Mountain Skyline

Comments from Nunavut Elders on Storytelling

Photo of Elders visiting Kiviuq's rock

Elder Henry Isluanik and interpreter Percy Tutannuaq visiting the rock
where Kiviuq’s mother stood waiting for his return. (Photo: Kira Van Deusen)

Here’s a taste of what the elders themselves had to say about the story, about what we can learn from it, the story’s importance in Inuit life, and the power of words.

What the Elders Say:

In Rankin Inlet

Elisapee Karlik
What will we learn from Kiviuq’s story? We learn about hunting on land and sea, how and where to do it. There are parts of his life you want to follow and parts you don’t. Kiviuq goes through good times and bad times just like we do today.

Bernadette Patterk
I learned the story by listening many times to my grandfather. If we listen carefully we’ll pick up what we need, but many will not learn.

Naalungiaq Makkigaq
Smart people learn quickly!

Mariano Aupilardjuk
The story was and is alive for me and helps Inuit to survive and live. All Inuit feel the story is real and that it has usefulness in life. If we were raised in only happy times we wouldn’t learn. We have both good and bad in life. To survive is to do our best even in hard times, and grow mature, strong and respected. As children we were taught to live well and to follow things through even if we didn’t like it.

In Arviat

Henry Isluanik
The rock where Kiviuq’s mother stood is meaningful to me. After hearing the story all my life I came here in 1999 and at last it became real. I really believed the story happened because of seeing the rock. If you are observant you can learn how to live your life from the people in the story and their actions.

Peter Suwaksiork and Phillip Kijusiutnerk
Today life is tangled and without direction. Life stories like Kiviuq’s can help us direct our own lives. People who made the songs used to include whatever episodes from their lives they wanted, often about their struggles. They might include names of places where they got a wolf, things like that. Elders used to spend a lot of time with children to keep them out of trouble and to help them learn.

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In Baker Lake

Samson Quinangnaq
When Kiviuq dies it will be the end of the world, no matter where Kiviuq is at the time. If I were to die and young people knew nothing about this story it would hurt me in my heart. Having read the white people’s books in translation I have wondered if Kiviuq might be a part of one of the prophets - David, Moses, Solomon and others. Kiviuq is a prophet for the Inuit, to guide them in their lifetime. White people have prophets and Inuit have shamans. I can say for sure that the Inuit had no writers. Instead we had storytellers for passing on the word. Everything is repeated so that people will remember it.

Here’s a true story. When I was young I had a dream that touched me greatly. We cannot see God, but in the dream I could picture the face and body of God. God appeared in the dream and said, “If you pass on what you know, you will be healed.” I had gone to sleep with a sore throat and unable to eat, and woke up healed. This is when I was young. Now I have lived to 2004 and am still passing stories on as God asked me to.

If Kiviuq had had a writer beside him as he lived and told his story, then we would have books about it and would have followed them. Yes John, I suppose it would be like an Inuit scripture or Bible. Kiviuq’s life story is like that of the prophets which we all can read. Inuit had no written language, only the storytellers to guide their lives.

Simon Tookoome
You can learn from some of the stories. They help you survive as an Inuk. Our ancestors had hard times to survive. They worked hard. You learn how to live in the north, about hunting and things like that. Kiviuq may have turned to earth, and thus could be alive in the vegetation. To me as an artist, Kiviuq is difficult to visualize since he is neither human nor god.

In Chesterfield Inlet

Leo Nimialik
I believe in this story which has been passed down for many generations, from long before the time of Christ. I believe some parts and not others. There are some who know but keep quiet about it.

Joe Issaluk
When you grow up with stories it’s hard to see you’ve learned from them, but when you go hunting it’s apparent that stories help. You seem to just know what to do partly because of the stories. In old times stories were passed on. You pick them up without realizing. Just part of life. Today it’s getting harder to pass stories to children. Some parents can’t connect with their children or grandchildren because of language. If I could speak English then I could pass them on.

Theresa Kimaliardjuk
There’s lots to use out of this story. Our parents tell us things that are good to hear and make sure the kids don’t hear the bad things. Kids would even be sent away while those conversations were going on. Kids heard all of the Kiviuq story because we encounter good and bad in life and the story contains it all. Which other stories should be recorded and reenlivened? All of them!

Eli Kimaliardjuk
Because I heard storytelling from my grandmother I received the strength to live and survive. If there were no stories to go by, to survive or to learn to hunt and live, there would be nothing to learn from. My grandmother also gave me the gift of storytelling.

As I understood it Kiviuq could have lived 4,000 or even four million years ago, it doesn’t matter. The story was passed on and eventually reached me. From me it goes to my son Albert and to my grandchildren. That’s how I see it passing. All the generations found something in it to live by.

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In Iqaluit

Henry Evaluardjuk
I think that certain stories would be useful today - the ones that show how patience is necessary for survival. Today people go out on snowmobiles and are not careful, they don’t stop when they should. I have found five different people dead because of this carelessness. Being patient and observant leads to survival. There are examples in Kiviuq’s story of why we must not do wrong to any animal big or small.

In Igloolik

Madeleine Ivalu
Inuit were good storytellers because it wasn’t written down. Even now my brother-in-law (Herve Paniaq,) tells to his nephews while hunting. Stories are good for teaching language. Some of this story language is not used today, expressions like “the other step (adluq)” and words used for calling the bear. Even I don’t know the meaning of some of these words, although I use them. I’d like to see the story in a book. So would Herve Paniaq.

Rachel Uyarusuk
The strongest value shown is that of kindness and love, being good to those who are less fortunate than we are. We should help them, eat with them, laugh with them.

Sippora Inuksuk
I would like to see a book that would teach lessons like kindness to animals.

In Pond Inlet

Jacob Peterloosie
The story proves that you’ll have a long life if you are not cruel to anyone or anything. If you serve only yourself your life will be short. That’s the only meaning I see. We must strive not to be unkind. I was taught that lesson in childhood. If someone does you wrong, step away. If it’s repeated a lot you can stop the person once.

I haven’t heard this story since I was six. Why? Because they pass on things you’ll remember at that formative time. Afterwards we have so many impressions that we may forget these things but they resurface later. But today it’s as if even little kids are treated as adults - they are not given stories. Children don’t know what to be afraid of, the dangers of water and blizzards.

Cornelius Nutarak
Variations in the story come about because of dialect change. Stories have different purposes, but they all preserve words from the past which are lost otherwise. It’s very important to teach correct Inuktitut. Not only the old language but ordinary everyday language should be correct. We can judge the locations in the story from landscape and dialect. With Christianity, storytelling stopped. The missionaries said you must give up storytelling, drum dancing, chanting, singing and taboos. Now we realize that not all of traditional practice was bad. Some can be used for good. In Kivalliq they are using ayaya more because they understand it can be used for celebration and to help others. Stories come about because we need the information. Some things that are necessary today were thrown away, including the stories. As Samson Quinangnaq says, Kiviuq may have been a prophet, in the Inuit understanding of the word - one who sees consequences. But I see that not only may Kiviuq be a prophet but Samson Quinangnaq is also a prophet.

Annie Peterloosie
An important lesson is noticing who needs help even when others don’t. Another thing is that Kiviuq just left all those beings, he didn’t kill them. The message is just to step away from trouble. Is it like a Bible story? Yes, I think so, just changed in time and space. Good shamans with helping spirits were prophets. We learn right and wrong from this story, as from the Bible. All stories guide us to do right by others and thus live a long life. It’s very strong that people my age are remembering oral stories - I find it easy to tell. It’s a mental inheritance, passed from mind to mind without paper. I heard it at six and remember it now.

Missionaries tried to wipe out these kinds of stories. They scared people with hellfire. Only with things like Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami are they resurfacing (ITK, formerly Inuit Tapirisat was concerned with politics and culture. The organization played a big role in the formation of Nunavut, k.v.). I’m thankful to my grandmother who told in spite of that repression. The stories teach skills for survival on the land, about tools, making fire and things like that.

Joanisee Macpa
Don’t think bad thoughts, much less speak badly of animals. Animals were the only thing that fed us.

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In Gjoa Haven

Gideon Qitsualik
These are just stories. I doubt the truth of Kiviuq. People may have forgotten the written language and then they just had storytelling. There are some things you can learn but I haven’t heard that was the purpose of it.

Things like shape-shifting happened not only long ago - they happen now. I know someone who met the ijirait, shape-shifting caribou.

In Taloyoak

Mary Ittunga
If it weren’t for head lice I wouldn’t know stories! When I was young there was no medicine and no shampoo. Mother or grandmother would pick our lice. The child says yes to the story and thus gets their lice picked at the same time. Lessons? There is fiction and then there are legends that are real and historical. This story is separate from the legends about real life. In the practice of telling stories people learn often by analogy. For example the fox-wife was driven to the point of leaving - she was worn down. This happens to people in life. I could tell lots of stories but the children don’t understand the language.

Bernadette Uttaq
Kiviuq is the same kind of being and the same age range as the biblical prophets.

The stories have life-giving meaning. A child can be brought up with a certain discipline because of past life experiences that were too hard for the family. Parents don’t want their children to suffer in the same way. They give the child certain words so that the past life will not affect the child in the future. For example if the one coming back had been unable to have children in the previous life, then voicing something out in words will make the desired thing take place. Like saying, “You’ll have many children.” There were no medicines in those days but there were people who lived from birth to death without sickness because of these words. They may be encouraged to hunt, to be good to others, or to be a fast runner. The elders could make it happen through words and actions. They could set the life to be lived in a certain way. Choice words set a seed in the child.

Kiviuq and other important story characters are in our lives today. Kiviuq was a good person, and like him we can be great. Their acts set a value, a way of living, of seeing consequences. Life has already been set out by Kiviuq for people and animals. I’m using analogy to simplify what will always be. It is set out but not written. It is very powerful.

In Cambridge Bay

Frank Analok
There are good lessons for students in these stories about how life is enduring even when there are only a few women around, and about how hard life was and continues to be. The stories show a way of life that should not be lost. They can be used to carry that way of life on.

Moses Koihok
Stories are very good for language learning and preservation, as well as for understanding the Inuit way of life. They were passed on down through many generations and through them the awareness of life continues. They are important for passing on that way of life. Some are about the hardships our ancestors endured. Stories help children and youth to think about life, and they can help them with today’s difficulties including alcohol and drugs.

Margaret Nakashuk
I am starting to regret not having recalled the story more regularly over the years. Why didn’t I? Life has become more distracting. There used to be greater concentration because there were fewer people around. My parents lived with nobody nearby and so they used storytelling to keep us children from being bored. Stories help us to think about life and are also good for settling children down.

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