How I Got Here
I was born out on the land in a little outpost camp called Sauniqturaajuk outside of Pangnirtung, Nunavut. There were about 11-12 families living there. This is where I learned my traditional lifestyle, taught by my parents using only the Inuktitut language. I lived in a qammaq, which is sod house. My father Inuusiq Nashalik was a camp leader and is still alive at the age of 96 and living in Pangnirtung. During the winter, this was my family’s base camp.
From there I travelled by dog team with my family to our spring camp, where the seals were plentiful and basking on the ice. Maybe two other families would camp with us. During the spring families would hunt ducks and geese and pick eggs. I learned how to guide the dog team when Dad went after seals. My dad had very strong dogs and I was always ready to hop on the qamutik (sled) because when he shot at the seal, the dog team would go really fast to where he was.
When the ice started to melt, the families went back to Sauniqtuurakjuk. After break up, some families would move to their caribou-hunting camp by boat. We fished, hunted caribou, made dry meat and picked berries. When it got colder, we headed back to the base camp. Everyone would get ready for winter picking up moss or twigs for their qammaq insulation. This is how I learned how to live off the land, by watching my mother scraping seals, drying them, preparing food, looking after the qulliq – the seal oil lamp we used for heat all year round. The qulliq is very important to me because it helped us survive.
As soon as we were old enough to help, we were given chores. We played too, but there were hardly any toys. We played house with rocks and seal flipper bones called inugaq – whatever we could find – and string games. During winter we built tiny igloos big enough for maybe two people. The weather was never too cold to play outdoors no matter what, even in blizzards.
In 1964, when I was 10 years old, my parents told me I had to go to Pangnirtung to school with my older sister and the children from other outpost camps. I was really scared of Qullunaaqs (white people) at that time. We went on the government boat to Pangnirtung. We were met by a couple of government agents along with a young Inuit couple who would be our caregivers. When we arrived at the hostel we were given baths. I was so frightened. I thought they were going to cut my long hair but they didn’t. It was strange to be given pyjamas, which I’d never worn before, and to be told to go to bed at eight o`clock.
A 16-year-old Rassi at her desk in residence at Manitoba’s Churchill Vocational Centre.
I was so scared during this time, crying in bed thinking about my family, not knowing when I was going to see them again. The next day I was even more scared when I went to school. I didn’t know any English and was worried about how I would say I needed to go to the bathroom. Luckily, there was another student who had been in the school system in Pangnirtung who interpreted for the newcomers. It wasn’t so scary for her anymore. The good thing was we could speak our language while staying in the hostel because the caregivers were Inuit. That is why I never lost my Inuktitut. Twice during the winter, I got to see my dad when he came to Pangnirtung to pick up some supplies. I would get some new clothes or treats and hang out with him. The whole family would come stay in Pangnirtung for the summer. This was a treat for me and my sister.
In 1970, when I was just 16, I went to northern Manitoba to the Churchill Vocational Centre for three years. It was a good experience since they taught a lot about life skills, things like cooking, nursing aids, and grooming – how to look after yourself. I even learned how to be an office clerk and cashier. I met a lot of other students from Baffin Island, the Kivalliq region and northern Quebec. The school prepared us for what we’d like to become in our future. Some of my classmates became politicians, nurses, dentists and teachers. Even though we stayed year-round with no March break, Christmas or Easter holidays, and years later some students revealed they had a very troubling time at this residential school, it was a positive experience for me.
When I was a student I went to Yellowknife to compete at the 1971 Arctic Winter Games in girls’ volleyball. I fell in love with the place. I thought Yellowknife was a cool city, not too big and not too small. I always thought that I would like to live and work there.
After Churchill I went to Algonquin College in Ottawa for two years to upgrade, then I returned to Pangnirtung and studied and worked for four years as a Community Health Representative.
My dream to move to Yellowknife happened in 1978. I have always thought a lot about unilingual people who are challenged with understanding what is going on in the government, Inuit organizations and private sector. Because of this, I got a job as an interpreter/translator with Arctic Co-operatives in Yellowknife. Then I worked with the Inuit Services branch of the NWT Department of Information, Inuit Language Section, which existed before the creation of Nunavut.
I just fit in with the Yellowknife community through sports during summer and winter. I have never looked back since I moved here. There is so much to do in the outdoors such as camping, canoeing, skidooing, skiing and so on. I met my partner, Bob Stephen, and we settled in Yellowknife’s Old Town over 30 years ago. We have two grown children, Craig and Sarah who join us from time-to-time at the cabin we built on Walsh Lake.
Yellowknife has been great for me professionally as well. It seemed like all my training came together in 1995 when I was recruited by CBC North to host Igalaaq, a new Inuktitut daily news program. I loved this job reading news and doing interviews with Inuit, young and old. This job took me all over the North for celebrations such as the creation of Nunavut and the first Nunavut elections coverage.
I just retired from the CBC in April. My family and I all enjoy outdoor activities so much that leaving Yellowknife does not seem an option for me right now. Who knows what’s ahead for me.