Vignette: Iqaluit, Nunavut

September 16, 2008

The Road to Nowhere is officially marked on maps of Iqaluit, Nunavut, and included on taxi tours of this northern capital. The self mocking de-locational indicator ‘nowhere’ is turned on its head becoming the Road to Everywhere, when viewed from the standpoint of a circumpolar map. The Road to Nowhere winds up and over the hills that nestle the hamlet. In the spring, it attracts Iqaluimmiut for weekend hikes, flying kites or rock collecting. The thin, worn, seemingly fragile carpet of undergrowth covers the granite hills. Dwarf willow and lichen cling closely to the spongy earth. Caribou droppings reveal their presence in the hills. The blue sky is piercing. A snow bunting flits by. Its clear melody cuts deftly into the tufts of wind. The panorama from the side of the road reveals Koojesse Inlet, still frozen under several metres of ice. Snow machines have traced a complicated web of trails leading from these hills through the hamlet, onto the ice and off into the distance. Some are out for an afternoon of touring while others are equipped with hunting rifles and komatik . Some venture as far as Kimmirut or Pangnirtung, one, two or three sleeps away. The snowmobile trails encircle the cluster of small islands in the Bay, including Dog Island where sled dogs were once kept during the summer months. The layers of hills beyond Koojesse Inlet appear and disappear with the shifting winds and veils of clouds, mist and snow.

Picture a traditional stretched skin leaning against the house, a snow machine with country food wrapped in sealskin being unpacked outside a small home and a large satellite dish on the roof. Picture a hunter returning home on foot, after a day spent near the ice floes, walking along with a rifle in one arm talking on his cell phone. Picture a child-sized brightly coloured snow machine with a round-faced little girl encircling two houses tracing endlessly repeated infinity symbols. Picture the entire community filling a community hall —- elders, teenagers, and young mothers with babies in amautiit — gathered to grieve. Life crises, such as youth suicides — and even an unsolved murder of a young woman — are an integral part of the shadow side of modernization in Canadian aboriginal and Inuit communities.

In Iqaluit, the Inuit population is diverse. There are more youth and children than in southern Canadian communities. There is a small pocket of people who are from the region. However, numerous others come from Broughton Island, Pangnirtung, Pond Inlet and many other hamlets across Baffin Island and beyond. They bring with them accents and histories that are not shared. There are uni-lingual hunters and elders, college students and professors, technicians, political figures and highly successful professionals — all the social classes are represented. There are many who produce arts and crafts.

In Iqaluit, there are some qabloonaat who have lived in the north for thirty years — the old-timer/newcomers — others just thirty days. Flows of money, goods, information and people arrive at the airport. Iqaluit is experiencing a boom that rapidly outgrew its housing capacity. Among these other northerners, accents reveal a diversity of origins. Many are first generation northerners. Some came from the east, from Greenland, Iceland, Ireland, Finland, Russia and the Faeroe Islands. Others came north from Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Quebec. There are northerners whose families originated in India, Sri Lanka, Somalia and the Caribbean. One of the larger communities within the Iqaluit community is French-speaking. Almost all the taxi drivers and construction workers come from Quebec. Their Association is engaged, experienced and energetic. As a result, this small community has its own French school. Environment Canada in Iqaluit provides blizzard warnings in two languages, English and French… not Inuktitut. Taped on the dash of one Pai Pa taxi, is a torn, coloured snap shot of a house in Quebec City. The twenty-six-year-old driver is paying off his mortgage one $4.50 fare at a time.

Notes

Iqaluit is the seat of the Legislative Assembly of Nunavut Government, Federal agencies, CLEY, the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, Municipal government and the home of the president of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference among others. The capital of Nunavut is a community of communities (O’Malley 1999).

Flynn-Burhoe, Maureen. 2003-06-06. Vignette: Iqaluit, Nunavut.

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Aflicktion: The Wreck of Hope

Originally uploaded by ocean.flynn.

Flynn-Burhoe, Maureen. 2007. “Nanuq of the North II: Animal Rights vs Human Rights.” Speechless. Uploaded January 3, 2007.

The Bush administration took advantage of the way in which all eyes turn towards Santa’s North Pole, where big-eyed talking polar bears, reindeer and seals live in harmony, to announce that they would save these creatures from Nanook of the North. See story.
For a divergent point of view read Nunatsiak News article.

Nanook (nanuq Inuktitut for polar bear) was the name of the Eskimo hunter captured on film in the first documentary ever produced, Robert Flaherty’s (1922) Nanook of the North , — still shown in film studies survey courses. Nanook the Stone Age-20the century hunter became an international legend as a lively, humourous and skillful hunter of polar bears, seals and white fox who tried to bite into the vinyl record Flaherty had brought with him. (The real “Nanook” died of tuberculosis (Stern 2004:23) as did countless Inuit from small communities ravaged by one of the worst epidemic’s of tuberculosis on the planet.)

On August 13, 1942 in Walt Disney studios’ canonical animated film Bambi it was revealed that many animals with cute eyes could actually talk and therefore shared human values. Nanook and his kind became the arch enemy of three generations of urban North Americans and Europeans. Hunters were bad. Cute-eyed animals that could talk were good. Today many animals’ lives have been saved from these allegedly cruel hunters by the billion dollar cute-eyed-talking-animals-industry.

The White House has once again come to the rescue of these vulnerable at-risk animals. (There was an entire West Wing episode in which a gift of moose meat was rejected by all staff since it came from a big-eyed-talking-animal. See Ejesiak and Flynn-Burhoe (2005) for more on how the urban debates pitting animal rights against human rights impacted on the Inuit.) Who would ever have suspected that the Bush administration cared so much about the environment that they would urge an end to the polar bear hunt, already a rare phenomenon to many Inuit since their own quotas protected them?

When I lived in the north the danger for polar bears did not reside in the hearts of hunters. Nanuq the polar bear who could not talk was starving. He hung out around hamlets like Churchill, Baker Lake or Iqaluit, looking for garbage since this natural habitat was unpredictable as the climate changed. Some people even insisted that there was no danger from the polar bear who had wandered into town since he was ’skinny.’ That did not reassure me! I would have preferred to know that he was fat, fluffy and well-fed. Polar bears die from exhaustion trying to swim along their regular hunting routes as ice floes they used to be able to depend on melted into thin air literally. They die, not because there are not enough seals but because they need platform ice in the right seasons. That platform ice is disappearing. They die with ugly massive tumours in them developed from eating char, seals and other Arctic prey whose bodies are riddled with southern toxins that have invaded the pristine, vulnerable northern ecosystem. Nanuq is dying a slow painful death. Nanuq is drowning. Although he doesn’t sing he is a canary for us all.

Climate change and southern industrial toxins affect the fragile ecosystem of the Arctic first. The Inuit claimed in 2003,“Global warming is killing us too, say Inuit .”This is why Sheila Watt-Cloutier laid a law suit against the administration of the United States of America. Now the handful of Job-like Inuit who managed to survive the seal hunt fiasco of the 1980s and are still able hunt polar bear, will have yet another barrier put between them and the ecosystem they managed and protected for millennia. When I see Baroque art and read of the Enlightenment, I think Hudson’s Bay and the whalers in the north. It wasn’t the Inuit who caused the mighty leviathan to become endangered. Just how enlightened are we, the great grandchildren of the settlers today? Who is taking care of our Other grandparents?

Since the first wave of Inuit activists flooded the Canadian research landscape fueled by their frustrations with academic Fawlty Towers they morphed intergenerational keen observation of details, habits of memory, oral traditions and determination with astute use of artefacts and archives to produce focused and forceful research. When Sheila Watt-Cloutier representing the Inuit Circumpolar Conference (ICC) was acknowledged with two awards in one year for work done to protect the environment, I wondered how many cheered her on.

I don’t cheer so much anymore. I am too overwhelmed, too hopeless to speak. I myself feel toxic, perhaps another pollutant from the south — my name is despair. I don’t want to dampen the enthusiasm of those activists who still have courage to continue. For myself, I feel like the last light of the whale-oil-lit kudlik is Flicktering and there is a blizzard outside.

Footnotes:

From wikipedia entry Sheila Watt-Cloutier

In 2002, Watt-Cloutier was elected[1][4] International Chair of ICC, a position she would hold until 2006[1]. Most recently, her work has emphasized the human face of the impacts of global climate change in the Arctic. In addition to maintaining an active speaking and media outreach schedule, she has launched the world’s first international legal action on climate change. On December 7, 2005, based on the findings of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, which projects that Inuit hunting culture may not survive the loss of sea ice and other changes projected over the coming decades, she filed a petition, along with 62 Inuit Hunters and Elders from communities across Canada and Alaska, to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, alleging that unchecked emissions of greenhouse gases from the United States have violated Inuit cultural and environmental human rights as guaranteed by the 1948 American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man.[5]

2. See also David Ewing Duncan’s “Bush’s Polar-Bear Problem” Technology Review: The Authority on the Future of Technology. From MIT. Information on Emerging Technologies. March 09, 2007. Duncan claims “The administration tells scientists attending international meetings not to discuss polar bears, climate change, or sea ice.”

Note:

See We Feel Fine for innovative use of this image in an upcoming publication.

Digitage elements:

Caspar David Friedrich’s (1824) The Sea of Ice
Tujjaat Resolution Island, abandoned, DEW line station DINA Northern Contaminated Sites Program (CSP) web site
My photo of ice floes in Charlottetown harbour, March 2000
A section of my acrylic painting entitled Nukara (2000)

Selected Bibliography

Eilperin, Juliet. (2006). ““U.S. Wants Polar Bears Listed as Threatened.” Washington Post Staff Writer. Wednesday, December 27, 2006; Page A01

Fekete, Jason. 2008. “Nunavut opposes anti-polar bear hunt movement in U.S.” Calgary Herald. May 29, 2008

Gertz, Emily. 2005. The Snow Must Go On. Inuit fight climate change with human-rights claim against U.S. Grist: Environmental News and Commentary. 26 Jul 2005.

The Guardian. 2003. ““Inuit to launch human rights case against the Bush Administration.”

Stern, Pamela R. 2004. Historical Dictionary of the Inuit. Lanham, MD:Scarecrow Press.

DEW line contaminated sites in Nunavut.

www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,3604,1104241,00….

www.grist.org/news/maindish/2005/07/26/gertz-inuit/index….

This will be updated from EndNote. If you require a specific reference please leave a comment on this page.

Creative Commons Canadian Copyright 2.5 BY-NC-SA.

On Feb. 6 — three days before FWS’s new deadline — the Minerals Management Service (MMS), also part of the Interior Department, plans to lease 30 million acres for oil and gas drilling in the Chukchi Sea bordering Alaska, where one-fifth of the world’s remaining polar bears live. The Market, the State and Civil Society are again focusing on big-eyed talking animals to capture global attention.

read more | digg story

ocean.flynn @ Flickr.

Dramatic images from NASA and the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado in Boulder reveal disturbing changes to the homelands of circumpolar Inuit. Rotten sea ice prevents access to resources. The amount of ice loss this year absolutely stunned CU-Boulder senior cryospheric scientist Mark Serreze of NSIDC.

read more | digg story

Sea ice extent continues to decline, and is now at 4.24 million square kilometers (1.63 million square miles), falling yet further below the previous record absolute minimum of 5.32 million square kilometers (2.05 million square miles) that occurred on Se

Key words, tags, folksonomies: environment, science, weather, Nunavut, circumpolar Inuit, Inuit social histories, climate change,

National Snow and Ice Data Center. 2007.

Flynn-Burhoe, Maureen. 2007. “Nanuq of the North II: Animal Rights vs Human Rights.” Speechless. Uploaded January 3, 2007.

Finally in December 2006 Bush blinks, but why now? The Bush administration took advantage of the way in which all eyes turn towards Santa’s North Pole, where big-eyed talking polar bears, reindeer and seals live in harmony, to announce that they would save these creatures from Nanook of the North. Is this for the environment or for votes? See story.

read more | digg story

Nanook (nanuq Inuktitut for polar bear) was the name of the Eskimo hunter captured on film in the first documentary ever produced, Robert Flaherty’s (1922?) Nanook of the North, — still shown in film studies survey courses. Nanook the Stone Age-20the century hunter became an international legend as a lively, humourous and skillful hunter of polar bears, seals and white fox who tried to bite into the vinyl record Flaherty had brought with him. (The real “Nanook” died of tuberculosis as did countless Inuit from small communities ravaged by one of the worst epidemic’s of tuberculosis on the planet.)

On August 13, 1942 in Walt Disney studios’ canonical animated film Bambi it was revealed that many animals with cute eyes could actually talk and therefore shared human values. Nanook and his kind became the arch enemy of three generations of urban North Americans and Europeans. Hunters were bad. Cute-eyed animals that could talk were good. Today many animals’ lives have been saved from these allegedly cruel hunters by the billion dollar cute-eyed-talking-animals-industry.

The White House has once again come to the rescue of these vulnerable at-risk animals. (There was an entire West Wing episode in which a gift of moose meat was rejected by all staff since it came from a big-eyed-talking-animal. See Ejesiak and Flynn-Burhoe (2005) for more on how the urban debates pitting animal rights against human rights impacted on the Inuit.) Who would ever have suspected that the Bush administration cared so much about the environment that they would urge an end to the polar bear hunt, already a rare phenomenon to many Inuit since their own quotas protected them?

When I lived in the north the danger for polar bears did not reside in the hearts of hunters. Nanuq the polar bear who could not talk was starving. He hung out around hamlets like Churchill, Baker Lake or Iqaluit, looking for garbage since this natural habitat was unpredicatable as the climate changed. Some people even insisted that there was no danger from the polar bear who had wandered into town since he was ’skinny.’ That did not reassure me! I would have preferred to know that he was fat, fluffly and well-fed. Polar bears die from exhaustion trying to swim along their regular hunting routes as ice floes they used to be able to depend on melted into thin air literally. They die, not because there are not enough seals but because they need platform ice in the right seasons. That platform ice is disappearing. They die with ugly massive tumours in them developed from eating char, seals and other Arctic prey whose bodies are riddled with southern toxins that have invaded the pristine, vulnerable northern ecosystem. Nanuq is dying a slow painful death. Nanuq is drowning. Although he doesn’t sing he is a canary for us all.

Climate change and southern industrial toxins affect the fragile ecosystem of the Arctic first. The Inuit claimed in 2003,“Global warming is killing us too, say Inuit .”This is why Sheila Watt-Cloutier laid a law suit against the administration of the United States of America. Now the handful of Job-like Inuit who managed to survive the seal hunt fiasco of the 1980s and are still able hunt polar bear, will have yet another barrier put between them and the ecosystem they managed and protected for millennia. When I see Baroque art and read of the Enlightenment, I think Hudson’s Bay and the whalers in the north. It wasn’t the Inuit who caused the mighty leviathan to become endangered. Just how enlightened are we, the great grandchildren of the settlers today? Who is taking care of our Other grandparents?

Since the first wave of Inuit activists flooded the Canadian research landscape fueled by their frustrations with academic Fawlty Towers they morphed intergenerational keen observation of details, habits of memory, oral traditions and determination with astute use of artefacts and archives to produce focused and forceful research. When Sheila Watt-Cloutier representing the Inuit Circumpolar Conference (ICC) was acknowledged with two awards in one year for work done to protect the environment, I wondered how many cheered her on.

I don’t cheer so much anymore. I am too overwhelmed, too hopeless to speak. I myself feel toxic, perhaps another pollutant from the south — my name is despair. I don’t want to dampen the enthusiasm of those activists who still have courage to continue. For myself, I feel like the last light of the whale-oil-lit kudlik is Flicktering and there is a blizzard outside.

Footnotes:

From wikipedia entry Sheila Watt-Cloutier

In 2002, Watt-Cloutier was elected[1][4] International Chair of ICC, a position she would hold until 2006[1]. Most recently, her work has emphasized the human face of the impacts of global climate change in the Arctic. In addition to maintaining an active speaking and media outreach schedule, she has launched the world’s first international legal action on climate change. On December 7, 2005, based on the findings of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, which projects that Inuit hunting culture may not survive the loss of sea ice and other changes projected over the coming decades, she filed a petition, along with 62 Inuit Hunters and Elders from communities across Canada and Alaska, to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, alleging that unchecked emissions of greenhouse gases from the United States have violated Inuit cultural and environmental human rights as guaranteed by the 1948 American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man.[5]

Digitage elements:

Caspar David Friedrich’s (1824) The Sea of Ice
Tujjaat Resolution Island, abandoned, DEW line station DINA Northern Contaminated Sites Program (CSP) web site
My photo of ice floes in Charlottetown harbour, March 2000
A section of my acrylic painting entitled Nukara (2000)

Selected Bibliography

Eilperin, Juliet. (2006). ““U.S. Wants Polar Bears Listed as Threatened.” Washington Post Staff Writer. Wednesday, December 27, 2006; Page A01

Gertz, Emily. 2005. The Snow Must Go On. Inuit fight climate change with human-rights claim against U.S. Grist: Environmental News and Commentary. 26 Jul 2005.

The Guardian. 2003. ““Inuit to launch human rights case against the Bush Administration.”

DEW line contaminated sites in Nunavut.

www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,3604,1104241,00….

www.grist.org/news/maindish/2005/07/26/gertz-inuit/index….

This will be updated from EndNote. If you require a specific reference please leave a comment on this page.

Creative Commons Canadian Copyright 2.5 BY-NC-SA.