Yellowknife. 15 minutes between my continued flight through to Cambridge Bay. Went outside for a smoke to feel the unfamiliar air of an unfamiliar town. 5 minutes later I go back inside to figure out where my plane is, and the staff has been looking for me, the white man who’s going to Cambridge Bay. There’s no time set for take-off - when the few passengers are there, roll out on the runway and take flight. The air traffic controller must be a relaxed individual. Before boarding the plane, I was informed that I may be landing in Gjoa Haven because of heavy fog in Cambridge Bay. “Well that sounds adventurous” I said with a smile. And they smiled back… kind of.
Landing in Cambridge Bay. The landing gear makes an eerie “popping” noise. I pretend not to notice. Down through the fog. Runway looks short. No pavement up here… No problem for these pilots. As the plane gears down and slows to a taxi, the feeling of the beginning of a new experience overcomes me. Warm air for the Arctic today, feels like home.
After being introduced to my plans for work up here, construction plumbing that is, I have the evening off to explore the town before I fly out to Taloyoak in the morning. The sun never sets this time of year up here. So off for a stroll I go in the mid‑evening which resembles the light of early morning. The roads are dirt and natural gravel, and I try to get used to the sight of no grass on the side of the roads, only dirt and grey mud. And then as I looked down to my side, I was sad to see garbage embedded in that mud and barely a couple feet over, some more. An old bag of chips emblazes its factory red through the grey mud like blood on concrete. So I think maybe it’s just the way the people are up here, maybe uneducated of how the garbage scattered around affects the land. Anyways, down to the water, I want to touch the Arctic Ocean with my bare hands.
The people here are truly unique from the people I’ve known elsewhere. The elders smile with their entire face, their life experiences showing through their many wrinkles. I witness a young boy with his young buck attitude jogging as if to cause trouble somewhere, as an old elderly woman grabs the boy and pinches his cheeks and holds his face close to hers, smiling as direct as possible to the boy. As a young buck would, he shakes out of the loving grasp and continues his pursuit of trouble. I think of the boy’s future. Here I am far away from the cities, the ugly grey cities infested by man, raping the land of what it’s worth and bringing in supplies from who knows where. A giant ant nest. And even here, a group of only 1500 people have assembled a small town, and it’s no different. But this is maybe inevitable, as we have noticed in other animals, they will eat and sh*t and eat and sh*t until all of the necessities of life are gone, and they themselves will die. It is in our nature. The future is unknown. It’s also out of my expertise. People throw their garbage and it pollutes and kills animals and all that, but we all know we do worse, and some we don’t even know about, I’m sure.
When I got to the beach I touched the Arctic Ocean’s chilling, but beautifully clear water. The bronze rocks shimmered light through the faintly disturbed surface and looked as clean as a glacier. And here I stray not, every meter down the beach as far as I could see, at least one piece of garbage. Sad. How much longer will that water be clear?
We all like to blame someone or something. And when you see that there is a third world country living beside our comfortable arrangement down South, you start to wonder. Us Southeners may be naïve, but not ignorant. But there are some of us who are, and they somehow always end up in politics, don’t they? Money money money… if the country had lots of it to spare, all of these issues would be addressed, wouldn’t they? I mean, that would be after we paid out the million dollar Christmas bonuses to the random politicians. But once the ones in control of the money are rolling in their dirty money, the people up North will be taken care of right? The ridiculous rate of suicide reversed? The drug and alcohol abuse addressed? The rapes prevented? The animal cruelty ended? The garbage all over the towns picked up? The vandalism erased? The lazy cops making $150000/year finally have an impact? The import fees and price of living compensated for? And how about the government’s housing corporation who is $90 million in dept because their employees were getting $70/hour plus overtime building 4 and 5‑plexes that should be done in 6 months, but somehow lasting over two years and not even being to code? When will this be fixed?
Turn away from the town and look out into the variety of landscapes among Nunavut. It’s beautiful, almost as beautiful as the people who live within it. But don’t look back, because you’ll see what your white man has done.
Adam J. Spencer
Taloyoak, Nunavut, Canada