It was obviously my fault. Despite warnings that Cape Dorset gets a lot of fog, and there is always a risk that planes can't land, I went with the weather forecast....sunny, with a 30% chance of fog. A calculated risk. When we got to the Iqaluit airport we were warned that our outbound plane might not be able to land, but at the last minute we got the green light and off we went to this tiny hamlet, and mecca for Inuit art. It has the highest number of artists per capita in canada.
We were so graciously received. I want to give a shout out to Olayuk Akesuk, former MLA and Cabinet Minister for the Territory, who is now the CAO for the hamlet....and an amazing man. Deeply rooted in his culture, but very savvy about the Southern world and its ways. He organized a wonderful day for us, with meetings with the Deputy Mayor, members of the local RCMP detachment. And he arranged for the one accessible van, used to transport disabled school kids and elders around the community, to be available to take me around. We had a brief driving tour of the community, which is beautifully situated among spectacular rocky hills, and the water. Very picturesque....except for the very large and very visible dump just on the outskirts of the community.
The highlight for me was the lunch at the community centre. Understand that this is a very remote community and food is not easy to ship in. But we were treated to a lovely lunch of arctic char soup and bannock. And then two young girls from the local high school treated us to a throat singing performance, and it was so good it may the hair stand up on the back of my neck. It is an intricate art form and quite mesmerizing.
We had a crash course in the community....formed some 60 years ago when the nomadic peoples of the region were "relocated" to this hamlet, to make it easier for government officials to manage them, and the fur trade. The arrival of alcohol has had a tremendous effect on the community. According to the RCMP, 90% of the crime can be attributed to drinking, including some rampant domestic violence. There is also a lot of teen pregnancy, and we saw lots of young mothers carrying their babies on their backs, in their traditional coats.
But it is also a hotbed of creativity. In the 60s, James Houston arrived in town with a vision....to create a community of carvers and print makers. Until then, carving had been for personal use and often very utilitarian. Since then, the Dorset Artists Coop has become world famous for the quality of its work, many of which are in galleries, including the National Gallery in Ottawa, and some of which are available to rent through the Canada Council Art Bank (I know, because I have a couple of gorgeous modern sculptures in my office). We were so excited to visit the studio, however it was bereft of both artists and art on the day of our visit. No artists were on-site that day, and most of the art had been packed for shipment to their affiliated gallery in Toronto. There were a few pieces left, and we descended on them like hungry art wolves. I did pick up a lovely print, and one of my colleagues, Helena acquired a spectacular piece of sculpture.
We headed back to the airport with our loot only to hear our plane fly by overhead, and then be told that the pilot had opted not to land, given the poor visibility. Hard to take, but easy to understand given the recent terrible First Air crash in Nunavut. Fortunately, there was room at the "nice" hotel, and even though we had to double bunk, we were pleased to have beds! Dinner was whatever we could find at the convenience store, which, fortunately, also stocked toothbrushes and toothpaste....hooray!
A few of us were able to get on a noon flight out the next day on a different airline that had three seats available....and we were thrilled to get to back to Iqaluit. Our colleagues spent their afternoon making more purchases of art (the hotel owner, who is a going concern and currently building two additional hotels in the community) has turned her home into a gallery where hotel guests can spend even more money (our hotel bill was $275....per person!) on some lovely pieces of art.
Now, we are back in Iqaluit. It is our last day, and we will have an opportunity to review what we have learned and try to understand what it means for Canada, for the public service, and for us as leaders....so stay tuned!