Last season, it was all about the catching; this year it's all about the fishing

Last pink salmon season, it was all about the catching; this year it’s all about the fishing. But no famine will occur here: a buddy goes to Safeway grocery store to fill his smoker when he can’t catch enough wild fish.

In the Puget Sound region, we march slowly toward the lifestyle depicted in the science-fiction comedy Wall-E; Amazon will send a drone to your door soon so that your delivery arrives in an hour.  We deliver groceries and restaurant food, not just pizza.  Even middle class families have cleaning services.

With this much free time and choice, we can choose what shapes us, and ignore the land.  Oh sure, Western Washington has been cut off by major flooding, so that no supplies can enter the state by rail or road.  We’re prone to major earthquakes, and now overdue for a whopper that could bring us to our knees and change our region for decades.  We’re surrounded by volcanoes that could- and have- transformed in seconds from ethereal visions of white to exploding mountains of smoke and ash unleashing torrents of glacial meltwater and mud.

But these events don’t happen every year, so we forget that the land could put a stranglehold on our lives.  We survive power outages after windstorms, ice storms, and flooding. After Mt. St. Helens blew up, we buried the dead, built a visitor’s center at a new National Monument, and her ash became gift shop curios. Groceries always show up, and we carry on. We certainly need no taboos to avoid cannibalism in times of famine- most of us need diets instead.

Life is not this easy on Baffin Island, even now that people don’t rely on hunting to survive.  When we arrived in late July 2015, the jet stream that trapped historically hot weather over southern Canada and the U.S. held a cold front at its back resulting from a record cold “blob” in the Atlantic.  In Iqaluit and Pangnirtung, pack ice still cluttered the harbors, preventing the Sealift from delivering food and supplies.  Fuel tankers couldn’t reach remote communities; even those with reserve tanks were reportedly running low on fuel.

By the time we left Auyuittuq National Park, the Canadian government sent an ice breaker on emergency orders to make a path for a fuel tanker to reach Pang.  The tanker was there, but in a week, according to a government project manager, they have not been able to pump a liter of fuel.  Floating ice prevents a boat from extending a fuel hose to connect to valves on shore, and eventually, shears the cable to the anchor.  The freighter is under power instead of adrift as they scramble to get technical divers flown in.

Parks Canada Ranger Station, Pangnirtung, NU

Parks Canada Ranger Station, Pangnirtung, NU

The land still controls lives here but the people are not as bound to the land as before, when they depended completely on the bounty of the land to survive.  That bounty conferred great health on a durable and resilient people when it could be harvested, but there were times that food eluded people, when Nuliajuk, the temperamental goddess-like woman under the sea, kept sea mammals away from hunters.  The wonderful Inuit writer Rachel  A. Quitsualik says, “Inuit were concerned with whatever gave them a practical edge, practicing a humanistic, even somewhat scientific, observation of nature. Their preoccupation was mastery, not propitiation, of their environment.” Read more at

At least Pang has reserve fuel storage tanks

At least Pang has reserve fuel storage tanks

A tanker of fuel in Pangnirtung Fiord, skirting ice

A tanker of fuel in Pangnirtung Fiord, skirting ice


Although we experienced several rainy days on our trip to Baffin Island, this area is considered to be “in or near” the polar desert biome.  Like many deserts, where water flows there is life:  here, in the marine waters and fiords are  seals, whales, polar bears, walruses, and arctic char.  These animals are dwindling as everywhere due to the power of the rifle, and sometimes, the snowmachine.  Because the Inuit traditionally depended on this life for sustenance, dwindling populations may someday spell the end of selling some products commercially in order to sustain the Inuit people.  For now, they are here, and if you live outside the United States, you may bring home a sealskin bag, or sealskin wallet.  Because I live in the United States, I brought home a carving and a weaving of seals. You can get arctic char at Pangnirtung Fisheries to ship home, although I can’t imagine it is as good shipped as it is fresh.

People’s tastes change, though, and they have here, where there is less and less reliance on the bounty of the land.  From “the South”, they ship Pepsi, and when it doesn’t arrive because ice chokes harbors, it increases in price to $9 Cnd per can. I see cases arriving on the plane with people visiting from accessible communities.

ClammingLowTide I also see women out clamming at low tide when I hike the Pang headland, and we see seal hunters when we take a boat ride out to the floe ice by Cumberland Sound.  They are patiently working to gather a food source that is probably far healthier than most of the food on the stranded Sealink.


It may be that the Inuit no longer need a shaman to appease Nuiliajuk, but instead, the Canadian government to bring an ice breaker or a cargo plane full of food.  What then happens to their diet, to their profound observational skills, to their rich oral history, stories passed down by the elders to help the young navigate life and the land? Projects like North of 60 and foundations like Students on Ice seek to preserve stories and traditions of the Arctic, and pass them on to the next generations. But can these efforts preserve the strengths, intuition, intellect, and skills that helped the Inuit survive without the need to work with the land?

I would never wish to consign people to a harsh condition when the rest of us have other options. However, I hope the Inuit can find a way to carry forth into their future the strengths and skills that sustained them when their land shaped the living, rather than abandon qualities most of us will never know to shape the land to their will.