News & Events
Mar 1, 2016
Dispatches from Tsiigehtchic: Guest Blog
Theresa and Ray Stiener
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It’s hard to believe, but we have been here in Tsiigehtchic for five months! There are many stories in our minds—stories of adventure, of peoples’ struggles, of the elder’s ways, of peoples’ journeys through life, of the unique subtleties of northern life—many are very personal to the people involved. Out of respect to the people here, we share mostly the stories of our family’s adventures. And though this only paints part of the picture of our time here, they are fun to share!
February continues to bring some days with temperatures down in the -30s, and even the occasional -40. In the bush the snow is almost to Ray’s hip. But with the days getting longer and all the sunshine, it feels surprisingly like spring! It’s amazing how quickly the days are lengthening. We have already gained over 7 hours of light from the shortest days. This week was the first time since we’ve been here that the children walked to school in the light.
We began the New Year with some skating on the ice road. In the absence of an arena, the ice road is a great rink. The kids enjoyed putting out their arms and letting the wind push them along. There are no shortage of ice roads here. The first ice roads we made to cross the rivers, then long ice roads were built over the delta to access the communities of Aklavik and Tuktoyutuk (which are normally fly-in communities), and now ice roads are being built up the rivers so it is easier for people to get in the back country to get firewood.
Ray goes out by ski-doo a couple trips a week for firewood, and that enables us to mostly heat with wood. He often goes out with an elder, who is near 80, and between loads they sit by a frozen lake and the elder shares stories of the days of living back there on land. They haul the wood in big “boggans”, or sleds, which are used to haul just about anything and you can actually get quite a good load of wood.
Oh, I must not forget to mention Kathleen’s 11th birthday. Since this was a different birthday for her being gone from home and without all her extended family, we decided to arrange for her to go dog sledding. She loves dogs and the outing didn’t disappoint and was thrilling for her. It seems like with Kathleen, there’s always a story to tell, and this was no exception. When she came in the guide called her the “’super musher” as she handled her 3dog team and caught two other runaway dog teams that had lost their mushers along the way.
We’ve really been enjoying the music of the Mackenzie Delta (this part of the Western Arctic). People love the fiddle, and they love to dance. The locals will travel community to community to join in the “old time dances”. The music is played by local talented musicians—the fiddle, guitar, bass guitar—and the people dance. They call it jigging (different from “jiggling” which is what you do to catch a fish under the ice.)
There are jigging competitions with cornmeal spread on the floor, and the dancers wearing their best beaded moccasins. It is such fun for the whole community.
We were in Inuvik a few weeks back for the Northern & Dene Games, a gathering of about 200 youth of the Western Arctic. They compete in sports based on traditional skills that would have been used in hunting or survival, like crossing a river or spearing a caribou. These sports are carried on to build strength and agility, character, tolerance to pain. A favorite is the high kick where the athlete kicks a little seal ball hung high in the air. There are many variations of high kick. With the one foot high kick you must land on the same foot that you kick the seal with. The winner is kicking well over his/her head. We also got to see the “blanket toss” where a group of people use a big blanket to propel someone into the air—traditionally to look for wildlife (such as a whale out on the ocean). That was something to see. And last but not least, we got to see the drummers and dancers.
Inuvik is the big centre of the Western Arctic, with about 3500 people. It does feel like a city compared to live in Tsiigehtchic with about 150 people! Inuvik is home to the famous “igloo church”.
This is the Catholic church built in the shape of an igloo. It is quite an architectural masterpiece, and a top tourist attraction. While we were in Inuvik, the girls really enjoyed helping in the soup kitchen. It is held each weekend and is well attended.
It continues to be busy around the church and house. Every day we have childen coming by to visit, play, and eat. We have had many beautiful celebrations of baptism in the church, and we have just begun some classes for the older children. Since we have no church hall we had to take some of the benches out of the church to set up a place for lessons. We can only heat the church when necessary as the fuel is so expensive. The holy water seldom thaws out completely! The heating fuel is about $1.80 per liter. We were amazed how slowly the fuel in the tank was going down, until one day we caught the fuel truck topping it up. When we went to check what was happening, we were told that someone had paid for $200 of fuel, and that this wasn’t the first time this anonymous donor had sent fuel! Never do too many days pass without a reminder of the generosity and kindness of this community. We are also holding bake sales every 2 weeks to fund raise for major repairs to the church buildings. We hope to jack both buildings up to level them (due to the failing foundation), and to replace the roofs. That would be the start of the major repairs. From our first two bake sales we raised $1100! The bake sales are community events and it is a lot of fun to see the different ways people get involved to make it a success.
This is a busy time of year for people in the area with many meetings and much travelling. Our family is no exception with Daniel and I travelling to Yellowknife for a retreat later this week and Matthias preparing to travel to Greenland on the weekend for the Arctic Winter Games! I will close with a picture of Daniel enjoying his little swing that the locals encouraged us to make for his bed.