North

Trudeau gets glimpse of life in the Far North during tour of Arctic Bay

The prime minister's first stop in the northern community was a visit to the home of elder Qaapik Attagutsiak. He arrived bearing a gift basket of fresh fruit.

Prime minister visits Arctic Bay Thursday as part of 2-day visit to the territory

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau talks with Inuit elder Qaapik Attagutsiak in her home during a visit to Arctic Bay. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Sitting on a bed next to one of the oldest Inuit women in northern Nunavut, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau heard and witnessed first-hand what life is like for the people of the Far North.

Trudeau visited Arctic Bay Thursday as part of a two-day visit to the territory.

His first stop in the tiny northern community of fewer than 900 residents was a visit to the home of Qaapik Attagutsiak, who turns 100 next year. He arrived bearing a gift basket of fresh fruit.

Her house is a makeshift structure of unpainted wooden planks and plastic, insulated on the inside with curved walls. It is so small, Trudeau could not stand inside and had to crouch through the half-sized door to greet the elder.

She has chosen to live in this humble abode because she does not want to live anywhere that has belonged to or has been made by anyone else, a local explained. She helped build this structure and her children's homes now surround it.

Inside, her walls are lined with shelves filled with trinkets and collectibles — dolls and figurines and many tiny teapots. Some trinkets she collected herself, others were gifts.

Trudeau is greeted by a crowd as he arrives to attend a community feast during a visit to Arctic Bay. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Her conversation with the prime minister was casual. She spoke in her native tongue through a translator, recounting the days of raising her many children in the community, pointing to a black and white photo of herself in her younger days with one of her babies on her lap.

Some of those days have been happy, while others have been very difficult, she said. She was wistful about the time when more of their traditional country food of caribou and seal was brought into the community — back in the days when their catches were more plentiful.

Trudeau replied by mentioning an announcement he'd made earlier in the day about the creation of a new marine protected area to help with conservation efforts. Attagutsiak seemed pleased, but didn't want to get into politics.

She pointed instead to a silver teapot hanging over a traditional qulliq oil lamp, which, in addition to brewing tea, is also used to help heat her home. She offered Trudeau a cup. He smiled and thanked her, but declined.

Before he left, she gave him two pairs of seal skin mittens she had sewn by hand — one pair for him and one for his sons.

Trudeau and PJ Akeeagok, president of the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, walk the shore of Pamiuja. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

As he ducked out the door to make his way back to his motorcade, a small group of Inuit women who had been waiting to see Trudeau called over to him. A small group of children had also been waiting, but they hung shyly back, choosing instead to observe with wide eyes as he greeted their mothers and grandmothers with handshakes.

Trudeau's next stop was to a nearby beach called Victor Bay. It was surrounded by mountains with rounded tops and rocky bottoms and colourful horizontal lines of sediment marking their years. The Arctic summer meant the water below the mountains was not frozen, and the air was warm from the sun.

Together with Environment Minister Catherine McKenna and Fisheries Minister Jonathan Wilkinson, Trudeau was greeted on the beach by a group of Inuit guardians, who act as stewards of their traditional lands, waters and ice.

Trudeau takes a photo with young attendees at the community feast in Arctic Bay. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

They told him briefly about their work and their love of being on the land — a defining characteristic of the Inuit.

Trudeau's final stop was to the community hall, where hundreds of locals had gathered in preparation to greet him for a community feast. The feasts are a tradition in the area, meant to ensure everyone gets enough to eat in a place where food costs are high, and many often go without.

Dozens of children crowded around the prime minister, who often became overwhelmed by the pressing crowd. But he obliged anyone who asked for a photo, shook many hands and cradled several babies.

Trudeau greets an elder attendee at a community feast in Arctic Bay. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

He made brief remarks in the hall, highlighting again the marine protected area announcement. He told the people this measure was being taken to help conserve marine areas in the North and also preserve the Inuit way of life.

Most of the locals did not listen closely to his speech. They appeared amused by the spectacle of a visiting prime minister and the entourage of media and staff. They were also distracted by restless children, who wanted to dig into the food laid out in preparation for the feast — trays of bannock and seal among the dishes.

As Trudeau finally made his way out the door, some followed him out, trying to capture a photo or a handshake.

But most remained inside, lining up for their meal and ready to get on with another summer evening in the Far North.

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the prime minister stopped at Victory Bay. In fact, the name of the beach is Victor Bay.
    Aug 04, 2019 4:28 PM CT