Nunavut’s story unfolding all around us

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Maybe it was simply the usual white noise of personal opinion that invariably provides the background to election season.

Or, perhaps, it was listening to Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK) president Natan Obed talk about Qanuippitaa? – a unique national Inuit health survey (led, controlled and for Inuit) that ITK launched while holding its annual general meeting in Rankin Inlet on Sept. 11 and 12.

Or, just as likely, it was the intriguing trio of female candidates vying for Nunavut’s lone seat in the upcoming federal election.

It became the perfect storm of coincidence that often nibbles at a writer’s sense of perception – urging him to recognize the pieces trying to come together: real-life players in a deep, complex tale of tradition, adaptation, resistance and willingness to change; the complexity and importance of which is matched only by the inevitability and ultimate conclusion of its telling.

Such is the ongoing real-life tale of Nunavut.

And, as the tale unfolds before the world’s very eyes, just as many detractors stand-by their predictions of disaster as supporters who predict an Inuit renaissance fueled by the creation of Nunavut alone.

And both fervidly believe they are correct – one seeing the outcome based on their perception of economic and socialistic reality, the other on the strength of tradition and the ability of the spirit to triumph.

Neither view is based on race, however both look to the past for what they see as foundations of support.

On one side, isolation and subsistence translate to almost non-existent levels of opportunity, work ethic and modern comprehension.

On the other, political control translates directly to eventual Inuit success, while an adjustment to the socioeconomic climate translates directly to a lessened – and eventual elimination of – ability of outside forces to profit within Nunavut through suggestion and market manipulation.

The determination of many to see issues in black and white can prevent them from recognizing, or even visualizing for that matter, various concepts at work that have a tendency to blend together in one instance and clash in another, especially when it pertains to the human condition and emotional needs.

A scathing, no-holds-barred piece written as Nunavut was taking flight by Albert Howard and Francis Widdowson (The Disaster of Nunavut) looked at the “ethnically-cleansed utopia” as little more than a fabricated museum in which the rest of the world could view Inuit culture forever locked in the neolithic period.

They claimed the problems created by the artificial retention of Inuit culture are exacerbated when Inuit are encouraged to look backward for solutions by focusing on the traditions of elders rather than the aspirations of youth.

They also try to use a quote from then Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. president the late Jose Kusugak as a jumping-off point to rebuke or minimalize a number of counterpoints to their stance.

Jose said, “When you have a totally different race of people running your lives, it can create a terrible feeling of uselessness.”

The term “race” in Jose’s statement is about as relevant to the issue as another saying “my government.”

Both observations are one-dimensional. It would be foolhardy to suggest elders have nothing to offer Inuit living a far-more-modern lifestyle. Many Inuit come home from work, head out on the land and employ numerous traditional skills learned from elders.

And, many Inuit youth deeply value their culture and the practical use of traditional skills they learn from their elders.

Conversely, Inuit youth who prefer what they see as a modern lifestyle may be left with no sense of belonging, and feel exactly how Jose describes, should they be judged solely on their indifference to land-based activities and use of traditional skills.

The success or failure of Nunavut may rest in the eye of the beholder but there remains a long way to go.

The story must play out in its entirety and, ultimately, history will be the final judge.

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