The end of winter is still one month away. Daytime highs hover around minus ten, and snowmobiles are still used to travel onto the ice and over the land. There is no more darkness, only twilight from midnight to early morning. Yesterday, for the first time in seven months, villagers were able to feel the soothing warmth of the sun on bare skin. In a few weeks half the villagers will have noticeable tans on their smiling faces.
There were two births and five deaths this winter season, one of them a suicide. Six students graduated from grade 12 last week and soon the schools will close for summer holidays and then re-open in early August. The local co-op had an incredible year and paid out dividends of four hundred thousand dollars to local members, and our co-op hotel had its busiest year ever as southern tradesmen finished a ten million dollar assisted-living complex and a ten million dollar high school gymnasium.
A cheerful group of polar bear researchers arrived in Gjoa Haven three weeks ago and are in the process of conducting a study in conjunction with Inuit hunters and trappers to determine the polar bear population of the local area. Peter DeGroot from Queen's University is co-ordinating the study, and he hopes to collect bear fur and scat as well as analyse footprints in an attempt to compile his data. The team is going to build several observation huts and hopes to install xuuk obseravation cameras at each location, and Peter's long term dream is to develop a tourism industry based on polar bear research and observation. On March 30th Indian and Northern Affairs Canada announced that eighty five million dollars would be allocated to Arctic research, and Peter's McLintock Channel Polar Bear Study received five hundred thousand dollars in funding.
The profound beauty of the Arctic Bear has made it a symbol of global warming, but the Inuit believe bear populations are slowly increasing in most of Nunavut. According to Peter, most scientists believe the population has remained relatively stable but is starting to decline as the Arctic ice quickly disappears. Local hunters realise the day of the thirty thousand dollar sport hunt is coming to an end, but also have little respect for the wishes of southerners who seemingly have no idea what it means to live in harmony with their own land. Inuit know that under their stewardship there are almost as many bears as people (fifteen thousand bears in Canada to twenty five thousand Inuit), and Nunavut was formed ten years ago to define in legal terms the hopes and aspirations of these people who inhabited and survived one of the most beautiful and harsh climates on the planet.
For an Inuit perspective on bear and other issues, go to www.tunngavik.com
. Polar Bear International is an important conservation site, and for more scientific and scholarly approach see the Indian and Northern Affairs site, or the U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife sites.
From twelve hundred miles north of Winnipeg and eight hundred miles south of the North Pole, take care, Scott.