Thursday, 23 September 2010

Excerpt of BBC story mentioning Arviat

A journey from Churchill Manitoba on Hudson Bay north to Arviat Nunavut in the Canadian Arctic


Arviat is the furthest south of a string of isolated communities - mainly Inuit towns - running up the Hudson Bay and along the Arctic Ocean shores.

Supporting remote communities like this is another way Canada can show who is in charge up here, demonstrating to the world that the Arctic is a region populated, sustained and defended by Canadians.

Government strategy includes the social and economic development of communities in the north. (The shipping company we travelled with, NTCL, is owned by First Nations or native communities and is the largest in northern Canada.)

Arviat Temperatures in Arviat can drop to -40C in winter

We met Tony Uluatluak, who was waiting with his wife and children for their new car to come off the barge. He is from the largest Inuit family in town - his parents have 192 grandchildren.

"Do you feel part of Canada," I asked.

"We are 100% Canadian," he told me, "proud to be Canadian."

We walked into Arviat through a cold, damp mist.

It's a place built for practicality where temperatures can drop to -40C in winter. The dirt roads were unpaved, lined with weathered wooden houses.

Boats and skidoos lay alongside. Outside one house animal skins were hanging. Above another, a Canadian flag fluttered.

Here, they hunt caribou and seals and are allowed a quota of whales. If polar bears come into town - as I was told they often do - they are fair game too.

Here, traditional and modern ways of life coexist.

There's a KFC branch and I saw people riding around on all-terrain vehicles, yet many women wore traditional long coats with large hoods in which they carried babies.

As in many northern communities, alcohol is not allowed but everyone smokes.

The Inuit language Inuktitut is more widely spoken than English, even though the Queen is on the banknotes. In written form it appears in elegant, almost geometrical shapes.

Both languages were equally prominent on many signs around town.

Canada supports strong native traditions - it's also a way of reinforcing its ownership of the north.

But the people need the government as much as it needs them. There are few jobs, prices are high and many depend on benefits.

At the large grocery store that is the town's focal point I met Chesley Aggark, his wife Shauna and their three children carrying two loads of shopping to their ATV.

They told me one week's groceries cost them more than 500 Canadian dollars (£310.)

I asked them how they could afford it.

Shauna pointed down: "with the help of my children," she said, "child benefit… income support."

"Could you survive if the government didn't help you," I asked.

"No," she said.

After delivering cargo to Arviat, our boat headed further north to another community, carrying the last precious supplies before winter's freeze.

We hitched a ride on another tug back to Churchill and two days later our journey was over.

But the gold rush in the Arctic is just beginning and I saw first hand how Canada is staking its claim.

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