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South Baffin mourns elder's death

Kent Driscoll
Northern News Services

Lake Harbour (Nov 07/05) - Mourners from around Nunavut gathered at the community hall in Kimmirut to honour George Pitseolak on Oct. 31.

He died Oct. 26 in Iqaluit at the age of 77 after a battle against cancer.

Two charter aircraft were needed to transport people from Iqaluit to Kimmirut for his memorial service.

The church in Kimmirut was too small to hold the crowd.

Pitseolak, who was born on Sept. 18, 1928, is survived by his wife Annie and 12 children, 44 grandchildren and 32 great-grandchildren.

Pitseolak was a hunter, a guide, a grandfather and a great-grandfather.

This was the first year in memory that Pitseolak did not take his boat from Cape Dorset to Kimmirut.

He called both communities home for a time, after moving in from an outpost camp in the early 1980s.

Pitseolak may have been as comfortable on the water as on the land. He knew the harbour in Kimmirut so well that he was in demand as a harbour guide. He would direct large ships to the safest route.

In his youth, Pitseolak could cover great distances by qamutiik. Every winter, he would make trips to Pangnirtung, Kimmirut and Iqaluit, transporting medicine and food to residents.

His humanitarian trips played a role with his son Simata. The younger Pitseolak died when his ultralight aircraft crashed while he was delivering medicine, following in his father's footsteps.

The elder Pitseolak also passed on his knowledge of carving to Simata. Simata's carvings have been exhibited in the U.S., France and Jerusalem.

An elder himself, Pitseolak still helped the elders in the community, taking widows berry picking and sharing what he could pick himself.

While in the hospital for cancer, Pitseolak's family brought him water from the river. He preferred it greatly to what came out of the taps.

He would also take groups from the Baffin Correctional Centre on the land for healing journeys.

"George took out a number of them. It gives them a sense of who they are. It will be a great loss to us," said Ron McCormack, director of correction for Nunavut.

"He liked to help people out. He enjoyed the land and said that it was good for your body, soul and mind," said his granddaughter Martha Tadluq.

"He always laughed, we never heard him yell or be rough. He was a very wise man," she said.