How is it that until recently I knew so little about this vast, sparsely populated, but important Canadian territory?
In the last two weeks, I have chatted with an Inuk woman, Rebecca Kudloo, who heads the Inuit Women’s Organization of Canada (Pauktuuitit), and I have had coffee with Mr. Justice Alan Ingram, the Peterborough family court justice who is spending several weeks a year in court in Nunavut communities.
It has been an education.
Nunavut is made up of 100 large islands and 36,000 smaller ones comprising 2 million square kilometres of land and water - 21% of the total area of Canada. Almost all of it is above 60 degrees, above the tree line, and therefore Arctic tundra.
Winter can bring 24 hours of dark, and summer 24 hours of light.
Nunavut has a population of just under 40,000 people (85% Inuit) in its 26 scattered communities, none of which are connected by road.
It was carved out of the Northwest Territories in 1999, after 16 years of negotiation with the Government of Canada. It has a deep desire to become self-reliant, keeping its languages, customs and way of life.
The capital is Iqaluit, a town of 9,000 on Baffin Island, where the Territorial Legislature has 22 members and a Premier, Paul Quassa. For representation in Ottawa, there is one Nunavut MP and one Nunavut Senator. The hubs are Iqaluit, Rankin Inlet and Baker Lake. (Baker Lake, with 2000 persons, is where Rebecca Kudloo lives.)
What takes Justice Ingram there? Volunteering, and following a passion for indigenous people and the north, first fostered when as a student he spent summers leading tours to the Yukon and NWT, and later lived on the Nipissing Reserve near Sturgeon Falls.
After thirty-one years as a judge in Peterborough, he learned about the opportunity to serve Canada’s north. A few southern judges have been authorized to assist the local judges with their workload.
As more Inuit lawyers are being trained, he expects to see more Inuit judicial appointments in the future. In the north he travels on circuits, on small aircraft with the crown attorney, interpreters, defence lawyers and court staff.
Court may be held in arenas, community centres and school halls.
When in court, he sits with an Inuit elder and two Inuktitut interpreters. The offences are of a criminal nature: drug use, domestic assault. Each community has an RCMP detachment.
Ingram prepared for this assignment by reading northern cases and history, including Peterborough writer Shelagh Grant’s Arctic Justice, and following the daily Nunatsiak News.
There are painful problems in Nunavut: climate change, poverty, unemployment and health. 10% of the people have tuberculosis, and one community, Qikiqtarjuak, was recently closed to outsiders.
But the whole territory has internet, and there is a college providing teaching and nursing training. There is a growing number of Inuit taking leadership positions, southerners who have adopted it as home, and a surprising number of hard-working immigrants.
Ingram tries to deliver sentences that are culturally appropriate. Recently he sentenced a convicted offender to “Go on a seal hunt, kill a seal and distribute the meat to the village elders.” He ordered one offender to regularly take his medication for tuberculosis.
Last year’s Reframe Festival featured a documentary “Angry Inuk” on a successful Inuit designer who uses sealskin for beautiful products.
Alan Ingram loves the land, flying in when the pilot himself turns on the runway lights. He enjoys the hospitality of the people, going out on an ATV or having meals in a home. On off-hours, he walks the community, and always stops at the Food Bank.
It was easy to sense the feeling of enthusiasm in yet another Peterburian giving national service.
As we left the coffee shop, Alan Ingram said to the cashier, “Go north, young man.”
I salute the spirit of the judge.
An excerpt from Jamaica Journal illustrates Jamaica's love of sport, with a Canadian connection! This column originally appeared in the St. Anne’s Church Newsletter.
In a world that seems relentlessly torn and divided, one feels joy to hear of small but important achievements in bridge-building.
Last year at Stella Maris Prep School, on Shortwood Road, Rosalyn Robinson, the outstanding teacher of the Prep 2 class, set up an exchange correspondence with the children of Grade 4, Ridpath School, Lakefield, Ontario. Working through their Canadian teacher, Joyce Mackenzie, Mrs. Robinson arranged that her pupils send and receive several letters and gifts over the school term. To the delight of the children, many messages made their way from school to school.
The Jamaican children, (by common agreement the more accomplished in written expression!) sent news of Easter bun and cheese, of Independence Day celebrations, of their brothers, sisters, their football and their teacher. They mailed Jamaican pennies, coconut sweeties, school photos and many cordial invitations to "come and see me." The Canadian children, most of whom are Ojibway First Nation, sent stamps and snapshots of cold winter days when, muffled in toques and mitts, they had to move their desks to their new school building. In March, Mrs. Mackenzie came to Jamaica and spent a morning with Mrs. Robinson's class. There was lively conversation, children showing the way.
The second story in bridge-building involves sport.
The Jamaican National Women's Volleyball Team has a high-sounding name. It should. It is a group of seven young women, five who have jobs, and two students, all of whom love the game of volleyball, though they have played it only a short time.
Last spring they approached Geoff Taylor, who teaches, at C.A.S.T, our college, to help them. Geoff, who taught in Regina, also loves the game of volleyball. Anyone who has seen world-class play in this sport, like that of the Japanese women or the Hungarian men, is dazzled by the demands of fitness, quickness, concentration
and teamwork that characterize the game.
Would Geoff Taylor be their coach? He would. But, alas, no ball.
Vera Taylor, Geoff's wife, has a prize possession: a volleyball autographed by each member of the Olympic champion Japanese women's team. Knowing full well that a few practices on a concrete floor, will erase those signatures, Vera nonetheless donates the ball to the girls.
Now to practice. Nightly, four nights a week from six to nine at the National Arena. Then, an idea. Take the team to Regina for some games.
Fundraising will be needed: liquor from the Wray and Nephew Distillery is raffled as a good fund-raiser. Four hundred strands of Jamaican beads are made to be sold in Canada. Taylor's former women's team in Canada raises $800 to help bring the “Jamaica Nationals.” The Regina Kiwanis Club promises a luncheon. Offers of accommodation, camp style, and meals come in. Four colleges in the host country offer to play matches against our girls with guaranteed gate receipts of $100 each game. It becomes a possibility. Practices continue. Dr. Sangster of CAST gives his approval for Geoff Taylor to go. Jamaican friends in Toronto give accommodation overnight during the stopover there.
On September 20, 1976, the trip begins from Norman Manley Airport. The Jamaican National Women's Volleyball Team makes friends wherever it goes.
An early frost in Regina provides icicles to lick and ice to slide barefoot on.
Eighteen matches later, on September 29, the team leaves Regina in a farewell that Geoff Taylor describes as "awash in tears." He declines to say just how much out-of-pocket he is, but he says “it was worth every penny.”
The team plans to continue work in preparation for the Caribbean Games next September. Their Regina record, for those who follow such things, was sixteen wins and two losses.