It is said long ago an old woman killed a polar bear with her walking stick.
This is a true story.
A group of Inuit came down from inland towards the sea. They had come to Tasiqjuaq (Payne Lake, between Puvirnituq and Kangirsuk) and remained there all summer to hunt caribou. They caught a caribou and her fawn, and the meat was prepared to be placed in a meat cache. Upon their departure from the area, they took all the meat with them as provisions for their long trip to the shore. They travelled through Qikiqtualuk, which is just south of Inukjuak.
Throughout the trip, the elder woman of the family needed a walking stick to walk properly. The others were travelling with a dog team and there wasn’t enough room for her on the sled. Since she was unable to ride on the sled driven by her own son, she had no choice but to walk behind, following their tracks instead. The whole group was relocating to another camp and when they stopped to rest, the old woman would finally catch up to them. She would arrive so late at night that everyone was already asleep and no one would notice her arrival.
During the trip, the caribou meat they had stored was being quickly used up. The group now had to chew small pieces of the caribou skin for the remainder of their travel. The small amount of meat left needed to be rationed carefully until they reached their destination. They travelled in this state for a long time.
One night, the old woman, who was still straggling and following the tracks the others left, spotted a polar bear in the moonlight. It had also been following the tracks and was quickly closing in on her. She realized that there was no escaping the bear because of her disability and the fact that it was too dark. Moments before the powerful male bear caught up to her, she thought about her next move. The bear rushed towards her and, using her walking stick, she pushed herself off to the side, evading the bear’s lunging bite. She sidestepped the bear a few more times, avoiding each bite. She remained unharmed long enough to pull off both of her mitts, put one of them on the tip of her walking stick, and then the other on top of it, and with perfect timing, the old woman thrust the stick into the attacking bear’s open mouth and down its throat until it choked and finally died.
This old woman who was unable to walk without the help of a walking stick had just killed a polar bear at a time when her family was nearly starving. She didn’t have her mitts anymore, but she kept on walking. She reached the rest of the group early in the morning and was greeted by her grandchild. The grandchild was always the first to greet her in the hopes that she had some food but was typically disappointed by her answer. “This never happens, but I have finally managed to catch some game. You will have something to eat. There will be food”, she told the grandchild while everyone else was still sleeping. As she would normally do when she arrived, she woke everyone up but this time she had news that no one was expecting to hear. The people had not even been thinking about food at this point as they only had the caribou skin to chew on.
In the morning daylight, her son wanted to go back with her so she could show him where to find the bear. They backtracked for a long time and the old woman kept telling her son that it was just a little further. They kept going and still she said, “The bear is further than what we can see.” The son was growing impatient and started to think she was lying. Her story was quickly losing credibility. He was getting so impatient that if they had to go beyond the horizon again, he would probably end up killing her. “We are almost there”, she said finally. Sure enough, just after a hill, there it was: A dead polar bear.
The son had been ready to kill his mother had it not been there, but instead the old woman was taken back to the family and was properly taken care of from then on. They made room for her on the sled and she never had to walk behind them again.
Story told by Adamie Anautak.
His mother, Sarah Tillikasa (E9-770) died in 1972 leaving her husband Sarollie Awp Amittu (E9-829) to take care of their daughter and six year old Timothy. Sarollie was a talented and prolific artist and helped Timothy develop his carving abilities early in his life. Timothy has other very talented family relations including is his famous uncle Davidialuk and cousins Aisa and Johnny Amittu.
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