Photos taken and a Book Reading in Winnipeg, Manitoba (Feb. 2008)
Michael's string games are mesmerizing. He has played Cat's Cradle with people in Hawaii, Mexico, India, China and many other places around the world. This one is a string story about a beached whale. The string figure transforms from a whale to a seagull and other animals as the story progresses.
Traditional stories, commonly known as legends, have been told to teach people the virtues of life - generosity, caring, benevolence, compassion, humility and many others - around the world. The Inuit have their own legends that have enabled them to live in harmony in the coldest part of the world. Michael learned those stories from his grandmother. He tells them in English, with Inuktitut expressions thrown in here and there. He also writes his own stories about growing up in northern Canada and the cautionary tales he was told as a nomadic kid.
There are creatures that live under the sea ice, creatures called Qallupilluit. They wear a coat called an Amaut. It is a special coat designed to carry babies. Michael and his friend, Robert Munsch, wrote a story about these creatures in a book called A PROMISE IS A PROMISE. What do Inuit call the northern lights? Aqsarniit - trails made by the souls of the dead, playing soccer in the sky. There is a little creature called an Ijiraq. It plays hide-and-seek. What are Christmas trees for to kids who have never seen a tree before? Michael writes about all these in his books and tells them to kids in schools. Correction: that is to people because adults like them too.
What was it like to grow up in igloos, sod huts and tents? Michael grew up in those old days. That was the 1950's. He remembers those days vividly, hunting seals on the sea ice, fishing through 10 foot thick ice, walking on "the land" and sitting on a boulder, looking out on the sea at the northern end of Hudson Bay in the tiny Arctic Circle community of Repulse Bay (His people call it Naujaat). He remembers the day he was hauled away to one of those infamous residential schools at the age of six, a time that his young mind refuses to remember even today, after many years. He remembers the days before TV. Where he comes from, that was before 1973 when his father bought a TV. It barely worked, of course, because, in Rankin Inlet, there were no TV stations and no satellite receivers.