Food and home in the Arctic | Arctic Notes 1

Greetings from the Akademik Sergei Vavilov where I’ve been carrying out my Artist in the Arctic residency with Friends of SPRI, One Ocean and Bonhams. I’m currently moored in the bay at Iqaluit, the capital of Baffin Island.

The light up here is incredible, it feels like the sun touches one in a different way – it almost suffuses inside somehow. Lumps of ice and mini-icebergs are strewn across the barren landscape, perching on top of rocks like seagulls or floating next to tiny islands as if they’re biding their time, waiting for their chance. I wonder do they know it’s a dangerous game for them to wait?

Yesterday we were in Iqaluit for a short time. I had the opportunity to speak to two residents for my project, and to speak to one young man who didn’t want to be recorded. I met a man in the Visitors’ Centre who had come to use the wifi so that he could use Facebook to speak to his mother and friends who have gone South. Facebook is a well-used communication tool here. Straight off the bat, he told me that it was their choice to move. When I asked him how he felt about it, it seemed he didn’t want to judge but that it was something negative for him, so I asked him would he consider moving or did he want to stay? He said he wanted to stay, because of the countryfood, which made him feel good and healthy, and stomachfull.

The connection here to the food and hunting recurred over the day. In the Museum there is a temporary photograph exhibition called Portraits of the Elders, where young photographers have captured images of and interviewed Elders from Iqaluit. Next to the photos are significant answers to give a snapshot of the portrait’s subject, and in many cases the answers refer to happy childhood memories of hunting, and so significant is it as a point of reference, one of the questions is to tell what the Elders’ favourite countryfood is.

Unverified – needs further research to be done ashore: There’s reportedly a significant impact on hunting and animal behaviour due to climate change and human activity in the region. This apparrently has changed the availability of countryfood for residents of Baffin Island, which has resulted in a need to purchase rather than hunt food, changing the diet (to one that is less healthy) and financialising food availability where it was not linked to money before. This has had a knock on effect of threading money through the society.

I spoke to a charming young artist who was working at the Visitor Centre while studying Art, and who pointed me in the direction of a lot of information on First Nations artists. He himself had recently won first prize for the Aboriginal Arts and Stories competition, and as part of the prize he will travel to Toronto. He said he found this weird, following with “I didn’t know there were so many Aboriginals in Toronto”, but he didn’t really expand on this statement further.

Finally I spoke to the Museum curator, who had immigrated to Iqaluit in the 1980s and had been lecturing and working there ever since. She described her experience of “falling in between”, as she described it. Coming from Asia, she self-identifies as being frequently thought to be Inuit from her appearance.

However, though she has lived in the capital for around 30 years, she still feels – and is sometimes treated like – an outsider. Non-judgemental about the changes in the city, she recounted how, when she first moved here, every Saturday was the day to go to the market, and this was where everyone would meet and chat – a social occasion for the whole community. She says that now when she goes, she doesn’t know anybody, and that a large part of the new population – which went from 3500 to nearly 8000 in the time she’s lived here – are people who immigrate only a few years before leaving again. She says that there is less of a coherent community here now, and a lot more traffic.

The traffic here for me is as sad as traffic everywhere, but more situationally poignant when I look from the busy, dirty streets of Iqaluit across to the bay, and see the blue icebergs waiting for their moment to colonise the land again. A moment that is less and less likely to come.


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