Summer in Iqaluit: What changes, what doesn’t

The impacts of climate change are reverberating across the Arctic, but Newton’s laws of physics are still in place, and June 21 remains the summer solstice and the longest day in the northern hemisphere. In a town like Iqaluit, just scraping up against the Arctic Circle, it means that it never gets dark, even during the short period when the sun dips below the horizon.
Since my previous visit last November, Iqaluit passed what has become a major milestone for smaller communities in the Canadian north.  Yes, that’s right, Iqaluit now has its own Tim Horton’s, the first to feature a sign in Inuktitut syllabics. To those of us for whom Tim Horton’s is a revered icon, that’s a significant step forward.

(c) Martin von Mirbach/WWF-Canada
What I found amusing was the things that don’t change.  On my flight up, for instance, I observed a passenger buying a dozen donuts at the Ottawa airport to bring on the flight to Iqaluit (Experienced Arctic travelers will know that donut boxes are a common sight in carry-on luggage, and evidently the opening of a store isn’t sufficient to end that particular custom).  While I was taking this photo a young Inuk shouted out to me that the donuts were too expensive.  And indeed, at $1.49 each they are a bit pricey, although in a town where the price of four litres of milk has recently been reduced to $11.65 this seems like a weird complaint.

June 21 is also National Aboriginal Day, which is observed in Nunavut, although less enthusiastically than elsewhere in the country, since there’s a lingering sense that “Aboriginal” refers only to First Nations communities (that is to say, what we used to call “Indians” as opposed to what we used to call “Eskimos”).  Canada’s constitution explicitly clarifies that “Aboriginal” includes both Inuit and Metis, but that’s apparently not the word on the street here in Iqaluit.  Be that as it may, there was a celebratory concert at the local school; here’s a run-down of the artists that appeared:  A children’s choir, singing in Inuktitut and English (including an ode to the snowmobile).  A pair of elders performing throat singing in traditional garb.  A crazy hip-hop crew, including a demented harmonica player, a guy mixing odd spoken word samples and a young woman rapping angrily in Inuktitut.  Etulu and his sons, an Inuktitut folk singer.  Lucy Idlout, a raspy-voiced blues shouter singing in English.  All in all, it was a lovely and enjoyable evening.  What struck me about this event was the nonchalant way that traditional and modern, young and old, and English and Inuktitut, were casually mashed together.  Nobody in the audience batted an eyelash at the diversity.

The evening filled me with hope.  I don’t want to paint everything in a rosy glow – Iqaluit is a troubled community, and is wracked by a recent horrific triple murder/suicide – but this evening gave me a glimpse into a positive path forward; one that respects the past while embracing the best of the new.  Wise advice to us all.