“Come for the Franklin—stay for the Inuit culture.” That is how writer, performer and expedition host David Newland describes using the allure of expedition era stories about the Arctic, to awaken southerners to the contemporary reality of Arctic Canada. Epic tales of adventure attract an audience familiar Pierre Berton, Farley Mowat, Margaret Atwood and what Glenn Gould called“The Idea of North.” But the history, the culture, and the issues facing the Inuit—the Indigenous people of the Arctic—are the stories Canadians need to know, now.
When most southern Canadians think of The North, they tend to picture vast vistas of unbroken snow and ice: a barren, desolate place where nothing lives, and where nothing happens. But that’s a myth that has entered our consciousness by way of writers and storytellers from elsewhere writing their stories onto the Arctic.
The truth is, Inuit Nunangat—the territory of the Inuit—is not a barren, frozen wasteland. It is a peopled place; one filled with history and culture. The Inuit have thrived in a land that seems harsh, because they have the technology, the know-how, and the cultural values required to live above the Arctic Circle.
For a long time, the difficulties of The North kept the rest of the world away. Since the time of the Vikings—roughly 1000 AD—our impressions of what is now Canada’s Arctic have been viewed through a European-colonial lens, where interest is only usually piqued by perceived value. The “value” in the Arctic was symbolized by the Northwest Passage: the long-hoped for potential shortcut by ship, between the North Atlantic, and the North Pacific Ocean. Many died trying to find that elusive Northwest Passage; all too often, victims of their own ignorance, and a refusal to learn from the Inuit whose home they sought to travel through. It’s time that we all listen, because the North is melting. The Northwest Passage is open at last—over the Top of the World.