Shaman of the Knives

George Roberts. Photography by Christian Kuntz. Copyright © Christian Kuntz. All Rights Reserved.
George Roberts. Photography by Christian Kuntz. Copyright © Christian Kuntz. All Rights Reserved.

There is a legend among the Inuit of the Northwest Territories of Canada that tells the story of Kujiak, a young boy who was considered an outcast by his mother and three sisters and forced to live with the dogs in the foyer of their igloo. He had made himself a knife in order to survive and was soon visited by the great Knife Shaman, embarking on a journey to manhood, eventually becoming a leader to his people and the next Shaman of the Knives.

Ulu Knife. George Roberts, Bandit Blades. Used with permission. All rights reserved.
Ulu Knife. George Roberts, Bandit Blades. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

Kujiak is George Roberts, one of Canada’s premier knifemakers, who creates high-quality handcrafted custom hunting and culinary knives under the business name of Bandit Blades. He also produces traditional knives and exquisite works of art sought by collectors from around the world – one of Roberts’ custom Ranger knives was selected as a gift to Prince William during his visit to Canada.

But the real story behind Roberts’ work is the acceptance of his knives by the Inuit people. “It all started about fifteen years ago when I began travelling up north to the Great Northern Arts Festival in Inuvik,” says Roberts. “When I first started going up there, I’d show up with my shiny knives to sell to the Inuit and they’d back away, shaking their heads and making a cross sign with their fingers. They didn’t want these knives because their ancestors had been tricked by the Hudson Bay Company, trading their valuable furs for shiny knives that were of very poor quality. So these Inuit had been using old saw blades, butcher knives, real old stuff. They treasured their old black steel knives although it was steel that rusted.”

“So I show up with all this shiny stuff and would try to trade with them or sell my knives and they’d go, ‘No Shiny Knife!’. So I started thinking, ‘How can I get through to these people that this is good stuff?’ As I walked around, I came across an Inuit elder trying to cut a piece of horn in a vise and I got the idea to show him how mine can cut. I noticed a two-by-four next to him, so I walked up to him and said ‘Hey, can I try this?’ I put that piece of wood in his vise, pulled out my knife and went Wham!, taking a big chunk out of it. His eyes got real big and he immediately wanted the knife. Once an elder had one of my knives and showed everybody that it worked, they all wanted one. And that’s how I got in with the Inuit people. Several years later, in 2003, they made me their great Knife Shaman because I make a good knife. No bad shiny knife.”

So a drawing was created by Inuit artist Ame Papatsie and the elders all got together and said, ‘We want George to be the Knife Shaman.’

Detail of
Detail of “The Legend of Kujiak” by Ame Papatsie. Used with permission. Photo by Christian Kuntz. All rights reserved.

In the Inuit culture, everything’s a story – how things happen is always shared by storytelling. So they created the legend of the journey of Kujiak. This modern-day Kudjiak is me.” It’s part of history now. One day, it’ll be in an Inuit book somewhere. People tell the story whenever they do storytelling. It’s a legend now.”

It’s an old-day, modern-day legend, and George tells the story in a humble way, because it is an honor that must be respected. He continues to sell his knives to the Inuit and to people of all nationalities around the world.

SerenaK image logo
Serena Kovalosky
is the owner-producer at Artful Vagabond Productions LLC, specializing in cultural projects, exhibitions and films on visual arts. Kovalosky is also a professional sculptural artist and curator.

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