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Reports

Saturday, 29 March 2003
--> Kugluktuk, Nunavut, Canada (day 3)

Today Becky and I enjoyed a royal oversleep in Kugluktuk. It was my 2nd concrete day in this northern Canadian town and Becky’s first weekend in weeks.
Around noon we had pancakes with bacon and bananas for brunch. I taught Becky how to turn around pancakes in the air, she was really impressed. Piece of pancake that is!

I could also go along very well with Nanuk. Nanuk is Becky’s real northern husky dog. Still just a puppy, but she is strong enough to pull me off the chair. I had fun with her and Becky concluded that Nanuk has found a new friend in me. Hey, we could even dance together, which seemed to be a joy for everybody that gets to see that act.

And from now on I seem to be the one that has to take the dog out when she wants to and connect her to her line outside. Oh bummer!

Today would not be a completely lazy day. We were going to join a Inuit family on a trip to their cabin out of town. Becky and I joined the Inuit family of Richard and Grace, the parents and their three kids and one of their children for this field trip at their humble cabin. Father Richard is a ranger and he hunts for moose and foxes because of their fur. The family is proud to make fur mitts and cold-protective clothing of these skins.

The folks also helped me out with some more warmer materials as it would be pretty cold on the trip. I was already wearing a thermic layer underneath everything, followed by normal pants and windproof cover pants. But that was still too thin, so the family borrowed me some real thick ski pants to pullover it all. The parka that I had already borrowed from Jeanny was too small too, and I could use one of theirs. And with some furry boots I totally merged into a real Kugluktuk resident…

The weather was cloudy and it was snowing soft sugar powder snow. The trip was great. I could go on Becky’s skidoo and follow the group to their cabin. We got on the frozen Arctic ocean north of Kugluktuk, got around the rocks that mark the mouth of the Coppermine River and drove on this waterline for some ten kilometres. And with the weather being that cloudy, windy and snowy, we could not even go faster than 40km/hr.

Everything around us was just white. But white in a way that I could not figure out if there was a giant snow wall ahead or if I could still drive on for miles. It was kind of adventurous. Especially as it was also -30 degrees Celsius today.

We arrived at this very secluded cabin along the frozen river. When the battery inside was turned on, the inside gave us pretty soon the warmth of being at home. Gas stoves were creating more heat and river ice was being melted for tea and coffee water. It was the perfect cabin for wintercamping, I guess. Two tables, a kitchen block and a few beds filled up the space and with at total of eight warm people in it, the window stars slowly started to melt too.

Inuit foods
But I was also introduced to raw meat. It is a very healthy custom for Inuit people.

Because the Arctic region remains frozen for most of the year, it is not possible to grow vegetables or cereal crops like wheat here. The traditional Inuit diet consists almost exclusively of meat, fat and fish. In the past their whole life revolved around the constant search for food. Out of necessity the Inuit have always had to use what little the Arctic had to offer. Their main food is seal but they also eat caribou, walrus, polar bear, musk oxen, whales, arctic hare, fish and birds. In Kugluktuk many Inuit also eat convenience foods, which are bought at the local supermarkets.

After a kill, the meat and fat of an animal is either eaten raw or boiled. If the Inuit kill more animals than they can eat, they store some of the meat to feed themselves with when there is not much game around. The Inuit waste very little of any animal they kill. Fat, meat and internal organs are all eaten.

Isn’t hunting bad? The Inuit versus Greenpeace
In Europe many people want to protect seals because they seem cuddly and friendly, rather than because they are endangered. The Inuit mainly hunt adult seals in a humane way using rifles. Does it make sense to deny the Inuit the opportunity to market their seal skins when they will kills seals anyway for food? Do we have the right to tell a people with a culture much older than ours, who have always looked after their environment, how to run their lives?

There are over ten million seals in the Arctic seas. The main threat to their existence comes from pollution, not Inuit hunters.

And they are aware of the need to conserve animal populations for future generations of hunters. They never want to have to apologise to their grandchildren for the fact that there are no animals left to hunt.

However Greenpeace mounted a campaign showing these gruesome photographs of baby seals being beaten to death on the ice. There was such a public outcry that the US government banned all sea mammal products from its markets. The European community took similar action, banning the import of seal products. The collapse of the seal skin market meant that hunting communities across the Arctic face economic disaster. Welfare officers throughout the north believe that the result of the Save the Seals Campaign was that many more Inuit and other Native American hunters were forced to live off government benefit payments.

The Inuit had nothing to do with the harp seal cull of clubbing baby seals to death. They mainly hunt ringed seals. This is the most common seal in the Arctic with a population around seven million. Not surprisingly, many Inuit felt angry that once again they were being told how to run their lives by Western governments that had little knowledge of Inuit life and not much to be proud of when it came to their own environmental protection history.

And that is what Greenpeace won’t show you on TV, they would miss out on your money that way!

(As you can guess, I am not very fond of many animal rights charity foundation anymore myself. Since I have eaten whale in Norway, ostrich in South Africa and kangaroo in Australia with the locals who told me their stories about their food, I fortunately opened up my mind about that.)

These foundations have no right to indoctrinate the poor heads of many Western people with black-and-white easy-going thoughts, as they just want you to open your wallet! But – hey – isn’t that what everything is about these days?


The Inuit diet
So if they don’t eat fruit and vegetables where to the Inuit get their vitamins from? You might ask that. Surprisingly, a diet of meat and fat provides everything a human need to have a healthy life. In fact, recent medical surveys show that the Inuit who still eat mainly meat are healthier in many ways than people who eat a mixture of meat and vegetables. Heart diseases, diabetes and cancer are rare among the Inuit. Just because they don’t have fruit and vegetables doesn’t mean they are lacking in vitamins. Seal liver and whale skin are rich in vitamins and contain the same proportion of Vitamin C as found in grapefruit!

Over the past 25 years the Inuit diet has undergone considerable change. Shops in northern communities now stock an increasing amount of convenience food, which has result in many Inuit eating foods that are rich in carbohydrate and sugar. Some Inuit have begun to develop tooth decay and a whole range of diet related diseases, which were unknown before. A diet that many of us would consider to be normal has introduced the Inuit to new diseases and worse health.


As Richard is a ranger he has been helping out a few hundred Canadians on an army snow trip last month. Through this collaboration he received many army survival bags, which soldiers carry with them during the strong winters. With utmost curiosity we all opened a bag and discovered that soldiers live a luxurious life. In the bag were bags with dehydrated bread, jams, chewing gum, bags of juice and desert drinks, oat meal – but there were also these heat-up-in-water meal bags containing barbecued beans, chicken omelettes and ham steaks!

We had quite some fun in consuming the different meals in the bags. And while the older folks were playing board games inside, the young ones (including Becky and me) were out on a ride through the hilly Martian landscapes that followed the sides of the river.

As they were topped with a big layer of snow, I soon expected problems with our skidoos and as I predicted, within half an hour every one of us where stuck in waist deep soft powder snow!

And if you get stuck out here, you’ve got quite a problem!

While we all struggled to get our skidoos going again, the sun hiding behind a thick film of fog was about to touch the peaks of the hills surrounding us. Thank God I wasn’t alone on this tour or life would end bitter here.

It took quite some effort, strength and sweat to get out of trouble again. When we finally arrived on the flat and safe-feeling ice again, we all caught a breath of relief.

We hung around the cabin for the rest of the afternoon. I had a nap on one of the beds, had pillow fights with one of the other girls, napped a while to recharge, joined tickle-fights against Becky and raced around on the ice, getting more and more skilled on the skidoo.

It was about 7pm when we all headed back to the Kugluktuk community again. The weather was getting worse, it got more windy and foggy out and the sun was about to set within half an hour. We got back to town within thirty minutes

At her home Becky discovered I had frostbite marks on my face. Somehow I probably had not covered myself too good, but I am actually quite proud on my first frostbite spots, haha! And after this long day out on the snowy outskirts, I had myself a relaxing spa bath.

The day ended leisurely as we munched on the pizza leftovers from last night and watched the movie “About a boy” starring Hugh Grant on Becky’s laptop from school. It was a sweet and charming movie about this father who gets involved into the lives of unhappy single women with a child. Very amusing British humour, based on the book by Nick Hornsby.

I discover myself that I felt very comfortable with Becky. She has a very inspiring personality and we can go along pretty well together. We are having great conversations and while brushing our teeth in the bathroom at night, she gave me the compliment that I could be a great roommate. There, I blushed.

Good night Kugluktuk!

Ramon.