War is something we all wish would not happen, but sadly, war is part of life. Today, literally hundreds of conflicts around the world are eclipsed by the big war against terrorism, in which a constant media barrage downplays the fallen soldiers who return home in caskets. This hasn’treally affected us personally, but soon, our young may one day have to go.
Many years ago, before television existed in our culture, a young Inuk from James Bay aspired to see the world and one war in Korea took him to another world far across the other side of the globe.
Eddy Weetaltuk, a fine student of the Roman Catholic Mission in Fort George, mastered the Frenchlanguage and ventured out to the south. After changing his name to suit his new world and enable him to travel without the stigmatism that surrounded the general public’s outlook of “Eskimos”. It turned out that the Eskimos served a purpose to the government in those years, thelate 1950s Cold War era left a paranoid government fearing that if the void and vast Arctic looked uninhabited, the Americans would claim the North for themselves as self-defense for the inevitable war against the communist countries of China and the former Soviet Union just on theother side of the North Pole.
Eddie made it his personal mission to come back and describe the world to those Inuit and peopleof the north in memoirs and in his artwork. Upon joining in the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, he left the country he knew as his homeland for a foreign land. His unit wasassigned to take over a strategic hill so that a supply route could be opened. When asked what had happened during his fight for the hill, he would merely tell the questioner to read his book, soon to be published. After much work and writing he looked for someone to publish it. Somehow, his art and his handwritten words were retained at the Museum of War in Ottawa for display to the world. Then when the new museums opened in the Ottawa area, showcasing Aboriginal artifacts and other wonders from our lands and lives, Eddies material was sadly misplaced for a number of years.
Years of asking for help to find his beloved works followed. Finally, with the help of McGill University, Eddie got his treasured memoirs back and published his book, Born on the Snow.
I met Eddie in the 1980s at the fabled Blue Angel bar in downtown Montreal. He certainly got my attention with his ability to fluidly ask for another round in Cree, English, Inuktitut, French, Korean and Japanese, which I gladly paid for. But he still did not speak of his war time in detail. He would only say that his still unfinished book would say more than he could to me that night. I guess that at that time, barely 30 years after the fact, the effects of war were still with him.
To me, Eddie represents the person who managed to go and see the world not only as a soldier tobattle a real enemy in a bloody war far away to be remembered on Remembrance Day, but as someone who came back to James Bay to tell us of other worlds that was kept from us by our ownforeign policies. Eddie passed away after his book was published.