Watching The North – Three Thousand

The other week, The Polar Museum (part of the Scott Polar Research Institute) organized a ten day online art festival called The Big Freeze. On the last night of the festival, three films by Inuit filmmakers Nyla Innuksuk, Asinnajaq and Alethea Arnaquq-Baril were shown, following a 50 minute discussion about Inuit film making and the value of historic collections and archives.

Three Thousand (2017)
Three Thousand (2017)

Three Thousand by Asinnajaq was one of the films, and it was so powerful, so heartrending, so original – I’ve never seen anything quite like it before – that I feel it would be somewhat criminal not to talk about it.

My father was born in a spring igloo – half snow, half skin. I was born in a hospital with jaundice and two teeth.


Released in 2017 and coming in at fourteen minutes (though I wish it was doubly as long), this art film/documentary mixes dreamlike animation – there’s moments where imaginary beings in the sky play football with a walrus head, while behind them the aurora borealis dances – with engrossing archival footage of Inuit living their lives – cuddling puppies, gutting fish, cleaning pelts. In one scene, a baby pokes a fish’s eye then licks her finger.

Three Thousand (2017)

The footage bought about so many feelings I didn’t know what to do with them all. I was taken into the past of the Inuit people, their present and their future, which Asinnajaq envisions as being full of ‘hope and beautiful possibility.’

In an interview with Shameless Mag, Asinnajaq said ‘I saw a need in the world for a film that could exist that showed Inuit coming from the land, from what’s more stereotypically known, you know people still asking if you live in a igloo, people who need to know more about life and Inuit and where we come from to take us from the starting point…wind, cold snow, igloo, to contemporary times and it’s still us. We come from here but we live right now.’

What Is Akutuq?

For the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking about akutuq an awful lot. So much so that I’ve written a poem about it and developed a real hankering to try some, despite usually shunning meat.

Also known as ‘Alaskan ice cream,’ ‘Native ice cream’ or ‘Eskimo ice cream,’ akutuq is animal fat – caribou, usually – mixed with seal oil and whipped together with handfuls of berries, freshly fallen snow or water. Each family has their own recipe, and it’s said the berries you choose to use is a lifetime decision. It’s alright to eat any flavor made by others, but your social standing will be lost if you’re found using berries different to the ones you initially chose.

Interesting Note: Seal oil is used to enhance pretty much all native foods.

The word akutuq means ‘to stir,’ and is pronounced ‘AUK – goo – duck.’ The Inuit have been making akutuq for centuries, and up until fairly recently, would store it in permafrost cellars, so it was ready for when guests dropped by.

On my wanders through the crevasses of the internet, I encountered Zona Spray Starks’s excellent article ‘What Is Eskimo Ice Cream?’ in which she talks about her experience of akutuq:

My favorite jaunt was out on the river to watch men haul fishnets up through the ice, sending whitefish flapping like crazy over the frozen surface. Seeing me, a neighbor named Old Jim would grin widely and yell “akutuq!” as he stooped to pick up a fish. Holding it belly up, he’d bend it until the skin snapped open and eggs popped out onto the ice.

Jim would quickly smash the egg membranes with a rock. With splayed fingers he’d stir, faster and faster, pulling little handfuls of snow into the mass. Within ten minutes a cloud-like batch of frozen akutuq would take shape. We devoured it on the spot, scooping up portions with our fingers, savoring each mouthful as it melted over our tongues. Old Jim’s version of the dish is one of many, and perhaps the most basic.

Zona Spray Starks
More photos can be found here.

A century back, women would hurry the process by chewing the fat to soften it. This had the potential to spoil the dish though, if the woman chewing was a pipe smoker. Watching videos on YouTube of the process of making traditional akutuq – splayed, experienced fingers whipping the fat until it triples in volume, adding a tablespoon of seal oil at a time and a little water to maximize the fluffiness – is akin to magic.

It takes about forty-five minutes for the fat to be transformed into something that looks very much like cake frosting. At this point, berries are added and perhaps a little sugar. (Whalers brought sugar to the Arctic in the 1800s.) The taste of akutuq is apparently ‘delicate, slightly sweet and rich, with a smooth and silky texture.’ It could also be made for hunters to take with them on long trips, by using dried meat instead of fruit.

In 1842 there was a gathering along the Yukon River and an akutuq cooking contest took place. Husbands heckled their wives to create bizarre variations. Some of the ingredients that found their way into the mixing bowls were blood, beaver, otter, caribou stomach contents and bird eggs.

Crisco (shortening) is often used to make akutuq these days, along with raisins. There are several ‘How To’s’ on YouTube – this one is particularly good – if you’re feeling intrepid. You can use a whisk instead of your fingers though, unless you’re keen on a more authentic experience.


Smithsonian Magazine / What Is Eskimo Ice Cream?

What’s Cooking America / Akutaq

Eyes On The Arctic : Need To Read Things

In this weekly post, I collect all the need-to-read arctic related things that I’ve found over the past several days, and put them here in a handy bundle of links for you to pick, click and read.

12526-snowflakePolar Bears Appear Where They Never Were Before

12526-snowflakeThe Arctic Is On Fire, And You Can See It From Space

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12526-snowflakeAn inside look at the AGO’s largest showcase of Inuit art

12526-snowflakeHeat wave scorches Sweden as wildfires rage in Arctic Circle


Eyes On The Arctic : Need-To-Read Things

In this weekly post, I collect all the need-to-read arctic related things that I’ve found over the past several days, and put them here in a handy bundle of links for you to pick, click and read.

12526-snowflake Plastic Tide Reaches The Arctic And Polar Bears

12526-snowflake Massive Iceberg In Greenland Breaking Up (Video)

12526-snowflake How Global Warming Is Destroying Our Best-Preserved Archeological Sites

12526-snowflake Ongoing Global Heatwave Is Setting All-Time Hottest Temperature Records All Over

12526-snowflake Beavers Are Moving Into The Arctic And You Can See It From Space

12526-snowflake As Arctic Warms Reindeer Herders Tangle With New Industries

12526-snowflake Nunavut Day Celebrations Include Facebook Beginning

12526-snowflake Welsh Students Create Ice-Rebuilding Machines

12526-snowflake Exploring The Arctic On A Sledge