The Keepers of Darnley Bay

When we visited Paulatauk, NWT, we were humbled by our meetings and discussions with the keepers of Darnley Bay. These community members are known as traditional keepers of knowledge, and pass on traditions from generations past. Inuvialuit from Paulatuk, Ulukhakotok and Sachs Harbour were also instrumental in helping establish the Anguniaqvia niqiqyuam Marine Protected Area (ANMPA). Community members collaborated and selected Darnley Bay together, ensuring that this critical habitat for species such as Arctic char, Arctic cod, beluga whales, polar bears, and seals would be protected. We spoke to community members to find out more about what it means to be a keeper of Darnley Bay, and what elements are threatening the preservation of their traditions.

“There really is no formal way to become a keeper. As soon as you turn into a man you can be a keeper. You learn from watching. Picking up information is really crucial. Our animals, our sea animals… we try to keep them as long as we can. Not only for my generation, not only for elders, but for next generations. We try to be responsible, we try to live as one with our animals. It will all come together. If we respect what the gods have given, I think that’s how we become keepers.”

Chris Ruben, Paulatuk

“They brought me to school. I didn’t go home for four years. We didn’t even know English. My mom got me out after 4 years. I decided to learn our traditional ways, and I got most of what my mom left me. I always had help, and I learned a lot from her. Now, I do a lot of traditional passing along to our youth. I go out camping with them, take them out, showing them our traditional ways. They do fish filet, and cut fish, and dry fish and hang it. When there’s good fishing, they learn ways to cut the fish, keeping it dry from the rain. They learn their survival on the land – not to go where there is danger, how to avoid currents when they’re boating, how to avoid the places they can’t pass, not to get too close to the ocean when the wind comes up. We always have been out in the land. Everything is special in our land. Very special.”

Elizabeth Kuptana, Paulatuk

“My father came from Kotzebue, Alaska in 1921. He lived in a Sod house growing up at Johnny Green Bay. We once went North to go out whaling, and I brought out the youngest of the Green clan – he’s gotta be 13-14 years old. I brought him to the sod house. He had tears in his eyes and he asked ‘Is that where dad grew up?’ I turned to him and said ‘Ian, be proud of your dad. You don’t have to be sad because your dad lived in a sod house. Be proud.’ Every chance I get, I bring family members to show them where we come from. It’s something to be proud of.”

Reuben Green, Paulatuk

“It’s paramount that we upkeep the knowledge of our elders, and keep passing it on. Very few people are speaking Inuvialuit. It’s crucial to be able to pass on what our elders have given us, as keepers, to be able to keep going the oral way of doing things. Our elders for that matter are scientists, they’re doctors, they’re professors, in how they go about living off the land. It gives us pride to see how they’re able to live without cell phones, without contact for years and years. Nowadays, you’re getting cell service, everything hitting you within a short span of time. Kids travel with GPS systems. I’m old school, I don’t even know how to use a GPS. When we got out on the land, we go ‘I’ve been there, I know this place’. Your brain stays connected, and you store it away. If your batteries run out of your GPS, where are you going to go with that? We want to try to pass on to youth and our children that our old way of life is going, and it’s going fast. We need to be able to be the keepers of traditional knowledge, of Darnley Bay. It’s crucial to have communications with the youth, to keep teaching youth.”

“So much information is passed on from the elders but also a lot of knowledge is lost. It is up to us now to educate the younger ones. Like my son who is 12, I really want him to stay in school. Of course this is not my decision to make, it’s his. I’ll stay being a keeper of our land because that’s what I was taught. It’s just that it’s hard to convince kids now to be keepers of our land. And spiritually they are 100% keepers of the land because they live here and no matter what you’ll always have this root inside you. We want to keep the land in good condition so that visitors can come and appreciate our land and our community.”

Chris Reuben, Paulatuk