Nunatsiaq Online
TAISSUMANI: Around the Arctic January 09, 2015 - 8:17 am

Taissumani, Jan. 9

Angulalik: A Killing at Perry River

KENN HARPER
Angulalik and his family at Perry River in 1959. (HARPER COLLECTION)
Angulalik and his family at Perry River in 1959. (HARPER COLLECTION)

Angulaalik was a remarkable Inuk from what is now the Kitikmeot Region of Nunavut. Born about 1898, he lived most of his life in Queen Maud Gulf, southeast of Cambridge Bay.

Captain C. T. Pedersen, an American trader, travelled regularly on his schooner from San Francisco and Seattle into the Kitikmeot to trade with the Inuit.

But eventually, as Canadian authority extended northward into what had been a largely lawless land, government authorities informed Pedersen that he must establish a shore base, and that it must be staffed by a Canadian. So Pedersen set up his friend Angulaalik as his resident trader at Perry River in 1928. 

When Pedersen eventually sold his enterprise to the Hudson’s Bay Co., he arranged that Angulaalik would remain as an independent trader, and that the Bay would supply him. At one point Angulaalik had three licensed trading posts.

Angulaalik was a small man, about five feet tall. He proved to be a natural at trading, and lived in a wooden house — a rarity for an Inuk in the Kitikmeot at that time. At Herschel Island he bought a 30 ton schooner, the Tudlik.

A soft-hearted missionary had baptized him, even though he had two wives. Sadly, both wives died within a year, and he remarried, to 16-year-old Ekvana. On his wedding day, he was re-baptized.

Angulaalik (his name is also spelled Angulalik, and he took the first name Stephen) was much written about. Articles and photographs of the Inuk trader were published worldwide.

He was awarded the King George V Silver Jubilee Medal in 1935, and the Queen’s Coronation Medal in 1953 for “outstanding leadership.” He was also unique in the region in owning a camera — a number of his photographs are preserved at the Prince of Wales Heritage Centre in Yellowknife.

Duncan Pryde, a trader who worked with Angulaalik in 1961, described him as “a small man with a charming smile, the kind of smile that flashes from a toothpaste advertisement” and “a fine trapper and hunter, a man of very strong will, which he easily imposed on the other Eskimos, a man accustomed to having things his own way.” He was “strong for his stature, but basically he seemed a gentle man.”

Amazingly, considering his success as a trader and the skills that one would think would be a prerequisite for that success, Angulaalik was illiterate in both English and Inuktitut. The scholar Robin McGrath wrote, “Virtually alone among all the other Inuit, he could not read or write Inuktitut.”

And yet he had a typewriter and often typed his orders to the HBC supply centre in Edmonton — he simply copied brand names from the packages. Sometimes he got it wrong. His occasional mistakes caused considerable mirth at the depot when he would order “24 Keep in Cool Place” or “10 Made in England.”

With success came jealousy and enemies. One was Utuittuq (official records spell his name Otoetuk), a local bully whose like-minded sons were in the habit of pilfering goods from Angulaalik’s store.

When they were caught and forced to return stolen items, their father was angry and humiliated. His dislike of Angulaalik intensified and he often threatened him and told others that someday he would kill him.

On New Year’s Eve, 1956, Angulaalik and Utuittuq both attended a party at Norman Eevalik’s house, a party featuring four pots of home brew. Everyone there was drunk.

The two rivals got into an altercation and Utuittuq pushed Angulaalik around the crowded room. Angulaalik may have panicked. He took a small knife from his belt and “poked” Utuittuq. Despite the bulky jacket he was wearing, Utuittuq suffered a small cut on the arm and a wound to his abdomen.

He left the party and spent the rest of the evening visiting others who were not at the party, feasting on caribou meat and drinking copious quantities of tea. He would raise his parka to show his hosts the small wound to his stomach, apparently proud of having caused Angulaalik to lose his temper.

On Jan. 4, Utuittuq died from the small wound to his abdomen, his death the result of a “strangulated bowel.” The doctor who later performed an autopsy testified that his life could have been saved with elementary first aid, even the simple act of placing adhesive over the wound and enjoying some bedrest.

Angulaalik dictated a letter of confession to Norman Eevalik, host of the fatal party, who wrote it down in Inuktitut. He despatched two copies with a messenger by sled to Cambridge Bay, one to the police and one to the HBC trader.

At Cambridge Bay, it was translated into very rough English by George Washington Porter, son of an Inuk woman and a white father, the whaler W.P.S. Porter (sometimes known as “Alphabetical Porter” because of his many initials).

The translation read:

“I say a few words to the police. I got scared of man and ran away from him. Since long he been go after me. How I get mad with him Otoetok. I don’t want to kill him. I couldn’t help it. With a knife. In a party and drinking. And I poked him. He go after me and I couldn’t help it. People. Happy amongs [sic] them. Lots of people. Lots of them. They are fighting among them. He caught me and I poked him. In Norman’s house. I was drunk. After that for myself when he died, when I got sober, I like to kill myself. I was thinking about my family. Got nobody to watch for them and nobody to keep them. I don’t know that when he go after me. I got scared of him. I don’t want to do anything bad for the people. He been bothering me. He been go after me. Since a long time. He go after me and I got scared of him. I did it.”

As Robin McGrath has written, Angulaalik was fluent in several Inuit dialects and was an eloquent speaker. This pidgin English translation may have conveyed an erroneous impression to the authorities that Angulaalik was an unsophisticated man. 

To be continued next week.

Taissumani recounts a specific event of historic interest. Kenn Harper is a historian, writer and linguist who lives in Iqaluit. Feedback? Send your comments and questions to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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