Bear gives Jean “extraordinary experience”

Governor General tastes muktuk and pronounces it “just delicious,” with a hint of almond



Canada’s Governor General, Michaëlle Jean, had her real introduction to the North once a blizzard delayed her flight from Cape Dorset to Iqaluit last Friday.

It turns out that extra day led to her most lasting memory from her week-long visit to Nunavut.

“The day ended with an extraordinary experience. I was told there was a polar bear near the igloo I slept in two nights before, and everyone in the community wanted to see the polar bear,” she told Nunatsiaq News during an interview this week.

She joined the search. They never did find the bear, but she encountered a group of hunters who killed a beluga, then watched the men share muktuk with 30 different families.

It’s the pride, happiness and spirit of cooperation she saw then that she says made the biggest impression on her.

She also tried muktuk herself.

“It was just delicious. It had an almond taste,” she said.

“It was a very healing moment for me, because early in the morning I learned of the four soldiers who died in Afghanistan. It was a very sad thing for me,” she said.

Jean said she stayed in an igloo to help imagine what life was like for those who survived for 4,000 years in such a harsh climate. She was also surprised to hear many young Inuit had never shared that experience.

When Jean spoke to children in Cape Dorset’s school, she told them about a boy she met in Haiti, the poorest country in the western hemisphere and the place of her birth. The boy walked many kilometres to school, hoping one day to become a doctor or teacher.

“It reminds me how very fortunate we are in this country to have such easy access to education. I want you to take full advantage of it,” she told them.

Earlier, when Jean spoke during the opening ceremonies of Toonik Tyme in Iqaluit, where she was recognized as this year’s Honorary Toonik, she reminded the crowd that Inuit are not alone with the social problems they face.

“For example, the rate of suicide among young men in Quebec is one of the highest in the industrialized world,” she told the crowd.

While in Iqaluit she met with social workers, who spoke to her about suicide, drug addiction and the housing shortage.

She plans to relay information she gathered during her visit to the prime minister, as well as cabinet ministers such as Jim Prentice, minister of Indian and Northern Affairs.

“I can visit the communities in a different way they do,” she said.

During her visit, Jean met with officials such as Iqaluit’s mayor, Elisapee Sheutiapik, and Premier Paul Okalik. But she said the most important moments of her trip were from speaking with children and teenagers in schools.

“I wish every Canadian would have that chance, to go through the Arctic. I feel very privileged.”

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