March 1, 2007

I moved away from home (Arviat, Nunavut) in August of 1992. One of the things I miss the most is during the spring and early summer, we’d take the ATVs and go out about three or four miles from town, bring a lunch, and head out to a small river or estuary to get fresh river water. I loved the drive, the fresh, cool salt-water air in my face, the taste of fresh river water, and the meal cooked over an open fire. I loved the outdoors, but more than anything else, I loved the freedom of knowing that at will, we could go out and do all of this.

Arviat is located right in the middle of the migration route of the caribou, geese, beluga whale, and, in the early winter, the polar bear. The inlet provides fish in the spring and early summer. It is a quiet town of about 1,300 people, about three quarters Inuit, all still mostly dependant on the land and the fish and sea mammals for its meat. This is part of the cycle—nourish the land and it in turn will nourish the people.

A couple of years ago, on one of my visits home, I asked my mother if she’d like to go out to the little river and for a picnic. I was devastated to find out that the water was too polluted to drink.

This particular estuary is roughly three miles from the town of Arviat. On the way we used to stop to pick aqpiks (or cloud berries). Often there would be little left of the cloud berries because flocks of geese had eaten most of them. Today, the geese still eat these berries, watered by this contaminated source.

Inland from this river, every fall, thousands upon thousands of caribou migrate. You can see the caribou stopping now and again to lap up the water—that same contaminated water.

This estuary eventually flows into the Hudson’s Bay where one can always find a pod of beluga whales. This pod settles into the inlet where the town of Arviat is situated and every season, the pod spawn. In summer, you can spot baby beluga out in the ocean—a beautiful sight. Except now, knowing that this pod is swimming in contaminated waters, it is not as pure and innocent as it once was. I can no longer look at the ocean with awe and wonder. And rather than go out on the land to enjoy the beauty of it all, I sit out and wonder what will become of all of this—of the little river that feeds the estuary that feeds the berries, that feed the geese, that nourish the caribou, that flows into the ocean to give the beluga a playground.But more importantly, what will become of the people who still to this day, rely almost entirely on the meat that comes from the fish and the geese, the caribou and the whale?

What is happening in the North—from pollution, to serious changes in the climate—are powerful indicators of what’s happening all over the planet. We must do everything we can to protect it for this and future generations.

The views and ideas expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect those of the Canada Foundation for Innovation or its Board Directors and Members.