Keeping traditional skills alive

Levels I and II at St. Mary’s All-Grade build komatik

Published on February 15, 2017

Students applied a green coat of paint on the bottom of the komatik

©Stephen Roberts

With the guidance of an experienced community elder and their own fortitude, Mary’s Harbour students are acquiring new traditional skills.

In fact, Level I and II students at St. Mary’s All-Grade are building a komatik with their own hands and the instruction of Lodge Bay resident Mac Pye.

This is taking place as part of the Southern Inuit Traditional Education program, offered through the NunatuKavut Community Council’s Research, Education, and Culture Department. It is also a part of their Newfoundland and Labrador Studies course.

The 11 students started working on the komatik on Jan. 30, using mostly locally sawed wood – some by Pye himself.  

Pye first took the opportunity to discuss with students the history of the komatik in the area and how it has changed throughout the years.

The komatik has traditionally been used to transport belongings. This used to be especially the case with the changing seasons. Over 30 years ago, it was common for families in the Mary’s Harbour area to move to summer settlements for the cod fishery. However, since there were no snowmobiles back then, they had to use a dog team to transport their household belongings. In tow was the komatik, carrying everything they owned. In some sense, in that box on top of the sled, they were able to move their entire lives.

This was just a sample of what was learnt in the course of these discussions.

From there, under Pye’s watchful eye, the students set to work on the collaborative project of building the komatik.

This, too, has been a substantial learning experience.

They learnt how to shape out the runners and, in the course of this process, got to use simple hand tools, such as hammers, saws, and planers. Once that was completed, they added boards across the top, using more modern tools such as the electric drill. And more than the building, but everything had to be sanded down and painted.

As of Friday, Feb. 9, they were still working on it.

But the students already have some things in mind as to what to do with it.

Discussions have been had about using it to carry all the necessities – food, roasting sticks, kindling, etcetera – for an outdoor outing “boil up” that the school usually has during Education Week.


More learning

And the students aren’t finished learning traditional skills.

This was just one in a series of three projects they’ll be doing under the NunatuKavut program. They will also be making sealskin crafts and warm cossocks coats in the coming weeks. All three projects were selected by the students from a list of different traditional skills in their community.

According to vice-principal Bonita Rumbolt, since traditional Newfoundland and Labrador skills often going by the wayside, programs such as these are important to spur interest.

Therefore, many people are happy to see young people have the opportunity to learn these skills. Rumbolt notes that NunatuKavut posted a slideshow of the komatik-making on Facebook and it has received well over 5,000 views in just a few days.

“It’s become sort of a little local viral thing,” she says. “Because, I guess, people are so happy to see these kinds of skills are being shared in the schools.”