REV. JAMES FLECK August 1 1969



REV. JAMES FLECK August 1 1969




POVUNGNITUK, ARCTIC QUEBEC: The hunter is an Eskimo and men call him Moses Smith. He is aging now, but still the head of his family and the proud provider of the food.

Last December, once the sea ice had formed thick on Hudson Bay, Moses Smith dipped a skin in water and rubbed it down the runners of his sled, building up a smooth thin sheet of glistening ice to ride across the snows. His son Adamie helped him harness the snarling dogs. Then the hunter set out alone for his ancient hunting grounds.

After six days on the sea ice, Moses reached the rocky shore of Cape Smith and headed north and east across the tundra toward his trapline. He began to calculate his profits at the price of six dollars for each fox pelt. But when he reached the trapline, there were no foxes at all.

Moses headed the dogs back south, toward a remembered quarry at the edge of the sea. He took out his axe and pick, then mined large chunks of steatite, the soft soapstone that can be found in abundance along the shores of Hudson Bay. He lashed the pile of rock to his sled. The dogs snarled at this new, heavier weight, but under the lash they sped back south across the ice.

Moses had used up his fish. He had no meat and no furs. But these rocks would feed his family and keep the electricity humming in their five-room house. He could keep his refrigerator stocked with pop for the kids. He could still afford a few new records for his hi-fi, and fulfill his tithing pledge at the little Anglican chapel.

Future wealth for Moses and his family lay encapsulated in those inert rocks. Inside each one was a creature waiting to be liberated, a whale, a fox, an eagle. During the days ahead Moses would spend long hours squatting over the hide of a red fox, carving away the excess rQck that Lept the little stone creatures locked inside. Each evening he would take his latest carving to the buyer at the Eskimo co-op in Pov. He could, with luck, make enough to pay the federal government the rent and utilities on the house they had given him. But, whether he paid or not, the place was his. ►



Fifteen years ago Pov was a far different place. Except for the Hudson’s Bay Company manager, every inhabitant lived in a snow house all through the long nights of winter. In summer, home was a canvas tent, open to the hordes of mosquitoes and black flies. Now, in 1969, all 600 Eskimos in Pov live inside wooden buildings. Within two years even these will be gone, replaced by prefabricated houses.

Less than a generation ago, existence was a precarious balance between life and death for Moses Smith and the Eskimos of Pov. Old people were a luxury that Eskimos could not afford. When the hunter grew old and his wife could no longer cook or sew, they had to die alone on the ice. Now, with old-age pensions and relief coming in from both the Quebec and federal governments, old folks are revered. Their passing is genuinely mourned since it lowers the family income. Every schoolchild gets an additional allotment from the government. As a result, the Eskimos long ago abandoned their ancestral hunting grounds, such as Cape Smith, and have clustered near the Hudson’s Bay Company store and nearby schools, nursing stations and post office.

Five years ago every hunter had his dogs to haul the sleds out to the openings in the sea ice where the wary seals sun themselves, or to visit the traps set inland for the fox, the weasel and other furry creatures. Now, except for those of Moses Smith and two other “old-fashioned” hunters, the snarling dogs are dead or converted to pets of sorts. The Eskimos race across the ice to the sealing grounds in high-speed ski snowmobiles. They no longer need to stalk the caribou. Once they find a track, they open the throttle full and chase the caribou pack until they run the exhausted beasts to ground.

The ancient survival skills are gone as well. The children know how to read comic books in English and will soon know the new math. But they don't know how to huild a snow house. The principal of the school in Pov recently had one of the old hunt-

ers build a snow house so the little ones could see what an igloo looked like in the old days. Few eat raw seal meat any more and the kids are getting cavities from the sugar in the pop. The children are taller than their parents but new diets have changed the metabolism of the young. They can no longer stand the intense cold as their parents can.

Hunting and fishing make up just a tiny share of the Eskimos’ income these days. They still eat caribou, but most Eskimo housewives buy it at the co-op where the going price is 65 cents a pound. Only a few hunters like Moses Smith still shoot their own meat and catch their own fish. The majority are too involved in 20th-century jobs. Some teach at the Quebec provincial school, where the spoken language is Eskimo instead of English as in the federal schools. Many youngsters are in technical schools farther south in Great Whale, or academic-degree programs across the Bay in Churchill. These will soon be returning as technicians and administrators. The airline dispatcher in Pov is an Eskimo youth. Another drives the hig water truck. But the opportunities for employment are still far too few. Most of the Eskimos in the Pov settlement make their living by Eskimo handicrafts — carving, printing, or sewing. Tourism is already an added industry. The local Eskimo cooperative has just constructed stonehunters’ lodges that promise to offer French cuisine. They hope to attract rich Americans with such lure as Arctic char, rainbow and lake trout, seal, wild geese and ptarmigan.

The radical change in lifestyle of the Eskimo is a phenomenon that is taking place everywhere in the Arctic. But the accelerated pace of the Quebec Eskimos, first in Pov and now throughout all Arctic Quebec, is due in great part to a single man. For more than 30 years he has dedicated his life to a single task: improving the Eskimo standard of living.

The man is Andrew Peter Steinmann. He is a Frenchman; his father was a businessman in Paris and hoped young Steinmann would follow the family trade. But the boy had read, somewhere, about the Eskimos. Since

those were the days before such movements as the Peace Corps, Steinmann figured the only way he could work with the Eskimos was to become a missionary. He was a Roman Catholic, so he joined the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, a religious order that started doing Eskimo missionary work in the 19th century. The order said he should become a priest, so Steinmann was ordained. But his main interest is, has been, and probably always will be to work toward improving the living conditions of Eskimos.

The Anglican clergy in northern Quebec are a bit wary of Oblate missionaries in general and Steinmann in particular. The Anglican clergy got first crack at mission work in the Arctic through the Hudson’s Bay Company. Only several years after a new Bay post was established did the first Roman Catholic missionary get a chance to come in. By then all the Eskimos were Anglican. Only in a few settlements in the Northwest Territory are there any Catholic Eskimos. There, the Ohlates got in first.

All this happened years ago, long before the ecumenical age, but the Anglicans are understandably uneasy when they see a Catholic missionary arrive in an all-Protestant community. Catholic priests in South America feel about the same when Protestant ministers arrive. Whether the voices are Anglican in Eskimoland or Roman Catholic in the tropics, the words are the same: “Why don’t they go to Africa or China, or some place where there are pagans?”

After 13 years at Pov, Steinmann’s total congregation consists of a handful of white administrators and their families plus the two English girls at the nursing station. In his 31 years in the Arctic, Father Steinmann has never had a convert to Catholicism and never expects one. Some of the Anglican clergy are still suspicious of him despite his record. An Anglican missionary from a distant post said he didn’t understand why the Catholic Church is sending Oblate missionaries to the Arctic if their only interest is social and economic work. “I’d be happier if this type of thing were being done by Catholic laymen. Steinmann is still a priest and he’s bound

to have some kind of spiritual motivation somewhere.”

Steinmann’s own thoughts are that it isn’t his job to make converts for Catholicism. “As Anglicans, they’re all good Christians now. Why should I want to turn them into Catholics? My idea of Christianity is to help the Eskimos obtain a decent standard of living—to help them live a better life. If that isn’t Christianity, I don’t know what is.”

Steinmann has been in Pov since 1956. When he arrived, the only permanent building was the Hudson’s Bay Company. All the Eskimos lived in tents during the summer and snow houses during the winter. His first job was to build the Roman Catholic Mission. He was his own architect, carpenter, and electrician. Having built a place to live, his next job was to decide what he was supposed to do.

He started a project called the Sculptors’ Society of Povungnituk. It was, in effect, the first co-operative in the Arctic, but Steinmann didn’t call it a co-op at the time. Through his Sculptors’ Society Steinmann capitalized on the discovery, made by Canadian artist James Houston in the 1940s, of an inherent creative carving ability among the Eskimos of Hudson Bay. Houston worked with the Eskimos at Port Harrison, about 60 miles south of Pov, and discovered that the art of soapstone carving could be revived. The Eskimos, it seems, have an uncanny ability to capture in carving the natural phenomena they see around them. Moreover, this gift extends nearly universally throughout all Eskimos, not just in especially talented people.

Houston worked with the Eskimos, reteaching them the carving skills that their ancestors had once possessed. In the ancient days, the carvings were usually minute amulets carved from tusks of the walrus or the narwhal. Rarely did the Eskimos carve in stone. As nomadic hunters they would hardly be expected to transport heavy stone carvings on their dog sleds. But occasionally a tiny soapstone is found that dates back thousands of years. Houston got the Eskimos to turn out larger stone statues.

At first the Eskimo carvings were

bought and sold through the Hudson’s Bay Company. But the price the Eskimo got in Pov usually turned out to be 10 percent or less of what the carvings sold for in the south.

Steinmann’s first idea was to get more of the money for the Eskimo instead of for the Hudson’s Bay Company. Admirable as this idea may be, it hardly sat well with this long-entrenched trading emporium. There were attempts to get Steinmann moved. In fact, officialdom has tried so often over the years to get rid of Steinmann that the priest can’t recall how many unsuccessful attempts have been made. But they have all failed and Steinmann is still in Pov. The reason is simple. In 1959, the first year of the Sculptors’ Society, the Eskimos grossed $17,000. During the current fiscal year the Pov co-op is expected to do almost $500,000.

Steinmann’s current hope is that the Eskimos will actually be able to drive the Hudson’s Bay Company store out of Pov. Last year the Eskimos bought $264,830 worth of merchandise through the Eskimo co-op instead of at the Bay store. Steinmann thinks that the Pov Hudson’s Bay Company store is kept open today only as a matter of principle. He feels that once they close their Pov operation other Eskimo co-ops will follow the Pov example and the long-established company will be driven out of its Arctic homeland.

A young Hudson’s Bay manager from Pov has long since been converted to the Eskimo co-op program. Peter Murdoch left the Bay, and after working for the federal Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development joined the Federation of Co-operatives of Northern Quebec ás general manager. -

The Hudson’s Bay Company has already abandoned the Eskimo handicraft business. Its northern posts no longer buy carvings.

As more and more of the 12,000 Eskimos in Arctic Canada turned to carving, the federal government stepped in and set up a government-sponsored marketing agency, Canadian Arctic Producers. But Steinmann has little use for government bureaucracy, so he stayed in competition with the

government as well as with the Hudson’s Bay Company. Two years ago Murdoch started a federation of Eskimo co-operatives in Quebec that markets Eskimo products directly to the wholesale and retail trade in both Canada and the United States. The federation of Eskimo co-ops did so well in just two years that Steinmann’s Eskimos are now putting massive pressure on both the Quebec and Ottawa governments to switch from relieforiented social programs to those that more directly increase Eskimo economic development. As times change, Steinmann doesn’t want the Eskimos to become the welfare wards of the government, as happened to the Canadian Indians.

But this economic power and political clout is a relatively modern experience for Father Steinmann. Back in 1958, all he had in Pov was a bunch of Eskimos who didn’t know him, a hostile Hudson’s Bay Company manager, and a suspicious Anglican missionary who wondered what a Catholic priest was doing in 100-percent Anglican territory. The man who aided Steinmann at this crucial period turned out to be an Episcopalian layman from Cleveland, Ohio, named Robert D. Cowen. By chance, Cowen, president of the Monongahela and Ohio Coal Company, had met Steinmann a few years earlier, when the priest was located at Koartak, a small mission station on Hudson Strait. Cowen and a group of rich American friends, flying their private planes around the coast of Quebec to Hudson Bay were grounded at Koartak by weather. For four days, Steinmann cooked for his visitors and entertained them with tales of life in the Arctic. After ' the weather cleared and the Americans were set to fly north, they offered to pay Steinmann for his hospitality. The missionary refused. “That would be against the code of the north,” he said. Then Cowen told Steinmann that if the priest ever needed anything, he should call Cowen collect in Cleveland. Steinmann said, “Okay,” and the Americans flew off.

It was nine years later when Cowen got that collect call, in the spring of Steinmann’s third year at Pov. It was a call that changed the course of his-


tory for the Eskimos of Pov. Steinmann had discovered an exceptionally good carver in one of the local Eskimos, Charlie Sheeguapik. The priest told Cowen he wanted to start a selfrun Eskimo operation selling Eskimo carvings. Would Cowen help him and the Eskimos in breaking into the U.S. market? Cowen replied by wiring Steinmann and Charlie air fare to Cleveland. He asked them to bring samples of what they had for sale. Then Cowen got together all his friends in the Cleveland area and held a reception for Steinmann and Charlie. The Eskimo and the missionary left Cleveland with more than $3,000 in prepaid orders. The Pov co-op was on its way to becoming a reality.

Steinmann and Charlie flew back to Pov from Cleveland, talking over what they had to do next. Immediately after landing they contacted all 20 Eskimo carvers of that time and invited them to the mission for a meeting. The carvers were told to bring with them only the very best of their carvings. When they had all gathered, they sat in a big circle, with everyone’s carvings out in the middle. Steinmann told the carvers to estimate a selling price for each carving. When everyone had written down his estimate, the lists were handed to Steinmann, who took a quick average. That’s how the prices were set. Each day after long hours of carving, the Eskimos and Steinmann would sit in the big circles and price the statues. At first it took almost a whole day to price only 50 carvings. But gradually Charlie begaû to know what the average was going to be and he took over as pricing agent.

Today the carving buyer at Pov’s co-op knows at a glance the value of any piece of carving. But this professional competence has taken 10 years of patient education by Steinmann in the mysterious process of figuring packaging costs, transportation, wholesale and retail markups, plus the dangers of oversupply in various categories of design or size. At first the Eskimos wanted 50 percent of the final retail price. At the

Hudson’s Bay Company they were getting just 10 percent. Because of the co-op, the Eskimos’ share of the final selling price comes close to 40 percent of retail. This proportion includes Eskimo salaries for those engaged exclusively in marketing and promoting the sale of Eskimo products. But except for Peter Murdoch’s salary and expenses, $21,000 annually, and several other white people in the sales office in Lévis, Quebec, all the markups except the final retail profit go to the Eskimos.

In 1959, from the first sales in Cleveland and elsewhere in the U.S. the Pov co-op grossed $17,000 and had a net profit of $800. With this money Steinmann built a small stone hut covered by a tent roof, the only permanent Eskimo building in Pov at the time. The co-op had a home, and the Eskimos had a concrete reminder of what they could accomplish through co-operative effort. Today that first fieldstone storeroom is an indistinguishable bulge at the lower side of the sewing building. The rocky crag at Pov is covered with modern co-op enterprise: co-op store, printshop, warehouse, sewing centre, tourist lodges, and an about-to-be-built batik building, a process of cloth-printing evolved by the natives of Indonesia and found easily adapted to Eskimo art skills.

After the success of the carving project was assured, Steinmann next convinced the Eskimos that they should start a retail co-op store. At first the store handled only useless junk, such as cigarette lighters, candies, cheap jewelry. But it started the Eskimos purchasing at the co-op store instead of the Hudson’s Bay Company whenever possible. Slowly, the store increased its range of merchandise and today is a small department store, grocery, hardwarearid, drugstore. At the rear is the local equivalent of a bank, the Eskimo branch of Quebec’s Caisse Populaire credit union.

There are several secrets of Steinmann’s success with the Eskimos aside from the missionary zeal that some Anglicans suspect. One is his business acumen. Another is his colorful, flamboyant personality. His tiny chapel at Pov has delicately carved statues of an Eskimo Mary

and Joseph on each side of the altar. His study contains some of the best examples of erotic Eskimo carvings to be found in the world. But the most valuable asset Steinmann has is that he is the most fluent Eskimo linguist in Arctic Canada. In fact, the priest is so fluent, his knowledge of Eskimo lore and psychology so renowned, that a slight undercurrent of resentment affects Eskimo attitudes toward him. It is generally conceded that Steinmann speaks better Eskimo than any Eskimo in North America. It is also felt, when Steinmann handles simultaneous translations, that bits of Steinmann’s personal philosophy somehow find their way into either the English or Eskimo versions, whichever way he is translating.

A few years ago, during a dispute over co-op management, Steinmann voluntarily left. But he had been away from Pov less than three months when the Eskimos petitioned the bishop to send Steinmann back. Back he came, with a mandate, so to speak, and he has not been at a loss for words since.

T his spring Steinmann led a delegation of Eskimos to Ottawa to confer with Prime Minister Trudeau. According to one man who was there (although Steinmann disputes this story), Steinmann had worked out the Eskimo strategy, but he appeared only as an innocent bystander. The interview was to be short. But as each Eskimo came forward to present a handicraft gift to the head of Canada’s government, Trudeau would put out his hand and accept the token only to find the Eskimo wouldn’t let go. Instead, still clutching the gift, he would start a long speech attacking the government for neglecting the Eskimo. The Eskimo would let go and permit the Prime Minister to have the gift only after saying his mind. The demands came down to a request for $150,000 in subsidies for new co-op industries in Arctic Quebec.

The five-minute interview stretched to an hour and a half. The Prime Minister could hardly insult an Eskimo who was handing him a gift by cutting him short in his presentation speech. Whether or not Canada’s Prime Minister ever gives the Eskimos $150,000 is an open question, but the voices of

the Eskimos were heard loud and long in the Great White Chief’s big stone igloo atop Parliament Hill in Ottawa.

In Pov, the current Anglican pastor, the Reverend Dennis Parry, sees Steinmann as a friend and colleague, not as the religious opposition. They co-operate closely in working toward social-improvement programs. Parry’s only criticism of Steinmann’s mission operation is the Pop Shop, where Eskimo kids buy canned soft drinks, to the detriment of their teeth.

Since the Roman Catholic Mission doesn’t have to provide extensive religious services, the tiny chapel is about the size of a large closet, one side of which opens up on Sunday for the seven Catholics who might attend the services. The largest section of the RC Mission serves as Pov’s biggest assembly hall. On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, Steinmann shows a movie flown up from the south. If the mail comes, Pov sees a new show every week. If it doesn’t, they show the same one over and over.

But all the Eskimos come two or three times anyway. The price is only 10 cents, and an additional 10 cents if you want to sit on a folding chair. Most Eskimos don’t mind squatting, so each night at 7.30 the floor is filled with sprawling Eskimo families. Just as in the south, the teenage boys hang loose at the back of the hall. Few of the grown-ups know enough English to follow a complicated plot. As a result, spy stories don’t go over well, but a shoot-’em-up western or an Elvis Presley film will pack them in. Since everyone in Pov comes at least twice each week to the movie, the co-op’s gross runs to about $120 per week, plus the sales at the Pop Shop. Afterward the co-op organizes 'bingo. On non-movie nights Steinmann plays Elvis Presley tapes each evening in the hall, plus rock-and-roll, so the youngsters have a warm place to romp around in. On Sunday night he gives a free showing of the movie again. All the money goes into the co-op fund for the Eskimos. Steinmann’s only source of personal income is the $900 he gets each year as postmaster.

Today Steinmann and his Eskimos are caught in the political infighting that is taking place as Quebec slowly

pushes more and more federal influence out of the province. The battles being waged in Montreal and Ottawa are paralleled in the Arctic. So far Quebec is so financially strapped in the south that it has no money for the north. The Quebec school in Pov, built to compete with the federal school, burned down two years ago and has yet to be replaced. Thus Quebec officials are not pressing the federal government’s Northern Development people to get out. But at the same time the federal people see that, sooner or later, Quebec is going to take over everything they do. These officials can’t see spending federal money that will be picked up for nothing by Quebec. The Eskimos are caught in the middle. Steinmann’s answer to the quandary is to try to get as much out of each government as possible, playing off one against the other if necessary — anything, so long as the Eskimos benefit.

Quebec nationalism gives rise to a language problem for the Eskimos, too. All Eskimo affairs have always been in English only. In the federal school system the children are taught English. The attempt by the Quebec government to have Eskimo as the language of instruction in its schools is consistent with its own demands of a distinct culture and language. But above the third grade the Eskimo children will have to learn a foreign language. And that language in Quebec schools is almost certainly going to be French.

This gives rise to an increased religious tension as well. For French and Catholicism are inextricably intertwined in the minds of many English-speaking Protestants. The Anglican Bishop, Donald Marsh, ing^pastoral letter to his ^rfijTcai t&imos warned of thfe ^ffossible results of French iMUfence on their political and religious future. A number of families at Sugluk and one family at Pqy were so frightened by this spectre French Catholicism that they fled north across Hudson Strait to the safety of English-Protestant Baffin Island. However, some of the Eskimos were angered by this intervention of the church and wrote back a polite but clear message to the bishop that he

should keep his nose out of politics.

Although the Episcopalian Church in the United States for many years has been deeply involved in the economic and social apostolate, its counterpart in Canada, the Anglican Church, has largely confined its activities, especially among the Eskimos, to a more exclusively spiritual ministry. The co-op program has been closely identified with the Roman Catholic missionaries.

Bishop Marsh is distressed by this apparent dichotomy. He wants his church to play an active part in improving the economic well-being of the Eskimo and thinks that the intent of his letter was misunderstood. He also thinks the Eskimo response was engineered by Father Steinmann. Comforting as this view may be to the bishop, one of the Anglican ministers was present when the Eskimos drafted messages to both the bishop and the CBC on the subject, and concedes that the reaction was a spontaneous Eskimo response to a genuinely unpopular church document.

Bishop Marsh also questions the long-range effect of tying too closely the economic progress of the Eskimo to primitive handicrafts. The co-op policies of Peter Murdoch seem to preserve the Eskimos as a unique subculture and not prepare them for assimilation into modern society. Marsh thinks that as contacts increase between the Eskimos and modern technological Canada, fewer of the Eskimos will preserve the intuitive skills that seem more closely connected with primitive societies. The bishop favors government programs that will allow home industry, as is tRe case today, but will not require.<»peicif, MárSífs prefer-

ence for English-language instruction is also based on a realistic appraisal of the relation of the Eskimo to the rest of Canada. He thinks the Eskimo should be equipped to communicate with all Canadians, not just the French Canadians of Quebec.

The ecumenical spirit has had a difficult time blossoming in this northern and hostile climate. One example will demonstrate the difficulty facing the clergy of both denominations. In Great Whale there is an In-

dian woman named Naomi. Originally an Anglican, she had moved to Fort George with her husband many years back. About 15 years ago the husband died and the woman became ill. She was placed in a Catholic hospital and became deeply attached to one of the nurses, a nun. Naomi became a Catholic. After her release from the hospital, Naomi returned to Great Whale, settling among her relatives. But her Catholicism evoked deep rage against her. Her Anglican relatives would open her tent flap day or night and sick their dogs on her. When she left the tent, her neighbors would steal in and destroy the holy pictures she had strung about. They left in their place a copy of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. After some years of this the woman was so shattered she had a nervous breakdown. After her release from a mental hospital, the Great Whale Catholic missionary had to provide a small shack behind the Roman Catholic Mission where Naomi could live, safe from the hostility of her friends and relatives.

Today, some 15 years later, both the Catholic and the Anglican pastors in Great Whale are working together to diminish the long persecution of this addled woman. But attitudes change slowly in the north.

Up in Pov, Anglican Dennis Parry and Oblate A. P. Steinmann are doing their best to close the gap that has existed for centuries between their respective denominations. Every Wednesday night Steinmann goes over to Parry’s house for a discussion of current theological topics among the white Anglicans. Parry in turn is welcomed at the co-op meetings. When the first ordination of an Eskimo in Arctic Quebec took place recently, the Catholic mission lent the Anglicans the portable altar for the service in the Anglican recreational hall. The Catholic priest who was staying in Pov while Steinmann was south on business was invited to the ordination of the new deacon, Isa Koperqualuk. When the priest took an inconspicuous seat at the rear of the congregation, Bishop Marsh had the Catholic priest escorted to the very front, not unlike a parable Jesus told in the Bible.

In such small ways the attitudes of the Eskimo are slowly being transformed so that their religious, political, social and moral sensibilities will enable them to survive the changes in lifestyle that must inevitably come. If the Eskimo is to survive in the years to come, this task must be accomplished by all who have his well-being at heart, the federal government, the province of Quebec, Anglicans and Catholics, all together. □