One evening, as we lay in our sleeping bags, Marvin told me he'd once tried to leave the Arctic. He'd found a vocational school in southern Canada that offered classes in small engine repair. But years before, Jacob had watched another son taken from home and forced to attend one of Canada's notorious residential schools, where indigenous knowledge and traditions were cruelly repressed. He asked Marvin to stay. Learn the old ways. Keep the family whole.
Marvin didn't regret his decision. He was a father himself and a volunteer fireman in Gjoa Haven. He'd found a job with a company maintaining telephone lines, and he was slowly learning all he could from Jacob. But Jacob also seemed to inhabit a simpler, older Arctic.
The one Marvin knew was complicated. There were fewer opportunities, more drugs. There were social media and the internet. Marvin understood his Arctic was becoming something new. He'd read that the ice was melting, that another war might come north. He knew the weather was different from what he'd known as a child -- not necessarily warmer but more unpredictable.
As for the gold rush he kept hearing about, he couldn't see it. "All these things are supposed to be happening," he told me, referring to the predictions of new infrastructure and jobs to harvest the region's hidden riches. "I don't really feel much change. I definitely don't feel like I'm part of it."
The next morning I left camp to scout for caribou with the Atqittuqs and a few others. When a blizzard blew in and swallowed our hunting party, it was Jacob who led us back to camp, using a combination of GPS and some other, inner map. I drove my snowmobile slowly behind Marvin's, nearly blinded by a skin of ice that formed inside my goggles. Soon the world became so intensely white that I could no longer tell where the earth ended and the storm began.
At some point, the balaclava covering my face slipped out of place, exposing an inch of skin. I felt a burning sensation, as though someone had pressed a hot coin to my cheek, but I was busy keeping up. Hours later, in our tent, Jacob saw the burn. He pressed his thumb to it. "Good," he said.