The unsung story of Inuit elder Qapik Attagutsiak
By EG Manilag, Staff Writer
Qapik Attagutsiak, age 99, is from Arctic Bay, Nunavut. She has just been honoured by the Government of Canada, including Parks Canada, in partnership with the Canadian Armed Forces and the Canadian War Museum on Monday, January 26 at the Canadian Museum of History for her contributions during the Second World War.
The Inuit elder was among the valiant volunteers who salvaged bones from dogs, seals, and walruses in order to contribute and make ammunitions for the home front. The bones were also transformed and utilized as glycerin, aircraft glue, and fertilizer; they were packed in a 125 lbs capacity bags and transported to camps in Halifax or Montreal.
Somewhere in the 1940s, Qapik was one of the few Inuit people who were told firsthand by a Catholic priest about the upcoming war. Despite the fact that they were far away from the war site—which was stationed in Europe—they were still warned to be prepared for the worst.
“They warned them that the parachutes, the big airplanes, might be coming in your area,” said Kataisee Attagutsiak—Qapik’s daughter and her translator during the recognition.
“So, if the planes are coming in and there’s a parachute coming out, jumping out of the airplane, you have to shoot to kill because they might be killing you.”
When the federal government initiated the National Salvage Campaign in 1942, an operation to alleviate scarcity of raw materials during the Second World War, the Inuit community quickly responded and helped. This campaign was also backed up by the Department of Munitions and Supply Act in 1939.
Even though it is mostly the adults in her camp who would collect the animal bones and carcasses, Qapik would willingly volunteer to help them. She endured the smell of dead animals, cracking off their limbs with or without flesh or blood.
After almost 80 years of Qapik’s aid during the Second World War, she has now been given recognition as one of Canada’s Hometown Heroes. Hometown Heroesis a community-based project by Parks Canada that acknowledges those brave and heroic people who contributed to Canadian values and history. Parks Canada in 2018 had been privileged to record Qapik’s untold story during wartime. Her story was even unknown to her own children back then.
At present, the Inuit elder is still active in teaching children in Arctic Bay about the richness of their cultural heritage and how it should be preserved for more generations to come.