Clarkson senses Nunavut’s unique identity
“I see a great deal more hope in terms of the kids”
Just over 100 years ago, a newspaper in Dundee, Scotland published an editorial called “The long arm of the tax gatherer”, complaining about changes in the Canadian North.
“Till within a very recent period this great territory has been exempt from all forms of government, and its vast expanse has been a no man’s land, free citizens of which have been nomadic Esquimaux, whalers and explorers. Now the old order is giving way to the new.”
The new order was then represented by two lone RCMP outposts installed in 1904 at Cape Fullerton, then north of Chesterfield Inlet, and on Herschel Island in the Beaufort Sea.
Some 50 years later, in 1956, the Northwest Territories was beginning to show a semblance of order as Canada’s then governor-general, Vincent Massey, made a symbolic display of sovereignty by dropping a tin can outfitted with a tiny parachute from an airplane soaring over the North Pole.
This past week, Governor General Adrienne Clarkson made her own gesture much closer to the land – and its people – during an eight-day trip around Nunavut. Instead of flying overhead, Clarkson and her husband, John Ralston Saul, traveled over 10,000 kilometres, visited several communities, camped overnight in Quttinirpaaq National Park on Ellesmere Island, and built a cairn at the Canadian Forces Station Alert on the northernmost edge of Canada.
The cairn uses a local medium, rocks, to send the same message as a kid with a marking pen: I was here. But Clarkson didn’t come here just to stack rocks – her visit was about embracing the people who live here and lend Canada its sovereignty through their presence.
In Iqaluit on Monday, Clarkson told about 150 people gathered for a community feast about a recent experience watching elders looking over the bay, and said she didn’t have to understand Inuktitut to see their deep attachment to the land and their memories on it.
In an interview afterwards, Clarkson described the Inuit as “custodians of the land.” She had special praise for the development of its parks, and for the young warden at Quttinirpaaq who is learning new management skills so that he can be “a custodian in a modern sense.”
“The idea is to keep the land in trust. Not just keeping people out, but saying that you’re entrusting it,” Clarkson said.
Clarkson compared the rapidly developing Nunavut of 2005 with what she saw on previous visits.
“I think it’s been basically a change in a sense of identity,” Clarkson said. “People can stand up and say, ‘I’m from Nunavut.’ That means something… and you sense that. People feel that identity.”
She also stressed the importance of human development in the North, starting with education, which she believes can “free people from deprivation.”
“I see a great deal more hope in terms of the kids and their ability to go to school and graduate,” Clarkson said, citing the recent graduating class in Pond Inlet as an example.
Clarkson used the occasion of the feast to mingle with several people who came out to meet her. Ann Meekitjuk-Hanson, Nunavut’s newly appointed commissioner, was among them.
“We always enjoy her visits,” Hanson said. “The people respect her. She recognizes people when she meets them.”
After her largely ceremonial visits to Alert, Quttinirpaaq, Resolute Bay, Grise Fiord and Pangnirtung, Clarkson took the stage at Inuksuk High School on National Aboriginal Day to address the 11 students about to graduate from the Akitsiraq Law School program, a prospect she was “thrilled about.”
In her speech, she alluded to the importance of thinking long term about northern development.
“It is true that some have worried about the costs of this program, but we can’t even begin to total the terrible price that we pay for lack of education. It took vision, courage and imagination to hold fast to the principles underlying northern justice issues, rather than just running around trying to address the real crises of day-to-day and hour-to-hour.”