Tag Archives: iqaluit

From Iqaluit to Igloolik

I find myself in Igloolik this week, an Inuit community of almost 1,500 people which sits on its own small island about 800 km northwest of Iqaluit, just off the northeast corner of Melville Peninsula.

 

Arriving Sunday night around 4:30pm it was already pitch dark and about -30C with the wind: an instant reminder that I’m further north than Iqaluit. I’m above the Arctic Circle now, where, eventually, the sun will disappear for weeks each winter.  The average temperature in Igloolik this week is around -27C, before the wind chill. And there are only about 3 hours of sunlight, including twilight.

 

My official capacity here—covering a five-day coroner’s inquest into the death of a young, popular artist and circus performer while in police custody for Nunatsiaq News

A plane waits on the tarmac of Iqaluit's airport Nov. 22. After flying all the way to Igloolik, my plane turned around headed back for Iqaluit because groundstaff woudln't have been able to de-ice the plane for its next trip, the pilot said.
A plane waits on the tarmac of Iqaluit’s airport Nov. 22. After flying all the way to Igloolik, my plane turned around headed back for Iqaluit because groundstaff woudln’t have been able to de-ice the plane for its next trip, the pilot said.

—leaves me with aheavy feeling.

 

Solomon Uyarasuk was only 26 years old when he died in the local RCMP detachment’s cell in Sept. 2012, severely intoxicated and by suicide, according to sparse comments by an Ottawa police investigation conducted to examine the RCMP’s conduct. The report will be made public for the first time during the inquest, and so will all other testimony and evidence, such as the pathologist’s autopsy report, so far withheld from family, friends and the community at large.

 

I know I should feel lucky, privileged to be in this position, but there’s too much privilege—colonial, classist, call it whatever you want—wrapped up with the luck for it to sit well.

 

I feel motivated, humbled, slightly embarrassed by this opportunity.

 

There was a documentary made on the performer’s death, called SOL, which premiered at the imagiNATIVE film festival in Toronto recently, and, even more recently, won an important award at the international Montreal documentary festival.

 

One of the two directors of the film, who I will be collaborating with to produce short daily video segments on the inquest—to be used in an epilogue of the film—told me that one of the most tragic elements of this story is how the family and friends, predominantly Inuktitut speakers, have been communicated with by the RCMP and other state institutions. Or, more accurately, not communicated with.

Igloolik's old community hall, the site of the first day of the inquest into Solomon Uyarasuk's death while in the local RCMP detachment's holding cell in Sept. 2012.  photo: thomas rohner
Igloolik’s old community hall, the site of the first day of the inquest into Solomon Uyarasuk’s death while in the local RCMP detachment’s holding cell in Sept. 2012. photo: Thomas Rohner

 

And then here I come, a white man from the south–a Qallunaat, as the Inuit say—to report on how other Qallunaat and Qallunaat institutions failed the community on some of the most basic levels:  for starters, preserving the life of a young man while in police custody.

 

The community has unresolved grief, the documentary says, in part because the official cause of death has not been made public.

 

But when a citizen dies in police custody an inquest is automatically triggered, and then it is up to the jury at the inquest to categorize the death as a suicide, homicide, one by natural cause or an accident. This is the reason, the territory’s chief coroner told me, there has not been an official cause of death made public.

 

Presiding coroner Garth Eggenberger of the NWT prepares the community hall for the first day of inquest Nov. 24.  photo: Thomas Rohner
Presiding coroner Garth Eggenberger of the NWT prepares the community hall for the first day of inquest Nov. 24. photo: Thomas Rohner

Still, there are other questions that have fueled speculation, frustration and anger: what did Solomon Uyarasuk kill himself with, if he committed suicide? Some reports say he hung himself by his shoelace from a flap in the door a mere two feet off the ground. Isn’t it regular RCMP procedure to remove any items a detainee could use to hang themselves? Could a severely intoxicated man have the coordination required to hang himself from that height? How long did it take him and why didn’t an RCMP officer check on him before he was dead? Why did the two police officers  on duty leave town immediately, the next day? Why were his family asked for fresh clothes, but never given his old clothes? Why were his family and friends denied the right to see his body?

 

Suicide is a widespread problem in Nunavut—that’s no secret.

 

“We want to understand how he died,” Susan Avingaq, the documentary’s other director, and a local elder in Igloolik, said in the film.  “This tragedy is not just about Solomon. This is about everyone struggling with suicide.”

 

The documentary shows footage of Solomon, an agile, stringy, young man, eager to smile and laugh and express himself.

 

“Don’t forget how to play,” the first clip, some 20 minutes in, shows him saying, sitting in a sparse room on an old office chair. “Inuit on the ice play. Elders playing with the kids, or kids playing amongst themselves. That’s home—feels like home to me.”

 

The founder of the circus troupe—Artcirq, established to help combat youth suicide and depression, and which travels around the world now with its mesmerizing performances—said that his relationship with Solomon was a deep and moving but difficult one.

 

“He never wanted to be controlled,” Guillaume Saladin said in the documentary.

The new community hall with mural, expected to be opened soon.  photo: Thomas Rohner
The new community hall with mural, expected to be opened soon. photo: Thomas Rohner

 

“Everything about authority he had a hard time with.”

 

I can relate to that.

 

“I don’t know who I am,” Solomon said in the film. “Maybe I’m just another Inuk. If the people around me are happy, then I’m happy. If I’m with sad people, then I’m sad.”

 

Towards the end of the film, Solomon’s childhood friend plays a beautiful, sad song on the guitar, written by Solomon:

 

“Today is not fun. I am back to the darkness. I love you very much. Don’t forget that. The wind has been at my back. I follow my feet far. I follow the lonely darkness. It’s always welcoming.”

 

There’s a suicide helpline in Nunavut: 867-979-3333 or 1-800-265-3333

 

To learn more about Igloolik, you can read a community profile on the region’s Truth Commission, or this interesting community profile from the 2011 Census on StatsCan.

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Helicopter ride over Baffin Island (gallery + videos)

(scroll down for photo gallery + videos)

Aerial view of York Sound during Operation Nanook, Aug. 27, 2014. Photo: Thomas Rohner
Aerial view of York Sound during Operation Nanook, Aug. 27, 2014. Photo: Thomas Rohner

 

When the military invites the media for a tour, it’s safe to assume there’s nothing really worth seeing–at least not journalistically.

So when my colleague at Nunatsiaq News told me there was a seat available on a military-chartered helicopter to York Sound, about 175km outside Iqaluit, to visit an encampment set up as part of Operation Nanook–an annual military exercise–I didn’t really jump at the chance.

But I ended up going and it was worth the trip, even though it was excessive, pampered and, from a news perspective, sterile.

The Views, The Pilot

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Military-chartered helicopter lands at York Sound Aug. 27, 2014, for a tour of Op Nanook. Photo: Thomas Rohner

At an altitude of 3,000 feet, the bay sparkled beneath, every wave reflecting a shard of sunlight.

“Those waves are as tall as houses down there, don’t fool yourself,” the civilian pilot said over the headset.

Oblong isles of rock and the odd ice floe drifted by beneath.

Back in Iqaluit, before takeoff, the pilot had given us a stark and graphic safety briefing.

“If something horrible like a crash happens, please don’t leave me in the helicopter. Rescue me. Even if my legs are gone, I’m on fire or unconscious—whatever, please save me. I wouldn’t leave you in there. Nobody should be left in the helicopter if we crash, OK?”

He told us where to stand, and where not to stand when the chopper blades were turning, and what the consequences were if we erred.

“I’ve never heard of an injury. You die, that’s all.”

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The view from a helicopter en route to York Sound from Iqaluit, Aug. 27, 2014. Photo: Thomas Rohner

He was like a character out of an adventure novel: confident, outgoing, friendly, aggressive and a little lewd.

“They don’t send me places where there’s no mosquitoes, with lots of booze and hookers,” he said of his employers on the way up to York Sound. “They only send me places where there’s  lotsa bugs, no booze and no hookers.”

He was due for some time off, he told us. “I’m going to abuse my liver, that’s what I’m going to do.”

 

The Camp: bacon and cigarettes

Groups of soldiers loitered throughout the camp, most in groups, huddled together, talking, smoking cigarettes. Three rows of tent–dark green, white and bright orange–extended from where the helicopter landed. Backpacks were piled high in a few spots.

ATVs buzzed around the camp, and there was an almost constant coming-and-going of helicopters and twin otters.

I was surprised to smell bacon.

“They’re our rations,” a search and rescue technician wearing a neon orange jumper told me. “I had a sausage breakfast this morning,”

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Tent latrines at Op Nanook, York Sound, 2014: do your business in a bag, deposit bag in blue barrel. Photo: Thomas Rohner

The day before he had parachuted from a helicopter.

I was bored by the interviews and footage the other media personnel were obliged to record for their outlets. I didn’t have the same obligations, so I looked around.

On either side of the cluster of tents, standing 15-20 meters away, were a few booth-like structures, similar in material as the tents.

They looked like port-o-potties, and that’s exactly what they turned out to be. Beside the tent latrines were bright blue, plastic barrels. The latrines use a bag system. You go in a bag, and then put the bag in the barrel.

 

Rangers: polar bear, caribou, whales

Of the 32 rangers helping out at York Sound, around 30 are Inuit from the Baffin region, one ranger estimated.

Their main job is to carry out predator patrol along the perimeter.

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Members of the Baffin region rangers at York Sound, helping out with Op Nanook, Aug. 27, 2014. Photo: Thomas Rohner

They’ve seen a few polar bears so far, another ranger told me, including a mother and cub. The bears may have been attracted by the caribou the ranger shot and killed.

“We spread the meat out on the ground, covered it with a tarp so the ravens wouldn’t get it, and it’s still fresh,” he said. “I’ve fed all the rangers with the caribou,” he laughed. A few more caribou have been shot since, which has raised some questions considering there are apparently not that many left on the island.

The rangers drove us down to the beachside on their ATVs, where a tent and small encampment was set up as the command centre for the grounded cruise ship in Op Nanook’s mock emergency scenario, about a kilometer offshore.

The military rep told us that, if we were lucky, we’d see some of the 50 actors hired to feign injury brought back to shore from the cruise ship and up to the triage tents in the main camp. Some of them would even be transported back to the hospital in Iqaluit, she said.

Be all you can be. Or something. York Sound, Operation Nanook, Aug. 27, 2014. Photo: Thomas Rohner
Be all you can be. Or something. York Sound, Operation Nanook, Aug. 27, 2014. Photo: Thomas Rohner

But we weren’t lucky. It was quiet down on the seashore, a handful of participants in Op Nanook—including a man with a “coroners” armband—mulling around a tent. After a few minutes we rode back up to the camp and piled into the chopper.

If only the media had been invited out to York Sound the previous day, when Stephen Harper visited the camp. We could’ve saved on jet fuel, maybe even asked the PM a question or two.

 

 

Prominent architecture in Iqaluit

scroll down for picture gallery

The architecture in Iqaluit leaves two distinct impressions on my mind: the town’s military history and the harsh arctic environment.

Many of the bigger buildings are box-shaped with minimal geometric variations and sparse porthole windows. There’s a simplistic aesthetic which immediately speaks to function and weathering the blistering winds.

But it doesn’t seem there are many admirers of Iqaluit architecture.

A letter to the editor of the local newspaper in 2002 described the town’s architecture as one of fear: fear of the elements, fear of costs, fear of a unique identity and fear of imagination.

“Buildings still do not engage the landscape as they should, striding over it with complete abandon,” the letter said. “There is little attention to the streetscape…to lighting, to the human experience of the building.”

And a former reporter at the local paper described the architecture, simply, as goofy.

But there are signs that architectural designs are becoming more ambitious, if even goofier.

One architect from Toronto designed skyscrapers, made of local rocks, to sit atop glaciers and move with ocean currents. Nothing came of those designs.

And some design students, also from Ontario, pitched giant floating balls of light to Nunavut communities as a way to see them through the long, dark winters.

Much of the push for more colourful, unique buildings comes, sadly, in the form of government, especially federal, buildings, as you’ll see below. The Territorial legislative assembly, built in 1999, was seen by many as the first building to attempt creativity. And an aquatic centre slated to begin construction next summer would certainly add some colour and flare.

A project headed by a Toronto firm, called Arctic Adaptations, tried to address what many see as the abysmal state of architecture in the North earlier this year by designing buildings with five themes in mind: health, housing, education, arts and recreation.

The project was one of the top exhibits at this year’s Venice Biennale—an internationally renowned architectural fair.

“Maybe we haven’t been as intelligent as the Inuit have been in adapting to place [in the North],” the lead architect said.

This post only deals with prominent architecture of public buildings in the town; a post on housing and infrastructure will follow at a later date.


Iqaluit Airport

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Inuksuk High School

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Nakasuk Elementary School

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Baffin Correctional Centre and the territorial court house

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Legislative assembly and  RCMP office

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St. Jude Anglican Church

 

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The Arctic Hotel, The Frobisher Inn and the Legion

 

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Misc

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Building houses municipal council chambers.
This building houses the municipal council chambers.
Qikiqtani General Hospital
Qikiqtani General Hospital
CBC building.
CBC building.

Iqaluit groceries, sculptures

 

Grocery Bill, North Mart

*salt and pepper shakers (mini): $6.99

*sugar, bulk (0.465kg): $2.28

*canola oil (475mL): $3.99

*coffee, ground (925g): $19.99

water enhancer, squirt (48mL): $4.35

*pasta, rotini, 1 bag (900g): $5.49

*sandwich bags, 100: $1.99

*soap, bars (2): $4.19

*toothpaste (100mL): $4.29

*crackers, 1 box (225g): $3.99

*candy, 1 box (450g): $6.19

milk (4L): $10.45

frozen veg, corn (750g): $4.79

frozen juice concentrate: $1.35 x 4

ground beef (0.5kg): $5.95

pork loin (0.42kg): $6.76

chicken breast, boneless/skinless (1.1kg/5 pieces): $32.03

bag charge: $0.72

subtotal: $136.83

gst: $1.15

total: $137.98

*= discount brands

 

Things I can’t afford until I get paid

laundry detergent, Tide 5L: $48.89

toilet paper, Charmin 12 rolls: $19.99

garbage bags, Glad 20 large: $14.39

Hello Iqaluit

 

Grocery Bill
Cereal, Special K (565g): $11.39

Potato Chips (270g): $4.89

Loaf of Bread, 7-grain: $3.25

Onions, yellow (2lb): $3.49

Peppers, red (1): $2.33

Potatoes (5lbs): $5.45

Eggs (1 dozen): $3.95

Milk (2L): $6.19

Cheddar, Cracker Barrel Old (200g): $6.45

Butter (1lb): $7.99

Pork chops, loin (0.32kg): $4.89

subtotal: $60.37
gst: $0.21

Total: $60.58