Inuit life­style film picked up by Na­tional Geo­graphic

Rigo­let hunter/artist strug­gles to keep cul­ture alive

The Aurora (Labrador City) - - Classified - BY THOM BARKER SPE­CIAL TO THE NORTH­ERN PEN

An Ad­ven­ture Canada film about a Nu­natsi­avut hunter and artist has been fea­tured by the Na­tional Geo­graphic Short Film Show­case.

“Inuit were born to be out­side,” in­tones the voiceover on the trailer to “Keeper of the Flame” se­lected by Na­tional Geo­graphic for the show­case this past sum­mer. “My ear­li­est mem­o­ries of grow­ing up with my fam­ily was con­nected to the land. Us­ing dog teams, skin tents, kayaks, you lived on the land; you took what you needed.”

The voice should be a fa­mil­iar one to many in Labrador.

Der­rick Pot­tle was born, raised and still lives in Rigo­let when he’s not out on the land or guid­ing for Ad­ven­ture Canada, a com­pany that spe­cial­izes in Arc­tic and Antarc­tic cruises.

The film, by Ja­son Van Bruggen, is a stark and com­pelling de­pic­tion of the tra­di­tional Inuit way of life that Pot­tle is do­ing his best to pre­serve against out­side nat­u­ral and po­lit­i­cal pres­sures, such as cli­mate change and bans on seal­skins and other marine mam­mal prod­ucts.

That is why he agreed to do the film in the first place.

“My main rea­son is just to bring aware­ness to our life­style and . . . let the world know that when peo­ple go out and make de­ci­sions and protest and try to dis­rupt peo­ple’s lives, the to­tal im­pact that it has on com­mu­ni­ties and peo­ple’s lives,” he told The Labrado­rian.

Van Bruggen was at­tracted to Pot­tle’s story for the same rea­son and thought he made a great am­bas­sador for the Inuit com­mu­nity.

“I felt it was im­por­tant to cap­ture Der­rick’s story and share it with the world be­cause it was a first-hand per­spec­tive that looked at the story of cli­mate change and cul­ture change in the north from an emo­tional, per­sonal and com­mu­ni­ty­based per­spec­tive rather than the more com­mon sci­en­tific or aca­demic per­spec­tive,” he said via email.

“Peo­ple are in­un­dated with fac­tual ar­gu­ments from peo­ple that might not even be ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the first-hand ef­fects of these changes in a pro­found way.”

Pot­tle noted the pace change makes it dif­fi­cult keep youth en­gaged. of to

“There is in­ter­est into (the tra­di­tional life­style) but the de­pen­dency isn’t what it used to be be­cause of the bans on seal­skins and other marine mam­mal prod­ucts, that to­tally im­pacted peo­ple’s lives. At one time peo­ple could make $30$40,000 a year by sell­ing seal­skins, now you can barely sell a seal­skin any­more.”

Out­side in­flu­ences can also con­sume time, and de­tract from par­tic­i­pa­tion in tra­di­tional ac­tiv­i­ties.

In his own life­time, Pot­tle has seen north­ern Labrador com­mu­ni­ties change; from not even hav­ing elec­tric power to hav­ing all the mod­ern con­ve­niences and dis­trac­tions of the world at large.

“In a very short pe­riod of time, our life has changed pretty much the same as ev­ery­where else, all over the world,” Pot­tle said. “What the out­side world has in re­gards of tech­nol­ogy and mod­ern ad­vance­ments, we have all of that in the com­mu­ni­ties, ex­cept that we’re iso­lated.”

Pot­tle is afraid those in­flu­ences go be­yond just erod­ing the phys­i­cal life­style.

“We lose our iden­tity . . . who we are; the way that we lived our lives,” he ex­plained. “You’ll never stop some­one from be­ing an Inuk, but . . . it’s very im­por­tant that we prac­tise our cul­ture. In or­der to un­der­stand a cul­ture and the value of it, I strongly be­lieve you have to par­tic­i­pate.

“You have to go out on the land and freeze your ass off, you have to get wet and you have to be out on the land for days on end, all of this stuff don’t come pre-pack­aged.”

With re­gard to the film, Pot­tle is very happy with the way it turned out.

“The fi­nal prod­uct speaks for it­self,” he said. “I just told a story and Ja­son and Stu­art (cam­era op­er­a­tor) put it to­gether in the pro­fes­sional and ex­pert man­ner that they needed to do and it shows for it­self; it’s a very well put-to­gether doc­u­ment.”

Van Bruggen was pleased with the at­ten­tion Na­tional Geo­graphic brings to the project.

“The Na­tional Geo­graphic pro­file is great,” he said.

“The short ver­sion of that film be­ing shared with au­di­ences through a num­ber of chan­nels (in­clud­ing NatGeo) is a pro­mo­tional piece that I made for Ad­ven­ture Canada, a re­mark­able fam­ily-owned com­pany that pro­vides Arc­tic ex­pe­di­tion travel ser­vices and looks at these is­sues in a very trans­par­ent way.”

Ul­ti­mately Pot­tle doesn’t want peo­ple to lose sight of what makes the Inuit who they are.

“I was blessed that I had op­por­tu­ni­ties to meet Inuit right across Canada, Alaska, Siberia, Green­land,” he said, adding they all have a com­mon thread. “The con­nec­tion to the land and to the sea and to the an­i­mals and the mam­mals; that brings us to­gether and that’s our iden­tity.”

“At one time peo­ple could make 30 and 40 thou­sand dol­lars a year by sell­ing seal­skins, now you can barely sell a seal­skin any­more.”

— Der­rick Pot­tle

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