I am a ‘Friend’ of a group on Facebook called Helping Our Northern Neighbours, which works to link families in Nunavut with people in the southern latitudes of Canada to supplement the food and other supplies they need. Diapers, clothing, treats and so on, the costs are so high, but access is also completely out of reach for many folks. A recent posting from a person in the Toronto area who is just discovering a bit about the realities people live with in the North has fuelled a long discussion thread on the site which demonstrates how little people know but also how willing they are to learn.
It has been my desire during this time of outpouring of support to the refugees to find a way to link or parallel an increased understanding about folks right here in Canada who live with food security challenges among other things, particularly our first peoples, who are often living in refugee-camp-like conditions on their own land. I’ve had my own consciousness raised about Nunavut and the far North in general through the work I did over three years at Langara College, and I continue to learn about the issues and the possibilities through the ongoing friendships I was able to build despite not meeting most of these people in person nor actually being able to travel to their land.
I posted my own comment to the FB thread and am copying it here as well, for sharing and discussing and reminding…
It is wonderful to see so many people commenting and adding to the knowledge and understanding of their fellow Canadians. There is a lot more to learn about this complex environment.
There are no land routes to truck supplies to most Nunavut communities. Supplies are brought in by barge a couple of times a year and this depends on weather and ice conditions which can delay the trip for days or weeks. Shipping by air is the alternative, and you have seen the costs for that. There are cooperatives and food banks in some communities that help a bit, as do Helping Our Northern Neighbours and other programs. This all applies to building supplies, office supplies, portable classrooms, trucks and ski-doos, everything. There are no trees to build with. The permafrost on which things are build must be managed very carefully or the ground itself can cause building failure. Garbage and other waste cannot be trucked away, dug into pits or left to compost without extra help. Think how casually we deal with our own sewage in the south, and ponder.
The population of Nunavut (I think only 35,000 people) is located around a vast geography, and there are times of year when air is the only way in or out of villages. For many of these villages, the distance to the next habitation is too far for ski-doo in winter or small boat travel in summer. There are small airlines that keep the connection in much the same way that we used to rely on Greyhound. But at a greater cost, and higher risk.
Climate change – including the increased flow of fresh water into Hudson’s Bay from northern Quebec – is changing the ice pack and ability of animals to migrate and sustain themselves. Which affects the ability of Inuit people (and I mean teachers and office workers and retail store clerks, not throwbacks to an older time) to hunt caribou and seal and narwhal to supplement their diets with game. Country food is very important to Inuit people culturally but also gives much needed nutrition).
The resettlement of Inuit communities by the Canadian government to northern locations in order to maintain sovereignty over the Arctic had little regard for whether land and sea food sources existed in the area. But people have survived and are forgiving, wanting to find solutions that work to the benefit of everyone. Nunavut is self-governing, and is working hard to develop beyond the dependencies created by all these things. Corruption may exist here as anywhere, but for the majority of people who have put themselves forward, the challenges are very complex and yes, there is a lot of baggage, but there are few people more resilient than the indigenous people north of 60. Stay open to the possibilities, rather than reinforce the hopeless negatives about government, and we might be in the right frame of mind to be of help to that process, even if we don’t go there in person.
For three years I worked on a project with Inuit people, without ever being able to travel to Iqaluit with my other colleagues, but I have still learned so much from the friends I have made. I recommend watching APTN, which carries numerous documentaries and other programs by and about the artic, it’s people and issues. Lots of very creative and talented individuals have work available to see and learn from there. Instead of ‘Yes, but…’, let us be the ones who say ‘Yes, and…’