Nunavut Day 2017: in the Words of John Houston

 

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“There’s a gulf between the Nunavut that southern Canadians hear described in the media and the one that actually exists—there’s no substitute for going there and having the people share their land and communities with you.” —John Houston

With our team of resource staff, Adventure Canada travels the world’s wildest places. Our expeditions take us to the west coast of Greenland and the east coast of Canada, down the mighty St. Lawrence River, and even into the Tanzanian Serengeti. Next summer, our ship sets sail for Scotland, Iceland, and the Faroe Islands. And today, we’re anchored off the coast of Sable Island. But there is one region that has always been at the heart of all that we do: Nunavut.

Today is Nunavut Day, which marks the anniversary of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement, which This agreement gave the Inuit of the central and eastern Northwest Territories a separate territory called Nunavut. It is the largest Aboriginal land claim settlement in Canadian history. The NLCA provided the Inuit of Nunavut with a number of new rights, including representation on wildlife, resource, and environmental management boards. When the territory was officially created in 1999, it represented the culmination of work that began in 1973 by the Inuit Tapirisat of Canada. On April 1, 1999, Nunavut as an independent territory with an independent government became a reality. This was a huge boon for the nearly 60,000 Inuit people who call the Canadian Arctic home, scattered across fifty-three communities in the vast North. Nunavut itself comprises a staggering 350,000 square kilometres—accounting for over twenty percent of Canada’s landmass—making it one of the most sparsely populate territories on Earth.

That being said, the Nunavut Inuit population retains a rich and vibrant culture, heritage to its origins over 6,000 years ago as the Thule culture. Nomadic hunters and fishermen originally, Nunavut art and culture follows a rote-oral tradition with a deep-seeded focus on storytelling, song, and a reverence for generational knowledge kept by elders. Today, the capital of Nunavut, Iqaluit, is a vibrant hub of culture including the widely attended Alianait Arts Festival, hometown heroes The Jerry Cans, and more. A new generation of young Inuit are making waves around the world as they find their place within a modernizing world, preserving their cultural heritage while working with contemporary organizations to carry those skills forward in a modern Nunavut.

Heart of the Arctic, Adventure Canada’s upcoming expedition, is by far and away our most community- and art-focused voyage, paying a visit to Kinngait (Cape Dorset)—epicenter of the Inuit printmaking movement. John Houston, son of James and Alma Houston, widely credited with introducing Inuit art to the world at large, has been travelling with Adventure Canada since 1991, making him one of our longest-standing resource staffers.

“My great thrill,” says John, “is the ongoing collaboration between AC and the Inuit of Nunavut, which is where I come from. Having the community greet us at the shore as we step out of Zodiacs that contain Inuit as drivers, Inuit as resource staff, Inuit as Expedition Leaders … seeing the looks on the faces of the young people gathered as they witnessing that collaboration, and perhaps see a path for themselves. That’s immensely gratifying for me.”

John grew up in Kinngait and, while watching westerns with the community at about six years old, decided that he wanted to make films and show them to his community. Since then, he’s dedicated his life to the creation of art and craft of filmmaking, and to continue the promotion of Inuit art and culture in the footsteps of his parents.

“Adventure Canada has grown up as a company with Nunavut,” John says. “We were up there getting going in the run-up to Nunavut becoming a terrority. We’ve had a number of Nunavut leaders aboard as staff and guests—like Tagak Curley, Ann Hanson [first commissioner of Nunavut]. The spirit and excitement of Nunavut becoming a territory matched our own spirit and excitement of exploration and getting to know the people who call the region home. In the early days, we didn’t know the first thing—we relied on local knowledge and understanding to equip ourselves with the skills to explore the region safely, responsibly, and sustainably. We do to this day.”

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