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Nunavik rolls out the carpet for Adrienne Clarkson

“You are included in the psyche of Canada,” Governor General tells Nunavimmiut.

By JANE GEORGE

KUUJJUAQ — After savouring morsels of maktaq and tidbits of dried caribou, Governor General Adrienne Clarkson, her husband John Ralston Saul, and even their staff walked away with a positive taste of life in Nunavik.

During their week-long stay in Nunavik, Clarkson and her entourage received a crash course in the region’s history, culture and concerns. They attended several community feasts, went to church, were entertained by throat singers, visited soapstone carvers and even tried their hand at ice-fishing and skidooing.

They slept in an igloo one night. On the schedule as well were stops at an elders’ centre, a women’s shelter, a museum, a treatment centre, co-op stores and schools. There were briefings on contaminants and community justice.

In Kuujjuaq, where Clarkson spent the first five days, a non-stop stream of events was designed to show off the community, from its research centre and to the school, where students learn in three languages, Inuttitut, English and French — another fact of life in Nunavik that Clarkson and Saul found particularly impressive.

Multilingual high-school student Jennifer Watkins thanked Clarkson for her visit to Jaanimmarik School in two languages.

Clarkson received an amautik made by Inuttitut teacher Ida Watt and her students.

“It excited them to have a visit from someone special,” said school principal Peter Bentley. “They sort of had a glow — and I didn’t hear anyone swear all day.”

Aglukark hands out e-mail address

Bentley said students were thrilled by the added attraction of singer Susan Aglukark.

Aglukark, who accompanied Clarkson on the tour through Nunavik, handed out her personal e-mail address to students, and at least one fan turned out at the school, simply to meet her idol.

“I’m not unreachable,” said Aglukark about her decision to come on the trip. “I’m still an Inuk, and I want to be accessible.”

At Kuujjuaq’s community feast in honor of the Governor General’s visit, Aglukark sang “Amazing Grace” in Inuttitut. As her voice filled the gymnasium, even the fidgety kids in front of the stage fell quiet.

Clarkson’s contingent of RCMP officers began to tap their feet when a local accordionist played a rollicking jig. Their elaborate security measures around Clarkson’s visit were plainly unnecessary in Kuujjuaq.

According to one member of Clarkson’s party, cheerful Kuujjuaq seemed like “paradise” compared to native communities they had recently visited in Labrador.

“You’re on the right path,” Clarkson told Kuujjuamiut at the feast. “There’s no other native group that’s made as much progress in the last 30 years.”

Clarkson said her week-long visit to Nunavik was mainly a symbolic gesture, although the trip will cost the public purse at least $250,000.

But Clarkson said the trip is an important way of reminding a remote area of its value to Canada.

“You are included in the psyche of Canada, and the Governor General is here to say you are,” Clarkson said.

Northern consciousness

Clarkson and Saul also said their personal experiences in the region will allow them to speak more persuasively about the North and bring it more into the Canadian consciousness.

And Clarkson said she’s also convinced regions such as Nunavik are important to visit because they offer eye-opening approaches to dealing with social problems common to all of Canada.

“They’re doing the experimentation here,” she said.

Clarkson said she found Kuujjuaq’s community freezer stuffed with frozen caribou a “tremendous revelation.”

Local hunters are paid through Nunavik’s Hunter Support Program to fill this freezer with meat, which anyone in Kuujjuaq is free to take.

It’s a practical solution to dealing with hunger in the community, and one that Clarkson found more simple and non-judgmental than food distributed through food-banks or other handouts.

Their schedule also included stops in Puvirnituq, Inukjuak and Kangiqsualujjuaq, the site of the disastrous 1999 New Year’s Eve avalanche.

Due to fog, a planned visit to Kangirsuk — where Clarkson was to have closed Makivik’s board meeting — was cancelled.

Clarkson said next year she wants to return to the North, to visit to the Nunavut communities of Cambridge Bay and Gjoa Haven.

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