Contemplating my Stay in ᐃᖃᓗᐃᑦ (Iqaluit)

Dominic Bell - HR Picture

By Dominic Bell

I am currently on a First Air flight back to Montreal.

We just stopped for a brief layover in Kuujjuaq after departing from Iqaluit.

I feel like now is as good a time as ever to continue my blog.

Where to begin?

I think my circuit to Pond Inlet is a good place to start.

During their summers, students at Maliiganik sometimes get the chance to travel on what is referred to as a “circuit court”.  As the largest subdivision in Canada, access to justice in Nunavut is hindered by how interspersed the communities are across this great expanse of the far North.  Just to give you an idea of the sheer magnitude, the distance from Pond Inlet to Montreal is about the same as the distance from Montreal to Jamaica; and yet, both are located in the same country.

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I travelled on circuit from July 17-24th.  Our trip began with a short layover in Clyde River.  Thereafter, we continued to our destination.  I am positively confident in saying that Pond Inlet is the most beautiful place I have ever visited.  The view from our hotel (the Black Point Lodge) spanned a large bay of ice blocks drifting gently with the current, and across the blue water stood the mountain range of Bylot Island: a bird sanctuary.  From higher up, Mount Yerodia was visible to the east and the distance to both was underscored by how spectacular the view was.

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The day after arrival, we began preparations for the court circuit by interviewing clients, potential witnesses, etc.  The two lawyers and court worker who I accompanied on this trip, worked tirelessly throughout the weekend to ensure that we were prepared for court on Monday.  In turn, I assisted in interviewing clients and witnesses, and prepared some youth cases as well.  Moreover, when the Crown prosecutors arrived later, I helped negotiate some joint positions.  This was a fantastic learning experience as I spoke to summary matters in court for the first time.

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The beauty of Pond Inlet and the learning opportunity I have described mask the extreme pain which I witnessed during my time in the North. Many of our clients have endured some absolutely horrific events in their lives and some of the trials were difficult to listen to at times. The complexity of the situation is brought into full light when one considers present offences through a neo-colonial lens and sees the court as a continuing vehicle for past colonial injustices.  Indeed, there is a lingering feeling that justice is happening to the Inuit rather than for them. Conversely, I am sensitive to the plight of the complainants who were often women and children.

There is quite simply, no simple answer.

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I am grateful for the time I have spent in the North.  I have been introduced to such a rich culture which was built on the tundra and ice of the Arctic.  Before leaving, I had the chance to visit Qaummaarviit national park, which is a short boat-ride away from Iqaluit across Frobisher Bay.  The ancient Inuit used this rocky outcrop which extends into the bay as a strategic outpost where they could hunt seal and walrus in the sea while maintaining land access to the caribou herds.  Moreover, they developed some ingenious forms of technology to assist in their hunting exploits.  One striking example that comes to mind is the toggling harpoon and float system that permitted the hunting of large sea mammals—such as whales—in open water.  On entry to the target’s skin, the specifically designed harpoon head would turn sideways, leaving the initial shaft to fall away and the attached float to tire out the animal.  I am amazed by the brilliance of this crafty device.

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I head back to the South with mixed feelings.  Sad to leave such an incredible place with equally amazing people, but happy to go home as well.

I have learnt a lot during my stay in Iqaluit and hope to return soon.

A glimpse at ᐃᖃᓗᐃᑦ (Iqaluit)

Dominic Bell - HR PictureBy Dominic Bell

 

The North is as vast as it is beautiful.

I am humbled by the immensity of the Arctic and by the remarkable people who inhabit it.

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My new home is in Apex which is a small community about 5km Southeast of Iqaluit, accessible by causeway.  Luckily, my host family has allowed me to use their ATV to make my way to and from work each day.  The drive is about 15 minutes which can be quite harsh due to stinging winds.

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The temperature in Iqaluit has hovered at -1 since my arrival, with alternating snow and rain.  This pales in comparison to the -70 temperatures (wind-chill included) that the Nunavummiut face during the winter.  Earlier this month, I was able to participate in the sixth annual Yurt Fest which took place out on the massive expanse of ice that is Frobisher Bay.  It was my first time out on the land and I came across teams of dogs near their sleds peering at us with one eye as they slept under the bright sky.  After meeting many new people and partaking in the festivities, I sat with an Inuk hunter who told me a bit about her life and her encounters.  She had traveled down South on many occasions and was familiar with the urban life and modernity as I have come to know it living in a big city.  After telling her a bit about the nature of my work at Maliiganik, she proceeded to inform me that the Inuit do not have a word for “criminal”.  For them, the world is not cast in black/white and neither are people wholly good nor wholly evil.  I recognized that the legal paradigm I have been instructed in has minimal relevance to the old and new Inuit way of life which is built on its own set of premises.

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I have been troubled by this realization in my work for legal aid at Maliiganik Tukisiiniakvik.  Thus far, my research has been primarily focused in criminal defence and civil (poverty) claims.  The office environment is fantastic and I find much of the work to be very morally rewarding.  However,  I cannot help but wonder if the superimposition of Western legal values is but another form of neocolonialism within a nation which, perhaps falsely, prides itself on multiculturalism.  A few days ago, I read part of the TRC commission as part of a social media movement pioneered by my host who is also a criminal defence lawyer at Maliiganik.  I find it quite timely that I am in the territories at a time when we have begun to peel back a dark layer of Canada’s recent history, the effects of which can still be felt in this gigantic expanse.

So far during my brief stay, I have done my best to immerse myself as much as I can and to learn from those around me.  I have gone jigging for fish out on the melting ice, participated in a local “feast”, volunteered at the annual Alianait Festival, and hiked in the mountains/hills near Apex, inter alia.  Moreover, I have cooked seal, sampled raw narwhal and dried caribou, and eaten Arctic char. Lastly, I coach youth in soccer on Wednesday nights at the Arctic Winter Games Complex.

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I am hesitant to exoticize my experiences further, lest I become the intrepid international intern.  My brief stay in Iqaluit has cautioned me against simple solutions in wake of a truly complex array of institutional and social relations which play out in Iqaluit and the smaller communities of Nunavut.  I am wary of merely echoing the voice of the transient population that is so apparent in the territories; the people who travel here with ulterior motives and fail to truly appreciate this place.  Luckily, I have started to build–what I hope will be–lasting bonds with the locals who are often skeptical of Southerners who are simply here in passing for a couple months or a year and then return from whence they came with fond memories.  I am aware of the profound sense of distrust of “well-intentioned” foreigners–reminiscent of the oppressive colonizer.

As such, I endeavour to remain open-minded and perceptive.

I still have much to learn and see before departing.

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