Climbing the family tree
Student tracks 600 family members

Kerry McCluskey
Northern News Services

Iqaluit (May 03/00) - When it comes to trees in Nunavut, Arviat's Kukik Baker might have the market cornered -- at least when it comes to family trees.

The 18-year-old, through sweat, hard work and perseverance, has managed to track down and name about 600 of her family members, some of whom date back to the early 1800s.

Not an easy task considering the hole left by the absence of written Inuit history.

"It's much harder because qallunaat have always had written language. We just got it so there's no records of any births or deaths or any illnesses they had," said Baker.

Bitten by the genealogy bug six years ago during a Grade 7 class assignment, she said she asked her elders and family members questions.

"My dad was one of 24 (kids), so I had to go to all of my cousins, aunts and uncles. I had to phone and write and ask all the names and birth dates," she said.

"From there it just kept growing."

Now she wants to turn her information over to her surviving family members so they have their own record of the ancestors.

"I want to give it to every single family on the family tree so other people can have my knowledge, not only myself. I want to share it with my family," said Baker, who discovered her own Scottish ancestry through her detective work.

Rankin Inlet's Nellie Kusugak began the study of family history for similar reasons.

Enrolled in the bachelor of education program at Arctic College in Iqaluit, she said she was told to do a project to learn more about herself.

"That was a good opportunity to find out who was related to who," said Kusugak, a Karetak before she was married.

That was four years ago and she's still going strong. Her own children are beginning to develop an interest in their ancestry.

"My only regret is that I didn't do it earlier because the people who knew my father's mother and her family are no longer around," said Kusugak, who, despite the missing oral references, has managed to go as far back as her own great-grandparents.

Kusugak added her study had been fuelled by a desire for her children to learn more about who they'd been named after.

The whole thing has enriched her life, she says.

"I believe it's important to know about your past, to know who you are and your identity. We have children and grandchildren now and they know who they were named after. We have a record of it now," said Kusugak.

"It's made a big, big difference."