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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