This is a First Person column by Monika Rumbolt, a visual artist who identifies as Inuk of Nunatukavut. She now lives in Labrador City, NL, with her husband and daughter. For more information about TBEN’s first person stories, see the FAQ.
It felt like a cool autumn afternoon, as northerly winds whipped over the stern of the boat, leaving streaks of salty ocean water against the windshield.
But it was actually the end of June as my atatatsiak (Grandfather) navigated the shallow ledges along the shoreline, occasionally looking up from his conversation with my grandmother to make minor adjustments to his route. Not many people would venture into these rough waters without the help of an experienced fisherman. However, my grandparents have been navigating this route to Great Caribou Island for over 40 years.
I am a sixth generation islander. We went to our seasonal camp, Indian Cove. The small settlement is located in southern Labrador, about a 30-minute boat ride from Mary’s Harbour. Like nearby Battle Harbour, the tiny houses are nestled among the rocky hills that have been bleached by the sun. During the height of the cod fishery, the community housed several shops, a church, and a school. All that remains are a few neatly kept houses and blue fig irises. Most of my favorite childhood memories were created here.
From Inuit cemeteries to secret beaches, Great Caribou Island had many attractions for an adventurous kid.
When we reached my grandfather’s stage, where we could clean our catch, my daughter Abigail screamed with excitement.
She was three, and her sense of wonder had surpassed mine at her age. I knew it was time to start passing on what I knew about our culture to her.
‘Let her discover like you did’
Passing on knowledge can be difficult. It’s not a family recipe that you can write on a piece of paper in the hopes of using it later. It’s a mix of learned behaviors and lessons that come from blood memory and curiosity.
A simple walk along the rocky shore teaches agility and balance, while beachcombing allows the senses to become more alert and focused – all highly prized skills as a hunter in northern climates. Being a relatively young mother myself, I felt nervous and unprepared. I was still on my own journey to regain my identity.
“Let her discover like you did,” my atatatsiak would say. “Let her know her territory.” So that’s what I did.
In the morning, when the tides were at their highest, we went to our salmon nets to see if there were any catches. Once home we cleaned the kavisilik (salmon) on stage.
Many toddlers would stray from the horror movie level of gore and guts, but Abby played happily among the messes with her little butter knife, mimicking our moves and pretending to clean her own salmon, proudly holding up every capelin they are out of. guts.
While I have my . sharpness ulu (a crescent-shaped blade), she watched in fascination as I explained the ins and outs of the salmon and showed her the liver and brood – a delicious treat for Inuit.
I remembered learning this way what salmon ate at her age. My grandfather had always talked quietly while I watched him cleaning fish. He showed me signs of sick salmon and warned me to keep the water clean so they could always return home.
Drink tea and tell stories
As the tide fell, our classes moved more inland to the moss-covered rocks and swamps where the scent of ripening berries and stagnant swamp water wafted through the air. Like the water, there was much to learn about the creatures and plants that lived on the island. It was my favorite place to explore with my grandmother.
As I drifted back from my memories, the questions of what was safe to eat and when it could be eaten were endless from the talkative to as we made our way to the bay. We drank Labrador tea, told stories by the windswept spruce trees and picked lots of wildflowers along old caribou trails.
As Abigail’s happy giggles filled the silence of the deserted bay, I felt a sense of relief. I realized that my childhood was never just fun, but rich in culture, full of lessons learned from the lands and waters of my home here on Great Caribou Island.
Looking back at this moment, I realized how special our timing was. For the first time in about 200 years, some residents told us they had seen a caribou calf and its mother on the island. These animals were killed by overhunting and have not returned to the island until now. Returning to the ancient caribou trails built by their ancestors, these caribou thrive on the food the land has to offer.
I think this is a sign of resilience. Like my own family, when we embrace our culture and pass it on to our new generation, we can reclaim what was once lost. If we follow the same paths as our ancestors, we will always find the things we need to nourish us.
Looking back, my grandparents taught me how to do it by letting me live and experience my culture. Our teachings and traditions are embedded in our daily lives, as are our ancestors and their ancestors before them.
Passing on knowledge is important to Inuit families. It has enabled us to thrive and live among these harsh coastal waters. We don’t just practice our culture; we live it.
Identity politics aside, the one unifying factor that all Inuit have is a great love and respect for our culture. It binds us to the land and waters and gives us a deep knowledge of our environment, our people and our sense of self. It is important to let our youth know – regardless of appearance or location – Inogavit piggotigigit (be proud of who you are).
As we sailed away from the island, I felt a sense of pride in my chest.
I know the next generation was in good hands.
Learn more about the Nunatukavut Inuit identity dispute.
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