An older Inuit man takes a big lick of his blood-covered hand. It draws a huge reaction from the big crowd surrounding him and he smiles. He quickly gets back to skinning a seal caught just hours earlier.
Steam rises as the animal is cut open. The crowd is so big most people can’t see. Camera crews zoom in. People jostle to get a peak and take pictures. They are fascinated, delighted, and mesmerized as they watch.
This is the seal-skinning competition in Iqaluit. It’s just one of many activities that are part of the Toonik Tyme festival in Iqaluit which celebrates spring. The man loses to the woman he’s competing against but everyone wins in the end. It only takes about 10 minutes for the competitors to skin and break down the two seals. Then it’s time to feast.
Elders are called forward first to get a taste of the fresh meat. This is an integral part of Inuit culture. Inuit have relied and still rely on hunting seals for food and warm clothing in biting Arctic temperatures. It can take hours standing over a hole on the ice in the middle of the frozen Arctic Ocean to catch one seal.
Temperatures are still below zero and the ground is adorned with snow but spring has sprung in Iqaluit. The Toonik Tyme festival is two weeks filled with Northern activities and Inuit culture.
The highlight was the return of the Iqaluit-Kimmirut snowmobile race. The race was revived after almost a decade’s hiatus. People raced from Iqaluit to the community of Kimmirut and back, a distance of about 314 kilometres. The winner completed the trek in three hours and five minutes and won $7,000.
It’s an incredible feat on the rough Arctic Ocean ice and terrain. The youngest competitor, 18-year-old Sean Noble-Nowdluk, dropped out of the race when he found one of his competitors after an accident along the route. He took the man to the hospital right away on his snowmobile.
Other activities included an igloo building competition and a skijoring race.
Skijoring involves a skier being led by two dogs. But most of the time it seemed the skiers were leading the dogs and there were quite a few falls. The craft sale Saturday morning at the curling rink also drew a line of people out the building and around the corner. The line was stopped a few times because the building just couldn’t hold any more craft shoppers.
A zumba class was also held on the pier where the frozen Frobisher Bay meets the land. The beach is a jagged field of ice as ocean currents below push and shift the ice. People shed their parkas, mitts, and hats as they danced. Celebrations also included a tea-and-bannock-making and ice sculpture contests.
The festival closed with snowmobile drag races on Frobisher Bay and a feast. A tarp was laid out at the curling rink and people shared and ate frozen raw Arctic char and polar bear. Next year is the 50th anniversary for Toonik Tyme.
Originally from St. Vital, Krystalle Ramlakhan is living in Iqaluit, Nunavut in the Canadian Arctic working as a journalist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org