Frontier Journalism

. Once upon a time the 'rush' was for fur, gold or oil, in communities called Hochelaga, the Klondike and Calgary. Each suffered decades of transient, rabble-rousing fortune seekers overwhelming the local population. A second invasion consisted of insufferably condescending do-gooders purporting to rescue that local population from further exploitation, outside influence and vested interest. Eventually, some of the newcomers settled among the oldtimers, adding new narratives and allegiances, until a new 'local' population emerged that behaved with an eye towards longer term community and well being. Nunavik and Nunavut are in their frontier phase right now and they are reacting pretty much the same as Prince George, Whitehorse, or Anchorage did before them. The excesses in resentment, nepotism, plutocracy and paternalism are only typical of peoples trying to shrug off a colonial past. Which is why today's residents of northern Québec and Nunavut are fed up with media stereotypes that harp on nothing but substance abuse and political shenanigans. The latest round in that battle has Makivik president Pita Atami and Nunatsiaq News editor-in-chief Jim Bell squaring off over the role of the press in all this. Atami feels that reporters are so obsessed with their watchdog role that it distorts most press coverage. Bell responds by accusing Atami of denying journalists sufficient access to information to report properly on northern leaders and their management of public affairs. Unfortunately for the communities they serve, there is a troubling element of truth in both points of view. Northern governments and businesses are not yet as transparent as they should be, while the press, both national and local, consistently fail to offer narratives of adaptation and innovation that suggest an alternative way forward. While Jim Bell rightly asserts that 'rapportage' involves more than the unfiltered transmission of raw news, he fails to address Mr. Atami's broader critique regarding Nunavik's and Nunavut's need for a better narrative. If 'one' means we are stuck and 'two' means dilemma, then choice begins at 'three' and Nunavut's intellectual, academic and media communities are failing dismally to provide a more choice-filled narrative of our history and our present. Historians and reporters have an obligation to accurately document the past, but as a community's intellectuals, they are also responsible and accountable for crafting a self-depicting narrative that helps more than it hinders If Mr. Atami's expression of frustration with the current play-by-play on polar affairs was not altogether up to Mr. Bell's standards for style and principle, that won't surprise the rest of us who continue to mourn the loss from our public commons of voices like those of the Experimental Eskimos and other thoughtful contemporaries. .


  1. There is, still today, a funneling of young Inuit talent into "politics." The wide-spread idea that the Nunavut Sivuniksavut program constitutes an essential step in the education of Nunavut's youth is one example of this. John A as a young man chose his path through politics. Today's talented, striving Nunavut Inuit youth often see it as the only path.
    When training lends this kind of bias toward the political, it becomes difficult to express ideas that may be upsetting to those in politics, no matter the field you end up working in (which, for Nunavut's talented youth, is likely somewhere in government, which just exacerbates the problem).

  2. Good comment M.O. The fresh narrative needed to reframe recent Inuit history is equally, if not more likely to come from the arts sector, new media, film, documentaries, essays, short stories ... maybe someday an honest to goodness novel. I wonder whatever happened to all those hundreds of legends recorded for radio by CBC North during the 70s and 80s. Arnaittuk Ipeelie and countless others. What a treasure for young Inuit artists to build on.

  3. Part of what I was trying to say is that between the likes of John A and Peter I (who were 30ish in 1980) and say myself (30ish in 2010) there weren't a lot of contemporary artistic milestones/touchstones/even practitioners.
    There is a gap there, but it's understandable. After all, talented, smart young Inuit had a Territory to create and run.
    But this has caused, in some of my work (and others that I've noticed), a sort of Cole's Notes for Nunavut: trying to lay out in point form what it might have been like, from an artist's point of view, to live back then. Being 20-40 years removed from a time I couldn't participate in makes this difficult, so I can only hope that folks who were alive and active then who have yet to express themselves artistically, will eventually do so. But until that space is sufficiently back-filled (with fact or fiction), the steps taken by today's "narrators" (myself included), to move the story forward, are going to seem a little hollow.

  4. Not sure I'm getting the full scope of your analogy to "Coles Notes", which I suspect is profound, but I want to be sure I'm not projecting.

    Do you mean that: a) there is only a very sketchy record of output from creative Inuit minds of that era while they were necessarily so immersed in politics for three decades; b) that you wonder what they might have produced had they been able to concentrate on their art(s); and c) as a consequence of that sacrifice of theirs, they've left a huge gap in the Inuit narrative that is hard for your generation to backfill?

    If that is approximately what you are saying, that leaves your gang self-depicting almost as castaways, cultural or artistic orphans straining to re-connect.

    If so, it is not too late for you to approach them and put it to them exactly that way! Your analysis is deep. Demand they overcome their lethargy and help you overcome yours, before it's too late.

    The difference between what they say to Qallunaat curiosity-seekers and what they can say to another Inuk is profound. From my limited exposure, PeterI, ZebedeeN and JohnA are very approachable for anyone prepared for some tough-love, tough-mindedness, and pretty raw challenges. None of those three suffers fools or pretenders for long. But once they detect the depth and oomph and sincerity of your craving, I predict the gap you decry will close in an instant, almost violently. I say that because I suspect the hunger is just as strong on their side of that divide and they're only waiting for a credible probe from the next generation.

    It is not at all unusual for men in their 50s and 60s to clam up for a while and digest. As they approach their 70s however, there is a willingness, bordering on craving, to pass the torch.

    To quote José Marti in Guantanamera, "... antes de morirme quiero, hechar mis versos del alma." ("Before I croak, I need to pitch these verses out of my soul."

    ErikT is purportedly the more difficult to approach, but ... having known you from childhood, I wonder if he mightn't just be the deepest well of all for your particular ache.

    Start with PeterI, Zebedee and JohnA, of course, but don't avoid ErikT ... that might just be your home turf.

  5. The more troubling part of this is the lack of works from folks who were 30ish in 1990 or 2000. The anonymity of the potentially creatively-gifted from this era is troubling for Inuit like me assessing the foundations of their art.
    I'm close to or at that age of willingness, craving, for the torch to be passed down, and there are some good starting points out there (thanks for pointing specifically to Erik T, he's certainly the least "well known" of that group today but someone I will definitely have my ears and eyes open to now). But between those points and where I stand now there is a stretch of "unclaimed territory" where only the locals have the knowledge to fully illuminate the path for today's adventurers. It is those still silent voices I wait to hear.

  6. Re: holding historians, the media and other intellectuals accountable for their impact on our shared narrative, both national and global: