Saturday, 12 May 2012

An inuit tale: The Fog Woman Story

As told by Tlingit Elder, Esther Shea

Long ago, Raven and his two slaves, Gitsanuk and Gitsagag, built a camp at the mouth of a creek. They went fishing for winter food. Raven only caught bullheads. No luck, so he went home. The fog came up on them as they paddled home and got lost.

All of a sudden, a woman appeared on the boat. No one knew how she got there. She asked for Raven's spruce hat, which she held on her left side. All the fog went into the basket.

Raven planned another fishing trip. He left his wife, Fog Woman. He took Gitsagag and left Gitsanuk with Fog Woman.

While Raven was away, Fog Woman and the slave got hungry and commanded Gitsanuk to fill a water basket with water from the stream, and put it down in front of her. She dipped her finger in the water and she commanded the slave to pour the water toward the sea. The slave did as he was told and found a large sockeye.

The slave cooked the fish and ate it. Fog Woman told Gitsanuk to clean the meat from between his teeth so Raven could not know about the salmon they ate.

When Raven came home, Gitsanuk ran down the beach. He was happy. Raven was very smart, he knew people's secrets and saw meat between the slaves teeth and asked, "What's between your teeth?' The slave said, "Oh, nothing. That's the flesh of bullheads." Raven was very angry and Gitsanuk finally told him about the sockeye.

Raven called for his wife and asked her how she got the salmon. She told him the secret. She told him to bring his spruce hat and fill it with water, and he hurried and got the water, and placed it in front of her.

She dipped four fingers in the water and told him to pour the water out. Four sockeyes came out of the basket.

After the meal, Raven asked Fog woman if she could produce more fish. These were the first salmon. She said, "Build a smokehouse." So he did. Fog Woman directed Raven to bring her a basket of water once more. This time she washed her head in the water. Then she told him to pour the water back in the spring. Right away the spring filled up with sockeyes. They cleaned the fish and put them in the smokehouse. They filled the storehouse and there was enough to fill the smokehouse again.

Raven was happy and began to talk carelessly to his wife, and forgetting that she brought the fish. They quarreled and raven struck her. She told him she would leave him and go back to her father's house. She left the house and walked slowly toward the sea, and a sound like the wind came from the smokehouse.

The sound became louder. Raven saw she was really leaving. He ran after her and tried to catch her. His hand slipped through her as through fog and water.

Fog Woman slowly walked toward the sea, and all the salmon followed her.

Raven commanded the slaves to save some of the fish, but they did not have the strength to do so.

Fog Woman disappeared from sight, taking all the salmon with her. Raven said to his slaves, "We still have some salmon in the storehouse for winter." He did not know they were also gone. he had no food, except a few bullheads.

Each spring Fog Woman produced salmon in the basket of fresh spring water. They return each year. At the head of every stream dwells Creek Woman, daughter of Fog Woman.

It is said Creek Woman brings salmon to the streams now.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

The British Empire Range, to the north of Lake Hazen

Back in the Arctic Archipelago, in the extreme north of Nunavut province, Canada.

Ellesmere Island, high up in the Arctic Ocean, close to Greenland.

Ellesmere Island is a large territory in the canadian arctic, and in the northern part of the island the British Empire Range is a mountain range, one of the most northern ranges in the world.

The British Empire Range, part of Quttinirpaaq Park in Ellesmere.

At 81°54′N, 75°01′W, British Empire Range is located north of Tanquary Fiord and Lake Hazen, all part of Quttinirpaaq National Park, one of the most northern and least explored nature parks in the world.

Several nunataks in the Range protrude through the icecap, the highest being Mount Barbeau, at 2616 m, the highest peak in Nunavut.

The highest mountain in the range is Barbeau Peak

The range was named by Gordon N. Humphreys, a British born pilot, botanist and explorer, during the 1934 Oxford University Ellesmere Land Expedition to Lake Hazen on Ellesmere Island, where they set up camp.

The Air force Glacier, coming from the mountain range into Lake Hazen.

The Air Force glacier front.

Quttinirpaaq park ("Top of the world") covers the most remote, rugged, and northerly lands in North America.

The whole area is a polar desert, one of the driest areas of the northern hemisphere, with an annual precipitation of only 60 mm.

South and east of the Range mountains, the land abruptly descends to Lake Hazen, 80 km long, where a Guard Camp welcomes visitors.


Lake Hazen is up to 280 m deep, 542 km2 wide

Situated at the northern end of Ellesmere Island at 81.0°N, Lake Hazen is the largest lake located entirely above the Arctic Circle. It was first discovered by the Inuit of the Dorset culture, circa 1000 AD.

The region around Lake Hazen functions as a "thermal oasis" in a true polar desert. Air temperatures frequently rise to 10-13℃ between June 1 and August 10 although the lake itself remains ice-covered in all but the warmest years.

Fed by multiple glacier inflows, Lake Hazen is home to an unusual abundance of flora and fauna for that northern latitude. The Arctic Char population of the lake is the largest above the arctic circle.



Quttinirpaaq was first visited by humans about 4000 years ago. They were Paleo-Eskimos, an ancient race of people who probably came across the Bering Strait from Siberia.

They hunted musk ox and caribou and somehow survived the long, dark arctic winters. It appears no humans lived on Quttinirpaaq for many centuries afterward.

Then the Dorset people lived on Quttinirpaaq up until about 1000 years ago. They were in turn supplanted by the Thule people who were skillful hunters of whales and other marine mammals. While the Thule culture survived elsewhere and are the ancestors of the modern Inuit, they abandoned Quttinirpaaq when the climate turned colder leading up to the Little Ice Age of 1600-1850 AD.

The first Europeans to arrive in the area in 1875-76 were part of a two-ship British expedition, led by Sir George Nares, to attempt to reach the North Pole via the Smith Sound, a passage in the arctic sea between Greenland and Ellesmere Island.

Two ships, HMS Alert and HMS Discovery, sailed from Portsmouth on 29 May 1875.

HMS Discovery and HMS Alert.

The expedition failed to reach the North Pole, but the coasts of Greenland and Ellesmere Island were extensively explored and large amounts of scientific data were collected. HMS Discovery went as far as the now named Cape Discovery, in Ellesmere Island. In 1876 HMS Alert reached a record latitude of 82° N.

I published before a post on Ellesmere's inuit village Grise Fjord