Skip to main content

For the weak

Finally caught up with me, eh?"

They traded hand shakes like a couple of gladiators, gripping harder than necessary. The statement was interchangeable. It didn't matter which man uttered it this time. What mattered was their time-honored, cat-and-mouse game.

My father didn't show the slightest bit of surprise at the arrival of the other. He knew that Nujaittuq ("No Hair") had been trailing him for days.

Who wouldn't be able to tell, considering the flat terrain upon which we had been traveling? It had only been a matter of time before Nujaittuq caught up with us.

"Catch any game lately?" Nujaittuq inquired.

"You know I'd never poach," my father answered, countering with, "How about you? Are those ptarmigan feathers I see hanging out the side of your sled?"

On it went - one trying to pin the other with violating the law in any little way.

We had known Nujaittuq for a long time. He had been one of those early, competent RCMP officers, entrusted with regulatory duties since Inuit had first started living a non-nomadic existence. Many times, he'd had to enforce regulations that civil servants had not realized were inappropriate to the Arctic. Southern laws regarding "hunting seasons" were established based upon migrational and breeding patterns of animals in the South. Since those patterns occurred at different times in the North, following southern-style laws could result in disaster. It might be, for example, that birds were the most choice thing to hunt at a certain time, while hunting them was illegal, "out of season". At the same time, hunting seals was permissible but impractical, since the bulls were in rut, their hormone-saturated meat and skins barely fit for dog food.

My father turned to regard Nujaittuq's skinny, inadequate dog team.

"What are these, large lemmings?"

He would often deride Nujaittuq on his use of Siberian Huskies, issued to him by misinformed bosses from some headquarters far away. Whoever had issued him those dogs, trained to run in a long pair-after-pair hitch pattern, must have been ignorant of the dangers of sea-water ice cracks.

Inuit kept their dogs in a fan-style hitch so that if one dog fell into a crack, it wouldn't automatically pull in its team-mates. Also, the Siberians, speedy as they were, didn't have the endurance our lifestyle required. Our breed - now recognized as the "Qimmiq" or "Eskimo Dog" - could go for days without pause or food.

"They get me through the winter," Nujaittuq huffed. "I don't see you giving me one of your dogs to breed. Not that I would want them anyway. What a mangy-looking bunch." "They do look awful, don't they?" my father laughed. His dogs were shedding wooly winter coats, looking like crazy musk ox and hyena hybrids.

"When are they due for shots?" Nujaittuq asked.

"Shots? Um, not yet."

Both men knew this wasn't true. Both had skirted around the regulation after it had been discovered the dogs were having bad reactions to the vaccine - sometimes dying in seizures. Instead, once a dog became infected with rabies, my father would quickly, humanely put it down. The early symptoms were easily noticed by an experienced hunter.

Nujaittuq did the same because he had learned how to live in the North.

He was one of those first, highly skilled and adaptable police officers, who understood that he was responsible for the welfare of the people, not the letter of the law. Using his brain, he knew where and when the law had to be bent in order to survive in the Arctic - a world that places special demands upon the life within it. And the Land had placed its demands upon Nujaittuq as readily as upon any traditional Inuk.

But that didn't stop him or my dad from ribbing each other.

This was something Inuit knew in the old days: real human beings ("Inuit") were marked by their ability to exist upon the Land - not by skin color or birthplace. And Nujaittuq had been approved by the Land, and so was treated no differently from an Inuk. Despite the fact that he was a law officer, his life was characterized by wisdom, rather than regulation.

We were thankful for Nujaittuq's skills and his company. Survivalism is a meritocracy. Race means nothing to the Land, upon which we are equalized. In the Arctic, in those days, racism was for the weak.