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The Inuit hamlet of Gjoa Haven is an unlikely place to grow bell peppers and strawberries. But a greenhouse powered by renewable energy is providing local produce to the community

Nearly 250 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle, the Inuit hamlet of Gjoa Haven is a cluster of candy-coloured houses sprinkled in a sugary, snow-crusted landscape — an unlikely place to grow vegetables.

But a wind- and solar-powered hydroponic greenhouse called Naurvik, or “the growing place” in Inuktitut, is creating new possibilities for food production and renewable energy.

Climate Innovators and Adaptors

This is one in a series of stories on climate change related to topics of biodiversity, urban adaptation, the green economy and exploration, with the support of Rolex. Read more about the Climate Innovators and Adaptors program.

“What you want to do is make renewables and solar what’s called the ‘firm power,’ the power you use first. And then when you need more, you use diesel,” says Chris Henderson, CEO of Indigenous Clean Energy, a non-profit that supports Indigenous participation in renewable energy.

Typically, diesel is used first in the remote north, but even without the environmental costs of its carbon emissions, diesel poses problems. Shipping inflates cost, and weather can interfere with barge deliveries. In 2015, the Pangnirtung community had to shelter in the school for warmth after their diesel powered station burned down. Older projects can be loud and spew airborne particulates, and Arctic spills are very hard to clean up.

Changing to renewable energy can be an opportunity for communities to own infrastructure. Rather than paying for energy “the earnings for that project also stick in the community,” says Mr. Henderson.

Baffin Island

Gulf of

Boothia

Gjoa Haven

King

William

Island

Boothia

Peninsula

Melville

Peninsula

NUNAVUT

Foxe

Basin

Naujaat

CANADA

Southampton

Island

100 km

john sopinski/the globe and mail,

source: openstreetmap

Baffin Island

Gulf of

Boothia

Gjoa Haven

King

William

Island

Boothia

Peninsula

Melville

Peninsula

NUNAVUT

Foxe

Basin

Naujaat

CANADA

Southampton

Island

100 km

john sopinski/the globe and mail,

source: openstreetmap

Baffin Island

Gulf of

Boothia

Gjoa Haven

King

William

Island

Boothia

Peninsula

Melville

Peninsula

NUNAVUT

Naujaat

Foxe Basin

CANADA

Southampton

Island

100 km

john sopinski/the globe and mail, source: openstreetmap

Naurvik began in 2019 with three containers and has expanded to five, with two more housing a workshop. Now that technicians are fully trained, production is going to ramp up this spring— the elders are asking for more food.

In line with that goal, the CSA has contracted two companies to develop a training program for Naurvik technicians that draws on traditional and Western knowledge and is intended to keep operations and research goals on track.

Hunters also face challenges. They may lack gas money, or have to travel farther as change arrives in arctic ecosystems.

It took hunter Johnny Tavalok eight shots with a .22 Magnum rifle—one shot for every year he had then been alive—to kill his first caribou. Mr. Tavalok still grins when he remembers the pride of that moment. “I couldn’t stop smiling. And I kept smiling at anything and everything, no matter how hard I was trying to hide my smile. I kept smiling. Even at the ground.”

That day his family feasted on his harvest and he learned more about being Inuit. But no one knows for sure how caribou, or the culture connected with them, will adapt to a changing world.

Scientists are monitoring climate impacts but caribou are complex. On one hand, warmer temperatures could mean more summer food for the adaptable species; on the other, migration could be more difficult, freezing rain could ice over winter forage and caribou could face more parasites, biting bugs and resource competition.

While people are happily fed, feasts are so much more than food.

In the dark freeze of winter, the shared meals bring people into the warmth of community where they can care for one another. Sharing burdens and resources brings resilience.

Tonight, sadly, there is a tangible loss. While everyone eats, they are also grieving the unexpected death of a respected elder – together. Elders especially are keepers of language and cultural knowledge, and the loss underlines how important it is to pass these on to younger generations.

The planned dance is postponed, but the next day the people are back. Like the colourful court lines, children criss-cross the blonde hardwood floor, dancing, laughing, chasing.

In the cacophony, Simon Hiqiniq, 71, sits quietly, waiting under the basketball hoops.