White Girl: Playing games

White Girl: Playing games

April is the month that a large percentage of the community spreads out on to the sea ice for the spring seal hunt.

I have not gone out on a hunt yet. Kids are let out of school to participate and help on this hunt.

Kids return to class after a week of sealing as adults, with white circles around their eyes and black peeling skin on their cheeks, chins and noses. Inuit have fairer complexions than the Dene on the Mackenzie River. Spring sunshine gets magnified and reverberates off of millions of snow crystals, these people are getting sunburned and frost bitten at the same time.

The black peeling marks on faces are from frostbite or maybe a solid freezing.  This happens when your face is exposed above the shield on the Ski-doo or you face into the wind on the Komatik. Protection from the wooden goggles prevents the area around the eyes from getting sunburned or tanned.

Games that Inuit play do not require much space or equipment. Neither of these are to be had when you live a nomadic life and exist in micro-confined areas during the winter. Snow houses known to most everyone as igloos were lived in during the winter months. Small confined spaces needed less to heat; these people were “green” before there was a green.

Hides of caribou and seals covering supporting bits of precious wood or big bones of large sea mammals serve as shelter in the short time when the snow is gone: the summer cottage. Living without wood to construct shelter or to cook or heat your home takes much ingenuity. During the short months of summer there is little need or time for games.

In the summer the world is awake and begging to be explored. The whole family, including the very smallest of children has to contribute to gathering and harvesting fat seals, caribou and berries to carry themselves through the next endless night of winter. There is barely enough time for so many projects that have to be done under a sun that circles endlessly for a month.  The endless night of winter is when people cooped up in a confined space need to entertain themselves; the Inuit were masters at this.

Their physical games hinged mainly on brute strength and endurance.  A thong of caribou has a multitude of uses. It can keep your kamiks (shoes) on and prevent your mitts from being lost. Or, it can be used to rip off your opponent’s ear in a game of tug of war.

This is a simple concept.  Loop the leather thong over your ear and your competitor’s ear, then with all of the strength in you neck and head, pull back until your competition yells the Inuit equivalent of “uncle.’ Warning, this may not happen until there is a show of blood. Sometimes the thong slips. Everyone laughs and slaps each other on the back. There is a tie; no one wants to feel bad for the losers.

To be continued

Dawn Kostelnik

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