Sunday, December 16, 2007


"Ikki" is the Inuktitut word for cold. Said with the right inflection, it means "really damn cold". That's an apt description for the last couple days: -26C, -40 some with the wind-chill factor. Getting dressed to buy eggs takes longer than it took to write this sentence! I have not yet resorted to the snow goggles, but the day is coming. There's no other way to keep my nose warm. Even the balaclava does not totally cut it. I am starting to look forward to a Christmas of -8C in TO. In the meantime, it's cookies and hot chocolate to keep the cold away.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Inuit watch and remember by Noah Richler New Statesman December 17, 2007

A winter's day as Igloolik knows it. The cold is crisp, the sky dark andclear. Outside, it is ­40°, a temperature at which it does not matter ifthe scale reads Celsius or Fahrenheit. It is December in the southerncalendar, but the beginning of Tauvikjuaq in the Inuit one. This smallNunavut community in northern Canada, established in the 1950s - when theInuit were encouraged, and sometimes coerced, into moving off the land andinto permanent settlements - sits at the north-eastern side of theMelville Peninsula and across the water from Baffin Island, just inside69° latitude. The snow-encrusted land around it, bluish and untrammelled,stretches out flatly in all directions like an upside-down plate. Thehorizon, its distant rim, is an incandescent, silvery white. Before the arrival of Qallunaat - the white man - Tauvikjuaq was the timewhen the Inuit were likely to be assembled in camps, the weather inclementand their supplies often running out. The sun, which fell below thehorizon at the end of November, would not be seen again for several weeks.In the old days it was a time of storytelling, when Elders would amuse thechildren with games, and long hours passed in the handing down from onegeneration to the next of Inuit lore, history and folk knowledge. AfterTauvikjuaq, the Inuit nervously awaited the return of the sun, which meanta return of the light and that the year was starting afresh. Today, science trumps Inuit lore and the old ways are renderedincreasingly useless, not just by the trappings of modern living, but byclimate change and the soaring value of the territory's resources. Now thenarrow strait that separates Igloolik from Baffin Island freezes later, sothat the caribou herds roaming there cannot reliably be hunted untilJanuary, and GPS systems have replaced stories that were used to navigatethe land and speak of its properties, guiding not just hunters, but shipsand prospectors through. When the Inuit do hunt, this is what they find: the work ofdiamond-mining, uranium, hydroelectric, oil and gas pipeline companiesaltering the migration of the caribou herds from Mackenzie to Labrador,affecting the organisation of the land as dramatically as whalers did acentury ago. Now, as then, there is a competition of governments eager forresources: the Russians claim the seabed, the Danes plant flags, andChinese vessels visit. Canada's north is no longer open. Now it is"territory", and the country's prime minister, Stephen Harper, has setabout defending it - planning a deepwater port where frigates can stop atIqaluit and sending in military patrols. >From the settlements, the Inuit watch. Zacha rias Kunuk is the director ofthe remarkable film Atanarjuat: the Fast Runner. When I met him in hisIgloolik office, he spent most of the time staring out the window acrossthe frozen water, to Baffin, where his father was hunting. "Is our storylost?" he asked. "I look around and it's still the same world, still thesame animals, still winter every year, but now there's all this talk ofglobal warming and PCBs [persistent industrial pollutants], there'smercury in our fish - why, why?" Igloolik is a "dry" community: its temperance has contributed to itshealthy social ties and cultural flourishing. But still it must contendwith change - and the forgetting. "Today, in Igloolik, there's TV andradio, there's hockey and there's light," said John MacDonald, a residentof the Arctic since 1959. "There are more distractions - a different tempoand different obligations. The very nature of the community is changing." "All the hunters take radios with them when they go," said anotherneighbour, Louis Tapardjuk, "so everybody is constantly informed. There'sno good stories coming back from the land any more." Tapardjuk sighed."Memory is so different now." When I visited Igloolik, a nurse's van parked outside one Elder's houseindicated another death and more of the old knowledge irretrievably lost.A plume of smoke rose from the chimney of the late woman's home, andwended its way through wires tying her house to a world thousands of milesaway - but disconnecting her from her community. [Noah Richler's "This Is My Country, What's Yours? A Literary Atlas ofCanada" ( McClelland & Stewart) won the 2007 British Columbia Award forCanadian Non-Fiction and is available through

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Yellow, Gjo, and Talo...Oh My

My second circuit proved even more eventful than the first. It all started out fairly inauspisciously with a flight to Yellowknife through Rankin Inlet. Us Baffin Island/Eastern Arctic dwellers have to fly to Yellowknife to hit the Western Arctic. Strange but true. We had one moment of foreshadowing of what was to come: my colleague did lose his "action packer" rubbermaid filled with his personal luggage en route (an omen of things that followed).

In Yellowknife, Karen Lajoie took me out for a night on the town. It started with dinner at Bullock's Bistro, a well-known spot famous mainly for its fish dishes. I bucked the trend (ha ha) and decided to try the muskox. It was a muskox kebab with some yummy teriyaki marinade. It was delicious and came with lovely white bread, french fries, and greek salad. Also, I drank honey brown lager. Out of a bottle no less. Then, we went to Le Frolic for dessert where I discovered that strawberry-rhubarb can be really, really good. The next day was an explore Yellowknife, drink coffee, check out the NWT Xmas dinner-dance kind of day.

Much restored after all this weekend of urban adventure, we headed to Gjoa Haven--first stop on a two part circuit that would also take us to Taloyoak. Both Gjoa Haven, population approximately 1 000, and Taloyoak, population 870ish, are in the "Kitikmeot", a.k.a the Western Arctic. It's a lot colder in those climes, around -31C or so this time of year. I spent most of my time changing into and put of expedition-weight winter gear. And hiding in my parka.

Gjoa Haven actually has its own legal aid office where a lone lawyer toils bravely to represent, well, everyone. Otherwise, lawyers fly in from Yellowknife to do duty counsel work. All was well in Gjo on Day 1 of court. Matters were spoken to, sentences submissions were heard, the Justice Committee consulted. The next morning, however, a wee storm blew in causing disruption so that there was no water at our hotel and court broke a couple of times due to a blackouts. Citizens of Gjoa Haven were apparently worse off than us, however, because on the evening of Day 2, they filled the Community Hall where we held court so that the next morning the only place to hold court was the hotel boardroom. So, we did. I ran my first trial with unshaded hotel lamps to light my submissions. I think the lighting added somewhat to the drama during then voluntariness voir dire when I looked up and asked the police officer, "Did you at any time have recourse to, or gesture at your sidearm, constable?" Response: "No, I did not." It was something. But not as much something as riding with the entire court party, my co-counsel, the pilots, and defence counsel (and all our luggage, including Xmas baking supplies) out to the airport in a white cube truck. As we all stood and hung on the wooden rails nailed on the side while the truck rounded corners. As we entered the airport, the court reporter turned and said, "You do realize, this is how people smuggle themselves into our country?"

We waited a long time for our smuggler's boat, however. The visibility on the runway was variable and the pilots would not head out until it reached at least 3/4 of a mile. A 1/2 mile is what you need for take-off. The airport had issues keeping the power up and, for a while, we thought we would be stranded there because we could not get out and the town of Gjoa Haven was officially in a state of emergency. Half the town had no power and those citizens were being evacuated so they would not freeze to death. Finally, we got our 3/4 mile and after a long taxi (to account for the momentary blackout of the runway lights), we took off. Twenty minutes later, we were in Taloyoak.

After our Gjoa Haven adventure, Taloyoak was all charm, hot cocoa, and homemade cookies--literally. The chef there makes these awesome shortbread balls and hot, fried bannock that broke down all my resolve to eat healthy. After a hot shower, I reveled in delicious refined carbs, though it was a frenetic day of court and some poor accused were remanded back into custody without the court ever getting to their matters. My nerves worn after a long day and mindful of the cookie and big slab of bannock I'd had at lunch, I hauled the circuit bag back to the hotel on the icy road. Two kids pulling a toboggan came alongside me and asked, "what's your name?". I'm friendly, so in our chat my new little friend, Samantha, says "What are you doing? Don't you have a car?" To which I replied, "What's the matter, haven't you ever seem a kudlunah pull a bag in the snow before?" At their turnoff, Samantha and her friend left me, pausing to look back as I trudged up a hill. I waved. Then, I heard, "lookout, Jeanette, there's a car!" Bless them. Little did they know one of those cars, a big old van, in fact, would stop to give me a ride up to the hotel. Mike, if you are out there, you are my hero.

I am happy to report that that was the final adventure of the trip. We flew home in our little charter, tired but successful. I crawled into the bath and then into bed, where I enjoyed dreams of calorie-free bannock.