Talking of shamans and other things
A look into the life of Salome Awa
NNSL (Mar 29/99) - Opinionated, tough and determined -- three words that describe Iqaluit resident Salome Awa fairly well.
But it's crucial not to leave out her sense of humour or her passion for life and her dedication to her work.
Currently a noon-hour host for CBC North, Awa said it was her goal to receive her doctorate, in honour of her parents, before she retires.
News/North: I understand that at one point in your family, there were several generations of people alive at one time.
Salome Awa: There were about five living generations. It was awesome.
N/N: Who were they?
Awa: My grandmother on my father's side, then my father, my father's daughter, my sister's son and my sister's son's daughter. That was years ago.
N/N: Where is your family from?
Awa: Nine of us were born outside of Iglulik in a place called Naujaaruluk. That's where I was born. That's where my parents decided to live.
N/N: How long did you live there?
Awa: I believe I left when I was five or six. We left because my sister Joanna was seven years old and the federal government asked the kids to go to school. I don't know exactly what year that was, maybe the late '60s.
N/N: Do you remember much of your life before you moved into town?
Awa: I remember that we lived in a nice, small shack-type of house out on the land. I was the first to be born in a shack, a building made out of wood. Everyone else was born in either an (iglu), a qammaq or a tent.
N/N: Do you remember much about the change when you moved to Iglulik?
Awa: The access to stores, I was quite aware of that. You could simply go to a store and get something, rather than having to travel for days to get stuff. You grow up thinking you have to look for days for caribou and wait for seals for a long time, and then moving in and it's right there.
N/N: How long did you live in Iglulik?
Awa: We left in 1972 from Iglulik to Pond Inlet. I don't know the reason, but the whole family left. I was seven years old.
It wasn't the greatest day when we arrived to the town because my older sister had just adopted a baby from Iglulik. She took a plane and when they arrived in Pond Inlet, the baby died. I'm not too sure why, but I think it was what they call crib death today.
My mom said maybe it was the shaman's curse. My mom told me one time she was cursed by a shaman and that something would happen to her life. She said that they would try and harm her physically. She said they could really harm her, but somehow it got redirected to the weaker part of the family. She said the baby was cursed by the shaman.
N/N: Why was your mother cursed?
Awa: I don't know the exact reason. They don't talk about the reason.
N/N: Were you ever curious to find out why?
Awa: No, not really. These things I strongly believe. I've done some studying about shamans and I have some idea of what they were like across the world, whether it's Mexico, Australia, Malaysia.
Anyway, when we did arrive in Pond Inlet, everyone was crying. I was wondering why and they said the baby died.
Then my sister, who couldn't have babies of her own, said she wanted to adopt again. She wanted to try again, but my mom said let her try and pretend it was her child and my sister would take care of it. They adopted it and we say he's our brother.
N/N: And that was to try and get away from the curse?
Awa: Right. And he survived, so I don't know if that worked.
N/N: How long did you stay in Pond Inlet?
Awa: I ran away when I was 14 years old to Iglulik. When you're trying to run away from a community, it's quite difficult. You have to fly to another community. There was a lot of hard times for my parents. They were drinking a lot and I didn't like it one bit. They did horrible things while they were drinking. I went to Iglulik in April and in August, my dad called up. It has to be important in my family for your father to speak to you. It's when things were very important. He calls me and said I'm going to give you two options -- either you go back to school in Pond Inlet or you can go to Iqaluit. I said I'll go to Iqaluit and I went there for high school.
N/N: Have you stayed in Iqaluit since then?
Awa: No, in 1986 I left and went to Pond Inlet. I was partying lots and I had a good paying job, but after I finished Grade 12, I didn't know what to do after that. I wasn't tired of Iqaluit as a town, but of me living here because I didn't like myself. So I went to Pond Inlet and that's where I met my husband.
N/N: You have two children?
Awa: I have three, but the first one was adopted by my brother. I had him when I was 19. He wanted a baby for a Christmas present so I gave him that. I wanted to keep the baby, but my dad said no, so we gave him away, which was very hard. I had him for three days before I went back to Pond Inlet. When you have your first child and it's a son and healthy and cute, you just want him.
N/N: Does it still hurt?
Awa: Oh yes. Just that moment of actualization of not having this child, that he doesn't belong to you.
N/N: Do you ever see him?
Awa: Oh yes. He lives in Pond Inlet. He was my brother's son and I saw him all the time.
N/N: Was that difficult?
Awa: Not really. When you give that child, you know he's not yours anymore. Right away, you start thinking my brother's son. In Inuit history, obviously adoption is very clear and traditionally, they didn't try to make it difficult or hard because you gave your child to your uncle or your brother so obviously you would see that child on a regular basis. I think that's better because you know he's OK and you see him regularly.
N/N: I heard you tell a story once about when you were a baby and they had to feed you seal broth to keep you alive.
Awa: When my mom was pregnant with me, she was quite sick and I was premature and she didn't produce any milk. In those days, we didn't have bottles and obviously we didn't have any milk, there were no cows. When they had the meal, they always saved the broth and whoever fed me, fed me through their mouth by drizzling it into my mouth.
That was for two months until my sister had a baby and the baby was adopted by my aunt. She produced milk and I was fed from her. To this day, she still considers me her daughter and I consider her as my mother.