First steps towards the Arctic

We circled the bay and landed with a gentle bump onto the gravel run way of Nain, fittingly piloted by a woman. My plane ride was a chance to meet a lady called Sabina and have some of the aerial highlights pointed out to me from above. Tiny dots below showing remote Inuit villages on the shores of bays that are now flowing freely but soon will be sealed off with ice for another winter. Sabina informs me that these days it’s not such a guarantee that the ice will be solid enough to skidoo across.

Riding through town on the back of a pickup packed high with our luggage it finally felt like we were getting somewhere remote. The houses in Nain are colourful but stand alone with no gardens, waiting again for the snow to decorate their yards. Puppies run around town, chasing kids on bikes and the locals are fishing from the wharf.

That evening we were invited along to a performance in the local church, a brass band in full traditional garb and choir. The town is predominantly Inuit and the occasional white, so is the band. Coming from Aotearoa, I was struck by the similarities to Maori. Here we are in a church with colonial religion brought to indigenous people and just like at home where hymms and prayers are translated to local dialects, the same is happening. At one point I look across to a big lady over the aisle from me, who is staring straight ahead despite the choir behind. Her eyes seemingly closed but tears were streaming down her face. Then I realise the man next to me is also flooding tears. And the man in front. There was a church of silent tears as the choir sang.

Over the next couple of days we met many of the locals and quite a few characters. Down on the dock running our mobile aquariums and showing some of the local marine life at eye level, we had the chance to chat to many people.

For me a recurrent theme was food. Sabina had shared with me on the plane that the moratorium on Caribou for the past 2 years meant many people were going hungry. Not just hungry, she said, but she misses the meat in a deeper sense: the way it makes her feel, the energy and the connection to the animal. Over hunting and other environmental factors have meant the populations have declined so for five years noone can hunt. Subsequently, many families are struggling financially as the price of supermarket meat is high. The cargo ship bringing the annual supplies is late up here and the Northern Supermarket was bare in parts, soon to be overstocked. I also noticed at the Northern, the categories of food stamps and credits for people. Families order for a year’s worth of groceries at one time and have the stocktake down to an art, perhaps just 12 toilet rolls left by the time the boat arrives. But for the locals in Nain there is no substitute for hunting and fishing.

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