|Kathleen Merritt and Nelson Tagoona on the mic in Rankin Inlet (2015)|
These are all complex questions, much as they would be anywhere else on earth, but made more so by the unique gifts and difficulties of the Arctic. Goods and services are expensive -- goods have to be flown or shipped up, and getting services provided -- from water delivery to health care -- is also more costly, simply in terms of either A) Training and education so that more Inuit and other residents can do the jobs needed; or B) Flying trained people up there. On my way back from my last summer's voyages, I met a young man who was one of Nunavut's fire inspectors; his job was to inspect all public buildings and accommodations -- schools, health centers, and so forth -- for fire safety. He had to be flown into and out from dozens of small hamlets, accommodated (doubtless at an Inns North, where a room can run $200 a night, and a single meal costs $60) and fed throughout the year, just to perform a service that, down south, would require nothing more than a pickup truck, gas, and maybe a night or two at a Motel 6.
And there's much that needs doing. Every social and ecological issue we have down here is present, and often more severe. Secondhand smoke from cigarettes, to take one example, is many times worse in northern houses that are pre-fabricated to be practically airtight. Suicide has touched nearly every family. The general lack of jobs -- unemployment in many communities hovers around 30% or higher -- fuels drug and alcohol abuse among the young. The sheer cost of getting from one place to another makes even a simple family holiday a costly challenge. Within Inuit culture, which emphasises the value of community, these problems resonate in a singular manner -- one way I've put it is simply to say that, among the Inuit, there simply are no bystanders. To be proximate to pain, or loss, is to feel it deeply, fundamentally -- and that pain can drive people to many hard passes. And, if a young Inuk does find his or her way to university or a career, this often comes at the cost of having to live many miles from family and friends.
So how can we learn more -- and possibly do more -- about some of these problems? We can start by reading the Nunatsiaq News, as well as other sources (CBC North, the Alaska Dispatch News, Eye on the Arctic). We can also make virtual visits to many communities, to their schools and health centres, as well as gather information from the Government of Nunavut (GN) in Iqaluit. One of the issues we'll look at in class is the impact of the great expansion in Arctic expedition cruises -- there are good articles on the subject here and here and here, and AECO -- the Association of Arctic Cruise Operators -- offers guidelines and information on their site. See also this video produced by VICE news, which featurs an interview with my friend Eena Maktar of Pond Inlet.