Skip to Main Contents

Site Map | Acknowledgements and Credits | Your Feedback | Français | Inuktitut

Historical photo of an elderly woman sitting in front of a plate-shaped stone oil lamp that is controlled using a long stem.


Woman in front of a qulliq lamp, Library and Archives Canada, PA-147309

The Wisdom of Elders

Mary Kiatainaq, Inuluk Qisiiq, Maata Tuniq and Lizzie Irniq, all live at the Kangiqsujuaq Elders House. They share with us their childhood and the hardships they had to endure, their memories of dog teams, the importance of the Inuktitut language, country food and telling their knowledge to the younger generation.

Mosaic of portraits of four elder women, smiling.

From left to right : Maata Tuniq, Mary Kiatainaq, Inuluk Qisiiq and Lizzie Irniq

(Inuluk Qisiiq)
«I was born between Salluit and Wakeham Bay during the famine, when there was no food. I don' know how my parents raised me during the famine years. Those were hard years. I had older sisters but I don't remember them, they died when I was young, probably from the famine. I have an older sister living here in Kangiqsujuaq, she was adopted. My brother died a few years ago during a canoe accident.

During the famine, my Mother used to feed my sister with blubber, like seal blubber or beluga, on a piece of wood so she could suck it. Before there was anything to eat, my Mother also used to melt ice in her mouth for her kids to drink.

During World War II there was a big famine in the North. All the white people left because of the war. As soon as the war ended they came back. The priests and northern companies came back with supplies so it started to change from there, for a better life. Since then it's been getting better and better. »

(Maata Tuniq)
«I was born in Kangirsuq, and raised during World War II. There was a big famine all over the North, in Nunavik and Nunavut too, and probably also in Labrador. At one point we survived by eating our dogs. We didn't have to kill the dogs, they died of starvation and then we ate them. That's how we made it through the famine. It was extremely hard.

My parents would say we would have to eat dogs, but they weren't really good to eat. They used to tell me "We're eating these now, but there's better food coming soon".

After the war, everything became better. But when the white people came again, there were more dogs to travel around. Our leader, we used to have a leader, had to walk far away to get food supplies, and he came back with dogs so we started to breed them again.

After, I used to follow my Father a lot. We used to go fishing, camping and hunting with nothing but dogs. Usually it was the men that went, but when they didn't have a son, they used to bring their daughters. My father didn't have any sons, and since I was the oldest I followed my dad a lot everywhere he went during my early teenage years. I went with him until he couldn't go anymore because of old age. Then I took care of him for the rest of his life. »

(Inuluk Qisiiq)
«I didn't follow my Dad a lot, only twice, because he had sons. »

(Mary Kiatainaq, Inuluk Qisiiq, Maata Tuniq, Lizzie Irniq)
«The men used to go hunting with dog teams for three weeks to one month and they'd come back to the village. Trapping, fishing and caribou hunting. They were taking their time, there was no rush. There were mostly women in the camp, while the men were out hunting.

The size of dog teams varied. One man had five dogs, another man had ten, another had seven. The more successful the man was as a hunter, the more dogs he could feed and keep.

Today, it's much easier with ski-doos. In a way it's better, but in those days dogs were free: no gas and no mechanics to fix the machines. Today it's all very expensive. So life is still hard but not for the same reasons.

Nowadays, we have dogs everywhere around the village, but these dogs are naive. Before, they could find their way even during a blizzard white-out. The men didn't even have to direct them. They just knew where to go. Dogs back then were really intelligent. We all believe preserving the tradition of the dog team is very important.

Inuktitut our language, is also very important to us and we Elders have a better knowledge of it. Young people speak inuktitut in a different way. They can still speak the real Inuk language, and that's very important for us. Of course some words the youth don't understand, because they're from a different generation. Sometimes we speak inuktitut but with different meanings. So it's very important for them to learn the language.

It's also important for the young people to listen to the Elders so they'll know how we used to live, and that they can preserve our traditions. We're losing our traditions with each generation. We do our best to tell them the stories and the good ways of living. Some of them remember and follow those traditions.»

(Lizzie Irniq)
«When we were growing up, we did not have the technology of today and went through very hard times, trying to survive through the famine. Today, many people don't know the hardship we went through, technology has made many things easier, so many of them wouldn't know how to survive if they had to go through a famine like we did.

Back then, before there was money [up North], there used to be credit, like one fox, one credit at the trading post. We never saw cash or coins. We just got credit and shopped with no money. Money's not good. Many of the younger generation today think they can survive only with money.»

(Mary Kiatainaq, Inuluk Qisiiq, Maata Tuniq, Lizzie Irniq)
«Today, we do a lot of sewing and stitching of traditional clothing. We mostly do it for our grandchildren or children.

Country food was also really important to us when we were growing up. It was the only food back then. And today we love it the best, but sometimes we have to buy store bought food.

Today, we live in a warm house, with electricity and running water. It's ok. But when food is concerned we prefer eating country food; mostly seal meat, it's our favorite. Since we were little, we've eaten seal and fish, like arctic char. If we were given the choice we would eat country food all the time instead of store bought food. The men from the village can provide us with country food, but sometimes we have to buy store bought food instead.

We also have all kinds of plants to eat from the Land. For example there's airaq [field oxytrope and moss campion] , immulik [foxflower], a very sweet plant with natural sugar. There are also some yellow flowers that we just add seal blubber oil to. For medicine, we brew tea with tiirluk [fireweed] as cold and cough medicine. We also eat kimminaq [partridge cranberry] , a very sweet red berry for sore throats and mouth infections.»

Back to Top