April 12, 2019

This week, it's Toonik and toonies in Nunavut, polar bears chow down on trash, and Inuit dogs star on Game of Thrones.
All smiles when the sun is out in Iqaluit. Regram from @hmhilchey


It's been humid and downright balmy in Yellowknife this week. Exactly the sort of early spring weather I was hoping to avoid, now that I no longer live beside an ocean. The ice roads are shutting down for the season and people are being warned to stay off the lakes. Likewise, the office thermostat and kitchen mini-fridge have been turned down. 

Not much else for news behind-the-scenes. Everyone's busy finalizing the spring edition of Up Here Business (look for it in print and online in May). We did find some time this week to cry havoc on Twitter and let slip a
war of Northern news dogs. Please enjoy. 

As always, thanks for reading,
Jacob Boon



Handmade parkas are a common sight in Nunavut, but ask around in Rankin Inlet and Corinne Pilakapsi’s name comes up frequently—and not just because her brother is NHL star Jordin Tootoo. “With colourful fur and elaborate trims, from rickrack and ribbon to seal skin and lace, Nunavut fashion is getting attention,” writes editor Jessica Davey-Quantick. For proof, look no further than Inuk designer Melissa Attagutsiak, who brought her Nuvuja9 clothing line to Paris Fashion Week along with fellow Nunavummiut Victoria Kakuktinniq. (Up Here)

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans' invasive species program doesn’t have a mandate for Arctic waters. But don't worry, it’s not another example of southern bias. According to a recent audit, the DFO and Canadian Border Services Agency haven't taken any steps to prevent invasive aquatic species from entering virtually any of Canada's waters. “It's not surprising to us, I guess, that there's little going on in the Arctic right now,” audit author Kimberly Leach says, “because there's actually not a lot going on in many other parts of Canada as well.” (CBC)

On the subject of southerners not understanding the North; the Globe and Mail’s car review section held a debate on whether a Honda Accord can survive a trip through the Northwest Territories. “The article marks the Northwest Territories’ first appearance in a Globe and Mail headline since March 13,” observes Cabin Radio, wryly. (Globe and Mail)

Polar bears are stuffing their furry faces with more and more garbage. Which, honestly, same. “Aluminum foil. Car keys. Candy wrappers. Half a towel. Scientists, and some hunters in northern communities, say they've seen these items—and more—in the stomachs of harvested polar bears,” reports CBC, “and it could be affecting bears' behaviour.” Polars have a particularly narrow pyloric sphincter that's easily clogged with large, indigestible items. This—as it would with most of us—leads to irritability. With less sea ice and warmer temps, the polar bears are becoming more habituated to wandering through human environments looking for food. And precious little is more abundant in human environments than growing piles of rank garbage. (CBC)

It's not just the animals that are in danger, though. The polar bears on our license plates are also at risk. Cabin Radio crunched some numbers and found a “marked increase” over the past year in the theft of license plates in Yellowknife. The polar bear-shaped plates are a popular item online as collectibles, presumably even if they're poached. Souvenir plates available from NWT Tourism ($24.95) are currently sold out, “such is the demand.” (Cabin Radio)

When a sacred tree falls in the forest, everyone hears about it. “I got a call telling me the tree fell down. And then another call and another call,” says Fred Sangris, a Yellowknives Dene elder and historian. Jeremy Warren has the story of a First Nation coming together to decide the future of a legendary tree felled by a windstorm. (Up Here)

The Washington Post describes Tanya Tagaq as “both earthy and ethereal…eerie and exotic” during her Kennedy Centre performance last week. “She swung her arms, rolled her hips and hopped and up and down, as if to compel the sounds from her lungs. Electronic reverb was sometimes evident, but the music’s power came from someplace deeper and far more ancient than an effects box.” Alright. (Washington Post)

Iceberg harvesting is big money in Labrador. Macleans brings the story of Captain Ed Kean, an eighth-generation mariner and Newfoundland’s most renowned “iceberg cowboy,” who spends months at a time collecting millions of litres of water for buyers like Iceberg Vodka, and others who want the frozen fluid for its reputed purity (and also because it's a hell of a marketing play). Critics deride iceberg harvesting as the “senseless exploitation of shrinking glaciers in the name of luxury,” writes Lindsay Jones. “In down-home Newfoundland, however, iceberg ice has long been freely shared as a novelty and a sign of hospitality.” (Macleans)

A new book details the horrific case of a 1923 show trial where the “goal was simply to execute some Inuit” and thereby show Canada's dominion over the Arctic. Author Debra Komar tells The Current how two Inuit men were arrested by the RCMP and subsequently tried in a language and justice system they did not understand. The proceedings were held on Herschel Island, far from where the alleged crimes had occurred, so that national media could attend. "It had to be a show trial," Komar says. "Not only did Canada need to know it was happening, the world needed to know it was happening.” (CBC)

“Being an environmental journalist, I often get weird PR pitches,” tweets Northern reporter Jimmy Thomson. But one particular pitch from an outdoor equipment company he calls “ghoulish and backwards.” The listicle offers 50 places—including all of Alaska—that will be affected by climate change, and suggests readers “err on the side of caution and go check out as many of these places as you can.” The solution to climate change in these locations, notes Thomson, “is absolutely not to get on more planes, burn more carbon, so you tramp around on top of them for the ‘gram.” (Twitter)

Speaking of climate change, Arctic ice iscurrently melting at 14,000 tonnes per second. Eight trillion metric tonnes of land ice has been lost since 1971, which is enough to have tipped the mass of the Earth. But climate change is not the threat, says Yukon scientist Jocelyn Joe-Strack. The Champagne and Aishihik First Nation member just returned from a speaking tour of Canadian embassies across Europe, sharing an Indigenous perspective on the environment. “What I presented was an understanding that climate change is not our greatest threat. Instead, our adoption of the values and morals of modern civilization has led to our current state of vulnerability. It was about how we continue to mar Earth, the sky, the land, the sea, and the core. And yet humanity continues to expect more – more development, more economic wealth, more convenience. But I’m not sure this means more freedom or more happiness.” (Gordon Foundation)


Arctic waters are an increasingly attractive travel destination for the lucrative cruise ship industry, but it’s unlikely Northern communities along those routes will reap many benefits from the increase in traffic. (Arctic Today)

Infrastructure spending across the three territories has actually gone down, even with increased funding from the Liberal government, according to the Parliamentary Budget Officer. The news comes as Nunavut sends an SOS to Ottawa for capital funding to get clean drinking water flowing again in Iqaluit. (National Post)

Whether a diamond mine makes money comes down to production costs, grade and size of the deposit, and the global market price. “In recent years, all of these have conspired to bring the Canadian industry to its knees.” (Bloomberg)

Whitehorse has been named by the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses as the most entrepreneurial community in Canada. It’s the only Northern city to crack the top 10 on the list, which primarily uses the ratio between commercial and residential property taxes to determine those ‘entrepreneurial’ rankings. (CFIB)


It’s Toonik Tyme! The annual festival kicked off this week in Iqaluit, celebrating the arrival of spring weather. Fun fact: the very first honorary Toonik was prime minister John Diefenbaker. Nunavut News looks at some history of the longstanding civic holiday, and festivities planned for the coming week. Beth Brown has photos from the opening ceremonies for Up Here.

The warmer weather also means fishing season is almost here. Just in time, Namushka Lodge
rises from the ashes. The NWT destination was consumed by fire in 2016, but three years later it's been rebuilt and transformed from rustic fishing lodge to high-end vacation spot—now open during the winter as well for aurora visitors.

Namushka’s comeback eases some of the tourism pain as we note the cancellation of the Top of the World Loppet. The Inuvik ski party celebrated its 50th-anniversary last year, but the club has been unable to remain open ever since due to lack of volunteers.


The first-ever image of a black hole was as inescapable in the media this week as an event horizon. But did you know it took the combined efforts of eight interconnected telescopes from Antarctica to Greenland to snap that historic shot? Each massive ‘scope was synched up to a fraction of a trillionth of a second, creating a virtual megascope the size of the Earth, collecting gargantuan amounts of data from the faintest echoes of the universe. Hard drives containing the data had to be manually flown from each observatory as the petabytes of information were too big to transfer digitally. Assembled, all those ones and zeroes created the blurry, orange-and-black ringolo printed on front pages all over the world. The Thule Air Base observatory will be able to take in even more cosmic information when it’s moved to the summit of Greenland’s ice sheet in 2021. (Vox)

The search is on for whoever left behind cremated remains at the Anchorage airport. The Ziploc baggie of human ashes has been sitting in the airport’s lost-and-found for the past six months. Police and airport authorities aren’t sure who left them, or who they belong to. The deceased, unfortunately, isn’t offering up any clues. “The bag of ashes does not contain any identifying information.” (Associated Press)

The internet is angry with Netflix for killing Russian walruses. Specifically, the streaming giant’s new nature show, Our Planet, had a scene in a recent episode where walruses tumbled to their death off rocky cliffs in the Arctic. The nature documentary pins the violent deaths on climate change reducing sea ice, forcing the overcrowding of walrus real estate. Canadian zoologist Susan Crockford (a vocal opponent of climate change’s impact on Arctic wildlife) has criticized the scene as merely documenting walruses trying to escape a polar bear attack, calling it “trauma porn.” Netflix says it stands by the show and its scientists. (Complex)

Norway made the difficult choice this week of walking away from billions of dollars in oil revenue. The Scandinavian country’s governing party ruled against oil exploration near the Lofoten islands given the already-dire state of the changing climate. Labor leader Jonas Gahr Store has said he wants oil companies in Norway to commit to a deadline for making their operations completely emissions-free. Said oil companies are less enthusiastic about the news. (Bloomberg)

Finally, Game of Thrones returns this weekend for its final season, which gives us a chance to talk about Inuit dogs. Inuit dog actors were used to portray the young direwolf puppies adopted in season one of HBO’s blockbuster fantasy series. But they weren’t Canadian Inuit Dogs—a working dog breed that’s accompanied Inuit in the Arctic for thousands of years. Game of Thrones’ pups were Northern Inuit Dogs—a crossbreed that originated in the United Kingdom back in the ‘80s as an attempt to create a wolf-looking dog with a friendly demeanour. The English breed’s celebrity status has resulted in GOT fans buying high-energy, Northern dog breeds and dumping them on shelters when they prove too much responsibility. Remember, “always, ALWAYS, adopt from a shelter,” pleads Peter Dinklage. Might we direct you to the NWT SPCA? (The Californian
 Nunavut’s creation 20 years ago was welcomed with commemorations big and small. None of those celebrations were as far-reaching as the 1999 toonie. Celebrated Inuk artist Germaine Arnaktauyok created the illustration adorning the currency—the first-ever commemorative edition of the two-dollar coin. Though she’s had a career filled with international acclaim, that humble toonie is likely her most recognized work—even if you didn’t know the story behind it until now. (Up Here) 
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