Nain, Labrador’s splendid isolation
Change is in the offing for Labrador’s largest Inuit community
NAIN, LABRADOR – For now, progress still seems to be taking a detour around Nain.
The largest Inuit community along Labrador’s northern coast, Nain remains isolated even from its nearest Northern neighbours.
Reaching the community from Kuujjuaq requires a charter flight of just over an hour in a Twin Otter, but, on regular scheduled flights, the same trip can take up to two days.
The community’s gravel runway is only 700 metres long and has no lights – reminding passengers on a recent charter from Nunavik of how airports looked 20 years ago in that region.
Close to the sea and surrounded by towering mountains, Nain is striking and beautiful.
The many lakes and rivers nearby are full of char. Caribou from the huge George River herd often migrate close to the area.
Pine trees grow abundantly around the community, and the sweet smell of burning wood permeates the early morning air. Most buildings in town are made of wood.
Many of Nain’s 1,200 residents – whether they’re Inuit or non-Inuit “settlers”- still use wood for cooking and heating, although good firewood must be hauled to the community from a distance.
A recent survey found that 69 per cent of houses in Nain still don’t have adequate heating.
These potential firetraps are often overcrowded, too – a factor thought to contribute to Nain’s high suicide rate.
The lack of central heating also means houses with indoor plumbing can’t be hooked up to water services. As a result, more than half the houses don’t have proper toilet facilities.
But new government-funded programs are building houses and repairing existing dwellings throughout Labrador’s five Inuit communities.
Government money will also go towards building roads and improving water and sewage facilities.
The roads in Nain are unpaved, and, in winter they’re not plowed either.
Roads wind around the community, past the 400-student Jens Haven Memorial School, the hotel, an arena, the RCMP station, the cultural centre and museum, the OkalaKatiget communications society offices, the church, the fish plant and the new health clinic.
There’s a Northern Store, a “Food Town,” and several smaller convenience stores.
Nain has a bar and a beer store. Alcohol abuse visibly affects many of the community’s residents.
The harbour is full of boats. At Ten-Mile Bay, 14 kilometres from Nain, an Inuit-owned quarry produces unique grey granite tinged with blue specks. It’s one of Nain’s best-known exports.
The Moravian church, which missionaries founded in 1771, stands as a witness to Nain’s long history.
But despite this long history, Labrador – or Nunatsiavut, as it’s now called in Labrador’s Inuttut dialect – is the only Inuit homeland in Canada without a land claim settlement with the provincial and federal governments.
An agreement-in-principle, however, was signed last June.
When the Labrador Inuit Association does sign off its claim and if it can strike an Inuit impact-and-benefits agreement with the proposed mine at nearby Voisey’s Bay, Nain could turn into a boom-town.
The rich Voisey’s Bay nickel deposit lies only 30 kilometres from Nain.