CBC Windsor
University of Windsor communications officer Steve Fields will spend eight days as a working member of the crew aboard a scientific research vessel in the Arctic
Steve Fields will spend eight days as a working member of the crew aboard a scientific research vessel in the Arctic.

Fields of View

Stop in Clyde River provides insight into Inuit life

CLYDE RIVER, NUNAVUT - With a simple stick and line, two 14-year-old Inuit boys are able to reel in sculpin, a spiny fish, off the main dock of the harbour of this little village of about 800 people. As soon as his friend pulls one to the surface, Joisinpops them with a round or two from the pair of pellet guns he keeps by his side.

"Practicing," he replies matter-of-factly when I ask him about what seems like a rather unconventional method of fishing.

Joisin says he wants to be a hunter one day, shooting the "animals we eat." Narwhales and seals are high on his list of potential targets. He responds affirmatively when I ask him if he'd like to work on a fishing boat one day, although it seems apparent the notion may never have occurred to him.

That might be because there are no commercial fisheries in the area of this remote village, about 600 kilometres northeast of Iqaluit. That may change in the near future.

We touched down on the dirt runway at the tiny airport on the outskirts of town on Friday afternoon. I'm travelling with Nigel Hussey, a post-doctoral fellow in the Great Lakes Institute of Environmental Research; Kevin Hedges, a Winnipeg-based scientist with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans who earned his master's degree at the University of Windsor in 2002; and Ellie Chmelnitsky and Melanie Toyne, both with the DFO.

The point of our work is to set out high-tech acoustic tracking and satellite monitoring systems that will tell these scientists all about the migratory patterns of such fish species as Greenland halibut, Arctic char and by-catch like Greenland shark and Arctic skate.

As of this writing, we're waiting for the MV Nuliajuk, a 64-foot research vessel to arrive from Cumberland Sound, where the scientists were previously conducting their research, and take us to Scott Inlet, about 100 kilometers north from here. Some preliminary winter test fishing done by the Hunters and Trappers Organization and the Government of Nunavut in Scott Inlet has led scientists to believe it may be fertile waters for halibut. The information we glean will ultimately help the GN and the feds establish sustainable commercial fisheries here and bring much needed job opportunities in northern communities starved for development.

Judging from recent media reports, the need is clear.

On my flight from Ottawa to Iqaluit, I read a heart-wrenching National Post column by Joe O'Connor about the persistent problem of solvent abuse in Davis Inlet. Kids as young as six and seven years old have been caught sniffing gas, while other teenagers high on the stuff and armed with shotguns have been found wandering the streets in hallucinatory states.

On the flight from Iqaluitto Clyde River I was handed a copy of the Nunavut News. One of their lead stories was about World Suicide Prevention Day. Since the end of August, Nunavut has already had 18 suicides. In a territory of a little more than 33,500 people, that's a frightening rate when compared to the national average of nearly 11 per 100,000 people. The vast majority are males. In the 20-29 age group, almost half of all injury hospitalizations at Iqaluit's Qikiqtani General Hospital are due to suicide attempts.

Whether what we in the south consider meaningful employment will be a panacea to the problems Inuit communities face remains to be seen. I spoke with Samiulie Iqaqrialu, a 35-year-old man who works at the local community centre, who told me only about 35 per cent of the people in the community are employed. He said the jobs a fishery might bring would be a welcome improvement.

But I also spoke with a young guy on the flight from Ottawa who works with an environmental engineering firm in Kingston, overseeing the cleanup and disposal of hazardous materials at now-shuttered northern warning stations. He told me the greatest virtue he's learned working in the north is patience.

"People up here don't look at life the way we do when it comes to work and money," he said. "It's not a bad thing. They just don't get up first thing in the morning and bust their asses all day like us. They go at their own pace."

I'm a first-time visitor to the Arctic and a casual observer who would never pretend to have a solution for the problems that plague these communities. Employment as an alternative to the inescapable idleness that comes with the territory might be part of the answer, but it would seem to me that southern solutions to northern dilemmas won't be the fix-all that's required.

Providing some resources and the ability to determine their own solutions - and their own futures - would seem like the only natural way to go.