Nunavut’s big heart
Once again, the people of Nunavut have revealed one of their great strengths to the world and to themselves: their big-hearted generosity.
As news of the Dec. 26 earthquake-tsunami disaster in southeastern Asia spread around the world on television, fundraising events sprang up faster than Arctic cotton on a sunny summer’s day.
No one from on high had to tell anyone what do to. It was spontaneous. And where the people led, the government followed. Managing to rouse itself from a mid-winter torpor, even the Government of Nunavut managed to make a donation, albeit many days after its sister governments in Yellowknife and Whitehorse had done the same.
Our neighbours in Nunavik also rose up to raise money any way they could think of. Once again, some of the poorest communities in Canada showed the rest of the country that they are rich in the spirit of compassion. There are so many fundraising efforts underway in Arctic Canada, in so many communities, organized by so many different people, it’s impossible to calculate how much money has been raised. But it’s safe to assume that the figure now stands at many, many tens of thousands of dollars.
For those who are old enough to recall, it brought back memories of the 1984 Ethiopian famine relief campaign, when cash-poor Nunavut communities raised astounding amounts of money. The people of Ethiopia were so impressed they invited a delegation of Inuit to their country a year later to thank them.
There are lots of reasons to explain why northern people react this way. Perhaps it’s the power of television and the deep emotions that television makes people feel. When you see the face of a suffering person from the other side of the world on a television screen, it feels as if that person is just next door. For others, it may have been the communicative power of the Internet, which made it possible for people to follow the disaster as it unfolded, hour by hour.
Another likely reason is that the Inuit of Nunavut and Nunavik, especially older people, know all about suffering: famine, accidental deaths on the land, and natural disasters, such as the 1999 New Year’s Eve avalanche that battered the people of Kangiqsualujjuaq. Those who have suffered are often capable of a special empathy for those who find themselves in desperate straits.
There’s no doubt about it: the ethic of mutual aid still lives in northern Canada, as it did in those days not so long ago when sharing was essential for survival. When the people of the North are motivated, they can do great things. And they don’t need the government or some other authority to tell them how to do it.
But at the same time, we all know that there are untold social and economic problems plaguing the people of Nunavut and Nunavik. Some, like drug and alcohol abuse, are so common that many people don’t even see them as problems. Will the people one day turn their heart-felt energies to those little disasters that every day are doing damage to their own communities? JB