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9 Mar, 2008

Three years ago, I came across a photography book in Paris. Beautiful portraits of Arctic people who are dressed in their traditional costumes of animal hides like Caribou, polar bears, arctic foxes, arctic hare, smiling gently. There, together with people from Arctic Bay, Coral Harbor, Arviat, there are quite a few people from Girse Fiord as well. I was thinking, maybe if I come here, I would be able to see some of them.

My job is to support the expedition team for their preparation, resupply, etc., but besides those things, I was secretly hoping to meet these dignified and proud people in those pictures. When I finished washing dishes after the lunch, I decided to visit Pauline. 'I got this photography book, but...', and before I finish, she exclaimed with a surprise and nostalgia. "My father!".

The man on the cover, dressed in caribou hide, holding a gun, who looks straight into your eyes - Gamilie Akeeagok - was Pauline's father who passed away 10 years ago. As she turned pages and found people from Grise Fiord, she went on and on telling me this was my brother, uncle, my sister's husband and this man moved to where and such. Then I noticed, after close-look at them, that there were faces I have met when I arrived here, but looking about 10 years younger.

Karim Pholem "Uvattinnit"
The man on the cover was Pauline's dead father.

Both Resolute Bay and Grise Fiord were 'artificial towns' created by Canadian Government's Sovereignty Plan. Inuit people were nomadic people who were always on the move, looking for better hunting spots, camping out in generations after generations. But when the housing and school systems were introduced in villages in 1960s, they rapidly became more stationary. It was said that Grise Fiord had been started with 8 families who were brought here from Norhtern Quebec, Pond Inlet, etc. And therefore, the language of Grise Fiord consist of different dialects of these places. Pauline's father who was from Igloolik and was a good hunter played major role of teaching people from other villages how to make an igloos, by snow, stones, whale bones and animal hides.

Quiet Sunday at Grise Fiord

Small church: They have a service every Sunday at seven. Approximately 10 people attend.

Pauline took me around the town of Grise Fiord on a quiet Sunday. (which didn't take long at all). For the only store, school and hamlet office, everything was closed, there is no body seen on the street. When I visited her house where she lives by herself, I found a picture of 'The Mars Project'. I knew there was an experiments and some trainings undergoing on Devon Island, south of Grise Fiord of which terrain is cold and barren similar to the Mars, but Pauline seems to have been involved in this project as well (Haughton - Mars Project). Devon Island is the largest uninhabited island of the world. But for the people of Grise Fiord, it is the land where they often go to hunt Caribou and polar bears.

Pauline's work. It is good to have a hobby you can do indoors, as the winter is long. She also knits, makes collages with photos and illustrations.

So far, except for the earth, it is said that the Mars is the only planet which has a possibility to have a life. These two different things: Grand project on which all the state of the art technologies and intelligence of the man by NASA and CSA (Canadian Space Agency) are concentrated , and traditional way of Inuit people's way of living, they seem to be widely apart, but at the same time they seem not so much so. Inuit people have been journeying in generations, traversing those barren lands, crossing the oceans to support families for thousands of years. It seems there is something in common in man's frontier spirits to reach out for the space. With a big theme of Climate Change in my mind, I came all the way to Grise Fiord to see Inuit people's way of life, it is rather funny to come upon a project that is searching for life in other planet.

Unfinished work of Pauline's

Inuit people left no majestic cathedrals, temples or tombs in their history. Their history has nothing to do with those historic sites registered in World's Heritage. If there is anything that proves their existence, it may be a few ruins of their sod houses. Their way of living has been surprisingly modest, in a complete harmony with the nature as it is, taking only what they need, refining their skills and wisdom to survive in this harsh environment of the Arctic. It is because they know that living in the delicate balance with nature is the only way that they can survive.

The sunset of the same day

Fact that there exist the Inuit people in their land, speaking their own language, hunting, receiving what the Nature offers them. The fact that they live that way today, and hereafter, to me it seems even more important than conserving any historical sites or building any monuments. Looking out of the window at the tranquil frozen ocean, I could not help wishing that the climate of the future earth would still allow them to live that way.

Noriko Miyashita