From Igloos to iPods: Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit and the Internet in Canada

From Igloos to iPods: Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit and the Internet in Canada

Cynthia J. Alexander (Acadia University, Canada)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-793-0.ch005
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Abstract

Inuit in the Eastern Arctic of Canada reclaimed their homeland on 1 April 1999 when the newest territory in Canada, Nunavut, was created. Inuit are using new media technologies to preserve and promote their language, traditional knowledge, and ways of being. In this chapter, the reader is offered an exploration of the challenges northerners face in the digital era, including affordable, reliable access to the Internet. However, the author shows how the resilience that characterizes Inuit culture extends to their innovative adoption of new media technologies. The author offers insight into one web development project, a partnered initiative with Inuit, which enables Inuit youth to learn from their Elders, and for users around the world to learn from Inuit via an interactive online adventure. The case study of The Nanisiniq Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit, or IQ Adventure, provides an interesting example of how harnessing the power of new media can support Indigenous peoples’ decolonization efforts.
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From the skies above, you zoom down from space towards Earth, listening to the sounds of wildlife and Inuit music. You navigate through a 360 degree shot, thereby finding yourself on a hill above the capital of Nunavut, Iqaluit. An Inuksuk stands before you and you hear a voice…the former Commissioner of Nunavut and Inuit cultural teacher, Peter Irniq, explains he is here to help guide you through a fantastic journey:

But see...the Earth is in Trouble!

And we haven’t much time...

In less than 200 years we have lost so much.

We Inuit have been displaced from our traditional lands,

And we almost lost our language.

Our culture was forced aside... but we have survived.

But there’s little time left.

Now we know... the ice is melting.

The waters will rise...in the ocean

And our animals, of the sea and of the land, are disappearing.

Learn well... come on!

Now we know that our Earth is in trouble!

Will humans survive? Hurry! Make a start!

AJUNNGI! We can do something!

You zoom in on the ship that has appeared through the window of the Inuksuk. You accept the challenge.

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Introduction

Immersed in actual footage of a real voyage through the Eastern Arctic, the virtual explorer sets out on quest via an interactive film on the new website, The Nanisiniq Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (hereafter referred to as the IQ Adventure, from which an image of the homepage appears in Figure 1) that the author co-designed and –developed with a number of partners, including the Government of Nunavut. Throughout the journey, the user tackles issues and makes choices at key decision-points in the five policy-based scenarios which represent a range of contemporary issues in the Arctic—from climate change to consensus-based decision making to sustainable community development. Each scenario provides an opportunity for the user to apply information and knowledge shared by Inuit experts who play themselves in the film (including senior policy makers, hunters, and artists). Importantly, the user is challenged to apply Inuit’s ancient knowledge system to contemporary challenges; each time a challenge is successfully completed, the user receives a stone to build a virtual Inuksuk, which by the end of the voyage represents the insight that the user has gleaned via the film about Inuit knowledge systems, decision approaches, and values that can be called upon to help navigate through life.

Figure 1.

Main Page of the Nanisiniq Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit or IQ Adventure website © [2006], [C. J. Alexander. Used with permission)

The website illustrates the power of new media technologies to counter the one-way information flows to the North that reinforced colonial systems, from judicial to health to education, which have negatively impacted Inuit well-being. By necessity, over millenia Inuit have developed an evolving system of values, knowledge, skills and approaches that enabled them to survive on the tundra; this foundation of knowledge and way of being, and the predisposition to innovate and adapt to survive underpins the ways that Inuit have begun to harness new media technologies to reclaim their intellectual and cultural legacies.

The need to do so is urgent given that Inuit of Nunavut, the majority of whom are under the age of 25 years, face the kind of deep-rooted challenges that accompany persistent colonialism. In the Arctic, where small changes have big effects, the disruption of Inuit’s way of being is so profound that lives are lost, reflected in the fact that suicide rates among Inuit youth are among the highest in the world. In the chapter, the author examines the role of new media resources in the preservation and promotion of Inuit knowledge among Inuit youth1, with the objective of contributing to the development of pride in self, culture and community.

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