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The DEW Line: 1954

Abraham Okpik
There was a pilot and his mechanic. I looked, and the plane was empty. I said, “Gee! I’d better try to get out of here!” I talked to them, and I gave them a sad story. I said, “I had tough luck this winter and didn’t get too many foxes. I’m handicapped, and I want to go back to the Delta.” They were going to Aklavik. Henry said, “Come on!” I had half an hour, no, an hour to sell everything I had. I sold my four dogs, my toboggan, my rifle and my muskrat parka. That’s all I had anyway, and I took off! I also met my old school superintendent from the Anglican school. He had also been a wildlife officer, and he was now the liaison officer for the DEW [Distant Early Warning] line employees. …

I talked to my cousin Edward Ruben, he’s still alive, he must be in his eighties now, and he said that they were building this DEW line all across Alaska, Canada and Greenland. … People were busy with cats and trucks. The place was buzzing! … I went to work with them in a camp called Bar B. Its real name is Ikpiqiuk. … We came there and worked through July, August and September, and when they closed we went back to Aklavik. … It was supposed to be a secret affair. We were not supposed to talk about it, but I got the idea that something was going on.
In the winter of 1954, Abe spent seven months hunting foxes, travelling from iglu to iglu, and spending most of his time alone.

He and his family would pass the time by playing poker for foxes, or Abe would read to them from one of his books: an astronomy text that he picked up in a trade, or a true story called Bronco Apache.

Abe left Holman (now called Uluksaqtuuq) on an RCMP plane, and hunted muskrat in Aklavik the following spring.

Abe and his brothers-in-law went to work helping to build the DEW line, moving oil barrels and clearing gravel away for buildings. There was lots of employment, but the Inuit labourers working on building the DEW line were kept in the dark about the sensitive equipment that was being flown in and used.

In 1957, Abe went to the hospital in Aklavik following a positive tuberculosis test. He stayed in the hospital for eighteen months.