Suzie Napayok-Short on the Inspiration Behind Kits, Cubs, and Calves: An Arctic Summer

Available September 2020

I went for a visit to my brother’s town of Arviat, NU, one summer with my granddaughter, Annabelle, from Yellowknife, NT. My uncle James, who has since passed away, called one afternoon to see if we’d like to go boating with him and his wife, Shirley. I agreed, and my brother Tommy and I met them at the shore.

I’d forgotten the sheer joy of riding in a motor boat and smelling the salt of the powerful ocean under a very bright and sunny sky. On our way to view polar bears in their natural environment, I was advised that James and family no longer had access to their traditional camping grounds. Over time, the polar bears had found nets in the water full of char and had been returning to those lands ever since. For the family, it was usable land no more.

The land, to us, is used by the collective but owned by none during our time here. That is the first and foremost principle portrayed to us in our view of our world. We are taught to respect the land that we live in and that our ancestors lived in before us. The majority of Inuit still view the lands they were born in, raised in, as valuable not for economic gain so much as for the richness of the wildlife, the birds, the plants, the berries, the fish, and all the mammals in the lakes and seas themselves.

These are the foundations we were taught. Not to take any more than we can use. To treat hunted prey efficiently and humanely in all respects. Early on we learned that circumstances are beyond our control, such as the blizzards and the extreme cold of the North, and we learned to accept these things with grace, rather than fretting and planning to change them. Mother Nature has her own rules for us.

This is what I think of often. That Mother Nature will treat us kindly when she feels we have treated her well. That we can enjoy the sheer, peaceful joy of being in her presence without obstacles around us.

The belugas have always come back every summer as they communicate through the cold waters. The polar bears come back every year. The fox kits have always been born in their dens, and the seagulls follow the bears during this time. We look forward to seeing the beautiful plants in their robes of colours—the malikaat (the mountain aven), the aupilattanguaq (the purple saxifrage), the edible qunguliq (the mountain sorrel) and the roots of the Airait (yellow oxytrope)—in their majestic, perfect, symmetrical forms.

Even as times have changed for the Inuit, it is my wish for these things to continue as they have always done.

—Suzie Napayok-Short