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A dog howls from the hillside overlooking Iqaluit. (Peter Power/Peter Power/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)
A dog howls from the hillside overlooking Iqaluit. (Peter Power/Peter Power/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

Globe Focus

The trials of Nunavut: Lament for an Arctic nation Add to ...

When the band finished, a succession of men took the microphone. “I have hurt my family,” John Tinashlu said tearily. “I have raised my voice and my fists. I said this in prayer now I say it to you. I have not been a good father. I drank. I cannot hide it any more. I love you, son. I hurt you. I love you. I used to blame others. No more.”

It was bedlam, rapture, therapy – a homegrown truth-and-reconciliation hearing. After the four-hour service, all 200 people streamed out wiping their red eyes and revved home on snowmobiles. The next day, some sought out Dr. Handley for one-on-one sessions.

While self-help and evangelism are surely no cure-all for Nunavut's shortcomings, they do offer one way to give voice to personal demons – a non-violent means of release.

“We don't pretend that we can fix the pain of all Nunavut,” said Mr. Kaludjuak, the Coral Harbour church leader. “We have many problems here. But you can't make a healthy place without healthy minds.”


There was another kind of hope to be found in Repulse Bay, in the form of a little green logo stitched to tuques and gloves all over town.

A few days earlier, staff from the French nuclear-power giant Areva had held a community meeting to tell the locals about the benefits of a uranium development the company is pitching 500 kilometres southwest, in Baker Lake. The town was buzzing with talk of potential job opportunities.

The Areva bid is one of several developments that have raised hopes throughout the Eastern Arctic that a prosperous age is coming.

In Baker Lake and two nearby towns tucked along the eastern shore of Hudson Bay, Rankin Inlet and Arviat, optimism around mining is accompanied by anticipation of a highway development that would extend upward from Northern Manitoba, creating the first land link between Nunavut and the provinces.

Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger signed an agreement with Nunavut Premier Eva Aariak to study the highway's construction late last year, a project expected to cost about $1.2-billion.

“We get that road in here, and you'll see this part of Nunavut change in a hurry for the better,” said John Hickes, the mayor of Rankin Inlet, who has been so single-minded in his pursuit of the highway that some refer to him as John Road.

“There's a lot of stories in Nunavut, but this is the good news story here in the region around Rankin. You keep your eyes on us. We're not standing still.”

Optimism comes in other forms as well. Premier Aariak has declared it her personal mission to overhaul the education system.

She also wants to strike a devolution deal with the federal government: Under its current territorial jurisdiction, Nunavut has little control over resources sitting under Crown land. Ms. Aariak wants to change that and have Nunavut collect resource revenues that might otherwise go to Ottawa.

But there's a catch: Her pitch relies on convincing federal negotiators that her government is on a strong organizational footing. For Nunavut, that's a tough sell.

Her education plan is more promising, a new act that would stress bilingualism, Inuit culture, community control and improved academic standards. But such vague ambitions still fall far short of those, for example, in Greenland.

That largely Inuit nation has a long head start on Nunavut in grappling with the social and economic ravages that come with a polar climate and isolated population.

In Greenland, the government maintains a hard goal of ensuring that two-thirds of its population has a trade or academic education by 2020.

The island nation offers other lessons as well. Greenland was granted home rule from Denmark in 1979 and increased local powers in 2009. Today, with a 6.8-per-cent unemployment rate, it hauls in 60 per cent of its revenues from domestic sources, relying on Denmark for the remaining 40 per cent – the equivalent of $11,000 per Greenlander.

Nunavut, by contrast, posts a 20-per-cent unemployment rate and generates 7 per cent of its revenue internally. The rest – $1.1-billion or roughly $33,000 per capita – comes from Ottawa.

Mr. Peterson's alcohol task force is looking to the steps Greenland took in the mid-1990s to address rampant alcoholism there. It liberalized liquor sales, took addiction care more seriously and, in a symbolic gesture, banned drinking in government offices.

While the island still has its share of alcohol problems, per-capita liquor consumption has dropped significantly.

“I don't know a single sane Greenlander who would go back to the policies of the past where you drive people to obsess about alcohol,” said Jack Hicks, a social researcher who has worked closely with governments in both Nunavut and Greenland.

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