Cody Punter is a freelance journalist, photographer and editor-in-chief of True North Photo Journal.
Close your eyes and imagine yourself standing somewhere in Nunavut. What do you see? A blanket of snow stretching toward a grey horizon, families hunkering down for winter in overcrowded houses, a solitary dog chained up outside a shack, a polar bear off in the distance.
Based on the way Nunavut is portrayed in the media, Canadians might be forgiven for believing its winters last forever.
But sure as the Earth rotates on its axis, the snows that cover the territory eventually yield to the midnight sun.
In the past three years, I have twice had the privilege of experiencing the magic of summertime in Nunavut while filling in as the editor of the Kivalliq News in Rankin Inlet, an Inuit community of more than 3,000 people on the western shores of Hudson Bay.
Contrary to typically bleak depictions of the Canadian Arctic, I discovered a tight-knit community that cherished the joys of summer as much as a suburban family escaping for a weekend at the cottage. Witnessing people barbecuing, fishing, playing baseball, swimming in lakes or enjoying outdoor concerts felt so familiar.
And yet, the fact such images are so alien to most Canadians living within 100 kilometres of the American border shows how little attention we pay to Canada’s North.
On the rare occasion Nunavut does make headlines, it’s more often than not for the wrong reasons, usually accompanied by dreary imagery intended to evoke feelings of isolation, destitution and despair.
This long-standing tradition was documented in Daniel Francis’s 1992 book, The Imaginary Indian. The seminal work details how centuries worth of First Nations, Inuit and Métis narratives in Canada were derived from settlers' anxieties and colonial aims rather than the strength and diversity of Indigenous people.
Even the best-intentioned boots-on-the-ground journalistic efforts tend to depict Inuit as victims.
That is not to say housing shortages, suicide, unemployment and family violence are not worthy topics. These issues are ever present and in dire need of being addressed.
But robbing Canada's Inuit of light and reducing them to a series of statistics and stigmas is no solution.
In a 2016 essay rebuking journalists who suggest remote Northern communities are so irredeemably problematic they should be depopulated, Métis writer Chelsea Vowel invoked Mr. Francis’s thesis, writing that “the many [people] who repeat the tired narrative of northern communities being pits of eternal despair, need to do a better job of listening to what northerners have to say about their own lives.”
Sharing images of Nunavut’s Inuit soaking up summer may not make up for government neglect. But hopefully it can help the country’s border-dwellers to see northerners more completely.
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