Amos Semi­gak — tra­di­tional Inuit carver

Find­ing in­spi­ra­tion in the world around him; main­tain­ing tra­di­tion

The Aurora (Labrador City) - - Editorial - BY FLOYD SPRACKLIN SPE­CIAL TO THE LABRADORIAN

He’s run out of his carv­ing ma­te­rial, the pre­cious ser­pen­tine stones, so what will he do now?

No lo­cal store can pro­vide him with his raw prod­uct. At 30 below, he knows he must make the three kilo­me­tre win­ter walk past the Hopedale Airstrip to the western shore of a bay just out­side Hopedale.

The hand-picked pre­cious ser­pen­tine stones he placed near the shore­line on a swel­ter­ing hot July day of last year are still there. He ar­ranges the heavy pay­load in his back­pack, says so long to his favourite rock-col­lect­ing lo­ca­tion, and set­tles in for the long hard walk back to what he calls the vil­lage. That is his way.

Once home, he turns out his back­pack and gently lays each stone on his porch floor for the right mo­ment.

“The stone has to speak to me,” he says.

His cold win­ter out­doors work re­quires much pa­tience and en­durance. Peer­ing over the edge of his dust mask, he turns the stone over and over to ex­am­ine each pass. Through the cloud of dust from his an­gle grinder, the rough ser­pen­tine rock grad­u­ally takes on a rec­og­niz­able shape. Amos Semi­gak isn’t quite sure him­self what it will be un­til it looks like a kud­lik. So that’s what it will be, an Inuit seal oil lamp that re­searchers have been able to trace back 3,000 years.

Many mug-ups and sev­eral hours later, he’s back in his home for the sand­ing and pol­ish­ing un­til he’s sat­is­fied with his work. Semi­gak pops his ser­pen­tine cre­ation into the oven to heat be­fore adding the fin­ish­ing touches. Black shoe pol­ish and his sig­na­ture on the bot­tom.

Semi­gak has never had any for­mal train­ing in the art of carv­ing. He learned from his father and his grand­fa­ther be­fore him and over the years has de­vel­oped his own gift into won­drous pieces.

“My grand­fa­ther, who was a well-known Inuit el­der, gave me his gift,” Semi­gak said. “He sup­plied He­bron and other Inuit com­mu­ni­ties with wild meat. He was a sor­cerer, an An­gakkuk.”

Each carv­ing

Semi­gak.

“They’re my chil­dren. They’re hard to part with.”

Though he is some­times com­mis­sioned to pro­duce spe­cial ser­pen­tine, soap­stone, or bone items, Semi­gak prefers to work from raw ma­te­rial that he turns over and over in his hands un­til his Eureka Mo­ment. He knows what this par­tic­u­lar stone will be­come. An in­ter­est­ing phi­los­o­phy.

“Don’t make it some­thing that it’s not,” he said. “Al­low it to grow into what it must be­come.” is spe­cial to

Be­gin­nings

Semi­gak was born in Hopedale, Labrador, Dec. 24, 1969 to Martha Semi­gak (Jararuse) (1945-1998) and Jako Semi­gak (1936-2013).

He lived in the small Inuit com­mu­nity of Hopedale un­til his par­ents brought him and his sis­ter, Maria (1959-2011), and his brother, Philip (1965), up the bay to a small is­land, UtakKiuk — wait­ing for game — near Windy Tickle. As his younger brother says, “We used to wait for seals there.”

Their small is­land home even had two res­i­dent moose at one time. There they would spend eight months of the year liv­ing off the re­sources of the land and the sea. The Semi­gak fam­ily would re­turn to Hopedale just be­fore freeze-up time and then re­turn to Windy Tickle once the sea ice had bro­ken up.

“I was in Grade 3 be­fore I ever started to learn English and spoke only Inuk­ti­tut up un­til then,” Semi­gak said.

Amos moved back to Hopedale for good when he was 16 years old.

“I re­mem­ber be­ing 16 years old in Spe­cial Ed­u­ca­tion classes there.”

Semi­gak says he had a hard time in school, and that,” If I wasn’t a hard case be­fore, I be­came one then.”

Air Hopedale Air Force Sta­tion of the United States Air Force opened in 1953. The radar func­tions there were run by No. 923 Air­craft Con­trol and Warn­ing Squadron in the 1950s and 1960s. Per­son­nel sta­tioned there lived in bar­racks about one kilo­me­tre south­east of the site in Hopedale. A small airstrip on Rib­bard Is­land pro­vided air sup­port to the sta­tion. It was even­tu­ally closed June 30, 1967 and to­tally re­moved by 1986.

Semi­gak re­mem­bers his par­ents say­ing, “It wasn’t a good in­flu­ence.” He says the bar lo­cated on the base pro­vided liquor to res­i­dents who pre­vi­ously had not been ex­posed to hard liquor.

It was not a good mix, he said, but it wasn’t all bad.

Ev­ery morn­ing, no mat­ter the weather, Semi­gak was off for his daily walk through the vil­lage. For him, this was a re­fresh­ing start to ev­ery day and a chance to think about life and all things spir­i­tual. He al­ways kept an Inuk­ti­tut dic­tio­nary close by since he was adamant about hang­ing on to his cul­ture. “Most of my gen­er­a­tion no longer speak the lan­guage,” he said. “I want to keep it go­ing.”

Semi­gak’s carv­ings are on dis­play and for sale at the Amaguk Inn in Hopedale. You can also find him on Face­book. Although he re­cently moved from Hopedale, you can be cer­tain that wher­ever he fi­nally set­tles, his carv­ing won’t be too far away.

Semi­gak jokes, “My name is Amos, I’m al­most fa­mous.”

I be­lieve he al­ready is.

FLOYD SPRACKLIN PHO­TOS/SPE­CIAL TO THE LABRADORIAN

Amos Semi­gak with some of his carv­ings.

One of Amos Semi­gak’s pieces.

Amos Semi­gak prac­tic­ing his craft.

Mak­ing a kud­lik from ser­pen­tine. A kud­lik is an Inuit seal oil lamp that re­searchers have been able to trace back 3,000 years.

The com­pleted Kud­lik.

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