Canada’s Nunavut territory covers about two million square kilometers and comprises a fifth of Canadian territory. It’s home to about 29,000 people, mostly Inuit.
Along with their proud heritage and striking landscapes, residents struggle with unemployment, poverty and cultural dislocation. Suicide rates among Inuit youth are ten times higher than the national average.
In the tiny Arctic town of Igloolik, where there are barely 1500 inhabitants, around 5 young adults commit suicide every year.
In response to this widespread despair among the young in Igloolik, the village launched several initiatives. A film company, Iglooklik Isuma Productions, went on to win the Camera d’Or prize at the Cannes Film Festival.
With the help of a Montreal acrobat, several young people also created a circus troupe called Artcirq that blends modern circus activities with traditional Inuit culture.
Artcirq has taken its performance all the way to the Olympics, performing in a Vancouver medal ceremony on February 21st.
Linda Matchan blogged this week from Vancouver about the large native presence at the Olympics:
The Aboriginal presence at the Olympics is conspicuous to anyone who watched the opening ceremonies on TV, which were dominated by four massive totem poles representing each of the host First Nations. The work of Aboriginal artists appear in every Olympic venue. The gold, silver and bronze medals feature West Coast aboriginal designs.
Not all Aboriginal people are buying this. As Joseph himself acknowledged, First Nations people experience an unemployment rate that is at least double of other Canadians. The suicide rate in Aboriginal communities is twice the national rate. Two out of three Aboriginal children living on reserves will not graduate from high school.
Members of an Olympic Resistance Movement have argued that the Olympics is merely window dressing. They say the money would have been better spent on remedying the after-effects of colonialism, such as homelessness among Aboriginals, many of whom live in Vancouver’s Downtown East Side known as the poorest postal code in Canada.
Canada’s Arctic Inuit people have many of the same social problems, though they have not been addressed so vocally at the Olympics (It is the source of some pride, though, that the official Olympic logo is an inukshuk, a traditional stone sculpture used by Canada’s Inuit people).