CM . . .
. Volume XVII Number 5. . . .October 1, 2010
Proud to Be Inuvialuit. (The Land is our Storybook).
James Pokiak & Mindy Willett. Photographs by Tessa Macintosh.
Markham, ON: Fifth House, 2010.
26 pp., hardcover, $16.95.
Pokiak, James-Juvenile literature.
Pokiak, James-Family-Juvenile literature.
White whale hunting-Northwest Territories-Juvenile literature.
Traditional ecological knowledge-Northwest Territories-Juvenile literature.
Tuktoyaktuk (N.W.T.)-Biography-Juvenile literature.
Grades 3-5 / Ages 8-10.
Review by Gail Hamilton.
We dry fish to preserve it. Another way to keep it is to freeze it in the Tuk ice house. The ice house is about 10 m underground, dug right into the permafrost. It looks like an outhouse from the outside, but when you climb down there are 3 hallways with 19 rooms. Each hunting or fishing family gets to use one room. This is how we keep frozen what we catch in the summertime.
The fifth in the series "The Land is Our Storybook" about the land and cultures of Canada's Northwest Territories, this book focuses on the family of James Pokiak, a hunter and an outfitter for his own company, Ookpik Tours. James, an Inuvialuit, hails from Tuktoyaktuk, a town of 900 people. Inuvialuit, meaning "real people," are the most westerly Canadian Inuit and depend on the sea for food, their primary food source being the beluga whale. In addition to meeting James and his family- his wife, three children and four grandchildren- readers will be introduced to his community, lifestyle, and the traditional practice of whale harvesting. "Tuk" is described as a modern community with many of the amenities of larger cities- cell phones, playgrounds, swimming pools- but with a larger price tag for groceries such as milk (4 liters for $13.89) because groceries have to be flown in, hence, the family's reliance on fish and whales for food.
The majority of the book is devoted to the whale harvest, describing the method, required tools, and the steps in processing the meat. James is quick to point out that hunting must be respectful, follow the laws and must not be wasteful. In fact, every part of the beluga is used, with parts unfit for human consumption returned to the sea to feed other animals. Following the harvest, the community gathers to celebrate with a drum dance. It is estimated that only one or two belugas per year are needed to feed James's extended family and other people in the community.
Other features of the book include a glossary of Tuk vocabulary, a legend and a song about whale hunting, and some brief information about the Hunters and Trappers Committee which partners with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to ensure that the beluga population remains strong and healthy. James, whose pride in his culture is evident, believes that it is important to pass along the Inuvialuit traditions to future generations.
The text's conversational writing style is almost like having a personal tour of the area. Appended facts provide additional information. A map and excellent colour photographs help readers to see the community with its pingoes and ice roads, and to better understand the steps in the harvesting and processing of the whale. A blue floral border along the top of each page is a detail from a baby belt belonging to James's daughter, Rebecca.
Worthy of purchase for the elementary school classroom or library, Proud to be Inuvialuit affords readers a rare glimpse of an Arctic community and its culture.
Gail Hamilton is a retired teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB.
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