GG samples Inuit 'head pull' in Iqaluit

Gov. Gen. David Johnston is learning about Inuit traditions — like the unique "head pull" competition — as he and his wife, Sharon, continue their vice-regal tour of Nunavut.
Gov. Gen. David Johnston, left, competes in an Inuit head pull competition against local athlete Johnny Issaluk as part of a community feast held in Iqaluit on Monday night. Issaluk won the competition. (Peter Sheldon/CBC)

Gov. Gen. David Johnston is learning about Inuit traditions — such as seal-skinning and the unique "head pull" competition — as he and his wife, Sharon, continue their vice-regal tour of Nunavut.

During a community feast in Nunavut's capital city Monday night, Johnston went head-to-head — literally — with athlete Johnny Issaluk for a "head pull," an Inuit athletic event in which competitors face each other on the floor with a large elastic band placed around their heads.

The first to pull the band off the other person's head wins. Competitors must use their upper-body strength to succeed.

"It was interesting," said Issaluk, who won the match against the Governor General. "I was kind of scared … but it was a lot of fun."

On Tuesday, Johnston laced up his skates and took part in a couple of short drills with players at the Nunavut Stars Hockey Camp, a volunteer-driven camp that hosts more than 100 children and youth from across the territory every summer.

During a drill, the Governor General scored in one of three breakaway shots on net. Johnston also spoke with camp participants and organizers about the game of hockey itself.

"It requires an ability to think through situations, to adapt, and the best way to do that is to stay in school and work hard in school," he said.

"So if you want to make beautiful hockey, the beautiful game, stay in school, and you'll find school will get better and hockey will get better as well."

Arctic char, blubber on the menu

Earlier in the day, the vice-regal couple toured the Nunavut Research Institute and engaged in a closed-door discussion with students and teachers about education in the territory.

David and Sharon Johnston also learned about the art of making sealskin garments and kamotiks, or sleds, during a lunchtime visit to the Iqaluit Community Tukisigiarvik Society.

The Johnstons met with volunteers with Iqaluit's Habitat for Humanity, as well as the owners of the first two homes the organization has built in the city.

Monday night's community feast at the Arctic Winter Games Arena had the couple sampling Inuit country foods such as Arctic char, caribou meat and muktaaq, which consists of whale skin and blubber.

"Arctic char is my favourite fish," Johnston told reporters.

"I grew up on the shores of Lake Superior and I love Lake Superior whitefish and love trout, of course, but char [has] a very distinctive and lovely taste. And of course, this is fresh, and it was raw and quite wonderful."

Johnston also presented the Governor General's Northern Medal to Inuit filmmaker Zacharias Kunuk, who is known for internationally acclaimed films such as Atanarjuat (The Fast Runner), which was shot in Igloolik, Nunavut.

The Johnstons will travel on Wednesday to the Nunavut hamlet of Qikiqtarjuaq, marking the first time a Canadian governor general has visited the remote Baffin Island community.

The vice-regal couple will also hike around Auyuittuq National Park, which is located near Qikiqtarjuaq.