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The pull of the land
Bonnie Ammaaq and family still yearn for life at their outpost camp

Derek Neary
Northern News Services
Thursday, July 6, 2017

Bonnie Ammaaq can close her eyes and take herself back to her family's outpost camp on Baffin Island.

NNSL photograph

Iglulik's Bonnie Ammaaq with her mother, Michelline. The Ammaaq family's history is encapsulated in a National Film Board interactive online essay. It tells of their return to the land, where they lived in an outpost camp for 11 years. - Jonathan Frantz photo

"I remember it. I used to enjoy it, hearing the river and the good feeling of home," she says. "There's lots of difference. The land, the animals, the taste. We could still smell it, the beautiful land. Back home there would be blueberries and lots of plants growing ... and it would be warmer."

The Ammaaqs left Iglulik on July 1, 1986 when Bonnie was seven, her brother Isa was three and her sister Wilma was just a baby. Parents Samueli and Michelline Ammaaq - who, like many Inuit, were coerced by the government to move into communities - decided to return to the land and raise their children. The location they chose was about three days away from Iglulik by snowmobile. They lived there for 11 years with some modern conveniences: a generator, a heater, a stove and a laundry machine.

Michelline, who attended residential school, provided academic lessons for the children. For example, she gave the kids boxes of bullets to practice their math skills while on the tundra.

Bonnie returned to Iglulik in 1998 when she was pregnant, but found life in the community like "jail." Her parents followed soon after, yet an obvious tension existed despite being reunited.

"I lost myself," Bonnie says. "I was just angry. I couldn't talk about 'back home' with my parents. We really missed it and couldn't talk about it. It was hard for us."

Bonnie chronicled part of her family's story in a 2015 award-winning, 15-minute documentary titled Nowhere Land. The film was selected as Best Short (Drama) at the imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival.

After putting together the documentary and sharing the story with others, Bonnie says she became more comfortable discussing her past.

The family's history is being featured again, this time through an online interactive essay produced by the National Film Board, titled The Cache. The blending of text, numerous photos, music, spoken word and sound effects, which went live in June, recounts the family's contentment on the land and challenges living in a hamlet.

Bonnie says she has more stories to tell through film and they'll come out when the time is right. She is, however, sometimes reluctant to be in the spotlight. She declined an invitation to attend a film festival where Nowhere Land was being screened a couple of years ago, describing herself as "not very outgoing." She did attend a screening in Iqaluit and says viewers told her that they found the film inspirational.

Bonnie says he plans to spend the summer with her family, including her daughter and two sons.

She is glad to be close to her aging parents today. Together, they attended Iglulik's fishing derby in May.

"I was happy to help my parents," she says, adding that she assisted them in getting to and from the lake.

She adds that she hopes someday her extended family can have a reunion at the outpost camp.

"That would be very helpful," she says.

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