Wednesday, August 24, 2011

True North.

Imagine paying $33 for a bottle of Cheez Whiz, $13 for a pack of spaghetti noodles, $40 for a bottle of cranberry juice, and a stinging $77 for a bag of breaded chicken. That’s what some grocery stores in remote fly-in Arctic communities were offering early this year. Incriminating photos of sticker prices blazed across newspapers and social media sites across the North – reaching southern Canadians, too. It was the fall –perishable and household items were suddenly eliminated from a list of products previously subsidized by the federal government for people shopping at all fly-in communities across Northern Canada. From Old Crow, Yukon, to Sachs Harbour, NWT, to Igloolik, Nunavut, people were scared, angry and confused. How would they feed their families?

So begins the excellent reportage of Margo Pfeiff in the brilliant Up Here magazine.

People a lot smarter than me have been noticing that there is rather a lot of wind these days about arctic sovereignty. Here, Mark Collins notices: "No foreign country makes any claim to that territory (the Danish claim to tiny Hans Island aside); there is as much need to assert our sovereignty by increasing Canada’s military and governmental presence in the north as there is in, say, Labrador. Yet no one is suggesting that government take action to ensure Labrador stays safely within Canada. . ." More recently: "Can’t we just get a grip? Those brigades are going to be on Russian soil damn it–not about to invade Canada. One doesn’t see the Russian media ranting on about the threat from Operation NANOOK 11 . . ."

One doesn't see much Canadian media ranting about the predicament northerners have been facing these days, all in the effort to merely feed their kids. Those of us who live south of 60 need more journalism of the kind Pfeiff has undertaken in that essay. It's a complicated story, with no ready reference points on who the good guys are and who the bad guys are - like real life, in other words. But the story raises a real life question: For a country like Canada, if we want people to be able to live something approaching a normal life in the northern half of our country, shouldn't we be doing a better job of making that possible without expecting northerners to bear so much of the burden on their own?

Bravo to the Iqaluit for having brought home, only the other day, their first bowhead whale in a century. That's close to 70 tonnes of rich protein and hearty meals for hundreds of people. Bravo as well to my pal Madeleine Redfern, mayor of Iqaluit, who points out that with a population of at least 14,000 bowheads in area waters, local whalers could be taking 18 bowheads a year, quite sustainably. While I'm at it, bravo to the Canadian Rangers, the mostly Inuit army reserve unit that serves to help defend Canada's sovereignty in the arctic, and to ranger David Ukutak Jr., whose idea for disabusing southern politicians of their misconceptions of northern life is a good one: "Give them to us for six months. We'll change their minds."

The first thing southern politicians need to get their heads around is that northerners need to eat. Worrying about Russian incursions into Canadian airspace should be rather lower down the list. In the meantime, to keep on top of what happens up there, keep an eye on Nunatsiaq News. It's one of the best newspapers in the country.


Blogger Dave Zeglen said...

During WWII, the Germans sent weathermen to Labrador to take weather observations and transmit them back to Germany because the weather in Labrador was approximate to the weather condition in France, and they were anticipating D-Day. Not to make the same mistake twice, after the war, the Canadian government established the Rangers to make sure if any Pinkos landed, Mackenzie King knew about it.

My grandfather, who had been stationed in Povungnituk by the Hudson's Bay Company for several years already, spoke Inuktitut, but apparently the guy who started the Rangers didn't, so my grandpappy was commissioned to translate in Povungnituk, and helped establish the first Rangers.

2:28 PM  

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