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Hearing impaired on the hunt

Northern guides would like to learn sign language

John Barker
Northern News Services

Sachs Harbour (Sep 09/02) - Northern guides are used to the challenges that come with Southern hunters of various experience and abilities looking to bag some big game.

But every now and then something new comes along.

"We had three deaf and mute hunters from Michigan just up here," says Floyd Sydney, a member of the Sachs Harbour Hunters and Trappers Committee on Banks Island.

"We knew they were coming, but we didn't know they were deaf and mute. Actually one of the guys, Ken Lowrie, can speak a bit, but they're all deaf."

To add to the challenge, Lowrie, from Swartz Creek, Mich., and his hunting buddies, Tom Inches, of Tuscola, and Steve Gemmill, of Fenton, are all relatively inexperienced hunters, Sydney said. All three are retired autoworkers from the recently demolished Buick City complex at nearby Flint.

"It worked out very well," says Sydney. The three American hunters went out with guides Manny Kudlak, Trevor Lucas, Andrew Esau and Preston Carpenter.

None of the Sachs guides know American sign language, but Sydney says they're anxious to learn should the situation be repeated in the future.

The key to safety, says Sydney, was to be visually in sight of each other at all times. "You can't just holler out, 'Hey, there's an animal.' "

Sydney said because they couldn't speak in sign language, the guides and hunters wound up writing a notes back and forth to each other, along with some help from Lowrie.

"They were quite happy," Sydney said. "They came to get muskox and they did."

All three Americans bagged a Greenland Thule muskox each. The limit is two each, but Sydney said one muskox each is a good hunt this season.

In response to written questions from News/North, Gemmill wrote: "We had a great trip. We drove 4,500 miles from Michigan to Inuvik before flying to Sachs. We went through Banff and drove the Dempster. It was a great time."

Gemmill also said the hunting was good. "We got three muskox and there was great fishing by the cabin. We also had a great ride on an ATV."

While this is the Sachs Harbour HTC's first experience working with deaf and mute hunters, guides on Banks Island are seeing more and more hunters every year with different disabilities they are overcoming.

"I took a guy out with an artificial leg hunting polar bears last winter," Sydney said. "Manny had a guy in a wheelchair. It's great to see more people who never used to hunt for big game overcome their disabilities and get up here hunting. It's just great."