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The Wonderful Voice from Nunavut

“The really sad part is, I’ve never been to Nunavut, and it’s probably gonna take som time before I go. It sounds complicated, expensive and difficult. Besides I hate freezing my ass off, and I am not particularly fond of sitting in dog-drawn sledges watching polar bears sniffing their noses up in the air because they smell human flesh.# These were the exact words I told Katania, a street musician who was on a road trip around the USA and Canada in order to get new experiences, to live life as she put it. With just enough money for her flight and an old car, she needed to fund her travel costs by entertaining people in the streets of the places she visited, and she did it damned good. Lots of people crowded around her to enjoy a soft, mellow, kind of harsh-cut voice. Her interpretation of hits by Carly Simon, Tina Truner and Pat Benatar just chilled me to the bone. I had to talk to her. And I got my shot. It cost me a dollar, which I neatly placed in her small case beside of her, asking her I she would mind me taking a picture of her. She smiled – a row of gorgeous white superstar teeth with no cups whatsoever and we got a conversation going. The fact that she actually comes from Nunavut, is of Inuit origin was more than enough for me to stick around for a while. I offered her a coffee and a meal of her choice, and in return, she taught me about Nunavut. Here are some interesting stuff that I picked up when talking to her.

The Eskimos originate in Asia and settled in the Arctic region some 4000 years ago. A north-American Indian tribe called them Eskimos, which actually means people who eat raw meat. The settlers called themselves Inuit, however, which means people. The Eskimos belonged to nomadic tribes that moved over large, arctic areas, hunting caribous, seals, fish and polar bears. During the winter, they dug themselves into snow and earth, using driftwood with turf over as roofs, in order to avoid freezing to death. For clothing they used whatever nature had to offer, polar bear skin or caribou fur.

The Inuit still hunt and fish, and some of them travel 5000 kilometres a year in order to obtain what they need. Sometimes they build igloos as temporary quarters, and in order to catch seals they make a hole in the ice and wait for a seal to come up for air. They then simply hit it on the head and – abracadabra – dinner is served! Today most Inuit live in villages or towns. They are proud of their hunting traditions, their culture, folk songs and language. Their language is called Inuktitut, and is similar to the language in Greenland and among Inuit in Alaska. It is a very special language, since they express themselves in few words.

The word Parilarumaniralauqsimanngittunga actually means, “I never said I wanted to go to Paris”! In 1999 the Inuit achieved a dearly sought-after wish – the right to self-determination and their own land. 20% of the total area of Canada (2 million square kilometres) was given to a population 24.730, 20.480 of whom were Inuit. Iqualit was chosen as the capital. This gives the Inuit the right to control exploitation of natural resources, and keep a large percentage of the income. Nunavut means Our Land, and the like of this has never before been done for any native population anywhere in the world. Canada has really paved the way!

So why would anyone want to travel to Nunavut? It’s cold, it’s expensive, has next to no roads, a population density that makes Greenland look clautrophobic, and during most of the year you never get to see the sun! Well, what you’ve got to do is to picture a treeless, ice-encrusted wilderness – just wilderness that you won’t find anywhere else on this planet. The sights are many: Polar bears are guaranteed so are beluga whale. The inhabitants are supposed to be extremely welcoming. I noticed that, because now I am officially invited to go to Nunavut and stay there for free in Katania’s house. The package includes free board and lodging, free use of a snowscooter and a guided tour on a fishing boat with her father. If you’re not invited by anyone,  you’re still never alone in Nunuvat, because you simply can’t. This means you usually have to join a small group of adventurers lead by a an Inuit guide, his motorized snow-vehicles or his dogs. This is the place where the annual number of visitors never reaches more than a three digit number.

According to my friend, first stop should be the capital of Nunavut, Iqaluit. There are daily flights from Toronto, Montreal and Quebec, but the prices are extreme. A real rip-off. Lowest price ever heard of:  1.900 dollars, return flight.  Normally your trip will have been organised by a Travel Agent in Montreal or Toronto, but there is also this very service -minded office staff at Nunavut Tourism who are more than willing to help you get started, and more than willing to charge high amounts off any major credit card you may possess.  Iqualit is probably the only place in this vast land where you can get organised or buy extras to your already planned excursions.

Iqaluit is futuristic and strange. Some of the buildings appear to have been imported from outer space. This is the place you enjoy your last meal in a proper restaurant for a while, shere you get your last sip of Perrier Water and do your last shopping for ice cold days out in the wilderness. Check out the Waterfront for Inuit activities. This is where you can see then build boats, sledges and even slaughter whales, seals and fish.

Hiking is easy in and around Iqualit. You can do this on your own. Nobody ecet gets lost since there are no trees, and you can easily catch a glimpse of the buildings og Iqualit fram afar. In Sylvia Grinnell Territorial Park you get to follow certain paths which lead waterfalls, blueberry fields, small canyons, lakes and so on. Beautiful and safe. If your’re you’ll get to see  caribou and fox as you trail along. If you don’t feel like walking all that much, you can always rent an all-terrain vehicle or a kayak or canoe in the off-snow season or a snowmobile in winter.

Independent Travel offer a variety of tours, among others polar bear and beliga sightings,icebreaker adventures, dog-sledge trekking and so on. good deals can be m,ade if you are in a big group, or join a big group, but what I’ve heard is that 4000 Canadian Dollars is supposed to be a very good deal! Check Nunavut Tourism on thye Internet for deals and itineraries.

Katania is very proud of being Inuit. “There are lots of tales to tell from her upbringing in a small village to the North of Iqualit. “Yes, it it is freezing cold most of the time. But we dress according to the weather. I can’t remember freezing, she laughs.” I beg her to tell me more. More about her special culture, her people, her language. We spend the entire evening together. I learn about folk tales, about special meals, about eating raw seal-meat. She tells me about old people in Nunavut who don’t want to be a burden to their families. The moment they can’t fend for themselves they just want to die. Some forty years ago people of a certian age went into the coldness and just disappeared. How living conditions in this area have improved from the 1970ies, but also how her people have been exploited by colonialists, how they were double-crossed, used as slaves and killed. “Most Inuit people know their culture and their history. We are proud people, and we are lucky to live in Canada. Our fellow citizens have really done a lot for us lately. We are grateful. ”