Every now and then, the path that my life has taken strikes me as funny. Though I now live in one of the largest cities in Canada, and work a cushy office job for most of the year, it seems an unlikely story when considering my earlier days. I grew up in Nain, later moving to Makkovik as a teenager. These communities are two of five located in Nunatsiavut—one of the 4 Inuit regions in Canada—in Newfoundland and Labrador.
© Dennis Minty
The community of Nain, Nunatsiavut, Newfoundland & Labrador
My father, Randy Edmunds (aka the ol' man) was a fisherman in his younger years. We moved to Makkovik so that he could manage the only hotel in town. Before and after we moved, and while running his own business, he always found time to take me out onto the land. We went hunting and fishing and spent lots of time on the water and ice. H
e often referred to it as “culture education”. Sometimes he would come to my classroom with all of my outdoor gear, and we would head out on the land, abandoning class for the day. There were many times that I would refuse his offer, as I had school work and sports practices to attend.
Looking back, these are some opportunities that I have come to regret missing. Those moments were poignant examples of the culture clash that continues to loom over my life and many others like me. It is easier now to identify the two ideologies and navigate the rift between my two worlds.
Jason Edmunds with his father and Randy Edmunds
“The ice is our university. If you are willing to wait for the ice to form, for the animals to appear, you are learning patience. You are learning to persevere, to be courageous, to not be impulsive. You are learning how to be bold under pressure and how to develop sound judgement and wisdom.” - Sheila Watt-Cloutier
My two little girls are growing up in Mississauga, and I think a lot about the differences between their experiences and mine. How will they learn? What will they learn? What will they miss? What will they gain?
One of our great leaders, Sheila Watt-Cloutier, said: “The ice is our university. If you are willing to wait for the ice to form, for the animals to appear, you are learning patience. You are learning to persevere, to be courageous, to not be impulsive. You are learning how to be bold under pressure and how to develop sound judgement and wisdom.”
Jason and his daughters Charlotte and Islay boating on Georgian Bay June 2020
With Father’s Day and National Indigenous Day sharing the same date this year, I have been thinking about my father, and about how growing up in Inuit Nunangat has shaped me as an individual.
Though I didn’t realize it at the time, the lessons that I learned from my dad have continued to guide me into adulthood. I recently asked him if they were intentional lessons. He said no — “you learned the way I did, the hard way. You watch, you learn, and at some point, you will just have to do it.”
When I was very young, I always wanted to go with my dad on his long hunting trips to learn how to navigate the landscape, and to hunt on my own. When I asked to go with him, he would respond that I was too young and would get too cold. I longed to share those experiences with him, to be like him. I never stopped asking.
Randy Edmunds giving Jason boating lessons
One day, I asked if I could go with him in the spring on a hunting trip. He agreed, but under one condition: that I wasn’t allowed to get cold. I was responsible for dressing myself. Trying to prove that I was tough enough for the task, I did not put on my warmest clothes before we set off.
For the first hour, I sat straight and proud on the back of his snowmobile. However, with the constant drone of the machine, I began struggling to keep my eyes open. Inevitably, my body temperature began to drop and the wind blew through my parka. I had no idea where we were going, and it seemed endless—but I refused to mess up my chances by vocalizing my discomfort. My legs began to hurt, and I did my best to warm them by rubbing my mitts against them.
It came to the point where I needed help and I had no idea how long it would be before we were back home. I tapped my dad on the back and ashamedly let him know that my legs were (understatedly) cold.
Jason on the back of Randy’s snowmobile
To my surprise, he gave me a small reassuring smile, and had me get off the snowmobile and walk to get some blood flowing back to the area, I had only taken a few steps when he drove off, and he soon was a dot in the distance heading toward a far-off caribou herd.
By the time I reached him, I had stripped off my warm clothes from the sweat that formed from the workout. While I walked in deep snow for what seemed like hours, he had finished processing all of the caribou that he had shot. I was very angry with him and I asked why he left me. He asked if I was still cold and gave me a piece of warm caribou meat.
Later, when I learned how to properly dress and be prepared for the cold, I could go hunting and travel on long trips regularly. Boat trips were always my favourite, as I could get up, move about the boat and watch the water as it was forced out from underneath.
By the time I was seven, I was still primarily a passenger on our boat trips together. I wanted to help but was very limited in my ability to do so. On one memorable trip together, we had set out from Makkovik to Nain on one of our regular runs. Nearing the end of our journey, the winds picked up, and conditions drastically deteriorated. I distinctly remember the darkness—only a slight silhouette of the land visible in the distance. Every now and then the ol’ man would cut the engine and waves would break and spray over the windshield. Saltwater pounded us. Each spray felt like a dozen buckets tossed filling our hip boots and our mouths.
Jason taking aim
The seas that night were the roughest that I’ve ever felt, yet at the time I didn’t feel one ounce of fear. My dad was telling jokes, stories and keeping me engaged. I asked him how he knew when to cut the engine, and he said that he could see the white caps off the breaking waves. I didn’t see them. I later found out that they were breaking higher than I was looking. The ol’ man said that we would have to go ashore and spend the night. I had to prepare the anchors and the lines, find all the flashlights we had and shine them onto shore. We did our best to set up an emergency tent and supplies in 70 km/h winds. I found this funny at the time, and I was relieved to have a break from the water. I slept well that night.
Later in my life, my dad and I reminisced about this time. It turned out that the actual events were far more severe than I had interpreted them. My dad shared that he hadn’t slept all night, his hands shaking with residual fear and adrenaline. I recalled how I remembered the evening, conscious of the conditions, but not recognizing the danger because I was with him. He said it took almost everything in him to maintain calm so that I would not be afraid. When the time came, I was able to be straight-headed enough to perform my duties, as did he. Now it’s a favourite story we like to recall when we are together, as a time that bonded us and taught me a valuable lesson.
Some of my ol' man's most important teachings came through hunting. In my role today, I spend a lot of time trying to communicate the traditions, values and mechanics of one culture to another. Hunting is a particularly difficult subject to broach—it is a subject that indigenous and western culture often perceive differently. I appreciate the skill and perspective I have developed growing up in a hunting culture. There are a lot of complex emotions that you learn to navigate through hunting. Being able to communicate these emotions is not easy.
© Scott Forsyth
Myna Ishulutak, Randy Edmunds, Jason Edmunds and Derrick Pottle welcoming visitors to Inuit Nunagnat on Adventure Canada’s Out of the Northwest Passage 2019
As a teenager, dad and I were getting our gear ready to go caribou hunting for the day, including any emergency gear we might need in case we had to overnight. The ol’ man asked me to check the ammunition bag to ensure that we had enough. I picked up the bag, felt something in it, and threw it into the kamutik (sled you tow behind a snowmobile) and we headed out.
It was not long after that we happened to cross a heard of caribou. Dad knocked down one caribou and wounded another. He urgently asked me to give him more ammo from the bag, and I opened the bag to see that there was nothing in it. He saw from my face the mistake I had made. His face became very red, very tense, and his eyes never left mind. I immediately apologized, mostly out of fear for my reprimand. He walked over to the snowmobile, took an axe from the seat and threw it at my feet. “Go get it,” he said.
I picked up the axe and started walking towards the wounded caribou. I remember it was young, and obviously scared, desperately trying to escape but not able to. It would not survive its injuries. As I approached, I switched roles with the caribou in my mind, trying to imagine the fear I would feel, the anger. The caribou turned on me as I got near to it—just as I would have in his place. I used the axe to quickly end it. I felt relief for him, as he was no longer suffering or in pain.
© Scott Forsyth
Randy Edmunds the bear monitor on Adventure Canada’s Out of the Northwest Passage 2019
It took me some time to realize that these experiences, and so many more, were subtle lessons from my father. Patience, perseverance, level-headedness, humour, and compassion are all valuable traits that I’ve learned from him, and I’m proud to have learned them in our way.
There was enough meat to share with those who did not have any, and we celebrated. My dad was very proud of me. I came to realize that the celebration was not for the death of one creature, but for the growth and understanding of another. I have seen many animals killed, but never in vain—always with purpose. Hunting is not about killing, but about the cycle of living. It took me some time to realize that these experiences, and so many more, were subtle lessons from my father. Patience, perseverance, level-headedness, humour, and compassion are all valuable traits that I’ve learned from him, and I’m proud to have learned them in our way.
There becomes a point when young people are no longer an “apprentice” to their parents, but a partner and companion. I think that this moment came for my ol' man well before it did for me. I started to notice it when he would ask me my opinion, or how I would do something. For a long time, I was still seeking his approval, but he was beginning to call on my own experiences and taught me how to use my own wisdom in order to make decisions. Often, when our elders give lessons, they are not received as formal lectures of step-by-step instructions. They are stories and shared experiences, specific to you. You are left to derive the meaning and lesson on your own.
© Heather Angnatok
Randy and Jason share a laugh
About the Author
Jason is an Inuk from Nunatsiavut. He is passionate about connecting people and places, and works with local leaders to develop community-focussed, socially conscious travel initiatives. Jason is a professional Expedition Leader, guide, and bear monitor. He believes in the power of travel as a transformative, educational experience. During the Arctic winter months, he assists in the planning of quality Arctic and sub-Arctic expeditions as a member of the Operations team. Jason is an expert logistician, with experience coordinating educational and cultural tours in a wide range of environments.