Yellowknife man returns to trapping, following in late father's footsteps

Nathan Kogiak decided he needed to change. He turned to trapping — something he and his father used to do together years ago.

'When it came to trapping, he was like the encyclopedia,' says Nathan Kogiak about his late father Abel

A man stands in a room holding up animal pelts
Nathan Kogiak returned to trapping four years ago to change his life around. (Nathan Kogiak)

Yellowknife man Nathan Kogiak is a full-time trapper in the winter, and an accounting student in the summer.

But this is a fairly new lifestyle for Kogiak that started four years ago.

"I kind of realized I was going down the wrong path. It was definitely a dark time, the lowest point in my life," said Kogiak. "The world was not gonna change, so it had to be me."

He chose to enrol in Aurora College. But more importantly, he decided to revisit a beloved childhood activity he once shared with his father: trapping.

Abel Jimmy Dick Kogiak

Kogiak calls his father "a man of the land."

"He knew everything … I'm assuming it's over 500 caribou he's put down in his life," said Kogiak. "Who else could trap 1,500 muskrat in a month?"

Abel and Nathan Kogiak. 'He knew everything,' says Kogiak about his father. (Submitted by Nathan Kogiak)

Kogiak's first memories of hunting and trapping were when he was four years old. It was in the back mountains and hills in Aklavik, N.W.T. with his father, Abel Jimmy Dick Kogiak.

Just before he passed, he was telling me that he wanted me to finish school.- Nathan Kogiak

"He would be totally content in that summer tent with that sleeping bag, and I couldn't sleep because it was freezing," recalled Kogiak.

His father, Abel, was "very serious" and "definitely old school style," said Kogiak. Abel was the eldest male of ten children, born in a tent outside of Aklavik. Abel's father passed away when he was just 12 years old, so he was the one who took over providing for the family. He was also a residential school survivor.

"He didn't need much to be happy. As long as he had his family there, he was totally content. Happiest man in the world as long as he had us."

'He was like the encyclopedia'

Starting four years ago, Kogiak would go out trapping, and come home with stories for his father.

With his father's tips, Kogiak started excelling at trapping. He even won the 2014-2015 NWT Trapper award for highest sales in the Yellowknife region.

"One regret is that I wish I started back up when he was more mobile."

Kogiak out on his trapping line in the Yellowknife region. (Mark Hadlari/CBC)

But when Kogiak decided he wanted to take more school — an accounting program at University of Lethbridge — he said his father "was kind of torn."

"Because I was doing so well trapping. He was wondering why I would just stop that. I think after talking with my mother, he kind of realized that this day in age … education plays a huge part."

Abel passed away recently, on Nov. 25 of last year.

"Just before he passed, he was telling me that he wanted me to finish school," said Kogiak, adding that Abel never finished high school. "He was proud of me trapping. And he was proud of me going to school."

"You know, I couldn't ask [my dad] help for math," said Kogiak. "But when it came to trapping, he was like the encyclopedia."

Kogiak holding up a lynx that was caught in his trap. (Submitted by Nathan Kogiak)

Abel left his son some drawings — secrets from the decades of wisdom, being out on the land. "He told me not to tell anybody about these because this is like a family secret."

So full-time trapper in the winter, accounting student in the summer — Kogiak said he'll continue this lifestyle to keep his father's traditions alive.

"I'll probably do it the rest of my life. Like, I love it," he said.

"One day I'll have children too, and I'll be passing on this knowledge from my father."

With files from Mark Hadlari