This is my fifth trip to Canada’s central arctic, to a town called Cambridge Bay, or Iqaluqtuutiaq, place of many fish. Of course, as things do, I have become acclimated to some of the outré face of life in this extreme north outpost community… acclimated to a degree. I have discussed somewhat extensively my first impressions of this place (you can find them starting here in the blog archives), emotional response to being with the Inuit, and some reflections that arise about our lives down south, as compared with the collision of cultures that is happening in a real-time fashion up here, unfolding as we speak. Those impressions are becoming more refined as I get to spend more time with the people here, observing how they get along as they watch their grandparents’ way of life come to an end. I have stated it before, to repeat: these arctic communities are witness to some of the last main-stream migration of a people off the land and into housing, as it were. I am afraid indeed to become “acclimated” to this change; I would like to remind myself with grave punctuation to not forget what a privilege it is to be here and, though soul-wrenching, to see one of the most robust groups of human beings, our northern ancestors, come in off the land, come in off the land to our offerings of sugar, alcohol, technology, and our myriad other, abundant poisons. Along with these poisons we have offered them schools, jobs and central heating. All of this hallucinatory logic I have already spoken about. Tonight, it’s very early morning actually (1:11 a.m and the sun is just crested below the horizon, about to rise again…), I would like to tell one individual story.
The Kitikmeot Heritage Society (KHS), the place where I have helped build large museum installations, serves as a kind of community center. It serves as the only real center for archaeological and anthropological resource in this whole central arctic area… but, because it is here… because it is here, it also serves other, potentially more important roles. It is attached to the town’s high school building, re-built in 2002 because the old building was burnt down by students (this one has had many arson attempts already, but it’s mostly built of steel). It serves as the library for the community, computer center, primary elder meeting center, and the main after-school care program for the town. It is likewise a kind of refuge for kids that have little else to turn to. It is, like the Cheers bar, a place where everyone knows your name. I have gotten to know some of these people, daily visitors to KHS… and can see quite clearly that this place is playing a role in maintaining their sanity, perhaps keeping them alive.
A couple of these people are two blind brothers, called Ashley and Anthony. (We’re planning to do some audio work with them for the film I’m shooting…) the other day we celebrated a birthday party for another regular of KHS, attended by Ashley and Anthony. Ashley brought with him his ukelele and a way’s into the party very soft-spokenly offered that he could play for us. I encouraged him do so and taped it.
I had never once until this moment paid attention to the lyrics of this Credence Clearwater song, “Have You Ever Seen the Rain”… and as I listened to Ashley play, I realized I needed to… because I could tell that this is his way of explaining his life.
He and his brother are separated in age by approximately three years. For the sake of everyone involved, and because I don’t rightly know, I will say only that there are stories as to the cause of their blindness. They have been blind since early childhood and are now in their mid-thirties, my age. They are staples of the community and can be seen regularly walking together (they walk everywhere together), echo-locating by clapping. These two are, in my mind, reminders of the intensity and strength of this people, a kind of portrait of what occurs during this brave new experiment of bringing civilization to people. In case you don’t know the lyrics to the song, here they are:
Someone told me long ago
There’s a calm before the storm,
It’s been comin for some time.
When it’s over, so they say,
It’ll rain a sunny day,
Shinin down like water.
I want to know, have you ever seen the rain
I want to know, have you ever seen the rain
Comin down on a sunny day
Yesterday, and days before,
Sun is cold and rain is hard,
Been that way for all my time.
‘Til forever, on it goes
Through the circle, fast and slow,
It can’t stop, I wonder.
signing off for tonight