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Why You Can’t Truly Know Canada Without Knowing The North

While ‘We The North’ might be the rallying cry of Canada’s NBA team, the only thing the Raptor’s hometown is North of is the U.S. (and not even all of it — hey, Montana). The heart of Canada’s true North lies thousands of kilometres away from Toronto, in places like Iqaluit, Resolute Bay, and on Baffin Island. There, amid the staggering beauty of icebergs and arctic tundra, Inuit people have found ways to continue to build their communities and nurture their traditions despite having been forcibly relocated to these remote and unforgiving territories as recently as the mid-1950’s.

As tourism to Canada’s Arctic increases (as it should — there isn’t a more beautiful landscape on this planet) travel companies like Adventure Canada are working to make sure the Arctic, which accounts for a jaw-dropping 40 per cent of Canada’s land mass, is explored in a way that benefits travellers and locals. On a recent expedition cruise of Canada’s North, we spoke to Inuk law student and Adventure Canada onboard Culturalist, Robert Comeau about the best way to learn about this country’s Arctic territories — and Canada itself.

 

One of the things that Adventure Canada does on their Arctic expeditions is to ensure that Inuit people are on board the ship — why is that an important factor both in terms of the Inuit communities we visit and in terms of a traveller’s experience on the trip?

When cruise ships come through Inuit communities, it’s important to have Inuit on board the ship in different capacities because it facilitates a reciprocal relationship. Not only is the ship benefiting but the community itself benefits. Our communities are able to experience the economic gains as well as the intercultural aspect of travellers from all over the world.

Having Inuit on board also allows for those Inuit to educate the travellers on the basics of our history, culture, and reality. This in turn, fosters support for community members by taking a lot of pressure off of them to cover these basics. From here, a more meaningful and respectful community visit can happen. It only makes sense that you have representatives of the community you are visiting on board.

 

Sometimes travellers overstep cultural boundaries in a way that can be offensive (see: Indigenous feather headdresses at music festivals). When you’re taking travellers into an Indigenous community how do you show them where the line is between cultural appreciation/admiration and cultural appropriation? How do you communicate that in a way that really lands?

The line between cultural appropriation and appreciation is sometimes difficult to understand. However, it’s simple when you frame the question as: ‘Who has produced the value? Who is the value being produced for? What is the kind of benefit is being experienced and by who?’

If any of the answers to these questions don’t include the Indigenous group in question, then you’re probably being appropriative. If there’s any kind of monetary value being produced, then you are probably being appropriative if that value isn’t going back to the original producer.

Understand the power dynamics at play between the different cultures… if you’re questioning whether or not its appropriation, then you’re coming from the dominant culture. The dominant culture has historically extracted value from aspects of our culture without anything given back. This is what we’re trying to avoid at all times.

 

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to someone visiting an Inuit community for the first time?

The best practice is to be mindful, respectful, and to always ask questions.

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