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104 and still counting

Kent Driscoll
Northern News Services

Spence Bay (Dec 12/05) - Bibian Neeveavuq is 104 years old. If you don't believe it, check the records. The church in Kugaaruk has her baptism on record in 1903.

NNSL Photo/graphic

Bibian Neeveavuq is 104 years old according to church records in Kugaaruk. The tattoos you see here were applied to accentuate her beauty when she was very young. - Navalik Tologanak/NNSL photo

With her new pacemaker, Neeveavuq could outlive us all, much to the pleasure of her granddaughter Mary Kayaksark.

"When she got her pacemaker, I was translating for her with the doctors in Edmonton. The doctors gave her a choice and she said, 'I still want to live.'"

She doesn't get around as much as she used to, but with Eli Marniq and his family caring for her, she really doesn't have to.

"She's still pretty good. She remembers everywhere she lived. She grew up between Kugaaruk and Cambridge Bay, and she used to walk from Repulse Bay to Kugaaruk and then to Taloyoak," said Kayaksark.

"She's amazing," agrees her great-granddaughter Marlene Umingmak, "And she's tough. She was here way before the white people came."

These two women hope that long lives run in the family.

"She has one daughter, three adopted sons and something like 125 great and grandchildren," said Umingmak.

"She lost her mother when she was young, so being a good mother is important to her," said Kayaksark.

Elders know the legends, and the older you are the more legends you know. Neeveavuq has passed on the story of Nulliyuk, and knows the legendary tale of Kiviuq.

When filmmaker John Houston arrived in Taloyoak to film parts of his version of Kiviuq - which some call the secret Inuit Bible - he filmed Neeveayuk, too, so she can add screen star to her resume.

"She still believes that Kiviuq is alive. He's living somewhere overseas where it is really warm," said Kayaksark.

She may have been an early feminist, according to her granddaughter.

"She says that nowadays, ladies are so free. Back in the older days, men used to be the head of the house. I don't think she listened to my grandfather that much," laughed kayaksark.

This piece of living history is appreciated in Taloyoak. "She is very important to the hamlet," said Umingmak.