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Inuit lifestyle film picked up by National Geographic

Derrick Pottle of Rigolet is the subject of “Keeper of the Flame." The film, by Jason Van Bruggen, is a stark and compelling depiction of the traditional Inuit way of life.
Derrick Pottle of Rigolet is the subject of “Keeper of the Flame." The film, by Jason Van Bruggen, is a stark and compelling depiction of the traditional Inuit way of life. - Jason Van Bruggen photo

Rigolet hunter/artist struggles to keep culture alive

RIGOLET, N.L.

An Adventure Canada film about a Nunatsiavut hunter and artist has been featured by the National Geographic Short Film Showcase.

“Inuit were born to be outside,” intones the voiceover on the trailer to “Keeper of the Flame” selected by National Geographic for the showcase this past summer. “My earliest memories of growing up with my family was connected to the land. Using dog teams, skin tents, kayaks, you lived on the land; you took what you needed.”

The voice should be a familiar one to many in Labrador.

Derrick Pottle was born, raised and still lives in Rigolet when he’s not out on the land or guiding for Adventure Canada, a company that specializes in Arctic and Antarctic cruises.

The film, by Jason Van Bruggen, is a stark and compelling depiction of the traditional Inuit way of life that Pottle is doing his best to preserve against outside natural and political pressures, such as climate change and bans on sealskins and other marine mammal products. That is why he agreed to do the film in the first place.

“My main reason is just to bring awareness to our lifestyle and . . . let the world know that when people go out and make decisions and protest and try to disrupt people’s lives, the total impact that it has on communities and people’s lives,” he told The Labradorian.

Van Bruggen was attracted to Pottle’s story for the same reason and thought he made a great ambassador for the Inuit community.

“I felt it was important to capture Derrick's story and share it with the world because it was a first-hand perspective that looked at the story of climate change and culture change in the north from an emotional, personal and community-based perspective rather than the more common scientific or academic perspective,” he said via email. “People are inundated with factual arguments from people that might not even be experiencing the first-hand effects of these changes in a profound way.”

Pottle noted the pace of change makes it difficult to keep youth engaged.

“There is interest into (the traditional lifestyle) but the dependency isn’t what it used to be because of the bans on sealskins and other marine mammal products, that totally impacted people’s lives. At one time people could make $30-$40,000 a year by selling sealskins, now you can barely sell a sealskin anymore.”

Outside influences can also consume time, and detract from participation in traditional activities.

In his own lifetime, Pottle has seen northern Labrador communities change; from not even having electric power to having all the modern conveniences and distractions of the world at large.

“In a very short period of time, our life has changed pretty much the same as everywhere else, all over the world,” Pottle said. “What the outside world has in regards of technology and modern advancements, we have all of that in the communities, except that we’re isolated.”

Pottle is afraid those influences go beyond just eroding the physical lifestyle.

“We lose our identity . . . who we are; the way that we lived our lives,” he explained. “You’ll never stop someone from being an Inuk, but . . . it’s very important that we practise our culture. In order to understand a culture and the value of it, I strongly believe you have to participate.

“You have to go out on the land and freeze your ass off, you have to get wet and you have to be out on the land for days on end, all of this stuff don’t come pre-packaged.”

With regard to the film, Pottle is very happy with the way it turned out.

“The final product speaks for itself,” he said. “I just told a story and Jason and Stuart (camera operator) put it together in the professional and expert manner that they needed to do and it shows for itself; it’s a very well put-together document.”

Van Bruggen was pleased with the attention National Geographic brings to the project.

“The National Geographic profile is great,” he said. “The short version of that film being shared with audiences through a number of channels (including NatGeo) is a promotional piece that I made for Adventure Canada, a remarkable family-owned company that provides Arctic expedition travel services and looks at these issues in a very transparent way.”

Ultimately Pottle doesn’t want people to lose sight of what makes the Inuit who they are.

“I was blessed that I had opportunities to meet Inuit right across Canada, Alaska, Siberia, Greenland,” he said, adding they all have a common thread. “The connection to the land and to the sea and to the animals and the mammals; that brings us together and that’s our identity.”

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