Shamanic Transformation

My name is David Ruben Piqtoukun, registered as born on May 10, 1950. My parents, Billy and Bertha Ruben, told me my birth place was Argo Bay, just west of Paulatuk. I was born in a white canvas tent, which my people use in the springtime or when they are out on the land and have to move around often. I was told that the snow geese were flying around in mass when I entered the world. The first sound I would have heard would be the sound of thousands of snow and Canada geese. That would make me: Nature’s child. This thought I will treasure for life.

I have 17 siblings in our original family grouping at the time of this writing. My beautiful parents and a few siblings have since passed on. I still have 8 brothers and 4 sisters. We are not a close knit group but we are a family without parents for guidance. We are all encouraged to be independent. That is the story of my life; be independent. At a very early age I began to learn life by trial and error.

A number of us of in my age group, ages 4 to 6, were taken onto an airplane and carted off to a place called Aklavik, to attend boarding school. We were all dressed in traditional clothing; caribou or sealskin parkas and pants, wearing mukluks to cover our feet. We were abducted, in essence. Inside the airplane we were all frightened by the sound of the engines and our unknown destination. After finally reaching our destination, we were processed, cleaned and our hair cut to the scalp. The Roman Catholic nuns were making sure we had no body or head lice to bring to our new home.

This is the story of our abduction to attend a schooling system which I call “an education in forgetting”. The rules were very straight forward for every Inuit or Indian: Do not speak your language or even whisper your original language to yourself or anyone else around you. You will be dressed to all look alike, in pants, shirt or sweater, and will wear shoes (whether they fit or not). In my case, the shoes were often very tight and painful to wear. The final rules of residential school were: Always obey the nuns, keep your snotty nose clean, no fighting and never speak your Eskimo language!

Welcome to an education in forgetting. My recollection was that I retaliated at every turn. I was always cussing and cursing, fighting with every tough Eskimo or Indian that wanted to fight or wrestle. But my deepest resentment was being surrounded by all the religious statues and forced to recite religious prayers and to eat unknown food; and not having a clue about the whereabouts of my parents. I was your classic Lost Child.

That is my recollection of the last years of my early life. They also told me I was so stubborn and retaliatory that I spent a second year in kindergarten. I had refused to learn to speak a word of English! My whole life has been a reflection of that; always two years behind. In reality, I was a naturally slow learner. My own personal education method, live and learn by trial and error, is a testament to that fact. I would apply that same philosophy to stone carving and sculpture in my later years.

On August 8, 1968 I managed an airline ticket to Edmonton, Alberta with $10 in my wallet and a pocket “full of dreams”. I ventured out into the world at age 18, no clue about the ways of the world or where to begin my journey. In 1972 I ended up in Vancouver, British Columbia, after wandering around in Calgary and Edmonton, Alberta. I worked on the oil fields as a “Roughneck” and general labourer. My shortest job lasted 15 minutes. I was not capable of holding any job and was fired, more often than not, in short order.

In Vancouver, my brother Abraham came to visit me for a short period of time and introduced me to what he had been studying in Fairbanks, Alaska. He introduced me to stone carving. I was fascinated and I enjoyed the feel and texture of the stone at all its stages in carving. Soon after that brief session and some basic lessons he left British Columbia and I was on my own. For that introduction however, I am forever grateful to my brother, Abraham Apakark Anghik Ruben!

Stone carving appealed to me and I made my first few rough looking carvings which I sold. I believe that I made fifty six dollars. This was to be the beginning of a lifelong quest. Forty three years later I am still fascinated by all the varieties of carving and sculpting material at my disposal. Through stone carving I am getting “an education in remembering”. I have continued to travel to various parts of the High Arctic but especially my hometown, Paulatuk. I will always continue to collect stories and learn more about Shamanism and Inuit mythology. That is the source of my motivation and creative endeavours. That is the source of my fascination and inspiration.

Bear in Shamanic Transformation – 1991.

This stone sculpture I completed at a time when my personal life was collapsing. Mentally, emotionally, physically and financially, I was totally spent. I was a troubled Inuk. I endured borderline homelessness, with nowhere to turn and a questionable future to contend with. Creating this work was my only lifeline to maintaining my sanity. The Bear-Man in our Inuit mythology is symbolic of “Spiritual and Physical Power” that humans lack in times of personal weakness. I needed to survive at all costs and this sculpture concept was something I needed to create and to understand its true meaning.

The image is that of a standing bear that looks human and is in the process of transformation. The Bear-Man has been summoned by elders of a remote village in the high arctic. People have been stricken by illness, disease, and famine. The staples of the Inuit life, caribou, fish, geese and seals have mysteriously disappeared. The Shaman’s responsibility is to find the source and origin of this dilemma. The Bear-Man is one of the most powerful Shaman in Inuit existence and is capable of tackling impossible feats. The Shaman within a short period of time finds the cause of the problems the people are facing. A number of taboos have occurred and or have been broken by the villagers. When taboos are broken, on purpose or by accident, the outcome is predictable and that is the reason why many lives were put in jeopardy. People live and learn from their mistakes. Life is restored and all the living resources for their survival return. In my case, I allowed my ego to consume my existence. That is the cause of my broken taboo! We all have “Spirit-Helpers” to assist us in our troubled periods of life. Do not be afraid to ask for help! lt is vitally important to understand what or who is your Spirit-Helper.

David Ruben Piqtoukun, Sculptor/Artist

An interview with David Ruben about Shamanic Transformation was produced.