Social colonization: primary root cause of TB among aboriginal populations

Elaine Randell (Communicable Disease Consultant, Department of Health and Social Services, Government of Nunavut, Canadian Public Health Association) presented evidence at the Senate hearing on Health in April 2010. She argued that,

“To fully understand the pattern of TB in most aboriginal populations in Canada, it’s important for us to understand the history of TB among this group, where the epidemic came from, as well as the social determinants of health that significantly contribute to the continuing high rates of infection and disease.

Contact with European merchants and traders in Canada occurred in sequence, beginning with the Atlantic provinces in the 16th century, Ontario and Quebec in the 17th century, the Pacific provinces in the 18th century, the prairies in the 19th century, and the territories in the 20th century. Contact in the territories began in the west in Yukon, and to the east, which is now Nunavut. The subsequent wave of settlement that followed this changed the way that aboriginal populations lived, from small, isolated, mobile groups to large groups living in settlements and stationary.
This social colonization was what provided the vector for the spread of tuberculosis. The earlier the epidemic began, the sooner it reached its peak and began to fall, until the last 15 years or so, as we’ve heard, which is why we see the pattern of TB rates we have amongst aboriginal populations, the rates being lowest amongst the population where the social colonization occurred earliest and highest in areas such as Nunavut, where it occurred most recently.
Inadequacies in the social determinants of health are key in continuing the cycle of outbreaks and high rates of TB among aboriginal populations. Crowded and inadequately ventilated housing increases transmission. I’m aware of situations in which infectious cases have been recorded in houses with 13 people or more, including young children, who are especially vulnerable. The rate of transmission in these situations is very high. Those without housing move from home to home as guests, thus increasing the number of people who are exposed and infected. Long periods of cold weather and darkness in the north lead to longer periods of time spent indoors in crowded and inadequately ventilated housing. This leads to increased exposure and shared air space and subsequent increase in transmission. Poor nutritional status increases risk of progression from infection to disease. In many remote communities, selection of nutritious foods such as fresh vegetables and fruits is extremely limited and prohibitively expensive. Programs such as food mail that provide access to more nutritious foods are easily accessed by people who have credit cards, but many Inuit don’t have credit cards and don’t even have bank accounts.
Delayed diagnosis of infectious cases results in prolonged exposure time for contacts. Diagnosis is delayed when regions don’t have local diagnostic capabilities and expertise.
Some remote communities lack continuity of health care providers. A successful TB program is dependent on a relationship of trust between the residents in the community and their health care providers. This requires continuity of staff and health care workers who are experienced and trained in early detection of tuberculosis.
Social colonization is the primary root cause of TB among aboriginal populations. Issues related to the social determinants of health, which include crowded and inadequate housing, poor nutritional status, and lack of continuity of health care providers, are the root causes of continued high rates amongst Inuit. TB rates in Europe began to fall even before the introduction of the first medications, with improvements to standards of living. By addressing issues such as poverty, housing, and access to health care and nutritious food, we can expect the same to happen here.”

Who’s Who

Randell, Elaine. 2010-04-20. “Social Colonization.” Evidence. Standing Committee on Health. 40th Parliament, Government of Canada. 3rd Session. Paragraph 1903660.

Shape-Shifting and Other Points of Convergence: Inuit Art and Digital Technologies

Flynn-Burhoe, Maureen. 1999. “Shape-Shifting and Other Points of Convergence: Inuit Art and Digital Technologies.” Art Libraries Journal. 24/3:38-41. [1]

Western thinking which is predominantly linear and analytical, does not adequately give access to the complexities of Inuit visual culture. However, hypertext offers new possibilities for information management, and the aboriginal communities are using it creatively to share information, for example in the Internet record of the development of Canada’s newest territory, Nunavut. This article examines how and why interactive multimedia were the means chosen to develop a master’s thesis on the Inuit artist Jessie Oonark.

While Inuit culture encircle the circumpolar section of four nations: Canada, Denmark, Russia and the United States, it is in Canada that Inuit art production has grown exponentially over the past fifty years into a multi-million dollar cultural industry. The Inuit Art Bibliography, compiled and published in 1996 by the Inuit Art Section of the Department of Northern Affairs, includes over two thousand entries. This is surprisingly large in proportion to the size of the population: there are 40, 900 Inuit living in Canada’s north. Nunavut, encompassing 360, 000 square kilometres, is the largest and newest of the three Canadian Arctic territories.

From dog sleds to snow machines to digital connections, the Inuit continue to adapt technologies for their needs. Today more Nunavummiut per capita use computers and the Internet than in any other region of Canada. On my computer in southern Canada, I can follow the official April 1st opening ceremonies in the new capital of Iqaluit, Nunavut through the satellite communication link. I could read about it in the Nunatsiak News web page or I could participate in person at the Museum of Civilization, Hull, Quebec and be part of a live broadcast also available on the Internet.

Jessie Oonark

Jessie Oonark (1906-1985) Una or Unaaq lived the traditional hunter-nomadic life of the Inuit for almost fifty years. But in the 1950s her Keewatin home, in the region west of Hudson’s Bay, was devastated by famine after the disappearance of the herds of caribou which had previously supplied basic needs. Survivors of this disaster like Jessie Oonark, a widow with children, settled in emerging small permanent hamlets like Baker Lake Qamanittuaq, now in Nunavut. Here small-scale carving and printmaking co-operatives were developed to supplement income. In Baker Lake, in a matchbox house, Jessie Oonark produced wall hangings, drawings and prints that single her out as one of Canada’s greatest artists. Her internationally-renowned wall hangings echo the iconography and techniques of the appliqué and inlays of traditional skin clothing. In 1975 she was elected to the Royal Canadian Academy of the Arts, and the year before she died she received Canada’s highest award, the Order of Canada.

Today most Baker Lake community graphic artists continue to use rich palettes of coloured melton, duffle, coloured pencils, printers ink and paint. Jessie Oonark’s children continue her artistic legacy: her son William Noah has experimented with computer graphics to represent the vivid, spectacular colours of the sky over the mountain tundra.

Inuit legend

Jessie Oonark’s work presents us with a different vision of the world, a new way of seeing. Her visual imagery reflected her traditional spirituality, her thought processes, and the Inuktitut language. When she spoke she talked in circles, turning the subject to many sides as she communicated all the necessary information to her peers in imagery reminiscent of the fluid, space-changing and shape-shifting nature of oral legend. In an Inuit story (unikkaaqtuaq) ambiguous key figures shift to human and animal forms within one story. A story can begin at the end, or particular episodes of a legend can be struck in the middle of a large story or cycle of legends. Anthropologist Charles Moore suggests that essentially the same myths and legends are told right across the North but vary considerably from region to region (Flynn-Burhoe 1999:38) both in detail and in form. These variations may have occurred as stories were shared at great meeting places such as Akilineq in the Keewatin.

The Sedna (nuliayuk, taleleeyo) legend, the theme of countless works of art, illustrates this. In this story, which has hundreds of regional variations, a young woman who refuses to marry is punished. Her punishment transforms her into a being so feared and respected by the land dwellers who once oppressed her that their lives centre around appeasing her. Most often her brutalized fingers become whales, walrus and seals which she then controls. Referring to her 1974 drawing and print Big Woman, Jessie Oonark told a seemingly unrelated story of a woman who turned into stone.

‘This woman who is turning into a stone, in Chantrey Inlet. The Stone itself is really colourful because this woman has a fancy parka . . .’ She turned into stone . . . ‘because she never wanted to get married to anybody, not anyone at all. The woman is supposed to be in a kneeling position, but I just drew it in a standing position anyway.’

A popular columnist with the Nunatsiaq New, Rachel Attituq Qitsualik, tells a version of this shape-shifting Sedna story in which the torngat (powerful spirit), who used trickery to bring the woman to his distant island, is transformed into stone. Jessie Oonark’s cousin, Luke Anguhadluq, a highly-respected camp leader and keeper of the Utkuhihalingmiut legends, provides a detailed account of Nuliajuk (the name given to Sedna by the Utkuhihalingmiut, Oonark’s cultural group) turning into stone. The less rigid Inuit world view allows for ambiguity even in terms of geographical locations. The woman who turns into stone is also part of the living legend of Marble Island, an island located near Chesterfield Inlet.

The magical mutations of forms in Jessie Oonark’s work provide arguments for seeking a different relationship between ways of seeing, ways of thinking and language. Western thinking, which is predominantly linear and analytical, is inadequate for a full appreciation of Jessie Oonark’s many layers of meaning and visual puns. Her work can be looked at syncretistically, a term used by art historians and anthropologists such as Swinton, Carpentar, Blodgett and Jackson to refer to an uncritical blending of diverse, even conflicting, ideas, beliefs or principles. In Inuit art it refers to a way of seeing in which total events, thoughts and structures are understood without it being necessary first to analyse all their component parts and details. Artistic forms mutate, reflecting the Inuit world view with its highly interdependent relationship between humans and their environment. Humans become spirits, shamans, animals, or constellations, which in turn become human. Inuit are more tolerant of the uncertain boundaries between worlds and this gives meaning to the shape-shifting quality of oral tradition.

It is interesting that Sherry Turkle’s book Life on the screen: identity in the age of the Internet (New York: Touchstone 1997) uses the same terms to communicate the networld of human exchanges. The shifting sense of self in digital identities, the distinction between real life and virtual, tolerance of boundary uncertainties and shape-shifting are also terms to describe the first-generation inhabitants of digital existence.

While these connections are awkward in print format, they flow easily in digital format through images, maps, and layers of text. Interactive multimedia provides a richer means of access to a mode of thinking that is non-linear, which parallels Oonark’s work. My first graduate student project on Oonark had been in the form of a slide show with voice-over and reflected the oral, nonlinear tradition of her people the Utkuhihalingmiut. While this format allowed me to avoid cumbersome verbal descriptions of the artist’s dynamic transformation of forms, it is fundamentally linear. I found that the many layers of meaning, visual puns and high tolerance of ambiguity could be more easily evoked through the interactive multimedia digital applications being used in teaching, learning and research.

The tools

To carry out the work I chose Asymetrix Toolbook, an authoring software package which enabled me to manipulate images, text, audio and video freely. I was able to gather and digitize visual, audio and textual data from various sources including sound clips of throat singing and Jessie Oonark speaking. To manage the large quantity of data and images, I also used other software such as Adobe Photoshop, FoxPro (RQBE) and EndNote. While issues such as copyright, digitization, memory, resolution and projection systems often seemed to be insurmountable obstacles, it did prove possible to find solutions. Carleton University’s Teaching and Learning Resource Centre supported my project generously, upgrading its equipment to meet the technological needs. By January 1995 I was faced with serious problems of lack of hard disk space and the University purchased an 800 megabyte external drive so I could continue working. At times other University departments such as Engineering and Geography had to be asked for technical assistance. Because of the prohibitive cost of scanners some of the slides were sent to Kodak Photo CD to be digitized on CD-ROM.

One of the examiners suggested that a printed version be produced for them. There are 283 pages containing over 130 images including photographs, maps, models and works of art; approximately 2,000 hyperlinks, including hotwords and buttons; sound and video clips, animation and over 150 text fields of varying lengths. Fortunately, my explanation of the impossibility of such a print-out was accepted.

In March 1995 “Woman in the Centre: a Study of the Symbols of Womanhood in the Work of Jessie Oonark using Interactive Multimedia as a Method of Exploration” was submitted (Flynn-Burhoe 1999:39) on the external drive and in the form of taped back-up as part of my Master’s Degree in Canadian Studies at Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada. After three readers had seen it in this form it was burned into a CD-ROM. The Teaching and Learning Resource Centre of Carleton University, Ottawa, has an updated version of the disk, as I have continued to perfect the application even after graduation in June 1995. I am working towards an improved version of the CD-ROM which I am hoping to publish. I have presented my MA research often to various groups. Ideas generated from the demonstrations and discussions have encouraged others to consider this new set of intellectual tools, with new ways of framing research that suggest fresh ways of looking and thinking.

The methodology

In my project I attempted to blend form and content whenever possible, with a concept map providing possible navigation routes and as a metaphor for the way data is connected. Jessie Oonark’s images of dynamic transformations are juxtaposed with deliberately transparent layers of text, which are revealed only when certain hotwords or buttons are clicked. The words of art historians, curators, anthropologists and Jessie Oonark are presented in a non-hierarchical, egalitarian way. Sound bytes of the artist’s own voice, as well as numerous quotations from her 1983 interview with Professor Mame Jackson, are incorporated (Flynn-Burhoe 1999:40).

Smaller images called thumbnails, wallet images and snap shots were sufficient. The CD-ROM was intended to enhance understanding of Jessie Oonark’s work in order to heighten enjoyment of the works of art themselves, not to replace the museum visit.

My goal was to create an interface that combined form with content, using Jessie Oonark’s own drawings to indicate ways of making connections visually. Since traditional systems did not represent how she would have presented information, transparent fields of white text on a dark textured background were used to represent the way she would have spoken — these look like words floating on a water-like surface.

For example on the homepage (Fig. 1) the reader can click on numerous hotwords, buttons, icons and images and hear Jessie Oonark’s voice, reveal pop-up indexes, or move to another page. A variety of icons were used: the inukshuk (stone cairn-like marker) to bring the reader back to the main menu; the drum-dancer (Flynn-Burhoe 1999:40) for audio; the caribou facing right and left as forward and background buttons.

I developed a glossary, bibliography, table of contents, scrolling title pop-up index, subject pop-up index, Who, What, Where, When, Why questions and thumbnail images on electronic contact sheets. All these are effectively pointers, replacing the usual references to books and articles in a textual thesis with a means of linking to large quantities of full content text.

The problems

Faster and more sophisticated computers, with high resolution image, audio and video capabilities, have created a paradigm shift in communication and information industries, in the ‘silicon basements’ of academia and in cultural industries. However, most multimedia applications still combine video and audio clips, images and texts in ways that are familiar. Exploring their capacity to form new, unexpected pathways through information, promoting knowledge instead of decimating huge quantities of information, is the challenge currently facing interactive multimedia authors.

I also mentioned earlier the problem of copyright. Working on this project has made me approach knowledge management in terms of possible hypertext connections. My arguments are increasingly visual and therefore dependent on access to digitized images, but free access to copyright-cleared downloadable versions of these, as in a library model, is increasingly being replaced by the much less-democratic pay-per-use model. Long-term public interests are being sacrificed to short-term private goals. Libraries and museums have public fiscal accountability; they also need safeguards so that they can achieve goals that straddle changing political and economic moods.

I have considered an Internet format for the Oonark application. I am not convinced, however, that the frustration of slow downloading of complicated, layered pages and images is near to being alleviated on the majority of computers. Slow output devices and on-line servers can slow down even the most efficiently-designed web pages.


New digital technologies can provide a two-way path to other cultures that creates the potential for dialogue on issues of identity. But they can also submerge diversity by encouraging the production of homogenous and superficial entertainment. When used to its fullest potential the technology can contribute to new ways of knowing. Inuit stories have been recorded in written form because ‘paper stays put.’ But linear formats freeze fluid stories; non-linear digital technologies provide a less rigid medium for interpreting Inuit legends and imagery.

Inuk journalist Rachel Attituq Qitsualik compared the fluid nature of the unikkaaqtuaq (Inuit story) to the surface of water in constant transformation and flux, a reflection of its human beauty. ‘Capture it, and it becomes as stone: it endures, yet stripped of value’ (Flynn-Burhoe 1999:41).

to be continued . . .

Webliography and Bibliography

Blodgett, Jean. 1979. The Coming and Going of the Shaman: Eskimo Shamanism and Art. Winnipeg Art Gallery, 1979. 1979, 1st Edition. (ISBN: 0889150680) Soft cover. First edition. 246 pp. hundreds of plates (some color), biblio, oversize (4to) softcover.

Blodgett, Jean and Bouchard, Marie. 1986. Jessie Oonark: a Retrospective. Winnipeg: Winnipeg Art Gallery.

Cohen, Kathleen. 1997. “The ‘Nina,’ the ‘Pinta,’ and the Internet – ships in Christopher Columbus’ expedition – Digital Culture and the Practices of Art and Art History.” Art Bulletin. 79:2: 187-191.

Driscoll, Bernadette. 1982. Inuit Myths, Legends, and Songs.” Winnipeg: Winnipeg Art Gallery.

Elkins, James. 1997. “What are we seeing, exactly? – Digital Culture and the Practices of Art and Art History.” Art Bulletin. 79:2:191-198. June.

Flynn-Burhoe, Maureen. 1998. ‘CD-ROM: The Process Behind the Creation of “Woman in the Centre.” Womenspace. 3:4. Summer. (deadlink 2008 )

Flynn-Burhoe, Maureen. 1999. “Jessie Oonark: Woman in the Centre.” Inuit Art Quarterly. 14:2. Summer.

Jackson, Marion E. 1985. “Baker Lake Drawings: a Study in the Evolution of Artistic Consciousness.” PhD thesis. University of Michigan.

Lavin, Marilyn Aronberg. 1997. “Making Computers Work for the History of Art: Digital Culture and the Practices of Art and Art History.” Art Bulletin. 79:2:198-201.

Noblitt, James S. 1997. “Scholarship, Publishing and Computing: Interactions in the Educational Marketplace.” IAT Briefings. 5: 1-2. (deadlink:

Qitsualik, Rachel Attituq. Nunatsiaq News.

Turkle, Sherry. 1997. Life on the screen: identity in the age of the Internet. New York: Touchstone.

Veltman, Kim. 1997. “New Roles for Libraries in the Digital Age.”


[1]. The original article was published in 1999. Unintentionally it became part of the deep internet or deep web. With the increased use of Web 2.0 open source technologies, I have chosen to make it more accessible using the Creative Commons 3.0 BY-NC-SA License. I have added links to urls that were accessible in May 2008. The original article is also available here and here.

[2] At the time of writing the original article in 1999 I was an active participant in artengine.

Kim Veltman, PhD

Tourists and old timers

There are two kinds of people who come north from the south. There are the tourists who stay for one or two years. Then there are those like … who have been here for decades. Those like … recognise that the longer they are here, the less they know about the north. They realise there is always more to learn. (Underlying this is a longing to be recognised as a complex people whose reality cannot be grasped quickly by an in out visit.)

I could not connect with this group and after awhile I realized I didn’t even want to.

I thought X had a kindly, compassionate expression on his/her face. I was disconcerted by his/her questions on the First Nations Treaty issues: […] Was I wrong or was X uninformed of the First Nations and Inuit relationship of decades long negotiations of treaties that were not respected and demanded constant re visiting? My heart sank when I realised the mind, heart and spirit behind the promising smile were without interest to me. I guessed that X spent very little time trying to understand the First Nations and Inuit point of view. X returned to the workforce after retirement to take up lucrative contracts with the Nunavut government? The combined package of salaries and benefits seems obscenely high here. X’s rates as a consultant are even higher. How frightening that X plays a pivotal role in a decision making team here. Behind the congenial face, is the face of the bureaucracy here that keeps the status quo in place.

As I write I am torn and I feel physically affected by the awful truth. Iqaluit is filled with X’s. No wonder the money continues to enrich bureaucrats leaving the Inuit population here without substantial services and in over crowded conditions that are more like third world than a developed country. I knew this. I knew there was skimming.

Please let me be wrong. [I am hoping that my…] my own inadequacies have led me to misjudge. I need to remember that once a light has come on, and the picture of inequalities is clearly visible, I too have some small role to play in it. I can contribute to maintaining the social injustice or I can work towards greater social equalities. I have a strong feeling that I am more effective in the background until my degree is completed. I am more useful right now in helping those in the foreground perform their work more effectively. I just have to trust that slowly I will be led to like minded people. Prevent me from wasting any energy on judging others.

Working for the Government in the North

[They] began to compare employee benefits between the Nunavut government and the federal government.
Y works for Customs and Immigration as a Custom’s officer. Y inquired about working for a summer term here. (Y’s father worked here last year.) Y was offered a two year contract. The federal government was not interested in hiring anyone for a short term contract. Y’s employment package would include: an apartment, a car, 2 trips south a year with 6 weeks vacation each?, 2 trips south for business, a salary of upwards of 70,000 plus northern benefits. The total package sounds like it would be $120, 000 for a Custom’s officer in a town of 7000 people with an airport that does not have international flights. Y’swork would be fairly abstract to say the least!

I have heard people snickering about the limited enrollment of Nursing and Law students here in Iqaluit and the cost of these programs.

Few people snicker at these obscene government employees packages that drive up prices in Iqaluit and exaggerate the have and have not divide.

Sons and daughters of these employees reap the added benefits of well paid, prestigious summer jobs.

I have been trying to understand the phenomenon of so many Government people working on weekends and evenings. Z explained that it is considered to be a part of many jobs. Work is scheduled with an assumption that people will be willing to work overtime on weekends. These government workers have three month vacations! They are encouraged to travel on business trips often. No wonder they have to work overtime to catch up!

The language they use is closed jargon. Even the location of their offices is very confusing. They refer to their buildings by number not by name.

Z noted that for the last budget he recommended that the government not instate the use of vouchers to replace cheques for welfare. Z’s suggestions were not listened to. This is one of the Nunavut government’s … advisors?????

Aflicktion: The Wreck of Hope

Aflicktion: The Wreck of Hope

Originally uploaded by ocean.flynn.

Aflicktion: The Wreck of Hope

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 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.


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.,3604,1104241,00….….

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.

Christmas Char on First Air

Youth and suicide

We both arrived early at the airport. I had only met P briefly before. She and her husband were well-known and liked. When I ate my meals at the Frobisher Inn they would often be there. He would come over to greet people including myself.

So there we were in the hustle and bustle of a small airport terminal in the middle of a not so typical Christmas conversation.

They have a twenty year old adopted child who had d… when he was young. This left this child with some weaknesses that P likens to Foetal Alcohol Syndrome. This child had a very difficult time during his teen years in High School in Iqaluit. At one point he attempted suicide by overdosing. Fortunately he was saved but this has shaken P. P wondered what more they could have done!

When P was called into P’s son’s school for a crisis situation, P was told by one of the staff that they were dealing with about five crises concurrently. They were understaffed and the crises strained the already overworked staff.

Our conversation grew out of my expressions of strong feelings of being shaken by the multiple youth suicides around me. I commented that the elders could perhaps be available for consultations with the youth but also with anyone in the community who needs their listening ears and their lifetimes of wisdom born of experience. P cautioned that the elders were not perhaps the most well equipped to deal with youth issues. (P reminded my there were fiascos resulting from well intentioned elders offering unsound advice to women suffering from spousal abuse.) P was concerned that the elders were out of touch with contemporary issues. We both agreed however that Iqaluit was under serviced in terms of dealing with youth in crisis. There was really nowhere for troubled youth to turn. She suggested that maybe the new youth centre could have a 24 hour counseling service where youth could turn for help.

Anti-poverty meeting at the NAC

Thoughts after an anti poverty meeting at NAC

“I have not been here for a long time. It seems like what I have seen is more like a blink than an observation. In this room we have people who have more knowledge than I have about poverty in Nunavut. But there are images I cannot shake. Now I recognize that these are rumors not necessarily facts. In the many conversations, in class with my students, the nursing students and others, in which I have taken part over the last few months, I have been presented with images that I cannot shake. I have not had these images of poverty since I lived in the third world, in Pointe Noire, Congo in the 1980’s. Then I lived in a Congolese neighbourhood where it was typical for people to live on one meal a day. I have not heard of that in Canada until I came here to the North. Even in my travels to other First Nations communities, I have not heard this described in this way. Perhaps I wasn’t listening. I have images in my head now of empty cupboards and fridges. I have heard the contents described: a jar of mayonnaise, a bottle of Ketchup, salt and pepper. No food. I have heard rumours that a young person who committed suicide may have been hungry. I have heard rumours that the homeless shelter only provides coffee and tea in the evening. The homeless do not always have an evening meal. Sometimes hunters provide this. Sometimes others do. I have heard rumours that the Soup Kitchen is no longer operational. This means that there is no place in Iqaluit where the homeless can be sure of a meal.

Recently I had a very minor incident which brought me to the RCMP. I was enquiring whether a young man was potentially dangerous and if I should have concerns for my safety. When I learned of the reality of this young man’s life, there seemed to be something very wrong with the picture. The RCMP officer explained to me that this person was homeless. On the coldest nights the young man who is ill, not a criminal, would be put into a cell so he would not freeze to death. Many nights he slept in the foyer of the RCMP building.1 I admit that there are aspects of this story that I do not know. But there is still something very wrong with the picture.

It is not surprising that southern Canada would be concerned with the housing crises in the North. I may have the statistics wrong, but it is my understanding that in the north 25% of the population share a room, whereas in the rest of Canada the figure is 2%. With all of the research available today that reveals links between overcrowding and violence it is not surprising that this is a concern. It ties in to so many problems in the North. Even in terms of the education crises. How can children study when they are living in such overcrowded conditions?”

Maureen Doherty keeps her cool and explains things articulately. She appears to be speaking from experience. She has lived in the smaller hamlets. After I spoke with my face getting increasingly red, she spoke with icy cool tones. From her experience in the hamlets there is an unofficial way of dealing with homelessness and hunger. People help each other. She painted a rosy picture of community in which no one fell through the cracks. Seeing double. My name is quoted but the words are not mine. They are hers. I am uncomfortable when she speaks. I recognize what is happening. It is on this note that the meeting has really ended regardless of what will be said afterwards. Has she found the right words to sanitize my images, to place them into a narrow, unique context that is not wide spread? Has she found the words to say what everyone really wants to hear? Things aren’t so bad. These are growing pains.

In the back of my mind, I recall the admonitions of the United Nations, criticizing Canada for the way in which the poor among us are treated.

Icelandic visitors

Yesterday when David Audlakiak was here, he asked Ari about his home Iceland but he was really asking about Greenland. David feels that since Greenland has had homerule for twenty years it has made progress to resolving problems that could help Inuit here. Ari agreed. He said that for problems like alcoholism, the Greenlanders do not focus on the older people. They focus on the young. In the earliest years children are taught about the social and physical harm alcohol causes. David was very interested. He thought that the municipal representatives here should be travelling to Greenland to learn from them. Ari suggested that he write to his MLA’s and encourage them to go.

As David Audlakiak came into the dining room and looked around at the brightly lit rooms and the tastefully decorated furnishings, he commented on how much the place had changed.  He had been in the House many years ago.

I invited him to sit in the living room. As he sat down and looked around he commented with humour, “No wonder we have problems! We have seven churches and a Road to Nowhere!”

Ari and I listened as he spoke from his heart about his concerns for his people. He felt that these churches, the social workers, those from the south, all brought solutions for the south. Their solutions didn’t work here. They would try but after about a year, they realized it wouldn’t work. He longed for solutions that started from here. He recognised that the elders have been intimidated into silence. He feels they have been the object of elder abuse, beaten by family members too drunk to know what they are doing. The elders have been told too often that their knowledge is of no use today. David Audlakiak doesn’t believe that. David Audlakiak  was there at the NAC Interviewing the Elders week. He remembered going out camping with his father. His father had enough legends to last a two week hunting trip.

At one point he looked around the room again as if he were seeing something in it for the first time. “This place is good for our young people. They should be coming here. Our young people should know about this place. This place is free of violence.”

Modern myths

But I do not want my inaction to prevent me from sleeping. Once the story is handed to me, I have a choice. I can keep the stories and the images safely guarded inside my own mind, so it makes no one uncomfortable. But in so doing I am part of maintaining the status quo. Or I can say, “I heard this story. Someone showed me this picture. Do you think it reflects the truth?”

If from one group of people I am hearing that it doesn’t, that the victims of poverty are to blame for their own poverty, red warning lights go on in my head. This is a neoliberal message that has been carefully massaged so it begins to sound quite reasonable. It is part of the discourse all around me here in the predominantly white, middle classes. It is also the message of the mobile sociologists, the taxi drivers. Blame the poor. Do not waste your pity on them. It is their own fault. They choose to drink, to take drugs, to have babies too early, to drop out of school.

Another myth I hear, is that the Inuit way of life will inevitably be subsumed by the western, modern, capitalist world. A corollary is that the western way of living is an improvement on the charming, romantic but outdated way of life of the Inuit. In other words much of what is written in the Nunavut land claims will be rationally side swiped by the rhetoric of the rationalist.

Southern teachers are not always sensitive to other cultures

I have heard of one established, gifted Inuit artist who took courses … and lost so much self esteem that he/she could no longer produce! The teachers coming north are sometimes very inexperienced and have not lived with other cultures. They are too often curriculum centred and ignore the larger context in which the course is being offered: the past, present and future. They are too narrowly focussed on the present and on satisfying a narrow course content.