I arrived in Grise Fiord on Friday. I am here.
I can sleep for an hour or two then wake up in the 24-hour light (we’re not talking the gentle half light of the simmer dim, but full beam sunlight throughout the night). In these sleeps I have been dreaming of our house in Dundee. My mind – which has been in the Arctic for weeks, months – was suddenly back at home, walking around our house, looking for things, touching things.
Last Sunday night, before I left, we went for our tea at Cardosi’s in Paisley and happened to meet the artists Caroline Gormley and Sandy Guy. Sandy had been to the Arctic, to Bodø in Norway. He was disappointed, however. He said as it was like being in Lossiemouth. Underwhelm. You have to be ready for it, I suppose.
Working my way up the Arctic, I have been doing the Sandy Guy thing of comparing the place to what I know, although so far it has been a comfort. Iqaluit was like Scalloway, with wooden houses above looking down on industrial and other houses around the inlet below. The families in Tim Horton’s in Iqaluit – mothers, grandmothers, children – were like my sister’s children and grandchildren, with their exuberant and loud way of loving and of occupying a space. Resolute was like the moon (yes, I know the moon). And here, in Grise Fiord on Nunavut Day, it is so quiet. I am staying temporarily in a house that looks out onto trucks and diggers and long for them to start up, but where is everyone? There is no one around except some young men on their quads. A bit like Rerwick.
This morning (Monday – it took until the third morning before I did this) I got my Bialetti moka pot out and made coffee. This has been everywhere I have ever been since I was 19. Whilst my Lavazza was brewing I cut my fringe. Now able to see, I had a cup of coffee and felt, yes, this is where I am.
I think this comparing, comparing might be the first instinct in trying to make sense of being in a new, different place. In trying to work out how I am feeling. I don’t think it’s underwhelm, or overwhelm, but maybe just whelm.
Whatever the whelms, I am putting them to one side to go to today’s Nunavut Day celebrations. These mark the passing of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement and the Nunavut Acts in 1993 which established political and environmental rights for the Inuit and the territory of Nunavut (some 11 years after a plebiscite).
The reason I came here was to hear the experiences of Larry and Annie Audlaluk, who lived and filmed with film Jenny Gilbertson in 1977-78. Larry is one of the Inuit who were forcibly relocated to Grise Fiord from other areas of the Arctic in 1953 and 1955 (read about this here).
The other night, Larry came by for a cup of tea and to see how I was settling in. He took me to the window and pointed to the inlet to the west of the settlement where the RCMP left them on the shore with very little in 1953. It is near here where his father is buried. He died just months after they arrived. It was on such cruelty and sadness, that Grise Fiord was built.
Today’s celebrations, “weather permitting”, are being held at Looty Pijamini’s Exile Monument to the relocated Inuit, the settlement’s founders. The mist has lifted and the sun has come out so I am hoping it happens.
Note: Where I am is here is a wonderful film by Margaret Tait. See it here