Idlouk’s delight, 1 shot at lumps of snow that looked like rabbits in the moonlight. Almost got some ptarmigan but the .22 jammed in the cold. Too

bad—they’re delicious, raw or boiled. Have visited over seventy traps but only five foxes in all.

Sunday: Very quiet day. Lie in

sleeping bags all day eating, sleeping, talking. Idlouk will travel on Sunday only if absolutely necessary. Have done nothing but shiver all day. I believe Christianity has done a lot for the Eskimo but cannot understand missionary teaching in this regard. Refuse to think that by lying in this cold house for twenty-four hours, we come closer to God.

Tuesday: Feast to famine. We are out of food. Camped at an Eskimo camp at Tay Sound and found three families there in a bad way with barely enough food to keep them alive for the past month. Twenty of their dogs are dead from starvation and yesterday the people were chewing old sealskins to try and get nourishment. Have given them what remained of our tea and rabbit. But now we have no food. These people didn’t put in a big enough cache of food last fall. Will have to send message to police. Hope they will he all right till then.

Wednesday : Starting home now. No luck hunting but we found a piece of fish in the food box on the sled. Ate it frozen for supper as no fuel left. Only five foxes. At current rates that means $35. Very discouraging. But as Idlouk says, “Iyonamut”—it can’t be helped! A hundred miles to home.

Friday: Only one day from home and we are weather-bound. The wind howls outside and it is cold. Hard to write as fingers cold and lead in pencil brittle. No heat. Nothing to do but spend day in igloo. Yesterday we got a rabbit which we had for supper but nothing today. Dogs are hungry as haven’t eaten for three days. Froze nose and eliin yesterday. In dark, Idlouk cannot see face freezing and at times I forget to watch for it.

Sunday: Arrived home late last night after a nightmare trip. Half-starved and cold, in the dark we ran into a field of rough ice. The sled broke down twice. Once the traces got gnarled on the ice, causing the sled to run overtwo dogs and breaking their hind legs. Crossing the rough ice on the sled was like riding a bucking broncho. We tripped and fell over every obstruction. But we are okay now. We were given a big meal of boiled seal meat. I arrived home cursing the Arctic. Now, an hour later, my stomach full, I feel

peaceful and relaxed. This tranquillity can only come after prolonged hardship and struggle.

During my fifteen months in Ovvlatseevik Kidlik did all in her power to treat me as one of her sons. She would put my sleeping furs out to air. She would chew my sealskin boots till they were soft when the frost got into them and froze them as stiff as a board. When my turn came around, I would get the soft part of the bannock, the tail end of the raw fish and the fish’s head when that dish was served boiled. I, in turn, acted as I was expected to. 1 was obedient to Idlouk’s wishes at all times.

Proud to Share Wife

Nevertheless it took several months before I began to feel like a member of the family. The main barrier was the traditional relationship between Eskimo and white man. All {he white men the Eskimo know—the trader, the policeman, the missionary -are in a position to improve the Eskimo’s position. He is therefore usually very anxious to please them and carries out suggestions made to him without complaint. Sometimes it means doing things he does not like. Just before I stepped on the plane that took me from the Arctic, Idlouk said to me, “Kingmik, I will remember you for many things, hut most of all because you didn’t ask me for my wife or for any other woman in the camp.”

This was the first time I had heard an Eskimo suggest that he didn’t like his woman being with a white man. There is nothing in the Eskimo’s attitude to indicate this feeling. Eskimo women seem proud to hear the child of a white man; the husband is not at all reticent in telling others who the real father is.

1The white man’s a fool. He can t hunt seal, build a snow house or drive dogs

There are no unwanted children among the Eskimo. Kadloo, for example, in our camp, is the son of Gaston Herodier, a scientist who spent a few winters in the Arctic. Herodier bequeathed an estate to Kadloo which yields an annual income of four hundred dollars. This is delivered each summer at ship time. It is true that to some extent the Eskimo wife is regarded as a piece of property to be lent out on occasion according to social custom. But evidently the custom does not, comfortably, include the white man.

Living with the Eskimo, I learned something of their views on the white man and his world. By and large, they regard the white man as a rich fool. He is thought of as rich because he seems to have a great many possessions. Doesn’t the airplane pilot have an elaborate machine? Hasn’t the Hudson’s Bay post factor an entire store full of goods? The white man is a fool because he can’t do simple things like build a snowhouse, handle a dog team or hunt seal. The skills which give the white man status in his own country have no meaning for the Eskimo.

Some aspects of the white man’s civilization frighten the Eskimo. One night Idlouk saw me glancing at a population chart in my dictionary. In reply to his questions, I gave him the population of the various Canadian provinces. He was amazed. I capped our discussion by telling him that in a city called New York, fourteen million people dwelt in an area no larger than that covered by his small island. “This

cannot be,” said Idlouk, over and over again. The next morning he complained, “I couldn’t sleep last night.” He told me that he had been tortured by visions of hordes of New Yorkers, piled high on each other, struggling for enough space to breathe.

War talk had a similarly disturbing effect on my Eskimo family. Usually the discussion would be touched off by a magazine picture—the walls of many homes are papered with magazine pages. “What is that?” Idlouk would ask. “That is a new type of bomber plane,” I would reply.

“What is it used for?”

“To drop explosives from the air and kill many people at once.”

“Why do they want to kill many people?”

“That’s war.”

“Does the man dropping the bomb have a grudge against the people he’s killing?”

“He doesn’t know them.”

“Then why does he want to kill them?”

“That’s war.”

Neither of us was satisfied with this explanation. I was much more comfortable explaining what kept the white man’s bridges from falling into the sea, or how you could have water running out of taps on the top floors of high buildings. I soon found that the Eskimos were asking for explanations only of things they felt they could understand. They avoided questioning me about such phenomena as radio communication or airplane flight. The interested them, but the jiing theory was beyond their

asp.

But the Eskimo is too busy with his family and the struggle to survive to concern himself too much with the miraculous devices of the white man. Nothing about the Eskimo’s life is easy. It’s not true, for example, that all women deliver their children rapidly and painlessly. When Kidlik bore Susan the midwife asked us to leave the tent at 9 p.m. and we were not permitted to re-enter until after the birth some seven hours later. I have known

of other births which lasted for almost twenty-four hours.

Idlouk was happy about Susan’s arrival. “I wanted a girl,” he told me. “I have enough hunters.” If the child had been a boy, Idlouk had been planning to give it to a friend whose wife had borne him four daughters and was now past childbearing. Idlouk was very vocal and jubilant about his new daughter with the other men in the camp, boasting of what a tine woman she was going to be. Yet, the next day, at the trading post, it was only as he departed after an hour’s visit, that he

casually mentioned that his wife had borne him a daughter. Such is the Eskimo’s reticence with the white man.

By our standards of child rearing the Eskimo youngster is somewhat spoiled by his parents. Children are allowed to play with all their parents’ possessions: the boys with harpoons, whips, dog harnesses and sleds; the girls with needles, scissors and thread. No matter how serious the misdemeanor, it is the Eskimo tradition that the child should not be spanked. “The soul of a dead relative lives in each child,” T was told. “It is not right to beat a dead relative.”

Because of the influence of the white man, some of the Eskimo have started to spank their children. Most of the adults disapprove of this trend. Idlouk, who is in the spanking faction, justified his stand by finding six references in the New Testament which sanction corporal punishment. But Idlouk’s spankings are not serious affairs. No Eskimo would care to father a child who reaches adulthood bearing a grudge against his parents. He knows that some day, when he can no longer hunt, he will be completely dependent on his children. “If my child does not like me he will not treat me well,” says Idlouk.

It is Pauloosee, the eight-year-old, who most angers Idlouk. He is forever snatching things from other children and teasing them. Because Eskimo children are less aggressive than our own, this type of behavior is conspicuous. “Why should Pauloosee act this way?” Idlouk asked me one day. “It worries me.”

The age-old conflict between age and youth is typified in the relationship between Idlouk and Oodletetuk, his eighteen-year-old son. Like his father, Oodletetuk is intelligent, strong and a good hunter. Yet, by convention, he must obey his father implicitly, even though he is now married and has a small son of his own. In many cases, where the son hasn’t the self-confidence and ability to replace his father as natural leader of the family, he goes on doing as he is told indefinitely. I have seen men of forty being ordered around by their fathers like school children.

Two Husbands for Rebecca

One of Idlouk’s family problems was solved recently with the marriage of Rebecca, who is the oldest child. As is often done in the case of the first-born, Rebecca was given to her grandparents at birth. When she became of marriageable age, the grandparents began to look around for an eligible bachelor. Marriages among the Eskimos are still arranged; romantic marriages are practically unknown, although a married couple may become very fond of each other in due time. The grandparents finally settled on two likely husbands for Rebecca, but were unable to decide which one would be the better provider. At this point, the wife of another Eskimo died suddenly and everyone agreed that the widower was superior to both prospects. The match was made and Rebecca was married at the Anglican mission at the Pond Inlet post.

In our society, we tend to isolate and reject the handicapped person. We gawk at him in public and we won’t give him a useful job. The Eskimo attitude is exactly the opposite: the cripple is treated the same as anybody else and is expected to pull his share of the load. This type of primitive therapy seems to work miracles. One of my neighbors had a shriveled arm and leg. He moved about camp by pushing himself on a sled with his good foot. His skill with a rifle was unmatched. He regularly went on hunting trips and bagged more than his share of the game. He was married and had three healthy children.

Jacko, aged 27, is a hunchback; Kyakootchuk, 45, is deaf. But they are in no way excluded from the group. Even Tuktuk, who makes no contribution to the life of the camp, is not discriminated against. Instead of hunting, fishing and trapping like the other men, Tuktuk mostly just sits around camp doing nothing. Everyone agrees that this is just as well since he makes a botch of everything he tries. When he shoots at a seal, the bullet goes wide and the animal is frightened away.

Once he stopped in at a neighboring camp for a drink of water while on his way to the hunting ground and stayed a week, forgetting the original purpose of his trip. He is always getting messed up with his traps. Once, while on the trail, his two-year-old child fell off the sled and it was an hour before Tuktuk noticed its absence. The Eskimos, aware of Tuktuk’s low intelligence, treat him with the same leniency as they do their children.

An Open Seam of Coal

Although our little settlement was strongly Anglican, a belief still remained in the powers of the “Angakok” —a combination of medicine man and sorcerer. Our own Angakok, a fortyyear-old named Kowtinyah, had the reputation of being a kind of Arctic Dr. Doolittle. It was said that he could communicate with the animals, especially the polar bear. Once he announced that some polar bears were to be found at a certain place, at a certain time. A group of hunters dispatched to the area proved him right.

According to one of my neighbors, several years ago an Angakok gathered a group of men inside an igloo and started them singing. Then, he smashed a small hole through the wall of the igloo with his fist and a second later he jumped through it to the outside without making the hole any larger! Another Angakok repaid an enemy by making his wife barren.

My Eskimo friends and neighbors expected little from life. They got up; they ate; they hunted; they went back to sleep. They accepted the fact that all this is to be accompanied by a certain amount of deprivation and suffering. “Iyonamut!” (“It can’t he helped.”)

In many cases I found that it could be helped. The Eskimo is often cold in his caribou-skin tent or house. Yet, in our district there are six open-seam coal mines. The Hudson’s Bay post uses this fuel to heat its buildings. “You can use this fuel too for heating,” is a suggestion that has been frequently made to the Eskimo. Many of the hunters say that this sounds like a good idea. But they never do anything about it.

One November day we set out for the fish cache about sixty miles away. Since there was not yet enough snow to build a snow hut we brought along a tent. When we stopped that night in the midst of a howling storm we discovered that the tent was full of holes and lacked guy ropes. Nobody had thought of examining it before the trip started. Again, through lack of foresight our supplies contained only enough kerosene for the primus for one night, although our trip was to last four days. So we ate frozen fish and sucked pieces of ice. One morning I worked with one of my neighbors building a food cache. This is a large oval pit burrowed out of a pile of stones for the storage of food. It took four hours to dig the pit, fill it with food, then cover it with rocks. My neighbor grew tired of the job during the last stages. It was doubtful whethi er we had piled on enough rocks to keep away marauding dogs or bears. Another fifteen minutes of work would have definitely safeguarded the food. He surveyed the work carefully and concluded, “Maybe the bear won’t get the food.” One night, after we had i pitched our tent, somebody said, “A storm may soon blow; perhaps we need more rocks to hold the tent down.” But this was not done, because most of my 1 companions agreed that “Maybe the i storm will not blow the tent down.” The sense of competition is almost I entirely lacking among my adoptive people. In spring, under the light of the midnight sun, we would play a peculiar version of the English game of rounders, using caribou skin stuffed with hair as a ball, and a stick for a bat. At no time did any of the participants have the idea of winning. This lack of competition in all branches of the Eskimo’s life means that there is seldom any personal animosity between members of the community.

Whatever 1 left behind in Tununermiut, I know that it is something less than I took away with me. Before I became an Eskimo, my main ambition

was to have a good job and to accumulate as much money and goods as possible. Today, I am without a regular job or wealth but I am a good deal happier. I have found a worthwhile mission in life—to help the Eskimo find himself. At present, he is in a quandary and drifting aimlessly.

We have in Canada about 9,700 Eskimos scattered along the northern coasts and in the interior of the vast Arctic prairies. Despite his contact with the white man and his new goods, the Eskimo is still a primitive person. He has not changed his pattern of thought and his over-all conception of his place and position on this earth remains the same. But even though he is primitive in thought, he has been suddenly confronted with a bewildering array of rifles,,engines, boats, and foodstuffs. He has given little or no thought to the ultimate effect of such goods on the lives of his sons and daughters.

The advent of the trading post where he could barter his furs for goods profoundly changed the life of the Eskimo. In earlier times, he lived exclusively on the products of the hunt'. Now, by gathering up the skin of the fox—a hitherto worthless animal—a whole new world of foodstuffs and materials is available to him. As long as fur prices in the world market remained high, all seemed to go well. But when the demand for white foxes dwindled, the Eskimo was left helpless. He had no understanding of the white man’s commerce that for years paid him well and then suddenly, could pay him little or nothing. He still doesn’t understand it.

The Play of the Seasons in the North

Down through history, when a primitive culture has come in contact with a dominant civilization, the primitive culture has been shattered and lost. The old Eskimo is already lost. But must his descendants disappear entirely from the Canadian scene?

I don’t think so. I believe we can start working on a plan to help the Eskimo.

First, we urgently need a number of white men who, with their wives and families, would live their lives among the Eskimo. Their job would be to study and to help. How does the Eskimo live? How does he think? What capacities do they have for other work? One man should be assigned to each group of Eskimos.

Handicrafts Mean Money

The more intelligent Eskimo children should be given an education. They will be the future leaders of their people. Furthermore, it might help them to get jobs that are now beyond them. Why shouldn’t Eskimos eventually have responsible jobs in military establishments, air fields, weather stations, missions, trading posts, mining developments? Most white men hate living in the Arctic; the Eskimo loves it. This is his land, his home.

Some Eskimos are now earning money through their handicraft, aided by the federal government and the Canadian Handicraft Guild. Soapstone and ivory figures, basketry, sealskin slippers and rugs are a few of the objects that are now being sold in Canadian cities.

And finally, we must carefully watch the Eskimo population figures. In recent years, the Eskimos have been increasing. This is going to make it increasingly difficult for them to live off the land. Eventually some of them will have to be transplanted to other regions or other means will have to be found to care for the surplus population.

The starting point, of course, is to understand the Eskimo. That’s why I became an Eskimo in the first place. That’s why I plan to keep my promise to Idlouk to return “home” once again. ★