Aksakjuk Ningiuk is as comfortable surfing Facebook as he is handling a dog team.

The versatile Grise Fiord Elder moved from one place to another frequently while growing up as his father was an RCMP special constable.

Aksakjuk Ningiuk and his grandson Jesse with a narwhal tusk. Aksakjuk has been a hunter almost all of his life and his time spent on the land is among his happiest, he says.
photo courtesy of the Ningiuk family

Dundas Harbour, located on the southeastern tip of Devon Island in the 1950s, occupies a special place in his memory.

“There were not too many people. Everybody seemed to be happy. It was a peaceful place and the landscape was beautiful,” Ningiuk says in Inuktitut while Jeffrey Qaunaq provides interpretation.

Among the family’s stops were Pond Inlet, Craig Harbour, Alexander Fiord. His father’s final RCMP posting to Grise Fiord made that community home for Ningiuk and his seven brothers and sisters.

Ningiuk’s dad would allow his sons to follow him, observe and he would teach them to hunt and fix things.

Those fundamental skills and desire to learn served Ningiuk exceedingly well as he went on to serve many roles in Grise Fiord even though he lacked a scholarly education. He was, at various times, a heavy equipment operator, road maintainer, delivery person, mechanic, Co-op handyman, electrician, plumber, garbage man and he rounded up honey buckets.

“Most everything is all hands-on learning by himself,” Qaunaq says.

When he wasn’t busy providing services to others in the community, he savoured his time pursing game to feed his family.

“Anything to do with hunting, he enjoyed it. He started off with dog team, then Ski-Doos took over,” says Qaunaq.

While Grise Fiord continued to develop around him, even in the small community of 130 people, Ningiuk said there’s enough activity to keep most wildlife away from town. When he was young, he was accustomed to spotting inland animals darting around.

Yet he’s admittedly quite content to be in more of an urban setting. Now 74, he still likes to get out and watch events and activities in town. When he’s at home with his wife Liza, whom he married in the mid-1970s, he sometimes turns on his computer and surfs the internet to check the weather and wind forecast and to look at his Facebook account.

“Now he’s not afraid of it,” Qaunaq says of the computer.

Although when it gets to be April, May and June, he longs to be outdoors, soaking up the spring weather and admiring his surroundings in Canada’s northernmost community.

“It’s a beautiful place. Good people,” Ningiuk tells Qaunaq.

Spring has changed, though.

“The ice becomes dangerous now. Back then, the spring wasn’t so dangerous,” Qaunaq interprets. “Back then, it was way better to predict the weather because there was no climate change happening, noticeably. When they were younger, there were less rules, less regulations for hunting. You can’t really compare today and when he was young, but he’s satisfied with both (lifestyles).”

Although much has evolved over decades, Ningiuk expresses no concerns over the future of Inuktitut language and and Inuit culture.

“He thinks … it won’t change much because that’s the way we live,” Qaunaq says. “It’s going to continue to stay strong.”

Last December, Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated (NTI) recognized Ningiuk with an Elder Award,

“He is always willing to help others. (He) has served for the local hunters and trappers organization and for the district education council,” NTI wrote, in part. “Aksakjuk has vast knowledge of the Grise Fiord area and people of all ages constantly seek his advice when one needs to better understand anything about hunting and problem solving. Aksakjuk’s contribution to the development of Grise Fiord is invaluable.”

While appreciative of the award, Ningiuk says he doesn’t think of himself as an Elder.

“He’s just going day by day,” says Qaunaq, who then interjects his own opinion: “but we do look up to him a lot.”

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Derek Neary

Derek Neary has been reporting on developments in the North for 18 years. When he's not writing for Nunavut News, he's working on Northern News Services' special publications such as Opportunities North,...

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