Authors: Deborah Ellis
Iqaluit is the capital and largest city of Nunavut, the vast Arctic territory stretching across Canada's North. Its population is around 7,000, two-thirds Inuit, and it's growing fast as mining increases. The city is expanding into the tundra with new housing developments to give the incoming workers places to live. It overlooks Koojesse Inlet (Frobisher Bay), which is frozen over in the winter but has massive tides in the summer.
Iqaluit's history as a community really started in 1942, with the US Air Force recruiting Inuit labor to build an airstrip. Year-round homes were built by Inuit families using building materials the airbase threw away in the local dump. The Hudson's Bay Company showed up not long after, and in 1955 Iqaluit became one of the bases of the DEW Line
an early-warning system that was supposed to let North Americans know if the Soviets were attacking with atomic weapons.
Today Iqaluit is a mixture of modern and traditional, with hide-scraping racks set up beside TV satellite dishes.
I met Rachel in her home on a hill overlooking the frozen inlet.
I'm in grade ten. I was born in Iqaluit and have lived mostly here, but I've also lived on and off in Kimmirut, which is also on Baffin Island. It takes one and a half hours to get there by small plane and six hours by Ski-Doo.
I've only done the trip once on Ski-Doo. It looked like the moon. We stopped off a couple of times in different cabins along the way. Kimmirut is small. Everyone knows everyone else.
My mother's parents are from there. My grandmother is still alive. She lived in Kimmirut until she was sixteen. She married my grandfather and came to live in Iqaluit, but they lived a nomadic lifestyle, hunting and fishing with the seasons, so really they lived in a lot of places.
She only speaks Inuk. She understands bits of English but doesn't speak it. I'm the opposite. I used to know a lot of Inuk when I was young. Now I only know how to speak a little, but I understand a lot more than I speak.
I went to an Inuk-speaking kindergarten class, but then I moved to another part of Iqaluit and the classes at that school were in English. Inuk is much more complex. English is hard too, but in Inuk, the slightest sound makes a huge difference.
There are a lot of Inuk speakers in the North â I mean, north of Iqaluit. None of my friends speak it with me unless we're joking around. We have an Inuk class at the high school, but it's an optional course. Not many kids are in it. I'm in it because I want to be a translator. I want to take a year off after high school and travel around Nunavut to the northern communities where I'll have to speak only Inuk and learn all the different styles of speaking it. That will really help me get the language deep into my brain. So I do more than the basic requirements in Inuk class because it's an opportunity to really learn something useful.
I want to be an Inuk translator for the government, maybe in the Parliament of Canada or in the Nunavut Legislature. After high school I can go on to college here and take more Inuk courses. It will be a good career but also I just want to do it to keep the language strong. I want my kids to speak it fluently, when I have kids. Language is a really important part of who we are.
English-speaking people don't understand that, because they can speak English everywhere. But if they were forced to speak only Inuk and they had no English books, they would start to feel like a part of them was lost.
I got involved with the Iqaluit Humane Society when I moved in with my foster mom, Janine. She's the local president. We have to do twenty-five volunteer hours in the community before we can graduate high school, so I initially did it just for that, but I kept on long after my required hours were done.
I clean cages, walk dogs, help out wherever I can.
It's really sad to see the neglect that some animals have to live with. Some people have a lack of value for their dogs. Others get drunk and mean and go after their dogs if the dogs get in their way.
That's not the usual thing for Inuit to mistreat their dogs. Out beyond the airport is where people keep their sled-dog teams, since they're not allowed on city streets. You can go and see for yourself that those dogs are well cared for. Inuit traditionally really depend on their dogs for hunting and for transportation. But modern life has screwed a lot of things up. Residential schools and all that's happened has made some Inuit not act in a good way. They don't have good coping mechanisms.
Poverty too. These days, some people can't afford to feed their dogs and they call the humane society. Most dogs get shipped down to the shelter in Ottawa.
Bilingual sign in Iqaluit
There are also a lot of dogs. Half as many dogs as there are people. There's no vet up here, so no way to spay or neuter the dogs, and if the dog is injured it can't get patched up. People shoot their injured dogs rather than watch them suffer.
There was an outbreak of canine parvovirus, which vaccinations would have prevented if there had been a vet. It makes dogs really suffer in their stomachs. When that happened, we had to clean everything with bleach â the cages, all the equipment, the walls, even the ceiling.
My birth mother is in Iqaluit. My birth father recently passed away. He was never a part of my life. I only met him once or twice. We used to talk on the telephone now and then, but not often. His other daughters â my half-sisters â said he did some work at the airport in Sanikiluaq. My mother never really talked to me about him. I never even had contact with my sisters until I was thirteen. One of them is grown now. She works for the CBC and lives here in Iqaluit. We see each other from time to time. She's great.
Outside the high school in Iqaluit
I've been in and out of foster homes since I was two. Things at home were harsh. Mom had a drinking problem.
I always hated going to a new home. Always. I was always scared. You walk up to a strange door and you don't know what is going to be on the other side of it. What will the foster parents be like? What will the new rules be? What will the punishments be if you break the rules? What if they already have kids and the kids don't like you?
Foster care is supposed to take you out of something unhealthy and put you in a better place. But it doesn't always work out that way.
And even if you do get put into a good foster home, it can still be hard.
There were some little girls here for a while. They'd been back and forth a few times. Their parents couldn't care for them, they'd get placed in the foster home, their parents would straighten up for a little while and get the girls back, then everything would fall apart again and the girls would come back here. There's structure here â regular things like bedtimes and meal times and baths â and they're not used to it, so they have a hard time each time they come.
I wish I had been adopted to my grandparents in Kimmirut. They adopted my second-oldest brother. I have other siblings that were adopted. My eldest sister was adopted out to my grandfather's brother. One sister stayed with her dad. My mother decided she was going to keep me, so I've been back and forth to foster care.
A lot of it goes back to what happened at the residential schools. People really got hurt there.
My grandfather was an alcoholic. My grandmother had ten children. She's raised fourteen, including me a lot of the time. She just turned seventy-eight and she's still raising my eleven-year-old cousin. He's autistic, and she still takes care of him.
This latest round of foster care for me happened because of a really bad decision I made. I made the choice to try to end my life, but really I was just wanting help. They put me into the hospital here just so that I could be safe, but there's no real treatment here. When they could get a bed for me, they sent me to a mental health treatment place in Ottawa. I was there for a while, and when I came home, I had more hope. There were therapy groups and psychologists and things to do that made me feel better.
I wish they had those things up here. There's AA up here, but that's not enough. I was lucky. It's really hard for some people to go south for treatment.
I really love Iqaluit a lot. It's kind of like a small town, but not too small. I love the culture and how when someone needs help there's always someone around who will lend a hand. Like, there was a really bad fire recently. Lots of people turned out to help the families, donating what they could. Me and my friends talk about this a lot, about how people care about each other up here.
When I got back from treatment, they said I could either go home to live with my mother and try that again, or I could go back into foster care. I didn't think I could stay well with my mother, so I came here. I've been here for over a year. I'm doing fine.
I keep busy. I'm getting involved with Encounters with Canada. It's a program that lets you experience different things in Canada. I'm going in for sports and fitness. One of my classmates went in for medicine.
In my free time I go to the movies. The Frobisher Inn shows movies that change every three weeks. My favorite is
Law Abiding Citizen
. I'm in the school choir, in soccer, in Challenge by Choice skiing, hockey and the student council. A kamik-making class just started so I'm doing that too.
Winter is really dark most of the time and cold, but the cold is dry. If you dress for it, it's easy to manage minus 30 degrees Celsius [minus 22 Fahrenheit]. In Ottawa, minus 10 degrees feels much colder because it's so damp. In the summer there's boating and hiking. Lots of things to do.
I'd rather be Inuit today than three hundred years ago, even with all our problems. Three hundred years ago the climate was much harder. My ancestors must have had a really hard life.
I love writing fiction, mostly short stories. I even have a writer's callus on my hand! I started writing in middle school. Now I have a lot more confidence.
Today is special because it's the opening day of Toonik Tyme, our annual spring festival. It's spring even though it's minus twenty out! There are dogsled races and a huge craft sale. You have to get there early because of the line-ups. There's bannock-making contests, elders' feasts, concerts. I'm singing in the choir tonight. We're singing the Nunavut anthem. I'm going to have a great time.
Indigenous people are often on the forefront of environmental movements because they are often the people most affected by environmental damage. When plants don't grow or game is killed off, whole ways of life can change.
Ta'Kaiya is one of the new generation of environmentalists. She is from a Coast Salish Nation and lives in Vancouver, British Columbia.
I grew up listening to my dad tell stories about times when people could go for walks and eat the mussels right off the rocks and watch whales go by and not think anything about it. They didn't have to worry about toxicity in the food, and there were so many whales, seeing one was an everyday thing.
I love hearing about traditional living on the land but I'll never be able to experience it because the world is polluted and changed. It might be that we're not too far from a time when kids like me won't be able to hear birds singing. It's so frustrating! I can't wait for corporations and governments to change and get smarter. All we have is this life and our precious Mother Earth.
My father is from the Sliammon First Nation. My mother has a British and European background. My father does social work. My mother homeschools me. I'm in grade six. My favorite things to study are the environment and ecosystems.
I'm against the Northern Gateway pipeline. They want to run a pipe all the way from the tar sands in northern Alberta through Aboriginal land in northern BC. Then they want to bring in huge supertankers to get filled up with the oil and send them out again. These supertankers are larger than the Empire State Building. The channels between all the islands are narrow. Small boats can't go through there in storms. How is a big tanker supposed to make it without having an accident?
We don't want this for our future. We don't want future generations to have to deal with this. If we don't take care of the earth there will be nothing left but mocking silence for what we could have saved.
That's why I'm standing up. We still have time to change things.
It was scary when I first starting speaking out for the environment. I didn't know people or how people would react, and I was worried I would say the wrong thing.
But then I remembered that it's the truth that I'm speaking. I shouldn't be nervous. It's something I'm passionate about. Now I'm comfortable with it.
Northern Gateway pipeline
protest rally in Toronto
I was part of the Freedom Train that went across the country to protest the pipeline. I loved being on the train with all the other people from other First Nations. We were all like one big family and I was kind of devastated when it was over because it was such a good experience. We stopped in communities all along the way â Edmonton, Saskatoon, Winnipeg â and met people and had rallies. We finally ended up in Toronto and had a rally there too. I performed â I sing â and I spoke. Someone handed me a megaphone and I just went to it.
I sang a couple of years in a row at the annual Paddle to Swinomish. I can sing “Amazing Grace” in Sliammon, so I sang that one year, and then last year I sang a song that I wrote called “Shallow Waters.” It's about the pipeline. I wrote it with Aileen de la Cruz, my music teacher. While we were working on it, there was a big oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. So we made a CD with the song and Greenpeace sent it out to all the Members of Parliament.
Ta'Kaiya speaking at the rally
I went down to Brazil, to Rio, for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development. It was a big conference for world leaders on protecting the planet. I was disappointed because all these big speaking heads were not doing anything. They were not even talking about real change. They weren't really saying anything. The leaders could stand up at the conference and look all environmental without really being environmental.
But there were lots of people there who were really amazing. Lots of people doing great things, lots of Indigenous people from all around the world. They were great. Only the leaders were disappointing.
I spoke at so many public events down there. We were so busy doing so many things. We ignorantly didn't learn a few words in Portuguese before we went, so sometimes it was a little challenging!
The whole thing was pretty intense. There were lots of riots and rallies and people speaking the truth about the environment and about the conference. Once while I was speaking at a big gathering, the military came in, so I finished up quickly and got the heck out of there!
Another thing I get to do sometimes is act in films. I've been in four films. One was called
, about a girl who was sent to a residential school.
My dad was in a residential school. I used to ask him about it, and he would tell me. It hurt a lot of people. A lot of elders have some really hard stories.
There's always going to be people who frown at my family and my community. They'll be racist and think in stereotypes and say First Nations people are not smart. It's very sad that people like that are so small in their minds. But most people are not like that.
I definitely have hope about the future. We have to have hope. I guess the thing I really hope is that our leaders will smarten up in time.
We won't have tomorrow if we don't change today. We have all the answers and the solutions. We just need to make the transition from hurting the planet to helping it.
Ta'Kaiya's website is
Yinka Dene Alliance (
) includes First Nations in northern British Columbia that have banned the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipelines from their territories.