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Barney Tootoo still can’t resist the call of the wild

Rankin Inlet Elder Barney Tootoo, 75, enjoys a hot cup of java while waiting for his favourite TV show to come on. Photo courtesy of Rose Tootoo ᑲᖏᖅᖠᓂᕐᒥᑦ ᐃᓐᓇᕆᔭᐅᔪᖅ ᐹᓂ ᑐᑐ, 75-ᓂᒃ ᐅᑭᐅᓕᒃ, ᖁᕕᐊᒋᔭᖃᖅᑐᖅ ᐆᓇᖅᑐᒥᒃ ᑳᐱᑐᕐᓗᓂ ᐅᑕᖅᕿᑉᓗᓂ ᑕᑯᕋᓐᓂᕆᓛᕆᔭᖓ ᑕᓚᕕᓴᒃᑯᑦ ᑕᐅᑐᖕᓂᐊᖅᑕᖓ.

Rankin Inlet Elder Barney Tootoo still has a few miles to look forward to before having to put his feet up and enjoy the quiet life, much to his chagrin.

Tootoo was born in Pistol Bay, located between Rankin Inlet and Whale Cove.

Much like his two sons who would follow him later in life, Tootoo had a burning love for the game of hockey.

He lived in Pistol Bay until he was two or three years of age and then he and his family ended-up along the coast near Churchill, Man.

Tootoo said he spent about 17 years in and around Churchill. He would head to Baker Lake during the summer months and then return to Churchill, where his older brother, Joe, still resided, to be able to play top level hockey.

He did that for a few years and made it as far as playing for the Allan Cup with the Thompson Hawks of the old Central Hockey League.

“I first travelled to Rankin to find out if there was work here,” said Tootoo. “My oldest brother, Batiste, worked here before that and I ended up with a job here, so I stuck it out for a few years.

“I was still doing the same thing, working in Rankin during the summer and then returning to Churchill to go play hockey.

“We moved to Whale Cove for three years while we were travelling around, but the schooling wasn’t too good for the kids so we decided to move back to Rankin.”

Tootoo said he and his wife, Rose, who he met in Churchill during his hockey days, moved back to Rankin during the summer of ‘85. The two had been wed on April 22, 1976.

Tootoo began putting an impressive string of work credentials together, starting with a stint with the Department of Public Works, which is Community and Government Services these days.

“I stayed with that job for quite awhile but… I’d only work for so long then they’d lay me off for three or four days and then hire me back again. That way they wouldn’t have to hire me on permanent, eh?” he recalled.

“Then they’d finally hire me on full time after I got my tickets. First I got my gas ticket, then I got my plumbing ticket. After, to complete the set, I got my oil-burner mechanic ticket.

“They were all red-seal tickets too, so things got a bit better after that.”

Tootoo, 75, said it’s changed a lot now, how Elders are viewed by younger folks in the community.

He said when he was younger, they went out of their way to spend time with their Elders and were always trying to get them to go out on the land with them.

“Sadly, today, they (Elders) seem to be all but ignored. It really makes me sad to see the Elders getting left out so much these days.

“To me, the kids today are really different. We always wanted to be with our Elders and learn this and learn that from all their traditional knowledge. The young fellas today seem to think they know everything. But they don’t know a darn thing about how to go out hunting to provide for their families and learn to do things like properly skin a caribou carcass. Their traditional land skills are almost non-existent.

“Even my own grandkids, you know, don’t want to go out on the land. I really think technology has been the cause of this.

“That’s why to this very day, I don’t own a cell phone. You see every Tom, Dick and Harry walking around with a phone. You try to say hi and they’re on their phone. Only way to say hi, I suppose, is to text them.”

Tootoo said it makes him very sad — “100 per cent, man” — to see how much of their traditional skills and ancestry today’s youth have lost.

He said he used to take his family out every chance he got, and they loved going out with him.

Tootoo has quite the unique legacy, being father to both the first Inuk (Terence) to sign a professional hockey contract and the first Inuk (Jordin) to ever play in the NHL.

He said as proud as that makes him feel, it doesn’t make him feel superior to others.

“I just walk around the same as everyone else. I’m no better than anyone else. It was cool the way I got to travel around so much though. I’m pretty sure I’ve visited most, if not all every NHL city on the go.

“But for now, I’m just happy to wait for the weather to warm up so I can get out on the land hunting and fishing.

“I want to get out there while I’m still able to get around and do the things I still love to do.”

—By Darrell Greer