Nunavut’s Northwest Passage gateway braces for giant cruise ship
“I hope they come away with a greater understanding of Inuit life and Arctic life”
The Crystal Serenity — the biggest ship to take on the Northwest Passage to date — sets sail Aug. 16 from Seward, Alaska, on its 32-day journey to New York City.
And Cambridge Bay, Nunavut’s gateway to the Northwest Passage, will welcome the ship’s record-breaking load of 1,600 or more passengers and crew Aug. 29 in one of only two shore visits slated for Nunavut. The second will take place Sept. 5 in Pond Inlet.
In Cambridge Bay, plans are well underway to offer the roughly 950 passengers a one-stop view of the community’s traditions and attractions through activities such as town tours and a cultural camp that will include demonstrations of seal, caribou and musk ox skin preparation.
“The passengers on Crystal are 85 per cent Americans,” said Vicki Aitaok, the local organizer of activities for the Crystal Serenity.
“We will be educating them on our reality, and hopefully they will realize the importance of seals and marine mammals to our diet. We have no farms, no slaughterhouses. We kill what we eat and eat what we kill. The animals are not our pets, but our survival.”
Aitaok said she also hopes people in Cambridge Bay get “an opportunity to make connections that will benefit them.”
But the Crystal Cruise firm’s tourism project application to the Nunavut Impact Review Board — which is still waiting for a final screening decision — shows that some concerns, mainly logistical and economic, continue to dog the cruise ship’s voyage.
Nunavut Tourism said it approves of stops in Cambridge Bay and Pond Inlet as long as they doesn’t interfere “with subsistence lifestyle” and leave a “positive impact” on the two communities, which each have a population about equal to the number of passengers and crew on the Crystal Serenity.
Among the comments to the NIRB — from Inuit organizations, the Government of Nunavut and Indigenous and Aboriginal Affairs Canada — the Kitikmeot Heritage Society’s comments to NIRB stand out for their lukewarm support for cruise ship tourism.
In the past, the heritage society, known as Pitquhirnikkut Ilihautiniq in Inuinnaqtun, found that it lost money organizing cultural food events and performances, KHS Executive Director Pamela Gross wrote the NIRB July 26.
“Ship passengers to our centre are a large drain,” Gross said.
The May Hakongak library and cultural centre, located in the Kiiliniik High School building, is a natural draw for visitors with its murals, wall-hangings, Arctic books and historic displays of the Inuinnait culture of western Nunavut.
But cruise passengers also want to go online at the centre, where they can deplete a month’s worth of bandwidth at its community access centre in a single day, Gross said.
And there have even been reports of missing items among arts and crafts — many made by elders — which are up for sale.
“This year we are forced to hire more security staff (at our own expense) in addition to paying overtime hours for regular staff to clean the heavily used facilities,” Gross told the NIRB.
She’d like to see a more formal system in place so that cruise ship visits to Cambridge Bay contribute “in a significant way to the greater good.”
In June, the Government of Nunavut said it planned to review and amend the Travel and Tourism Act to include new marine tourism regulations and community tourism plans by March 2018.
That announcement followed consultations on the act, including one in Cambridge Bay, where tourism operators suggested that, without improvements, Cambridge Bay could become a “free-for-all.”
Cambridge Bay this year will see multiple cruise ships: on Aug. 23, Aug. 24, Aug. 28, Aug. 29 and Aug. 31.
As for the Aug. 29 Crystal Serenity visit, “we believe that far more regulation and negotiation of mutual expectations is required prior to embarking on a cruise venture of this size,” Gross said.
“While we see incredible potential for the community in hosting hundreds of visitors, we do feel that the regulations surrounding the cost, timing and compensation of such visits have not been sufficiently defined.”
In its application to the NIRB, Crystal Cruises said the company plans to make donations to communities which can “anticipate significant spending by the passengers while ashore on souvenir items, arts and crafts.”
Crystal Cruises will also buy artwork from Pond Inlet and Cambridge Bay, when the ship visits and distribute those artworks free to passengers. Members of the Nunavut Arts and Crafts Association and other vendors will also be on hand to sell their work.
“I hope they [Crystal Serenity passengers] spend a lot of money — and we are offering every opportunity for them to do so,” organizer Aitaok told Nunatsiaq News. “[But] I also hope the community learns that tourists aren’t always about spending money on physical souvenirs. Often, it is about forming relationships and making connections that are priceless.”
The visits by the Crystal Serenity and other cruise ships will also offer 50 short-term jobs for locals to work as greeters, guides and more when the Crystal Serenity and other cruise ships call.
To fill these jobs, Aitaok is hosting an information session Aug. 15 at the Luke Novoligak Community Hall in Cambridge Bay from 1 p.m. to 7 pm.
Many will be needed to help out when the Crystal Serenity visitors start arriving by zodiac Aug. 29 at 8 a.m. They will land at a cultural camp on the beach in an area known as Gravel Pit, or Akulailgok in Inuinnaqtun, where activities will include sewing demonstrations, fish filleting and bannock-making, kullik (oil lamp) lighting by elders and Inuit games.
Shuttle buses will then take passengers into town about 10 kilometres away, where they can tour the town and take in performances at the high school.
Hikes on the land and sea kayaking will also be offered — and a small group will fly north to Gjoa Haven — with its links to Roald Amundsen, the Norwegian polar explorer who first successfully transited the Northwest Passage in 1906, and the ill-fated 1856 expedition of Sir John Franklin — for a visit during the day.
Guests on board the Crystal Serenity will enjoy Arctic sports demonstrations and performances by Cambridge Bay’s Inuinnait drummers and dancers.