Nunavut
April 1, 2011 10:09 PM   Subscribe

The Trials of Nunavut: Has Canada created a northern Haiti? Despite hundreds of millions of dollars a year spent via Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, the Nunavut government, and many other federal agencies, we have the following situation:

The rate of violent crime per capita here is seven times what it is in the rest of Canada. The homicide rate is around 1,000 per cent of the Canadian average. And the number of crimes reported to the police have more than doubled in the dozen years since the territory was formed. If it were an independent country, Nunavut's crime statistics would place it in the realm of South Africa or Mexico.

Even more than Nunavummiut harming each other, they are hurting themselves: Inuit males aged 15 to 24 have a suicide rate 40 times that of their peers in the rest of Canada, and children are abused at a rate 10 times the national average, even as 50 per cent of social-worker positions stand vacant.

Beyond physical violence, on the 12th anniversary of its founding, Nunavut is struggling on all levels just to meet the basic needs of its 33,000 inhabitants. Seven in 10 preschoolers grow up in houses without adequate food. Within Confederation, Nunavut ranks last in virtually every measure – education, general health, substance abuse, employment, income and housing.


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More in the full article.
posted by thewalrus (77 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

 
Have things gotten worse since Nunavut was created? Also, I didn't get the comparison to Haiti.
posted by lukemeister at 10:16 PM on April 1, 2011 [3 favorites]


And just for y'all who believe this is a one-off issue, don't forget that Canada was one of the four (US, NZ, and AUS being the other) nations who voted AGAINST the UN's Declaration of Rights for Indigenous Peoples.
posted by hal_c_on at 10:21 PM on April 1, 2011 [15 favorites]


Nunavut: 0.03647 people per square mile.

It's an area 1/5th the size of the USA with a few tens of thousands of people.

Rather more challenging to provide services than one might expect.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:24 PM on April 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


As a Canadian I find it appalling that despite a budget of $32,000 per year for each man, woman and child the situation continues to be what it is. Obviously throwing money at the problem will not make it go away. But at $32k it would theoretically be possible to pay everyone to move to Vancouver or Toronto and rent an apartment in a nice area. A family of three people living in a 2BD apartment would have an "income" of $96,000 a year.

That's obviously not going to happen - but an illustration of the per capita spending for such a vast area with a population of only 29,474 people.
posted by thewalrus at 10:26 PM on April 1, 2011


Despite Because of hundreds of millions of dollars a year spent...

FTFY
posted by Confess, Fletch at 10:26 PM on April 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


As the Globe and Mail article points out, the government found it convenient in the 1940s and 1950s to concentrate the inuit population in towns, in an approximation of a southern lifestyle. Now it's seeing the results. But what to do? Remove every dollar spent by Ottawa, disband the government, send all the white people to a latitude south of 55 degree north and declare it no longer part of Canada? You'd see mass starvation and a population crash from approx. 30,000 to maybe two thousand.
posted by thewalrus at 10:29 PM on April 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


confess,

Can you elaborate on that? I'm not quite ready to believe that you are saying what I think you're saying.
posted by hal_c_on at 10:29 PM on April 1, 2011


I think confess is referencing this part of the article. Having settled in one place, a culture of dependency has grown enmeshed in the society:

By the 1950s, RCMP officers at the sparse Cape Dorset settlement saw mass starvation setting in. People were eating dog food to stay alive. The Mounties radioed for a massive food airlift, and urged Inuit in far-flung seasonal camps to move to Cape Dorset, close to food and health care.

It was then, in the words of Mary Simon, president of the advocacy organization Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, that “the colonization process evolved to the point where our people expected things to be given to them.” Expectations grew and grew, on federal assurances that life would be better when this nomadic hunting people instead settled in one place.

While the shift increased Inuit life expectancy from 35 in the early 1940s to 66 in the late 1980s, the transitional period sapped all manner of Inuit self-reliance, replacing it with shoddy government homes, abusive residential schools and social-assistance cheques

posted by thewalrus at 10:32 PM on April 1, 2011 [5 favorites]


Cause and effect have been mixed up.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 10:32 PM on April 1, 2011


As a Canadian I find it appalling that despite a budget of $32,000 per year for each man, woman and child the situation continues to be what it is. Obviously throwing money at the problem will not make it go away. But at $32k it would theoretically be possible to pay everyone to move to Vancouver or Toronto and rent an apartment in a nice area. A family of three people living in a 2BD apartment would have an "income" of $96,000 a year.

All at the low, low cost of totally abandoning your ancestral way of live and assimilating fully into an outsider culture.
posted by absalom at 10:38 PM on April 1, 2011 [27 favorites]


I think introducing alcohol to indigenous peoples may be remembered as one of the most horrific things that Europeans have ever done.

It really had been a kind of "soft" genocide against them since the beginning.
posted by Avenger at 10:41 PM on April 1, 2011 [2 favorites]


Well, that was pretty much unavoidable, Avenger. Would have happened, no matter what our intentions were.

The smallpox-infested blankets, on the other hand....
posted by Malor at 10:46 PM on April 1, 2011


...probably never happened.
posted by electroboy at 11:26 PM on April 1, 2011 [5 favorites]


If Nunavut went through anything like Alaska, it was more likely to have been tuberculosis than smallpox.
posted by Foam Pants at 11:48 PM on April 1, 2011


...probably never happened.

Well, except for the part where it probably did.

No sign that it happened up in Canada, of course, but Avenger seemed to be speaking about indigenous tribes in general, rather than the Inuit in particular.
posted by Malor at 11:54 PM on April 1, 2011 [7 favorites]


I think introducing alcohol to indigenous peoples may be remembered as one of the most horrific things that Europeans have ever done.

It really had been a kind of "soft" genocide against them since the beginning.


QFT. As cynical as I am, it continues to amaze me that the whole "we stacked the deck against them, then look how they fail" thing can still be trotted out without being laughed at. Destroy a society's culture and then stand back and marvel at how they can't make it in the world? Fucking horrible.
posted by nevercalm at 12:17 AM on April 2, 2011 [4 favorites]


Not so sure alcohol is the worst thing Euros inflicted. Yes, for some. But that's an easy stereotype.

I'm not so familiar with Inuit history, but in the lower 60 Euros did bring many new infectious diseases (blankets were used, not really needed, just proximity) to NA. Add to that the civilized diseases of advanced weaponry, lead poisoning, and intense resource exploitation (aka greed). Teaching by example.

Worse, I gather from listening, was forcibly yanking the kids off to (usually religious) boarding schools -- for years, without seeing family -- to have their culture deprogrammed -- clothes burned, hair cut, punishment for speaking their languages. Just imagine. Now add to that humiliation, servile labor, torture, sexual abuse (made the 1960s look tame). So it wasn't just the infectious diseases Euros shared, but mental diseases as well.

"Were natives perfect" before? No. Just relatively unspoiled by civilization, so-called. Those who attempted to adopt Euro ways in hopes of getting a better shake further eroded their native cultures, leaving them standing with one foot in each.

They were tricked into terrible land deals that stole millions of square miles of land. Considering the worth of that land and its resources, griping about $30K per head in perpetuity is sad.
posted by Twang at 12:18 AM on April 2, 2011 [10 favorites]


I'm not sure my gripe is about $30K per head in perpetuity, but that it doesn't seem to be accomplishing anything. I doubt whether the current governmental and aid structure the Canadian government has in place could effectively spend $60K per head, if various agencies' budgets were doubled, and make a dramatic improvement in the next 10-15 years. It's a systemic problem.
posted by thewalrus at 12:42 AM on April 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's important to remember that Cape Dorset is hugely important in Canadian visual culture.
posted by PinkMoose at 2:14 AM on April 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Worse, I gather from listening, was forcibly yanking the kids off to (usually religious) boarding schools -- for years, without seeing family -- to have their culture deprogrammed -- clothes burned, hair cut, punishment for speaking their languages. Just imagine. Now add to that humiliation, servile labor, torture, sexual abuse (made the 1960s look tame). So it wasn't just the infectious diseases Euros shared, but mental diseases as well.

I once taught an elderly aboriginal (Native Canadian) gentleman who was from the far northern territories. As a child, he had been forcibly removed from his family and made to go to residential school, and he had some very painful memories from that time. One day I took the class to the college library for help with research skills. As we were all walking over from the classroom, this poor man started to get very agitated and finally whispered to me that he was afraid of the library. He was clearly having some kind of panic about it so I tried to calm him down and figure out what to do. I told him he didn't have to come in if he didn't want to, but he decided to come in anyway, sweating and anxious the whole time. Later on I pieced together from things he told me that he had probably been abused in the residential school library, in the stacks. Awful. And now, 50 years later, he was still afraid to be in a library.

I firmly believe the residential school system is one of the most shameful, fucked-up things Canada has ever done. I think there are direct links between the problems in Nunavut today and the residential school system and relocation that was done in previous decades. It's very difficult to fix the problems brought about by colonization.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 2:18 AM on April 2, 2011 [32 favorites]


Cause and effect have been mixed up.

Are you saying that its because they get government support that the people aren't living peacefully? Are you proposing that they get no governmental aid?

I REALLY don't want to put words in your mouth...but the few words that you have spoken kind of hint at that...
posted by hal_c_on at 3:07 AM on April 2, 2011


Well, except for the part where it probably did.

The thing I always find striking in these sorts of discussions in that Germ Theory didn't have wide acceptance even in the scientific community until the mid 19th-century. How did Amherst et al. know that this was even possible?

The notion of the native population being seen as a subhuman obstacle that should be eradicated by any means necessary is well documented, so I don't doubt that the motive existed. But it doesn't seem like the knowledge did. The "trading blankets for deliberate transmission of smallpox" anecdotes has always seemed to me like a modern mindset placed upon 18th century people. Even when I first heard about it in high school.

I read the Straight Dope article about the blankets, but I also read the Wikipedia article on Germ Theory to make sure I wasn't misremembering. Anyone know what the deal is?
posted by Mayor Curley at 4:17 AM on April 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Mayor Curley...read here.
posted by hal_c_on at 4:50 AM on April 2, 2011


wow, I didn't realise. Nunavit is pretty much an exact copy of outback Australia, just with red dust and deserts.
posted by wilful at 5:01 AM on April 2, 2011 [4 favorites]


Curley, they certainly knew disease could be transmitted by contact/closeness, though they didn't know the mechanism. Ben Franklin was advocating for smallpox inoculation -- whereby a bit of diseased skin or pus from an infected person was put under the skin of a healthy person, giving them a milder case of the pox -- as early as the 1730s. The Chinese had been inoculating against the smallpox perhaps since the 10th century but certainly since the 16th; the people of Indian apparently since even before that, with apparent written records from the 8th century. So settlers certainly would have known that the pus or scabs of smallpox victims could be used to transmit the disease in some fashion, even if they did not understand the mechanism.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:02 AM on April 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


Anyone know what the deal is?

Humans were modifying animals and plants by selective breeding for thousands of years before we knew about genetics. Knowledge of the mechanics behind a certain process are not required to observe the results and base future strategies on those results.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 5:08 AM on April 2, 2011 [5 favorites]


"Were natives perfect" before? No. Just relatively unspoiled by civilization, so-called. Those who attempted to adopt Euro ways in hopes of getting a better shake further eroded their native cultures, leaving them standing with one foot in each. [emphasis added]

Native America had many, many civilizations rise and fall between population and colonization. There are the obvious ones (the Inca, Maya, Aztecs) and the less-obvious (the Hohokam, Mississippians, Pueblo, etc). Different than what the colonizing Europeans thought of as "civilization," but there were huge and complex cities, monuments, and cultures built by all of the above groups. Painting them as naive woodland innocents does a tremendous disservice to (and shows a tremendous misunderstanding of) their history and really glosses over the ferocity of the interactions between the groups.
posted by The Michael The at 5:12 AM on April 2, 2011 [26 favorites]


Germ theory may not have had general acceptance, but other theories of contagion did. The Victorians thought that miasma (bad smells) caused disease. Blankets from a smallpox hospital probably smelled a bit off.
posted by LogicalDash at 5:25 AM on April 2, 2011


wow, I didn't realise. Nunavit is pretty much an exact copy of outback Australia, just with red dust and deserts.

Or large areas of South Dakota, Arizona, Montana, and so on and so on and so on...

I wonder what accounts for the compulsive need of more "settled" (yeah, I know this is a pretty inaccurate way to put it, but I'll use it as shorthand here) cultures to subjugate and degrade the less settled. If I think like a social Darwinist for a minute, I can understand the more powerful taking desirable land from the less powerful. I can understand why the more powerful take land with resources away from the less powerful, even if the land isn't particularly pretty. What I don't understand is why the more powerful in so many cases put gigantic amounts of resources and energy and lives into grinding people into the dirt who had nothing the more powerful wanted. It isn't enough to push these people into the tundra or the desert - instead, they need to be humiliated, their very sense of self and the world shattered. I don't know the explanation, but I suspect it has more to do with the psychology of settled peoples than anything else.
posted by jhandey at 5:54 AM on April 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


I have lost Inuit friends to suicide and violent crime more than once in recent years. (I work in Alaska Native communities, where things aren't quite as appalling as in Nunavut, but they can be pretty bad.)

Please be careful not to reduce these issues to simple single-factor causes. Yes to colonialism, genocide, boarding schools, forced settlement, all of it. And no, you can't move everyone to Vancouver and put them in apartments, not without continuing the cycle of paternalistic cultural destruction that has caused so much pain. Ask the Australians how forced urban resettlement works out. The Inuit are subsistence hunters, with a culture deeply attuned over thousands of years to the very fine-grained challenges of staying alive in the arctic. The heart of the problem is how much change they have been forced to endure in such a short period of time, and how little respect was shown to them or their way of life in the process, how their languages were stolen, their rituals suppressed, their family structures torn apart by (sometimes even well meaning) outsiders -- from missionaries to social workers and anthropologists (like me).

Half kidding, I usually say, $50-100 billion in reparations (per tribe), full control over natural resources on Native land, and full sovereignty ought to do the trick. How do you even put a price on cultural destruction?

But absent any possibility of that actually happening, it is absolutely untrue that further investment is useless. Things are better in some ways, and this article is hysterically overstating the futility argument. If you make it worthwhile and possible, you can find outside and local people who care enough about these communities to work in them. But the most important thing, off the charts important, is to throw everything you can into educating the young people both in modern science and medicine and the rest and in their traditional culture and native language(s).

Western colonialism caused the destruction of indigenous peoples and cultures all over the world. Modern western nation states (and their citizens) have no right to back away in frustration at the hell they have wrought. What is to be done? Keep investing, keep trying, keep educating, keep reaching out and collaborating and connecting. Do not give up on your obligation to make things better, even if you can't make things right.

I've had days -- say, right after the funeral of a young child who died in a stupid accident, or a teenage girl shot by a drunken boyfriend, or a beautiful young man who has taken his own life for reasons no one can fathom -- when I've wanted to pack my bags and go home and never come back because it just hurts too damn much to keep seeing so much death and sadness year after year. And then I remember to think how much worse it hurts when it's your own child. Your daughter. Your brother. In that casket. Gone forever. I remember that I can and do eventually get in an airplane and fly back to my nice safe New York City home (!). Built on what was once Native land. That the only relatives I've lost have died at a ripe old age after long comfortable lives.

Get frustrated if you want, but if all you have is "there's no hope," please keep it to yourself. It's hard enough without the I Give Up brigade.
posted by fourcheesemac at 5:56 AM on April 2, 2011 [70 favorites]


Smallpox blankets set off people's bullshit detectors. They should be dropped from the discourse. We have abundant proof that the overall effect of formal and informal European American policies was a rough, semi-intentional genocide against Native Americans. The smallpox blanket stories have particular power because they involve an object that is associated with comfort, intimacy, love, childhood, warmth and safety -- the blanket -- and turn it into a weapon of mass death. In many ways, its the perfect urban legend.
posted by Faze at 5:57 AM on April 2, 2011


Eh, Faze, denialism works better if you comment before someone posts a link with evidence.
posted by LogicalDash at 6:15 AM on April 2, 2011 [14 favorites]


on the topic of smallpox blankets, I wanted to say something about the killing of sled dogs as a way of forcing the Inuit to settle into permanent communities, but a cursory googling casts doubt on that. knowledgable people -- is there any truth to it?
posted by spindle at 6:19 AM on April 2, 2011


The Inuit are subsistence hunters, with a culture deeply attuned over thousands of years to the very fine-grained challenges of staying alive in the arctic.

This was true, but isn't any more; that culture is dead and gone, except in a fragmented memorial sense. The fine-grained challenges of staying alive in the arctic were what caused a life expectancy of 35 years. Nobody wants to return to that. Hence the identity problem and radical demoralization.

Hal_c_on, you may find it distasteful, but pumping money into this place IS a problem. People like the Pentecostal preacher in the story are a problem. Self-reliance can never happen as long as well-meaning outsiders continue to take a high-handed 'I can fix this, let me help you' attitude. This is, I think, the attitude which led to the residential schools in the first place.

Redfern has the idea. The problems are in getting people to believe that they aren't worthless, that there is a way to contribute to society other than hunting. She embodies this in what she has made of herself, while doing useful work.

I suspect that you smell libertarianism or suchlike when some people talk about 'aid' being bad. Hopefully I'm not putting words in your mouth, but it's a bit more complicated than that.
posted by Casimir at 6:28 AM on April 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


This was true, but isn't any more; that culture is dead and gone, except in a fragmented memorial sense.

Have you ever been to the Arctic? I've spent hundreds of hours hunting on the ice and tundra with Inuit collaborators.

In the communities where I work subsistence hunting still accounts for a majority of calories from protein. "Fragmented memorial sense" could not be less true. A lot that follows from making that assumption would thus be utter bullshit.
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:38 AM on April 2, 2011 [16 favorites]


In the communities where I work subsistence hunting still accounts for a majority of calories from protein

If it were 100%, you would have a case, and the problems we're discussing would not exist. I'm not trashing hunting, but you can't argue from the point about rebuilding northern culture around subsistence hunting (which often involves human death by starvation).
posted by Casimir at 6:56 AM on April 2, 2011


To be more clear, sure people get food from hunting these days, as in many rural places. But the hunt is no longer, and never will be again, the central active myth of Northern people. They have encountered modernity.

They use rifles, your friends? And snowmobiles?
posted by Casimir at 7:00 AM on April 2, 2011


I see no response to the question of whether you have any experience in the Arctic.

Yes they use rifles and snow machines (they are not called snowmobiles up there). Before that they used dogsleds. They have always used whatever the best available technology was to hunt, borrowed from other tribes long before contact too.

What you don't seem to understand is that subsistence hunting is not just a source of calories (and really, 100%? It's certainly close to half of their most healthy calories, and western food is killing them with its sugar and dense carbs given the high efficiency of their metabolisms). Subsistence hunting is, even more than language, the basis for their social organization and cultural coherence.

I won't argue this point further. Either you know something about Inuit communities, in which case you understand the importance of sustaining subsistence hunting for the general social health of the community (not merely for calories, and again the life expectancy bullshit is a canard) or you don't, and you're talking in abstractions about something you you don't understand. To be a successful Inuit man (and thus family), you must be a successful hunter. If you are not a successful man, you are much more likely to fall victim to the depredations of depression and addiction. You cannot replace caribou with Chef Boyardee in a can even if the caloric value were the same. Doing so destroys the culture.
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:28 AM on April 2, 2011 [13 favorites]


A good friend of mine was doing a lot of work with First Nations folks up in Canada and was telling me about the current, yes, this fucking year, racism.

A police officer was being held down, drowned, in a puddle by a suspect. This First Nations woman runs up, and gets this guy off of the officer, saving her life.

This naturally merits an award of recognition. My friend rolls out with the rescuer to the award ceremony - once a year where the police recognize good citizens- and they find out the date had been changed without her being informed. It took prodding to even get the officers at the location to tell them the date had been changed because they were literally refusing to acknowledge she was speaking to them.

Ok. A 3 hour drive for nothing. They finally get the new dates and come back.

This time, the awards, are indeed, handed out. Afterwards, there's a reception. My friend (Haitian) is invited to the reception- the rescuer (and other indigenous folks who also have saved police from being shot, stabbed, etc.) are not.

So, yeah. I'm not surprised when I hear anything of folks up there being in a bad way. There's a lot of hate, and much like America, just hoping "those people go away".

Oh Canada.
posted by yeloson at 7:32 AM on April 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


Also, in what possible sense is the hunt "a myth?" That's damn dismissive of something many Inuit people do every single day. (And in no other "rural" areas of North America is hunting nearly as central either to subsistence or spiritual and cultural health, that's also a bit of a canard. Of course, nowhere else is even close to as "rural" as the far north.)

The "modernity" they have encountered depends on the ultimately unsustainable exploitation of animals, biomass, and other natural resources. Given that Inuits -- life expectancy issues aside (and you surely know that the science on that is mostly very dubious) -- have survived in the Arctic as a people for several thousand years, while the "modernity" you praise is only a few hundred years old, I wouldn't be so quick to make a specious comparison regarding long-term sustainability, social or health benefits, or in fact humane treatment of other animals and the natural world.

In any event, I am not suggesting Inuits should, could, or would turn their backs on "modernity." That's even more of a canard. I'm saying we "moderns" could learn a lot from the wisdom of subsistence hunting peoples.
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:33 AM on April 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


Thanks mediareport. Let it hereby be publicly known to all that I, Randolph J. Fazenmeyer, am completely wrong about the blanket thing. Nor am I responsible for any debts incurred by ... well, that's something else.
posted by Faze at 8:16 AM on April 2, 2011 [4 favorites]


Also, in what possible sense is the hunt "a myth?"

OK, we have an incommensurability problem here, and you've put all kinds of words in my mouth. Let me say just that I've never praised modernity here. The only praise I've expressed is for Madeleine Redfern.

When I say myth, I'm talking about the sustaining spiritual belief system by which a people identify themselves and try to mitigate the random terrors of the natural world. Your understanding of 'myth' as 'fairy tale' is not what I'm talking about.

For me, modernity is partly about how, with the problems of short term survival pretty much dealt with (starving? Ok, I'll head into town for some provisions), old belief structures, which evolved as a way of keeping people from going crazy with worry, grief, and cosmic horror, pretty much fall apart. If anything, what we moderns could learn from traditional people is the importance of myth to survival.

"Providing services" won't heal cultural injuries. Money needs to be spent, sure, but IT ISN"T AN ANSWER TO ANYTHING in itself, and the sense of accepting charity is, as I'm sure you know, quite strong up North.

As far as my 'credentials' go, I grew up in rural Northern Alberta and attended school with many people from NWT and Yukon who were struggling to find out what the hell they were. One of my best friends at the time was studying opera and was an incredible mezzosoprano who came to the realization that for her, hybridization was the answer. Basically, her mission in life is to contribute to a sense of cultural pride through, in her case, modern music that explores this identity.

I haven't been meaning to castigate you or the work you do, good for you for actually going somewhere and doing something. But in the long run, there are more problems here than where calories come from. Real subsistence requires culture as well as food.
posted by Casimir at 8:30 AM on April 2, 2011 [9 favorites]


I hope I'm not derailing things with this point of clarification, but the article in the OP brings up Haiti like so:
With this kind of havoc and hardship, it's hard not to conclude that Nunavut is a failing state – that the bold experiment in domestic nation-building Canada launched in 1999 has gone deeply wrong. Is it at risk of becoming our own Haiti of the Arctic Circle, or can something be done to reverse the damage?
Just that one mention of Haiti - not defining what Haiti means to the writer, which is awkward. From what I've seen and read, Haiti is no universal short-hand for any one situation. As currently summarized by this Wikipedia section title, Haiti's most recent turn for the worst came from an earthquake, that was followed by a cholera outbreak, and then flooding (brought on by a hurricane). Sure, the earthquake and hurricane wouldn't have been as bad if there was a stronger government in place, taking care of people and such, which in turn could have prevented much of the cholera outbreak and spread, but I'm not getting how this is a parallel to a population forced to move from their native territory by the government 50-60 years ago.

In short, a disconnected analogy at best, and a strange one to carry over into this summary. Now back to the discussion(s) at hand.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:32 AM on April 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


The "modernity" they have encountered depends on the ultimately unsustainable exploitation of animals, biomass, and other natural resources. Given that Inuits -- life expectancy issues aside (and you surely know that the science on that is mostly very dubious) -- have survived in the Arctic as a people for several thousand years, while the "modernity" you praise is only a few hundred years old, I wouldn't be so quick to make a specious comparison regarding long-term sustainability, social or health benefits, or in fact humane treatment of other animals and the natural world.

I think you are really pushing the romanticism a bit. 'Survival' for nomadic hunter-gatherers has always involved some form of culturally sanctioned infanticide/euthanasia. I'm not saying this because I find it to be morally repugnant but just to say that in the modern context a 'true' hunter-gatherer lifestyle becomes a rather extreme subculture.

More importantly, nomadic cultures depend upon unfettered access to the resources in the areas they are travelling through. If the choice is between killing someones livestock or leaving grandma behind when you strike camp, the choice is clear. In a modern society with property rights and restrictions on property owners preventing them from killing people to protect property, nomadic cultures are always effectively restricted to reservations.

The whole hand-out/welfare issue is a red herring. Everyone in a modern industrialized country is living on "hand-outs" from other sectors of the economy... especially so if they are living in marginally productive areas. The problem is that you can't pretend that subsistence is really an option, the modern world is too interconnected for that. Subsistence or sustainability is a true absolute condition, you can't be partially subsistent or almost subsistent.
posted by ennui.bz at 8:34 AM on April 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


For more arctic info, I highly recommend reading Shelagh D. Grant's Polar Imperative: A History of Arctic Sovereignty in North America
posted by HLD at 8:40 AM on April 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


There is an excellent history book by Margaret Jacobs called White Mother to a Dark Race that chronicles the similarities between the United States and Australia's programs to forcibly remove indigenous children from their homes and send them to white boarding schools. Perhaps naively, I didn't realize there had been a similar policy in Canada.
posted by lilac girl at 8:50 AM on April 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


Do not give up on your obligation to make things better, even if you can't make things right.

Whose obligation is it? And how long does that obligation go on for?
posted by euphorb at 9:23 AM on April 2, 2011


Before contemporary medicine, everyone's life expectancy was about 30 - but that was mostly due to the death of infants, not that all adults were dropping dead at 35.

Actually, a life-expectancy of 35 sounds pretty awesome, without contemporary medicine. In early modern Europe, I believe it was below 30 (worse food, more diseases).

(note - numbers are off the top of my head, please excuse mistakes. I could go try to check them, but it's saturday, and I'm not actually a historical demography, just someone who incorpoates demography into social history).
posted by jb at 9:25 AM on April 2, 2011


I keep pushing this book here because it has had such an impact on me, and I guess I will keep pushing it until it receives some recognition from someone else: Arctic Dawn: The Journeys of Samuel Hearne (available online from various sources). The first contact of Europeans with the Northern-most American native cultures, documented by a (mostly) sympathetic explorer. The savagery and glee with which his Athabaskan guides eviscerate and torture the Inuit when they finally come upon them sheds some light on relations between old and new world cultures. Not to excuse in any way what would follow from the Europeans, but given the chance and the tools, they would not be the only ones to practice genocide.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 9:56 AM on April 2, 2011


What I don't understand is why the more powerful in so many cases put gigantic amounts of resources and energy and lives into grinding people into the dirt who had nothing the more powerful wanted.

I view it as basic xenophobia, an all too common human affliction. Strange customs threaten us, perhaps plant seeds of doubt that OUR way may not be the the best way. So, we help THEM to change.
posted by philip-random at 10:05 AM on April 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Isn't part of the problem here that 33,000 inhabitants, wether they be Inuit or Swiss, are too small a group for the level of organization required in modern society? How can there be enough qualified teachers, doctors, nurses, police, judges, lawyers, social workers, business owners, accountants, snow machine repair men, construction workers, cooks, bankers, etc.? How does this even begin to work when everyone is spread over a huge area?
I once knew a guy who grew up in a hamlet in Greenland. Going anywhere out of the region meant going by helicopter. Break your leg while playing (as many boys do)? Helicopter. If the weather is ok. Shopping for clothes? Helicopter. Any form of school after 6th grade? Helicopter and boarding school. Where he grew up, hunting was still essential, first, because one had no idea when the ice would break up and ships could arrive from the south with new supplies. Second because it was the sole source of income for buying those supplies.
Maintaining the services in hamlets like this of a nurse, a teacher, a general store and a depot storing the skins for essential sale costs the central government in Nuuk a lot. And still, these are really primitive, basic services, not contributing much to the health and education of the citizens. Often that nurse and that school teacher will stay for two years, take it as an experience, and get the hell out. Not building long term relationships with families and communities.
Much of the cost of government in Greenland is payed by Denmark - as it should be. Denmark has exploited Greenland for several hundred years.
Something else which may not be relevant in Canada: many Greenlanders would prefer full autonomy, payed for through mineral rights. But as a nasty image of what that future might bring, recently Alcoa has proclaimed that apart from destroying natural habitats and beautiful landscapes, they also plan to import Chinese workers to mine Greenland for aluminum. So there will be no jobs for Greenlanders - just some percentage of the income, if there is an income, and a lot of environmental problems.
posted by mumimor at 10:22 AM on April 2, 2011 [8 favorites]


I think another part of the problem--and this is with how we read and hear these stories, and how that affects what we expect from indigenous cultures--is that stories about Nunavut's "failure" are more popular than stories about its rich artistic cultureways and artists. (I am speaking of myself, as well--Kattullus' great post above has helped me to understand this. Nunavut is not just the place the Globe and Mail writer has created here--it's many other things, too. But a part of us relishes both tsking indigenous "failures" of self-determination and sort of lavishing our attention (even our judgmental attention) on the many smallpox blanket stories that can be told about colonization and the destruction of native peoples.
posted by liketitanic at 10:27 AM on April 2, 2011


Well, except for the part where it probably did.

There's evidence it was discussed, and that's pretty much where the evidence ends.
posted by electroboy at 10:45 AM on April 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


So the status of the smallpox blanket story is: possible but not verified.

It isn't debunked but it isn't bunked either!
posted by bukvich at 11:48 AM on April 2, 2011


It isn't debunked but it isn't bunked either!

That's about right, yes. IAAH, but IANYH (I am a/n historian, but I am not . . . ) and that's sort of how it works. You can only go as far as the evidence takes you.
posted by liketitanic at 11:58 AM on April 2, 2011 [1 favorite]



Have you ever been to the Arctic? I've spent hundreds of hours hunting on the ice and tundra with Inuit collaborators.

In the communities where I work subsistence hunting still accounts for a majority of calories from protein. "Fragmented memorial sense" could not be less true. A lot that follows from making that assumption would thus be utter bullshit.


Using snowmobiles and hunting rifles, right? And what are the blood mercury levels your Inuit collaborators have nowadays? Whether they like it or not, your Inuit friends are just as tightly integrated into the world economy as everyone here on Metafilter, and the only question is on what terms they should be.
posted by ocschwar at 12:03 PM on April 2, 2011


Whenever stories about Indian reservations come up, people should think of one counterexample, an Indian reservation that doesn't suffer from all these problems: Aruba.

The Arubans are Arawak Indians. They have substantial autonomy from Holland, just like Nunavut and other indigenous reservations. More importantly, they control immigration to their island, and do so very strictly. They also have enough numbers to have a modern economy that includes things like an oil refinery. 30,000 people in a far more hostile piece of turf, doesn't sound like they could be as successful.
posted by ocschwar at 12:22 PM on April 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think another part of the problem--and this is with how we read and hear these stories, and how that affects what we expect from indigenous cultures--is that stories about Nunavut's "failure" are more popular than stories about its rich artistic cultureways and artists.

Well yes- and this debate is a perfect example of the "Isn't it awful" game that's so popular on the internet in general, and Metafilter in tparticular. A situation is presented with limited context and portrayed in the worst possible way, posters tch over how horrible and unsolvable it is, no solutions or offers to help are tendered, and in the end everyone signs off satisfied with how terrible a place the world is. Frankly, I consider it another example of first world patronizing attitudes.

This is where Haiti comes in; it's shorthand for "it's so hopeless- let's throw up our hands in gleeful despair“, all without considering the larger context.
posted by happyroach at 1:04 PM on April 2, 2011 [1 favorite]



Using snowmobiles and hunting rifles, right? And what are the blood mercury levels your Inuit collaborators have nowadays? Whether they like it or not, your Inuit friends are just as tightly integrated into the world economy as everyone here on Metafilter, and the only question is on what terms they should be.


Okay, but who said cultures are static and shouldn't adapt? That if they do it means they've "died"?

Oh, that's right, white people, often the same ones who want to "preserve" them.
posted by liketitanic at 1:17 PM on April 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


jhandey: "I wonder what accounts for the compulsive need of more "settled" (yeah, I know this is a pretty inaccurate way to put it, but I'll use it as shorthand here) cultures to subjugate and degrade the less settled. "

One time I was thinking about the Cain and Able myth, and what it represented, and in a sense, it seemed to tell a tale of the Settled (Farm Crops) vs the Nomadic (Herder) -- the Lord preferred the nomadic shepherds over the agricultural/crop-growing society. I'm not sure how accurate that is (and I don't know how much of the herds were purely nomadic/grazing in those days it was written vs how we do now where we grow crops and harvest and feed them to mostly sedentary creatures) I'm sure there's crossover, but it seemed to me that this was a myth made for a nomadic culture in opposition to an elite land-based culture.

Just an idea, and probably wrong.
posted by symbioid at 2:04 PM on April 2, 2011


The motivations behind the Western settlers' policy of genocide (which was many times explicit, bounties on scalps and all) is a hard question. I link a lot of the motivation to religion, honestly; much like the Black Death in the 14th century, 17th century smallpox outbreaks were made sense of as divine retribution. Consider the visual horror of the disease, and its preference for indigenous populations, and the basic human need to explain away tragedy. Given that there was no wikipedia article on smallpox, and a great deal of folk knowledge was lost because of the tiny seed populations of North America, this looked like divine wrath, and an implicit endorsement of European settler culture. Wherever the Puritans went, the hand of God was there with them, helping to exterminate indigenous populations. (It was also helpfully reminding them of the dangers of physical contact!) Often the disease travelled faster than the settlements did. Therefore manifest destiny!

It's so easy to villify and dismiss the original colonists as insane or evil or both, but it's not exactly productive. I like Sarah Vowell's argument that they were even worse than that: they were idealists.
posted by mek at 2:37 PM on April 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm not sure Aruba is a fair comparison, as relative to its population it is sitting on a huge and easily extracted patch of oil.
posted by thewalrus at 3:20 PM on April 2, 2011


Do the those individuals born into Inuit society who achieve higher levels of education and income tend to live in Nunavut? Many societies would look much different if they contained only the lowest strata. I understand that other problems are present, but I don't know if the overall situation is particular to the Inuit.
posted by Jehan at 3:21 PM on April 2, 2011


I'd love for a discussion of the problems facing First Nations communities to be solution-based rather than simply blame-based. As a Canadian I feel responsible for helping fix the mess, but as an immigrant to Canada I don't feel any blame for what "my people" (whatever the hell that means) did over the past 500 years.

I'd like to see the money spend on IANAC programs put to better use...right now it seems to be causing as many problems as it's fixing. Is the answer simply to spend more? Hands-off autonomy? Or is the only real solution the one nobody wants (myself included)...full assimilation?
posted by rocket88 at 3:31 PM on April 2, 2011


I'm not sure Aruba is a fair comparison, as relative to its population it is sitting on a huge and easily extracted patch of oil.


That's kind of my point. If a successful Indian reservation requires a good economic base, then we can see why Nunavuut is failing, and Aruba is not.

But they were doing okay even before the oil. I'm bringing it up because Aruba's legal relationship to Holland is a direct parallel to Canada and Nunavut, and because well, Aruba's culture is not immediately recognizable as Indians. The Arubans were enslaved by Spain, and ruled and influenced by Holland and Portugal, and their culture is so Europeanized that you have to remind yourself that they are, by blood, Arawak Indians. The loss of their Arawak cultural heritage is to be mourned, but they formed a new identity, one they like, and they do quite nicely for themselves.

And it's a good reminder to have when you wonder if Indian reservations must always be hellholes.
posted by ocschwar at 4:27 PM on April 2, 2011


Res is not always a hellhole. In BC we have some bands that are phenomenally wealthy and any member that cares to has excellent opportunity to choose a successful, fulfilling life path.

But like Aruba and its oil, they are on particularly valuable, developable land, and tend to not be stuck up north where life's a bitch at the best of times.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:50 PM on April 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


on the topic of smallpox blankets, I wanted to say something about the killing of sled dogs as a way of forcing the Inuit to settle into permanent communities, but a cursory googling casts doubt on that. knowledgable people -- is there any truth to it?
posted by spindle at 9:19 AM on April 2


A report says the whole of Nunavik society suffered damaging consequences from the actions, attitudes and mistakes of bureaucrats, agents and representatives of the two governments, who killed at least 1,000 dogs in Nunavik during the 1950s and 1960s.
posted by TheGoodBlood at 6:32 PM on April 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Really, it's to a large extent just living in the North. My hometown in Northern BC -- about 3500 people strong -- had the highest murder rate in North America for much of the 80s.

Wouldn't have grown up anywhere else. But the alcoholism, violence, and 8 months of mud and ice aren't to everyone's tastes, I admit.

[The place is doing great these days, thanks in no small part to my mom once again being the mayor. She's a smart lady.]
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:50 PM on April 2, 2011 [5 favorites]


I'm guessing that the $32-$33K per capita figure is a breakdown of all the aid sent to Nunavut, yes? Not that each person gets a check for $2500 per month.
posted by Leta at 6:25 AM on April 3, 2011


There's evidence it was discussed, and that's pretty much where the evidence ends.

No, it goes further than that. They discussed it, with specific permission granted by a superior to implement the strategy. They had means: there had been a local outbreak of smallpox, so the blankets were available. And we know that the following year, smallpox was devastating the local tribes.

That's not 'beyond a reasonable doubt' level, but it's certainly at 'preponderance of evidence'. Particularly when you consider the age of the crime and the poor record-keeping of the era, the reasonable conclusion is that it occurred.
posted by Malor at 9:08 AM on April 3, 2011


It's not like smallpox blankets were the beginning or end of explicitly genocidal policies in the colonies, either. If you keep up the denial I will do some cursory research for you, but it'd be easier and more rewarding if you did it yourself!
posted by mek at 12:46 PM on April 3, 2011


They use rifles, your friends? And snowmobiles?

Because once you start using another culture's technology you've pretty much given up your own. Hunting can only connect you with your family, your community, your land, your ancestors, your religion and yourself if you're using a spear and keepin' it real.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 9:01 PM on April 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Smallpox blankets : liberals :: Spat upon Vietnam Vets : republicans
posted by electroboy at 7:43 AM on April 4, 2011


electroboy, did you read any of the links provided? It's extremely likely that it happened.
posted by Malor at 1:18 PM on April 4, 2011


Front-lines report from a Redditor who works up there.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:14 AM on April 7, 2011


Thanks FFF. That was a good Reddit post. Horrifying stories. I think the person hit the nail on the head when s/he said "things will easily derail if things like promoting education and the likes stop. As such, I think that self-administration is the best way to accomplish this - no one knows the problems and solutions to them more than people who live in Nunavut, and were born there."

The more I work with aboriginal Canadians and hear their stories, the more I think education and self-government are the keys. Paternalism isn't making things better and is not a feasible long-term solution. Luckily, where I live, there are baby steps being taken, but it's slow going.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 9:43 AM on April 7, 2011


did you read any of the links provided?

From your link: "We don't know if Bouquet actually put the plan into effect, or if so with what result."
posted by electroboy at 9:21 AM on April 10, 2011


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