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Canada’s Arctic communities are often depicted as barren wastelands beset with unsolvable social issues, but spending two summers in Rankin Inlet allowed journalist Cody Punter to see the territory in a different light

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Rankin Inlet, Nunavut: Light refracts through clouds of dust that get kicked up as people head back from being on the land on a Sunday evening at the end of June. The high cost of food means many people still depend on traditional food to support their families.Cody Punter

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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People fish for char on the Diane River during the summer thaw on July 2. Don't let the snow on the ground fool you: The temperature was into the high teens the day after Canada Day.Cody Punter

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Families swim at Sandy Lake, a popular swimming hole a few kilometres outside of Rankin Inlet. The car is parked on the hill to watch for bears, which have been known to attack people.Cody Punter

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Terry Rodgers, originally from Muton Bay, Que., came to Whale Cove during the 1992 recession to help his cousin build a house as a part of a federal program to populate remote communities. He was only supposed to stay a year, but he ended up meeting his wife there and has lived in the territory ever since, raising three children. He got the Nunavut flag tattoo during a trip to Las Vegas a few years ago. "This is home," he says of Nunavut.Cody Punter

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On July 13, the Rankin Red Sox's Jadyn Verbeek gets ready to swing during a game against the Rankin Blue Jays. An inaugural fastball league for young teenagers is very popular in the community.Cody Punter

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Youth play on a boat they found at the dock in Whale Cove, a community about 100 kilometres south of Rankin Inlet. Like Rankin, Whale Cove was forcibly settled by the Canadian government in the 1950s, when a mine opened in the area.Cody Punter

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A hunter stands in the middle of a herd of caribou during the summer migration just outside Rankin Inlet. Every summer tens of thousands of caribou make their way south along the coast of Hudson Bay.Cody Punter

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A hunter and his family return to their vehicle after spotting a caribou while they were driving down the road. He was not able to catch it.Cody Punter

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July 9 is Nunavut Day, which marks the anniversary of Parliament's 1993 passing of the Nunavut Act establishing the future territory. Here, Pallulaq Friesen checks her makeup before posing for a potrait that would appear on the front page of the Kivalliq News.Cody Punter

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People watch as a man competes in a Canada Day water-skipping competition on his skidoo.Cody Punter

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Rankin Inlet's daytime Nunavut Day celebrations came to an end with the ever-popular candy toss.Cody Punter

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Fog rolls into Hudson Bay behind the main harbour in Rankin Inlet. A new gold mine, the first in more than 65 years, is scheduled to open just 26 kilometres from Rankin in 2019.Cody Punter

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