Each year the community of Ulukhaktok marks the migration of the Eider duck, seek known locally as kingaliks (male) and mitiinnaq (female). These birds, both nutritionally and culturally rich, are an important component of a northern diet. Each spring the birds migrate following open water leads and pass directly by the shores of the community. This migration route is normally predictable and brings them near enough to the edge of the ice where they become more easily accessible to hunters. This can be a bountiful season for many hunters, some harvesting as many as 100 ducks to last the year. It also elicits fond memories of spring times spent with family at key hunting locations near Mashuyak. Ulukhaktok celebrates the joy and thankfulness for the migration each year at the Kingalik Jamboree.
The first time I visited Ulukhaktok in 2012 I missed the Jamboree by a week but heard all about the cookouts, games, and celebrations. Given the excitement and pride with which people shared their jamboree stories, I knew that it was something I wanted to experience one day! This year, on my second trip to Ulukhaktok, I was there for the return of the Kingaliks and got the full jamboree experience. Food was a central part of this experience with meals like musk ox stir-fry, caribou quak (frozen meat delicacy), piffy (a dried char treat), and every combination in between.
What stood out as much as, if not more than, the food itself was the level of participation and cooperation that made these meals (serving 400 people) successful. Throughout the entire jamboree period, women of all generations could be seen chopping, stirring, frying, or cleaning so that there was always pan sizzling over the fires or someone mixing a stir-fry or flipping bannock. I joined in by picking up an ulu to slice, dice, chop, and mince ingredients destined for one of the many frying pans. The cooking process fascinated me and the food was delicious. Everyone took great pride in their dishes and their country food from the land and, as I was someone from out of town, they made sure that I had a taste of everything.
What struck me about these games was the way they promoted cross-generational interactions and learning.
The games were another fun part of the jamboree and included a fishing derby, a duck hunting competition, plucking feathers from a Kingalik or Mitiinnaq, and skinning a seal. What struck me about these games was the way they promoted cross-generational interactions and learning. For example, teams often consisted of Elders and youth who worked together to be the first to complete a task. It also quickly became apparent to me that these were more than just games; they were lessons and channels for cultural continuity and skills transmission. I watched as Elders guided their young teammates to shoot with precision, pull feathers in the proper direction, and flesh a sealskin to make it soft. The games were played with an impressive spirit of gamesmanship and integrity with focus on collective success. In addition to these team games there was an assortment of laughter inducing games such as ‘best goggle tan’, egg races, and karaoke.
The jamboree festivities demonstrated the strong community culture I experienced throughout my entire stay in Ulukhaktok. I learned that community collaboration and cooperation are important elements of life in Ulukhaktok. For example, those hunters who managed to harvest nearly 100 ducks would regularly share with their extended family or neighbours. Not every weekend in Ulukhaktok was as jam-packed as Jamboree weekend, but it was an excellent introductory course into the Ulukhaktok way of doing things.