THE TWO ORDEALS OF KIKIK
She killed a man in cold blood — she had to — then she set off on foot, starved, across a frigid, merciless wasteland to try to save the lives of five children. When she achieved the impossible the white man’s unbending law held her for murder
Author’s Note: During 1947 and 1948 I spent some time in the lhalmiut country and I came to know Yaha and Halo well. With Ootek I developed bonds of close affection, for he was my good friend. When the events connected with the trial of Kikik were first reported in the press in the spring of 1958, I read them and could make no sense of them. It became a matter of urgency to me that I should understand what had happened—that someone at least should know the truth. To this end I went north during the summer and I visited Padlei, Eskimo Point and Rankin Inlet. I talked at length with many people—the lhalmiut survivors and other Eskimos who were familiar with the story (and who had their own conception of the truth behind it): and with most of the white men who were also involved. Later I studied the verbatim account of the two trials and the related documents, as well as the police investigation reports. There was conflict in the facts, but there was even more conflecf in the interpretation which had been put upon them. Now I have taken the facts which are the true ones, and I have told the story, and I believe it to be truth.
BY FARLEY MOWAT
On the morning of April 15, 1958, the Territorial Court of the Northwest Territories convened in the beer parlorcum-recreation hall of the North Rankin Nickel Mine which squats upon the western shore of Hudson Bay. Ceremoniously the judge took his place behind a deal table while on his right, six jurors shifted their bottoms
uncomfortably upon a wooden bench. In front of the judge, and awkwardly aware of the needs of propriety, an audience consisting mainly of Eskimo women and offshift miners tried not to drown out the proceedings in the clatter of folding chairs. Outside the doubly insulated building a stray husky nuzzled at a garbage can as the sun beat down upon the white immobility of the frozen land.
The prisoner sat upon the right hand of the judge. She smiled steadily at the assembled court, but in her eyes there was the blankness of total bewilderment and such an absence of comprehension that she might have been only a wax mannequin. But perhaps, since there was the flush of life under the brown shadows of her skin, she more nearly resembled a visitor from some alien world who had become inexplicably trapped on ours. It is not too farfetched a simile, for E 1-472 Kikik (to give her the formality of her official name) had indeed been plucked out of another space and time in order that she might be brought to this place to answer to the charges laid against her.
Those to whom she must answer had also come great distances. The judge and prosecutor had flown eastward from Yellowknife some 700 miles away. Another plane had brought a learned doctor from Winnipeg, nine hundred miles to the southward. From Ottawa, fourteen hundred miles to the southeast, representatives of the Department of Northern Affairs had come to serve as friends to the accused. For many days aircraft had been converging upon the transient cluster of drab buildings huddled under the gaunt headframe of this arctic mine. Between them they had spanned half a continent—yet none had come a fraction of the distance which Kikik had traversed.
Like a visitor from an alien world uncomprehending, while her peer Kikik sat smiling, utterly neld her life in balance
For Kikik had crossed the chasm of five thousand years. .She had come out of an age we cannot know, and out of a land which is so bitterly inimical that not two score white men have plumbed its depths. She came, so the geographers would say, from Ennadai Lake, a scant two hundred miles west of Hudson Bay in the heart of the tundra, but in reality she came from a place which lies at an astronomical distance from our world.
It took her ten years to journey from Ennadai, out of time, to Rankin Inlet: and her journey began in the year 1948 when Kikik and her people, who call themselves Ihalmiut—Those Who Live Apart—first came to our official notice. Until 1948 the Ihalmiut had never seen a missionary, an agent of the government, nor even the ubiquitous police. Their only knowledge of us had been obtained through ephemeral contacts with trading outposts—contacts that had brought the Ihalmiut guns and flour, and disease and starvation, and such a dying that between 1914 and 1948 five hundred people had become fifty.
But in the year 1948 the isolation of the people ended. A policeman visited their camps. Solemnly he registered each living person, gave each a number and hung a fiberboard dog-tag bearing that number around each human neck. As of that moment the Ihalmiut officially became Canadians. Their existence, so one might say. had at long last been legitimized.
It did not do them much appreciable good.
During the decade which followed, the experiences of the Ihalmiut were synonymous with death and evil days. From 1948 until 1958, twenty-three men. women and children from a population that never exceeded fifty, died unnaturally. The officially admitted causes of their deaths include exposure, accident, disease, and that most useful equivocation of statisticians— cause unknown. But Kikik, for one, could have given more specific information when, in the starvation winter of 1951. her eight-year-old son died because his belly could extract no further sustenance from the fragments of old bone anti scraps of deerskin clothing with which it had been stuffed.
Yet even more terrible than death were the incomprehensible vicissitudes to which those who lived w'ere subjected during those ten years. In 1950, for example, the entire group was taken from Ennadai by the police to serve as fishermen for a commercial firm at Nueltin Lake. They were flown to the new place, and a totally new' kind of life, without having any understanding of the purpose behind the move, and without any desire on their part to go. And when they arrived at Nueltin they found no employment, and eventually
they made their owm way back over the w'hite plains to their own land. Three of their number perished on that trek.
Even those white men who were well-intentioned toward the Ihalmiut became, unconsciously their enemies. In 1949 the army established a radio station at Ennadai Lake and the soldiers conceived a great affection for the Eskimos. When epidemics swept the Ihalmiut camps, the soldiers ministered to them and saved many lives yet. unwittingly, they became the agents of the government authorities and instruments of the official government policy toward the Eskimos. This policy was one of hand-outs and relief, as a panacea in lieu of any real attempt to give the Eskimos a chance to live as part of a new world. It was a soul-destroying policy. By 1955 the Ihalmiut had been effectively discouraged even from the age-old search for caribou which had always been their staff of life. Instead they had been taught to cluster about the radio station in order to receive a w'cekly issue of flour and lard and tea.
By the spring of 1957 the people had not only suffered the loss of physical unity with their land, but they had lost pride, and certainty, and hope. They were effectively deprived of the weapons with which to resist the final merciless assault of fate which came upon them in that year.
In iVfay of 1957 the police, accompanied by a representative of the Department of Northern Aflairs, flew' to the Ihalmiut camps and carried out a mass deportation of the people. The eleven surviving families were loaded into aircraft, leaving behind their sleds, their kayaks, their dead and their land. They were then flown eastward a hundred miles to Hcnik Lake and here they were told that they must live, and they were promised an abundant life in the new' country, and freedom from fear of the white spectre of death in the winter. It must be understood that the intentions of the men responsible for this move were of the best; but it must also be understood that their understanding was of the worst.
Already sunk into a bleak uncertainty, Kikik’s people were nevertheless uprooted from their familiar plains anil transported to a land of great rock hills where scrub outposts of the forests clung to sheltered slopes. For the Ihalmiut this new land brought no release from fear; rather it gave new w'eight to ancient fears. Since time immemorial they had avoided hill country, knowing such to be the dwelling place ol evil beings whose reality is unquestioned by the people. And for long centuries they had avoided tree country, recognizing this as belonging by right to the C’hipewyan Indians who. as recently as a generation past, had butchered twenty of the Ihalmiut on the shores of Kasba Lake.
Nor w'as the promised land a better place in the purely physical sense. Despite the gift of a month s supply ol flour and lard, the people soon found that they had come to a hard and hungry land. Nor could they easily turn, as they had been taught to turn, to a nearby white man for assistance. The nearest outpost was at Padlei, fifty miles to the northeast and. although this is no great distance to a man with a good team of dogs, it can be a road that has no ending, save in death, to a starving family afoot in winter weather. The eleven families at Henik had no dogs, for these had starved to death during the preceding year.
By midsummer of 1957 there was hunger in the new camps. And for the first time in all their history, Kikik’s people stooped to theft. Three men broke into a cache left behind by a prospecting company, and they stole food. And very shortly afterwards a police aircraft came to take these three men away from the families who depended upon them for all things, The thieves were flown to Eskimo Point where, in due course, two of them were tried, found guilty, anti sentenced to terms of imprisonment. The third was never tried for he was in hospital with a ruptured eye, an injury he had sustained when a fragment of stone flew into his face as he was cracking boulders with a sledge-hammer, on orders from his jailers, while awaiting trial.
Nevertheless Kikik and her people had not been totally abandoned—yet. In September a white hunter was flown in by the government to spend a month assisting the people to kill an adequate supply of caribou to hist them over the winter ahead. During the month this man and the lhalmiut hunters were able to kill fifteen caribou —• sufficient to last the camps for two weeks at most. I hey could not kill more, for there were almost no caribou at Hcnik l ake.
After his return "outside" the white hunter informed the government authorities of the failure of the hunt and of the fact that the people had insufficient food on hand with which to face the winter. Therefore what came to pass cannot be easily excused on the grounds of ignorance. Indeed the police stated, in late autumn, that they would patrol to Henik I.ake in order to ensure that no critical emergency arose. Hut that patrol was never made. Silence, as impenetrable as any which had surrounded the lhalmiut at Enrtadai, closed in on Henik l ake. From October of 1957 until mid February of 1958, that silence was unbroken from outside.
And in those months a people who had been savaged by adversity for two decades faced this climactic winter with despair, ¡tul with the final ebbing of their hope for a futurity And it was in those months that Kikik took the final steps that would lead her to the April morning when a man with a kind voice would say incomprehensible words to her.
"You Kikik, of Henik Lake, stand charged before his Lordship in that you, Kikik No. E 1-47?, did murder Ootek . . . How' say you to this charge?"
When Hcnik Lake turned white in autumn, there were hungry people on Us shore, and people who had no way to stay that hunger, they looked to the long months ahead with a bottomless foreboding, yet they fought against what seemed a certain fate. As long as they were strong enough, certain of the men made the long trek to Padlei where they received supplies of sorts; but they had few furs to trade for they had no strength nor time to waste on trapping. In the camps beside the lake, they fished by day, and even by night, but the fish were few and lean.
The months grew colder and darker, and hunger grew apace. The year turned, and January brought no surcease, and February came.
During the long night of Feb. 7, the great wind born of the polar ice came seeking to the south across five hundred miles of tundra plain, to strip the unresisting snow from the black cliffs at Henik Lake and to send snow devils dancing like dervishes across the ice. The driven snow scoured the darkness like a blast of sand until no living thing could face it. Nothing ran. nor crawled, nor flew over the broken ridges, the frozen muskegs or the faceless, hidden lakes.
Yet life was there, unseen beneath the wind. On the shores of a narrow bay two snowhouses crouched against the gale and within them people listened to the voice of the wind. The muted roar changed pitch as the night hours passed and before dawn it had become a high-throated wail that drove into the mind like needles into flesh.
In the smaller of the two houses (it was no more than a snow-block barricade roofed with a piece of canvas) there were five people. One of them, the year-old boy Igyaka, lay rigid and unhearing, his body shrunken into a macabre travesty of human form by the long hunger which, two days earlier, had given him over to the frost to kill. On the sleeping-ledge of hard-packed snow his two sisters lay beside him. 1 hey were Kalak, who had been born deaf and dumb out of a starvation winter ten years earlier, and little Kooyak who was seven years of age. These two lay in each other's arms under the single remaining deerskin robe, and they were naked except for tattered cotton shifts. There were no more robes with which to cover them, and none to hide the frozen horror of the dead child beside them, for the other robes had been eaten long ago. There were no clothes for the two girls, for these too had been sacrificed to hunger.
Contorted by poliomyelitis which had deprived her of the full use of her legs and her right arm in 1950, the children’s mother, Howmik. crouched over a handful of white ashes by the sleeping ledge. The ashes had been cold for three days, for the twigs which were the only fuel had long since passed in evanescent flame. Within that meager place the darkness and the cold were almost absolute, and none could see the husband. Ootek. who crouched against the wall and stared with wide-open eyes that saw through darkness, and could see death as vividly before him as other men might see the sun.
In the second house, a hundred yards away, there was the woman Kikik, her
husband Halo, and their five children. Though hunger had marked all seven, yet it had been unable to take any of them, for Halo was indomitable. Almost alone of the lhalmiut he had never experienced utter desperation. He had never stared into the past, nor did he seek to know what the future might look like. He lived for the day; lived with a kind of frenzied vigor that made each day give life to him and his. And he was free to do this because his song-cousin, and his lifelong companion, Ootek. was the visionary and the unraveler of great questions for the two of them. They complemented each other so completely, these two, that they were in reality a single man. Slightly built, and with no reserves of physical stamina, Ootek was only a mediocre hunter, who relied often enough on Halo's help to keep his family fed. But it w'as Halo who relied upon Ootek to face those nebulous problems of the mind that have confronted man since he was man. In a true sense they were the two archetypes of Man: the one who sought to limit and assuage the hostility of fate with his mind’s weapons —the other with the weapons of his hands.
These then, w'ere the people whom the wind had found. And they were alone in the wind’s world on that February day; alone in a particular hell that had not been of their contriving, but that had been contrived for them by men of good intentions. The other nine families had earlier seen their doom approaching and had made an effort to escape it by the desperate expedient of attempting to trek on foot to the trading post at Padlei. Before dawn of Feb. 8, some had reached that sanctuary—but others never would.
A few who tried
The man Onekwaw, his wife Tabluk and a fourteen-year-old orphan boy called Anektaiuwa made their attempt during the last week in January. Inadequately clothed, and gaunt from hunger, the boy froze to death during the passage of the lake ice—after five days of bitter cold, with neither food nor fire to sustain him. Onekwaw lived a little longer, but he too died a few miles from the shore. Tabluk alone of that family survived to reach the post and tell her tale.
Some of the other fugitives brought word to Padlei that the young man Kaiyai lay helpless in his snowhouse. His leg, frozen and thawed again, had swelled like a great blue fish and stank like one. they said. Henry Voisie, the manager of the post, immediately radioed to the police at Eskimo Point asking for an aircraft to be sent to Henik Lake to rescue Kaiyai; but the days passed and Kaiyai could wait no longer. So his wife Alekashaw placed him on a sled and, with her two young children trudging beside her. set out to haul him fifty miles across the snow. She pulled the sled for eight days, and then there was no need to pull it any farther for Kaiyai was dead. She came alive to Padlei without him, but her feet were frozen marble white and hard.
Such was the pattern of that exodus.
As the belated dawn of Feb. 8 began to -.tain the storm with the opaqueness of a blind man’s eye. only three families remained within the Hmik country. One of these was already on the move. Ootek’s and Halo’s families had not yet joined the refugees, but for them too. the time had come to flee—or meet a certain death within the camps.
Ootek was aware of the necessity for flight, but he was equally aware that it was too late for him to flee. He and his family had already delayed too long and,
having eaten most of their winter clothing, they could no longer escape from the snowhouse which had become Igyaka’s coffin. Yet, knowing this, Ootek nevertheless spoke to his wife when the morning came, saying:
"I shall go to the trading place alone, and in a little time I will return with food for all."
Howmik looked up at him bleakly but said nothing, for she knew that he could never reach the post alive; but Kooyak who knew only that she was bitter cold and that her bowels were twisted in agony by the glut of caribou hair and bones which filled them, moaned and cried aloud. Then Ootek who had never before raised his hand against any man, least of all against a child, stumbled toward the sleeping ledge. He raised his hand so that it hung trembling over the girl. . “I shall bring food!" he cried—and struck his daughter on her shrunken mouth . . .
It was too late for Ootek, but it w'as not yet too late for Halo's family to flee. As Halo took his ice chisel and fought his way against the gale toward the lake, there to laboriously chop through the new-made ice which covered his fishing hole, he too knew' that the time had come to move. He came to his decision as he squatted, back to the whining wind, keeping his jigging line in motion. Two hours later he caught a fish, a small one, and took it back to his snowhouse, and the family ate; and when they were done they were starving still.
Meanwhile Ootek had crept out of his own house and turned to face the north. He took half a dozen steps, and the gale scourged him until he staggered and he was blinded—and then he turned away from it and he went stumbling across that lesser distance to Halo’s snowhouse, sobbing as a man may when all hope passes. He came into Halo's house and crouched exhausted and blank - eyed against the inner wall.
So they sat. these two who were closer than brothers. Halo offered Ootek the tail of the fish and Ootek wolfed it and when it was gone he asked for the bones of the fish to take to his family. The bones were given to him, but still he sat against the wall and waited, sensing what must be said, even before Halo could frame the words. After a long time Halo spoke.
"Now there is nothing in this camp." he said. "And when the storm weakens I must take my family and go somewhere, for there are no fish in the lake and if we stay, we shall be as Igyaka is.”
So Halo dissolved the bonds which had held these two men throughout the years. He cut them ruthlessly, for there w'as no other choice. But he did not look at Ootek as he left the igloo to take up his vigil at the fishing hole again.
Ootek made no protest, though sentence of death had been passed on him and on his family. He no longer had strength to travel, nor to endure at the fishing hole, nor even to scrabble under the hard snow for handfuls of willow' twigs — yet he did not protest. He sat silently for a long time watching Kikik at work repairing the tattered clothing of her children. Then at last he rose, smiled strangely at Kikik and said: “Now I will go to Padlei. Only first I will shoot some ptarmigan with Halo's gun so that my children can eat while I am gone." And so saying he took Halo’s rifle and left the igloo.
He had not far to go. and he had the strength for this final journey. Perhaps he no longer even felt the cold, or knew the agony within him. He went before the storm, directly driven toward the one thing which could still sustain him.
Unseen, unheard, shrouded by the snow and wind, he paused a pace behind the crouching figure of his other self. Perhaps he stood there through an eternity, knowing what he would do, yet hesitating until the wind blowing through his shabby parka warned him that he must finish quickly. For indeed this was the finish—not only of the life that Ootek had led through the long years but also, so he believed, the finish of the interminable struggle of the people w ho called themselves Jhalmiut.
When such an ending comes, it is not good to go alone. Ootek intended that the few survivors by the shores of Henik Lake should be together at the end: and so he raised the title and. without passion. blew in the back of Halo's head.
The wind swallowed the thunder of the shot as the sea swallows a stone. Soundless still, Ootek climbed the slope to Halo’s house. He put the rille down outside the tunnel and crawled inside.
He came as nemesis, but he was a weak and tragic emissary of the fates, for he was so chilled that he could not even raise his arms until Kikik used some of her few remaining twúgs to brew him a cup of tepid water. The warmth revived a little of the purpose in his sad design, and he attempted to persuade the children to leave the igloo on some absurd pretext. But when they would not go, and when it was clear that Kikik was disturbed by his behavior, he did not know what else to do but turn and leave the place himself. He was so easily defeated, as he had been defeated all his life by the necessity of doing. He was the dreamer, and now the doer no longer lived and Ootek was no longer whole.
Standing irresolute and hopelessly confused in the arms of the storm again, he picked up the rifle and aimlessly began to clean the snow from it. He was still there, a quarter of an hour later, when Kikik emerged from the igloo tunnel.
Kikik was uneasy. She had been perturbed by Ootek’s actions and she was indignant that he had borrowed Halo’s rille and had not returned it. But when she scrambled to her feet and looked into Ootek’s eyes she suddenly knew fear as well.
"Give me the rifle,” she said quickly.
Ootek made no answer, but his hands continued to stray over the weapon, brushing the snow away. Kikik stepped forward and grasped it but Ootek would not let go, and so they began to struggle with one another in the whirling centre of the storm. Kikik slipped and stumbled and when she had recovered herself it was to see Ootek slowly bringing the rifle to his shoulder. But his movements were so painfully slow that she had time to step in and push the muzzle to one side so that the bullet rushed harmlessly away into the wind.
And now the woman, better fed and stronger, and driven by a sudden fierce anxiety for her five children, easily overpowered the man. He fell, exhausted, and she fell over him and her slight weight was sufficient to pin him to the snow. Ootek struggled futilely as Kikik shouted 'o Ailouak. her eldest daughter, telling the child to fetch Halo from the jigging hole.
Ailouak came from the igloo, glanced at the struggling pair before her, and went racing down toward the lake. She was not gone long. Sobbing wildly she emerged again from the enveloping ground drift. “My father cannot come, for he is dead!” she cried.
What followed has the quality of nightmare. Sprawling astride the feebly resisting body of her husband's murderer, Kikik questioned him with the quiet and detached voice of someone in an empty
room. There was no rancor, and no passion in it, nor in the steadfast, halfwhispered replies of the man. There was only a terrible remoteness as these two emaciated beings whose hold on life was almost equally tenuous, engaged each other in dead words while the wind roared darkly over them and the quick snow drifted up against their bodies. They talked so—Fut while they talked Kikik was coming to the realization of what she must do next. For Ootek the certainty of their common fate might be inevitable, but Kikik w'ould not accept this truth. She was well fitted to be Halo’s wife, for she too was of adamantine stuff. She did not think, she knew her children
would survive—and of the many obstacles which lay between them and survival, the first was Ootek.
She called Ailouak again who, frightened and horrified, had retreated to the igloo.
“Daughter! Bring me a knife!" she cried.
Accompanied by her brother Karlak, the girl emerged. Both children held knives in their hands . . .
“1 took the larger knife from Ailouak and I stabbed once near Ootek’s right breast, but the knife was dull and it would not go in. Then Ootek grasped the knife and tbok it from me but as we struggled for it it struck his fore-
head and the blood began to flow. Karlak was standing near and so 1 took the small knife which he handed me anti stabbed in the same place near the right breast. This time the knife went in and 1 held it there until Ootek was dead . . ."
The killing would have been easier for Kikik had there been passion in it. but there was none. She acted out of intellect, not out of emotion, and she knew exactly what she tlid. She knew. too. what lay ahead. She held no illusions. She was fully aware of the almost unbearable burden which Halo's death had laid upon her. There would be no more food of any kind. There would be no man’s strength to haul the sletl if she moved camp. She knew that the inevitable doom which Ootek had envisioned was in reality only a step away. Yet stubbornly, and with a singleness of purpose which will be her epitaph when she is gone, Kikik engaged her fate in battle. As Ootek died, she ceased to be a woman, and she became instead an unfaltering and implacable machine. All human passions left her. Love, pity, sorrow and regret were past. With terrible efficiency she stripped away these things so that nothing might weaken her indomitable resolve.
When Ootek died she placed the two knives upright in the snow and w'ent at once into the snowhouse. She found the children hunched together under the skins upon the sleeping-ledge, staring at her out of black, depthless eyes. Brusquely she ordered Ailouak to follow, and together they went into the unabated storm dragging the heavy sletl down It) the jigging hole Together they raised the already frozen hotly of the husband and the father, laid him on the sletl. and brought him home to lie beneath the snow beside the door. The effort exhausted both of them anil they crawled back into the house and lay upon the ledge “We will sleep now," Kikik told the children, and there was in her voice a quality that belonged to the voice of the north winti itself “Anti in the morning we will go to I’adlei, where we will find food."
That night, in Ootek’s snowhouse. his children and the crippled woman huddled close to one another so that no part of their ephemeral body warmth would be wasted. Kooyak still whimpered in her agony, and Howmik gave her water for there was no food. Even water was obtainable only at a fearful cost, for there was no lire and Howmik was forced to melt handfuls of snow in a skin bag warmed by her own slim reserves of body heat. Howmik herself slept little, for Ootek had not returned, and she could believe only that death had overtaken him among the drifts toward Padlei.
By dawn of Feb. 9, the wind had failed. The sky broke clear, anti in the stillness the temperature dropped to fortyfive degrees below zero. Kikik. who had also slept little enough that night, roused her children, gave them each a cup of warm water in which some scraps of deer skin had been steeped, and bade them prepare to travel from that place. They went about their tasks readily for there was no gainsaying the inexorable resolution on their mother’s face. Within an hour the few' possessions which were essential for the journey had been placed aboard the long sled, then Kikik tore down the canvas ceiling of the igloo and cut it in two halves. One part she placed above her husband's grave and with the other she made a bed for her younger daughters. Nesha and Annacatha, upon the sled. These children were too young to stagger through the snow, and in any event they had no skin clothing left. Their clothes had long since been sacriFor five days they waited, huddled in a travel igloo, eating nothing
ficed as food for Halo and the elder children so that these could hunt, and search for fuel.
It was at this juncture that Howmik emerged from her snowhouse and came hobbling across the intervening space. She stood beside the sled shivering uncontrollably, for her own clothing had heen reduced to tattered remnants. She did not need to ask what was afoot for she could sec, and she could understand the implications of the loaded sled. She knew, as Ootek had known, that there was no point in protest, and so she contented herself by asking Kikik if she had seen Ootek.
Kikik was evasive. She denied knowledge of the man, except to intimate that he had perhaps gone on to Padlei, in which direction, so she said, Halo had already gone to break a trail for Kikik and the children. It was a thin explanation for Halo’s absence, hut Howmik did not question it. Her mind was filled with thoughts of Ootek and of the certainty of his fate.
"If he has gone for Padlei, he is dead by now," she said.
Kikik made no reply. Imperturbably she continued with her preparations. She had heen Howmik’s friend, had helped her with domestic tasks, for fifteen years. But, as of this moment, that was past. .She could do no more for Howmik, nor for her friend’s children and, since this isas so. she dared not allow herself even the transitory luxury of pity. And this was the second of the hitter things that she was forced to steel herself to do—to deny her friend, and leave her here to die.
Howmik understood. As unemotionally as if she had just concluded a casual morning visit, she said. “Well, I am pretty chilly now. Perhaps I will go home.” And Kikik straightened from her task and watched the cripple limp across the snow.
So Kikik left the camp by Henik Lake. With the hauling straps biting into her shoulders, she dragged the awkward sled upon which Nesha and Annacatha crouched beneath two deerskin robes. Her youngest child, the eighteen-monthold-boy Moakhak, rode upon her back in the capacious pocket of her parka. Karlak and Ailouak trudged stolidly along behind.
I or a time the going was easy for the gale had packed the snow and the route lay over the level surface of the lake. Seldom pausing. Kikik forced the pace to the limit of her own and the children s endurance When the pace began to tell on Karlak she ordered him to join his sisters on the sled, and toiled on. By late afternoon she had covered ten long miles, and then something occurred which must have made Kikik believe that she had outdistanced the hounds of fate.
A mile irway. near the tip of a great rock point, she saw a centipede of human movement on the ice. She straightened and cried out through the crystal air— and the movement ceased. And in a little while Kikik was talking to four of her own people. They were Yaha, who was Howmik's brother, his wife Atteshu anil their two children. T hey too were making for Padlei — hut they too had left it dangerously late.
Kikik » sick disappointment when she discovered that Yaha’s family had barely enough resources to survive, let alone help others, must have been a crushing blow. But she could hear that too. She told her tale and Yaha, listening, heard that his own sister lay abandoned in her
igloo only ten miles back along the trail. He could do absolutely nothing for her. On his back he carried the last of the food his family owned, about two pounds of caribou entrails dug from under the snow where it had been discarded in the fall. Yaha had no sled, and his pace was therefore that of his youngest child—he was by no means hopeful that he and his family could complete the trek to Padlei as things were, hut to turn hack for Howmik would have inevitably meant death for all. Ahead, there w'as a chance for life, tenuous, hut still extant. And so, into the darkness of that frigid evening the little group crawled slowly forward. When’they could no longer see their way they made a camp, a tiny travel igloo barely able to contain them all, and here exhaustion held them until chiwn.
Thpt night Kaila. the unpredictable goddess of the weather, struck again. By dawn the wind was hack in all its passionless fury, anil the nine who fled could not hide from it. They dared not hide. The agonies of that day, facing a growing blizzard, freezing, and pitifully weakened by their long starvation, were such that the children who took part in it have lost the memory of it. To them it is a blank space in their lives. But the adults remember . . .
“You must stay”
As the long hours passed and the straggling column slowed to Kikik’s pace (she, with the heavy sled, could barely move one foot before the other), Yaha understood that they would not succeed in finding sanctuary, except an eternal one beneath the snow. When dusk came he and his family, with Karlak and Ailouak, had left Kikik a mile behind, and such was the exhaustion of the people that Kikik could not close the gap to the travel igloo Yaha built, nor could any in Yaha’s igloo find the strength to go back for her. Kikik crouched in the snow all that roaring night, with her three youngest children huddled underneath her body.
In ihe morning Kikik threw off the snow' that covered her. anil faced north. She saw the igloo, and she struggled to it. Yaha’s wife gave her warm water anil a fragment of caribou gut. and then Yaha himself spoke to her. His speech was gentle, tor he was a childlike and a gentle man.
"You must stay in this snowhouse." he told Kikik. "Using your sled, and with the strength we have, we may reach Padlei by ourselves. Then we will send help. Perhaps the airplane will come or. if it does not. then the trader will send out his dog team. But you and your family must remain and wait.”
Kikik. who saw the truth of it. made no demur. > aha and his family left with the heavy sled. She and the five children sat inside the frail snow shelter and strained their hearing to catch the rustle ot receding footsteps against the whine of wind.
They remained in the travel igloo through five full days.
During that timeless interval they ate nothing, for there was nothing to eat: hut Kikik gathered branches from some scrub spruces that stood nearby and she made a tiny fire so that they at least had water. She did all things that were needful and she was even able to squeeze a few drops of bluish fluid from her shrunken breasts for the child Moakhak. Lor the balance of those interminable days the five children and their mother lay together under the few robes and
simply waited—with no certainty. They did not talk much, for even w'ords need strength to utter. They waited while the storm waxed and waned, and waxed again, and while the keening of the wind heralded the sure approach of the malevolent pursuit.
But Yaha’s promises had not been vain. On Feb. 13, three days after leaving Kikik, he and his family reached the shelter of Padlei post where Henry Voisie fed them first, then listened to their tale. With Yaha’s arrival all but two of the lhalmiut families were accounted for, and now Henry knew what had happened to the missing ones.
He was appalled. Already he had radioed his earlier concern about the people to the police at Eskimo Point, but the message which he now sent brooked no further delay. And in the outer world the slow and almost toothless gears of bureaucracy meshed suddenly. The RCMP aircraft which had been so fatally delayed in Kaiyai’s case, thundered out from Churchill and, on Feb. 14, reached Padlei. With Voisie aboard to act as guide, the plane took off for Henik Lake, landing shortly before noon on the wind-swept ice in front of two almost invisible igloos. The policemen went first to Howmik’s house and there, almost unbelievably, they found the cripple and her two remaining children still alive. They and the body of Igyaka were carried to the plane—-light burdens all, for the living too had been reduced to skeletal caricatures of human beings. Then the police found Halo’s grave and in due course stumbled over the snowcovered body of Ootek. They too were taken to the plane and so Halo and Ootek. those enduring friends, came together for the last time, lying stiffly contorted at the feet of Howmik and of her two children.
What followed must constitute the most inexplicable aspect of this whole dark talc. The aircraft left Henik Lake for Padlei, flying almost directly over the travel igloo where Kikik waited—and it did not pause. It did stop briefly at Padlei. there to unload Howmik, the children and Henry Voisie. Then it flew eastward out of the land to Eskimo Point—its cargo, two dead men and a dead child. Bearing the full knowledge that six living people waited on the lips of death within the land, the aircraft flew on to Eskimo Point, a journey which would result in the loss of two hours' precious searching time the following day—two hours that could have been saved had it remained at Padlei overnight. There may be excellent reasons why the aircraft fled but, if so. a discussion of them would be of only academic interest for—in the event—the planedid not return at all the following day.
It was not grounded by bad weather, or from any other cause. On Feb. 15, the rescue plane was busy elsewhere, for it tlew to Rankin Inlet there to pick up the coroner, who also was the local Northern Service officer entrusted with Eskimo administration. The plane brought this man back to Eskimo Point to view the dead — and so for two additional nights and almost two full days, Kikik remained abandoned in the land.
In Yaha's travel igloo the woman and her five children heard the double passage of the aircraft on Feb. 14, and when that day drew to a close and no help came, Kikik was convinced that none would ever come.
This should have been her moment of ultimate despair — but no fibre of her being would acknowledge it. I here was no hope—but what of that? On the morning of Feb. 15. w'hile the RCMP plane was droning north to Rankin Inlet on official business, Kikik wrapped Annacatha and Nesha in one of the skin robes and used the second to make a crude kind of toboggan on which to haul them. Then these six. who had eaten nothing for seven days and little enough in the preceding months, set out for Padlei.
They had no right to live
It was a blind, almost insensate effort. Staggering like demented things they moved a yard or two, then paused as Karlak or Ailouak collapsed on the hard snow. Blackened by frost and as gaunt as any starving dog. Kikik would rest beside them for a moment and then, remorselessly, would goad them to their feet—and they went on another yard or two. She had become a vessel filled with a kind of stark brutality—filled to the point where there was room for nothing more. She drove the children with a savage, almost lunatic obsession. She drove herself; hauling what had become a gargantuan weight behind her. and bowed beneath the incubus of the child upon her back.
In six hours they moved two miles closer to their goal — which still lay tw'enty-seven miles ahead.
It was dark by then, but Kikik had no strength to build a shelter. I he best that she could manage was to scoop a shallow hole in the snow, using a frying pan as a shovel. Into this the six of them huddled for the night—the long, long night while the ice on nearby Amcto Fake cracked and boomed in the destroying frost.
That shallow hole should have become the grave for all of them. They had no right to live, no right to hope for life. Yet with the slow dawn's coming. Kikik raised herself and looked "toward Padlei still. She would go on.
And now she came to the most frightful moment of her years; for Kikik knew they could not all go on. She could no longer think to save them all, and so in the dark half-light she came to the most terrible of all decisions.
Quietly she roused Karlak and Ailouak from their mindless sleep and firmly forced them to their feet. And then she drew the caribou skin softly across the faces of the two little girls who still slept on. While the elder children watched, wordless and perhaps uncomprehending, she laid^,ticks across the hole and heaped snow blocks on top.
Early on the morning of Feb. 16, three figures moved like drunken automatons on the white face of a dead land . . . and behind them, two children slept.
Early on the morning of Feb. 16, the police plane came back. It did not reach
Padlei until the day was well advanced and then it landed to pick up Henry Voisie. It was after noon before the search began.
The searchers went first to Yaha's travel igloo, and they had no difficulty finding it. for he had been explicit in his directions. The igloo was entity now. Again airborne, the plane lumbered uneasily through the frigid edge of dusk while the men aboard it strained their vision for a sight of motion on the snows below. They saw nothing. Dusk was rushing into the land as they turned back for Padlei. but then, on a last suggestion from Voisie, the pilot deviated slightly to pass over a trapper's ruined cabin, long since abandoned—and by the cabin door they saw' a human figure, its arms upraised in the timeless and raceless gesture of a supplicant.
As for Kikik — as she watched the plane circle for a landing, that indomitable structure she had created so ruthlessly out of her own flesh and spirit, began to crumble into senseless ruin. She could sustain it no longer, for there was no further need. And as the plane landed and men ran toward her. questions hard upon their lips, she faced them with nothing left in her but dust and the apathy of nothingness.
The questions were many, and they were urgent, for it was dusk and the plane could not remain. Where were her children? Three of them were in the tumbled shack. Where were the other two? Coherence left her and she could explain nothing. But then, out of the emptiness, an old emotion began to live again within her. She who had felt no fear through the aeons of her travail, now felt fear. She answered out of fear of those who were her rescuers. She lied. Believing that Annacatha anti Nesha must be dead in any case, she told the police that they had died in the long night.
The four survivors were hurried to the plane which paused briefly at Padlei where a constable was left behind with orders to go out the following day by dog-team and to bring in the bodies of the little girls.
The constable followed his instructions and late on Feb. 17, he reached the unobtrusive hummock in the snow where Nesha and Annacatha lay. The Eskimo guide who had accompanied him stopped in terror as they approached the grave. For he had heard a voice, a mullled, childlike voice. The constable tore away the snowblocks and the twigs and there he found the children. Annacatha was alive, insulated from the killing cold by her snow crypt—but Nesha had not lived.
So the long ordeal ended for the living, and for the dead—except for Kikik. Her ordeal had only just begun.
The flight to Eskimo Point bridged the final chasm between her time and ours in one immutable step. Within the day she ceased to be the woman she had been, for now she sat in a small igloo, under close arrest, a woman of our times —-destined to live or die according to outlaw. The transcendent fortitude she had displayed; the agony that she had voluntarily embraced when she left Nesha and Annacatha to their long sleep; the magnificence of her denial of death itself, all came to this; Kikik had killed a man— Kikik had wilfully abandoned two children in the snow—Kikik must answer for her crimes.
For interminable weeks she remained a prisoner at Eskimo Point, her children taken from her, and she herself subjected to endless interrogation. She was not even told that Anrfacatha had survived until it suited the needs of the police to confront her with this information in a successful attempt to force her to admit that she had lied. She endured two preliminary hearings before a justice of the peace at Eskimo Point, and she wtfs searchingly examined by a very competent crown attorney flown from Yellowknife for the occasion. There was no defense attorney there to give her aid. And the verdict of the justice was that she must stand trial on both charges.
She knew nothing of the shape of what awaited her: she only knew that her life remained in jeopardy. She endured. She who had already endured so much could still endure.
In the middle days of April they took
her to Rankin Inlet and there the whole mighty paraphernalia of justice closed about her and she was tried.
Now here, if anywhere in this appalling chronicle, there emerges some small denial of the fact that man's inhumanity to man is second nature to him. Kikik was tried before a judge who understood the nature of the abyss which separated Kikik from us, and who was aware that justice can be terribly unjust. In his charges to the jury the judge virtually instructed them to bring in a verdict of acquittal—and be it to the everlasting credit of the handful of miners who held the woman's life in their hard hands, they acquitted her—not only of the murder
of Ootek, but also of the crime of “unlawfully. by criminal negligence, causing the death of her daughter Nesha.”
So, on the sixteenth day of April in the year of our civilization 1958, Kikik’s crucifixion ended. At 9 p.m., under the glaring lights of the improvised courtroom, the judge looked at the woman who sat. still smiling, still uncomprehending. and he spoke gently.
“You are not guilty, Kikik. Do you understand?”
But to this good man's great distress, she did not understand: as she had understood so little through the days since she had come to Eskimo Point, except that a threat she could not comprehend, and
one more fearful therefore than any she had met and mastered in the months behind, lay over her.
At length a w'hite man. who is almost an Eskimo in his feeling for the people, came forward and led her unresisting from the room. He took her into the adjoining camp kitchen and gave her a mug of tea. Then, standing over her and looking down into her eyes he spoke in her own tongue.
"Kikik,” he said softly. “Listen. It is all finished now—all done.”
And then at last that fixed smile faltered — and the black eyes looked away from him toward the darkened w'indow, and past it. and into the void beyond, if