Iglulik is located at 69 degrees north latitude 81 degree west longitude in the arctic North of Canada. The yearly temperature averages minus twenty degrees Celsius. It is very hard to imagine that humans have inhabited this area for at least 4500 years. The ancestors of the Inuit came through the Bering Strait to Alaska and spread (in several settlement waves) to Greenland, where they adapted to the difficult living conditions. The first contact with Europeans brought not only infectious disease, but, above all, the loss of independence. After modern civilization had arrived with its trade posts and catholic missionaries, their lifestyle fundamentally changed. The Inuit, confronted with forced integration into a state and suppression of their cultural identity, among many other hardships, proved to be highly resilient.
I have followed the invitation of Zacharias Kunuk to come here. Zacharias is director and a hero to the people in Iglulik. His film “Atanarjuat: the fast runner” won a Golden Camera at the Cannes Film Festival. Now he is working on a new documentary, which is called »Hunting with my ancestors". It will show a traditional Inuit bowheadwhale hunt. For the first time in 14 years Iglulik got a license to hunt a bowhead whale. Whale hunting is strictly regulated in Canada and can, if possible at all, only be conducted by a members of the indigenous population. It is strengthening the social cohesion and promoting their cultural identity which has been damaged in the past. The selected communities do not take that for granted, because they have to bear the expenses for food, equipment and petrol themselves. Only five of the two thousand inhabitants of Iglulik have ever taken part in a whale hunt. After three days the hole whale was distributed within the community.
Traditional Inuit bowhead whale hunt
Walrus hunting is a good and necessary way to stock up on food for autumn and winter. After the catch the walrus gets cut up in big pieces using its skin to sew it together and seal the meat inside. Then the meat is buried, in the gravel near the shore line. Even in summer the permafrost lays only about a meter under the surface which creates the perfect climate for fermentation. After about 3 - 5 months the fermented walrus meat is ready and will be served frozen cut into thin pieces.