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The odd little couple

If the odd little couple were together through an arranged marriage, it almost certainly had to have occurred long ago. Theirs was a mutual comfort with each other that most couples know only after many decades together. I write of them because it brings a smile to my face to remember their contributions to our small community.

I am not trying to prop up the odd little couple as exemplary elders. Like all human beings, they had their flaws. They were the product of a strange, largely pre-colonial world, one that many people today would have trouble envisioning, a world devoid of our laws, without a monetary system, without even a contemporary hunting-and-trapping lifestyle. I doubt if there was even a handful of people who knew we were part of the "Commonwealth."

The odd little couple lived in Gjoa Haven, although they didn't know that this was Uqsuqtuug's "official" English name. Neither did they know that there was a Qallunaat (southern) church out there that had declared them Anglicans. They didn't feel that they needed spiritual maintenance. But, now that I think about it, they didn't seem to feel that they needed physical maintenance, either.

This was one of the characteristics that so marked them - their independence. In those days before modern goods, they got by with hand-made tools. Their clothing, though not as elaborate as some styles, was just as functional. They caught and butchered their own game, and lived in a funny little hut. They chose to live alone, even though they had quite a few children and grandchildren.

One might have expected them to lean on the community, especially since they were in their late sixties. They never did. They lived independently, with a certain resolve that only those who have thrived on the land can possess. Yes, their things were a bit shabby. Yes, they ate cod in winter, not what a well-to-do hunter eats, but they were determined to stand on their own two feet.

Ironically, their lifestyle would be scandalous by today's standards. They had no careers. They were not upwardly mobile. They were not good consumers, contributing to the economy. They did not pay taxes, like modern Inuit. It is extremely ironic that today's standards would condemn them as utterly, perhaps criminally, useless.

Even by traditional standards, they were eccentric. But useless?

It is arguable that the odd little couple were the most useful people in the community. It was their spirit of self-determinism that inspired others to work harder, reach further, and shoulder burdens without complaint. How are younger generations going to feel justified in complaining about hardship when there sits, at the edge of the community, an example of such self-reliance in a pair of elders? Far from useless, theirs was the most lasting contribution of all, a contribution of culture. Everything about them - their lack of affectation, their hard-work ethic, their self-sufficiency, their love of individualism - all served as an example to others.

We live in times when we are expected to network, make connections, and publicize our lives. Individualism is shady, suspicious, something to be shunned. But Gjoa Haven, today, has a reputation for being one of the more pleasant and traditional communities - not an easy reputation to acquire in the face of modern social problems - and I do not doubt that the odd little couple had a lasting influence this way. Their descendants, to this day, are hard-working, hands-on people, responsible for schools and local government.

I ran into one of them a while ago. He was dressed all in quirky colors, as though he couldn't care less what others thought of him, and in his eye was that individualistic gleam that I know of old.

Long live the independent spirit ... however odd.

Pijariiqpunga. (That is all I have to say.)

Rachel Attituq Qitsualik was born into a traditional Igloolik Inuit lifestyle. She has worked in Inuit sociopolitical issues for the last 25 years, and witnessed the full transition of her culture into the modern world.