Thursday, September 20, 2012

Grise Fiord

Apologies for the long silence - moving house will do that to a person! But I'm back now and hope to resume my pace of at least one post per week about my Arctic adventure!

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Grise Fiord

In the early 50's, the Canadian government brought several families here, having persuaded them to resettle with (false) promises of prolific hunting and subsistence opportunities. They left these people, men, women, and children, on an exposed beach near where the town currently sits, with little more than what they carried on their backs. There was no support from the government in the form of food or shelter, let alone healthcare, medical services, education, etc.

Memorial to the Original Settlers of this Community

One gentleman, Peter, who guided us from the beach where we landed in zodiacs to the memorial to the original people of the town, was a small child when his parents first arrived here. It was evident from the way he spoke of subsequent events, that the people of the settlement still suffer the effects of the incredibly difficult circumstances they had to overcome, and the trauma they suffered.

This was the first Canadian northern community that we visited. From what my fellow passengers told me, people who've been on previous cruises to Canada's north, and visited other communities, what I observed here is to be expected in other Canadian Inuit settlements.


Whale Bone - Part of the Jaw or Spine?

The women and children of the village put on a bit of a fashion show and demonstration of traditional Inuit garments for the cruise ship visitors. While it was interesting, it felt a bit uncomfortable to me - like they were opening themselves up to us like we were visitors to a zoo. I've no idea why I felt that way, as I've been to other similar presentations by other cultures, and never had that sensation. The location (the community hall) and set-up also made it difficult for everyone to get a good view, and/or to take photos.

What struck me the most was that, despite there being so few people here, and the Inuit claim of being so connected to, and their love of, the land; that in many places the town site looked like a tip. Surrounding and between the homes, on the rudimentary streets, everywhere, was rubbish - plastic wrappers and bottles, broken glass, broken toys and other household items, are added to the bones of whales and other large mammals that are scattered around among the skeletons of disused trucks, skidoos, boats, hunting and fishing gear, and outboard motors. There is a dump just outside the town that looked from a distance like a graveyard of 60+ years' worth of refrigerators and snowmobiles - apparently general refuse doesn't go there.

And then there are the dogs, which really broke my heart. I don't think they're considered animals that feel pain and suffer boredom - they're just tools of daily life. Many chained, many with pups afoot. Even some pups were chained. They are the working dogs - the sled dogs that are unemployed during summer, for 3-4 months left chained without a break, rudimentary shelter, fed barely sufficient to keep them healthy enough to produce the next generation. And yet, among them, perhaps the influence of modern tv (plenty of satellite dishes in evidence), smaller pet dogs in great condition that ran loose with the children of the town. Perhaps the next generation of Inuit will be able to conceive the link between pet dogs and working dogs, and improve conditions for those that are yet to come.

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