‘It’s really good in my heart’

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Four days after returning from Bathurst Inlet, elder Eva Kakolak was still overjoyed and sentimental while discussing her time back at home in the Bathurst Inlet area.

Eva Ayalik happily reaches for some berries while visiting Bathurst Inlet earlier this month. The Kitikmeot Heritage Society arranged the trip. photo courtesy of Darren Keith/Kitikmeot Heritage Society

“It was fulfilling. It’s really good in my heart right now,” she said. “I can go on again forever and ever, until the Lord takes me. It made me happy.”

Kakolak was one of four elders who spent Sept. 9 to 13 in the remote community – an hour’s flight from Cambridge Bay – on a trip arranged by the Kitikmeot Heritage Society.

“That was my homeland for my family many, many years ago,” Kakolak said of Arctic Sound, which is not too far from Bathurst Inlet. “It was very emotional… I thought I’d never get a chance to visit my homeland again. It’s like a dream come true.”

Bessie Omilgoetok and her daughter Eva Ayalik stand at Etoktok’s grave site while visiting Ittiviaq, near Bathurst Inlet, Sept. 9 to 13. Etoktok – Omilgoetok’s father-in-law, Ayalik’s grandfather and Pamela Gross’s great grandfather – is buried there with his brother Amaoyoak and other community members who succumbed to the 1940s flu epidemic. photo courtesy of Pam Gross/Kitikmeot Heritage Society

Bathurst’s last two elders – sisters Lena Kamoayok and Mary Kaniak – left in 2005, said Pamela Gross, executive director of the Kitikmeot Heritage Society. Kamoayok and Kaniak were consulted prior to this excursion and they were invited to come to Bathurst Inlet, an excursion funded by public and private partners. Kamoayok was on board but Kaniak was unable to make it. Their traditional knowledge was invaluable nonetheless, said Gross.

“We wanted to work with (the elders) out on the land because they’re able to go back into their own natural environment,” Gross said. “It sparks memories. It sparks a lot of things for them… it’s easier and a lot lighter for them when it’s a more intimate setting in their homeland.”

Kakolak was thrilled to once again walk on the “nuna”, the land she knew as a young lady in the 1960s. While there, she picked berries and she realized some of the shrubs that were knee-high when she was a child now towered over her.

“Everything’s grown. It’s still beautiful,” she said. “I would have loved to see caribou and muskox but there was a lot of wolves.”

Kakolak left the area for Cambridge Bay in 1968 when her grandmother became ill. She said the only other time she returned was in 2005 to do some interpreting and translating for an MLA during a visit that lasted just a couple of hours.

Gross said the heritage society aims to hold a land camp every year. Two years ago they travelled to the Perry River area and last year they went to Perry Bay.

“Basically the nature (of the camps) is to take people that are from there back and work with them on different things,” Gross explained. “This time we interviewed our elders on different things in our culture that we wanted to know more about, place names being one of them, and archeology.”

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