He straightened his solid frame and pushed me into the back of the kamutiq as the snowmobile tugged us forward. To avoid getting a mouth full of fur from Anik’s parka, I looked to the early morning sky. I put the sting from the cold to the back of my mind and reached out to the emerald and violet lights that danced above us. I allowed myself to linger there, weightless and emotionless.Lisez l’histoire de Aputi Winter Aupaluktuq-Doxtator
Oneida of the Thames and Baker Lake Inuit
I wanted to write about family and tradition because they both help me through my everyday life and keep me close to home. I have lived in the city for the majority of my life and it often made me homesick for both of my communities. As a kid my dad would tell me stories about Travellers and Sedna The Sea Goddess, this is where my fascination for inuit legends began. Our family hunting trip is one of my favourite memories from my childhood because the land taught me more than I realised at the time. When you come from a harsh and isolated environment your family is sometimes all you have. Aullaaq (Traveller) is a short story told through the eyes of a young girl who is a gifted traveller. I wanted to show Aullaaq's big sister love for her younger brother and how she grows as a person. I would like to thank my family for allowing me to share a little bit of my imagination with you and I hope you enjoy my piece. This short story is dedicated to my late grandfather William Aupaluktuq.
I checked my brother's face to see if he was too cold or needed to wipe his nose. He teetered to one side as I took one of his cheeks in my mitten.
“Ikee?” I asked his wind burnt face.
“Naung, I’m just tired,” Anik replied.
He straightened his solid frame and pushed me into the back of the kamutiq as the snowmobile tugged us forward. To avoid getting a mouth full of fur from Anik’s parka, I looked to the early morning sky. I put the sting from the cold to the back of my mind and reached out to the emerald and violet lights that danced above us. I allowed myself to linger there, weightless and emotionless. Comforted by the hum of the snowmobile and the scraping on the ice, I drifted and floated until our transport was but a speck against the sea of white. My stomach met my throat as gravity pulled me back to the kamutiq. Only then I realised my mom was talking, but I couldn’t hear anything over the roar of the snowmobile and the wind.
“Look...” Her words finally began to manifest themselves. “... so beautiful.” Her eyes were wide and her gaze was heavy. I pushed Anik from my lap and peeked over the side of our kamutiq, and there they were.
In a cloud of brown and white fur they ran, threatening to split the ice with every thunderous hoof and thick exhale. A single calf dropped, too young and tired to keep pace with its mother. I slammed back into my seat, but this time from the weight of our reality. Survival is the fine line between life and death. You can keep up with the herd or you can die trying, whether you are the predator or the prey is irrelevant. My mother cried and prayed for the calf as if it was her own, and we separated from the herd to ensure we don’t change their route. The sun’s fingertips reached us and it was time to set up the camp and prepare for the hunt.
My uncle refilled the gas tank and Dad placed Anik on the seat of the snowmobile. Hoping no one had noticed, I snuck into the kamutiq and hid under the tarp. I knew Dad wouldn't let me hunt with them. So I was careful not to breathe too much as I waited for the sled to pull away. Instead Dad smiled down at me, the tarp corner in one hand and the other reaching down to pull me out. “Next time, my girl. Today is your brother’s day.”
He walked me over to the tent and fixed me a bow and fishing line.“But if you really want to, you can catch our lunch.” I took the bow and faked a smile. Dad kissed my forehead, returned to the snowmobile, then became part of the horizon with my uncle and brother.
They were gone.
I walked over to the hole in the ice my mom was digging. It was no bigger than a foot in diameter. “Aullaaq, don't be sad you couldn’t go. They’ll be back soon enough.” I knew Mom meant well. But her words gave me no comfort. My eyes stung and the lump in my throat throbbed.
“I’ll see if Anannatsiaq will make you her famous tea and bannock. How does that sound?” Mom asked, almost apologetic.
I dropped the hook into the hole and sat with my envy and disappointment. I didn’t want to stay behind and fish. I wanted to go hunting, to be with my brother.
The ice shifted. On all fours, I concentrated on the hole. Then I dove head-first into the cold dark waters and left my body as an empty shell on the ice.The fresh water filled my nose and lungs. I shivered and shuddered as the ice flowed through me. A prickle and tingle flooded my scalp. The cold fingerless hands tugged at me and, without fear, I embraced the mother of this world. Grey faded to a naked blue, then to azure, then to black. I let the weight of the water take me into the abyss and away from my hollow vessel on the surface. Her hair flowed long and effortlessly past her slender frame. She's just as the Old Ones say, a beautiful woman condemned to the water. The mother of the sea animals and the goddess of the deep.
“Aullaaq, was that you looking for my fish? Were they playing tricks on you?” She let out a deep belly laugh and her face morphed with every chuckle. Her round fish eyes shaped into half moons and her lips slid up to her ears, displaying her row of round jagged white teeth.
“I didn’t come for your fish--I came to ask if you will take me to watch over my brother.” My words were muffled underwater. But by the crease in her forehead I knew she understood my request.
“What will you give me…if I take you to the little one?” she whispered into my ear as she slithered and coiled her slender body around me. Her feet were webbed to compensate for her missing fingers and her hair had grown long and dark. You could almost mistake the locks for the ocean floor.
“My comb,” I mumbled. “My mom made it for me. It’s my favourite possession and I want you to have it.”
She considered this while she inspected my face. With one swift motion, she grabbed the hood of my parka and dragged me alongside her as she sped toward the surface. The ice cracked and shifted as she passed underneath it with incredible speed and agility. She finally slowed as we came to the surface of the ice. The sea mistress blew a kiss to the ice surface and left a clear window.
Through the ice window I could see my grandfather’s 22-250 shotgun resting against Dad’s shoulder. Anik was positioned between the scope and Dad’s body, his cold little finger resting on the trigger. They kneeled, calm and still, watching the herd some 500 meters away.
“The bullet will go where you want it to,” Dad instructed. “You have to tell the gun where to put it. Keep your front sight between your rear sight, and don’t think. When you’re ready, pull the trigger smoothly.” Anik was cold but he listened to Dad’s words intently. I'd never seen him so focused and patient. The ice shifted just enough to make the herd nervous and they started to move east.
“Shoot, son, shoot!” Dad whispered.
“No, not yet, Dad, I can't see,” Anik snapped as he adjusted his line of vision.
“Now! Shoot it now!” I could see the impatience growing in Dad.
“No. Not. Yet.” Anik took a breath and let his exhale fall on the frozen air.
The herd was in a full run. My brother kept his sight steady, inhaled then released his breath smooth and long. The loud crack cut through the bitter wind like a hot knife, and the butt of the rifle recoiled into Dad’s shoulder. The herd jolted into a sprint, leaving a heap of fur in a cloud of snow.
“My son! My boy, I’m so proud of you!” Dad tossed Anik high into the sky. His fingers and cheeks were pink and frozen, just barely peeking out of Dad’s old Caribou skin parka. Dad put my brother on his shoulders and spun as he praised his only son's first shot.
The rifle hit the ice, jolting me back to my body. I found myself at the camp, sitting at the fishing hole. Filled with excitement, I ran to Mom and Anaanatsiaq to tell them the men were on their way back.
After the meat was skinned and butchered, we headed to town. Anaanatsiaq had already called the radio station and invited everyone to a piece of the animal in celebration of her grandson's first kill.
Anik was only five years old, but he understood that he was not to touch or eat a single piece of his first kill. He watched with pride as the elders, children and women ate. He knew the harsh reality of our survival.
After the feast, I went back to the ice. I brought a piece of meat and my comb to the waterhole. The sun had long disappeared behind the rocky foothills and the northern lights lit up my world like pink and purple smudges in the sky. I knelt in front of the hole, staring at my reflection. My eyes weren't human anymore. They were rounder, darker. Like a fish. Without hesitation, I dropped the comb and meat into the hole. My head spun and I started to lose my vision. The air began to suffocate me and I began to sing so the sea goddess would not be able to change me into her fish. “A yaya, a yaya, a yaya…”
“Give me my eyes! I came back to repay you!” I screamed into the hole. A seal surfaced and ate the comb and meat.
“Give me my eyes!” the seal mocked, returning to the depths of the ocean.
A strong gust of wind and snow sent me flying onto my back. My sight had returned. I lay like an open book on the ice, and for a minute I thought I’d died. The sea goddess’ voice flooded my ears. “Go home, Allaaq, before I decide to ignore your songs and keep you here with me.”
I gathered my strength and made my way across the ice, humming, “A yaya, A yaya, A yaya.” I looked down, and saw that my feet weren’t touching the ground. Levitating off the ice, I drifted high into the night sky. I am weightless and emotionless.
I am home.