Dying Iqaluit woman’s CD raises funds for Nunavut mental heath
“Show kindness, do no harm, find the good”
The voice and spirit of an Iqaluit woman, now quietly dying from cancer in Ottawa, will live on.
That’s thanks to a group of Siu-Ling Han’s friends — some members of Iqaluit bands, including the Jerry Cans, Trade-Offs and Kamaalukutaaq, who helped produce a CD of her songs: To Those Who Would Show Kindness.
All proceeds from sales of the CD, released Aug. 20, will go towards mental health projects and programs for Nunavut youth.
On the CD you can hear familiar Iqaluit musicians playing behind Han’s voice and guitar: Rob Aubé on upright bass and electric bass, Jamal Shirley on lead guitar, Steve Rigby on drums, Jeff Maurice on rhythm guitar, Emily Woods with background vocals, Gina Burgess on violin and Nancy Mike throat singing.
The lyrics, sung in Han’s resonant voice — which brings to mind that of award-winning singer-songwriter Tracy Chapman — talk about life, relationships and the need to live every day as it comes.
You could spend a thousand years
Counting what you’ve lost
All the blame and all the tears
Tomorrow pays the cost
This is a favourite song of Woods, Han’s close friend, who used to live in Iqaluit. Now in Ottawa, Woods flew north to Iqaluit this summer to provide back-up on Han’s vocal tracks, which were recorded last winter.
For Woods, the message of “The Days You Have” is that life is made of small moments, everyday memories — for Han of her work, her friends, family, community and her dogs.
Around Iqaluit, where Han moved in the mid-1990s, you were likely to see Han, whose small stature hid a powerful strength and endurance, in a bloodstained work parka with a knife in her hand, used to cut up seal carcasses for her team.
Han grew to excel as a dog musher — and, in her off-work hours, you could find her out on the ice with her team or driving around town in the rusty, blue pick-up truck she drove until a couple of years ago, often with a few dogs in the back.
Han ran her dogs regularly in Toonik Tyme races, the Qimualaniq Quest, the 320-kilometre race from Iqaluit to Kimmirut and back — as well as on longer journeys up the coast of Baffin Island.
Many across Nunavut knew Han from her work as a biologist and in discussions on Arctic wildlife management issues and contaminants, first for the Government of Nunavut, then for the Canadian Wildlife Service and what was then called Environment Canada.
Han also studied Inuktitut — with the Inuktitut language teacher-pioneer Mick Mallon, in an intermediate-level Nunavut Arctic College class with Mary Wilman, now a teacher at Iqaluit’s Pirurvik Centre, and later with private tutors.
Her goal: to follow meetings, talk with hunters and fellow sled dog mushers, and to better understand — and contribute to — Nunavut.
Han bought a house in the Iqaluit neighbourhood of Tundra Valley with a view that in summer stretched across the bay and in the darkness of winter showed the lights of the city and frozen plumes of steam below. Behind her house, she’d usually have a pen with litter of young sled dog puppies.
And, while many in Canada know about Tragically Hip singer Gord Downie’s terminal brain cancer and his recent cross-Canada tour, a lot of people in Iqaluit didn’t know Han’s talent as a musician, singer and songwriter or even about her losing fight against cancer.
In early July, Han, 53, learned after a routine blood test in Ottawa that she might only have four weeks to live. The re-occurrence of ovarian cancer, which had appeared again two years earlier — after a remission of more than 10 years, had spread to her liver.
Han made the hard decision not to return home to Iqaluit; instead, she would remain with her parents in Ottawa.
Ovarian cancer is a killer, hard to detect and treat, the fifth most common cancer for women and the most serious women’s cancer: about 1,750 women will die from ovarian cancer this year in Canada, according to the Canadian Cancer Society.
Han had fought cancer to live, not to die, she told me last month in Ottawa, where I, among other friends and her family members, gathered to offer each other support and celebrate Han.
She didn’t attend — “too much like attending your own funeral,” she said.
Now Han is weakening, but still alive — and hearing her music, including the track, “Jane said,” shared with many:
Jane said, something about leaving
How the hardest moments
Are just before you’ve gone
And I’ve learned
A little about grieving
Just when you think it’s over
You find it’s never really gone
“There are not enough words to thank everyone that has made my life so full, so joyful, so rich with laughter and adventure,” Han said Aug. 21 in a Facebook message on the page devoted to her CD.
“I wish for you courage and strength, joy in the present, love in the past, present and future. Show kindness, do no harm, find the good.”
Her CD, “To those who would show kindness,” should be a comfort to her friends — and listeners everywhere, Woods said.
You can order the CD or download the album for $20 here.
You can also buy the CD in Iqaluit at the Nunatta Sunakkutaangit Museum and Malikaat Inc.
(Siu-ling Han died Aug. 29 in Ottawa.)