So you’re thinking about applying for employment in Nunavut.  There are a number of things you need to know, in order to be effective working and building relationships with Inuit.

Basic Primer

FAQs about Nunavut, by the Government of Nunavut

Guiding Principles, by the Government of Nunavut.  This is important, this is the start of your learning about Inuit culture, but it is only a start.

Statistics, by the Government of Nunavut.

Life in a Nunavut Community, by the Department of Health

Watch CBC North and APTN to start learning, before you go.

Review blogs written by northerners, but please be aware if they are written by southerners or Inuit.  The best approach would be to read a selection of both.  Start connecting to Facebook, Inuit use Facebook more than other social media.

The Top 5 Things to Consider

This is not a list of things that are different in the north than southern Canada, there are all sorts of websites out there which describe costs, housing, travel, etc.  This is the more important stuff – a list of things that may be different about you as a newcomer.  So this is not so much a list of “things to know”, but a list of things that will take some time to think through.  Be prepared to continue to process aspects for months and perhaps longer.

The “Southerner”.  You are an outsider in Nunavut, and it will take some time to be accepted.  Get used to be referred to as a southerner, and don’t react to the word.  Be a part of the community.  To shorten this time, here’s a couple hints.

  • Don’t isolate yourself  by spending time only with other southerners.  Inuit notice, and locals will interpret that you’re only there for the short-term.  In small-town Canada, locals say hello to each other on the street, and wave as they drive past.
  • Don’t go for the money.  Too many have gone there for work for 6 months, just for the money.  Imagine if your doctor or nurse changed every few months, how frustrating that would be.  Don’t be that person.  Commit, engage, build relationships.
  • Don’t assume.  This is a difficult one.  The way of life in the north is truly different, and southern assumptions will simply be jarring to others, and perhaps even offensive to some locals.  Just like international travel, you need to think about how to live like the locals, and not demand your southern life follows you wherever you go.  (i.e.: the ATM will work, there is an ATM on every streetcorner, I can get my car serviced this morning, my cell will have service 24/7, etc…)
  • Be open and ready to new experiences, and learning from neighbours on how to live in the north.

Small community.  If you’ve lived in a small Canadian community, smaller than 10,000 people, than you know about this.  There are some similarities about small communities:

  • There will be less entertainment options that in a big city.  So what will you do?
  • Some communities are dry – the community has put in liquor prohibitions.
  • People look out for each other.  Because everybody knows each other.  It’s an amazing sense of community, something to cherish. And it sometimes might be a bit claustrophobic.  It’s worth talking to others on how they maintain balance.  Many find balance on the land…

The land.  Inuit have a connection to the land which spans thousands of years, and this value is reflected in daily life.  Most people who move north do so to experience the land. Value the learning and new experiences. Learn from Inuit about bear safety, ice safety, being on the land safely.  Inuit are the experts here. Be ready and accepting of hunting as a cultural connection, and be ready to try new country foods.

Cultural competency.  There are some aspects of your culture which are similar to Inuit culture, but there are likely things about your culture which is different than Inuit culture.  Please think about how you choose to learn about Inuit knowledge and culture.  There’s a delicate balance in your learning, because it’s not up to Inuit to teach you what you should know.  The secret is to ask with humility.  Learn more, before you go.  And be prepared to continue to learn as you build relationships and trust with Inuit, and then they will share more with you.

  • The Nunavut Land Claims Act.  The whole point of Nunavut is to be self-determining Inuit region.  Think about it.  This is important.  If you choose to live in Nunavut, you choose to uphold the principle of Inuit self-determination.  How can you support it in daily life?  How do you work through the fact that as a southerner, you hold the job that at some point in the future an Inuk will take over?  Can you celebrate that fact?
  • Impacts of colonization.  Many Inuit have experienced very negative aspects of colonization, traumas.  While one may not assume that all Inuit have experienced trauma, you will meet some who have experienced trauma.  Some have healed, some have yet to heal.  There is amazing strength in Inuit who are working through trauma, and the way to find balance as a witness and neighbour – is to look for strengths.  Do not blame Inuit who are struggling to to overcome the impact of colonization.  The more you know about history, the more you be able to stand by Inuit as an ally.

Benefits to you.  Learn from the world’s leaders in climate change, learn how to thrive on the land in the Arctic, watch and even hear northern lights on a regular basis, and learn from the depth and strengths of Inuit knowledge, culture and community.

It will be an amazing experience, it will change your life.  If you let it.


Additional Resources

Qallunaat! Why White People Are Funny, video available on National Film Board.  “This documentary pokes fun at the ways in which Inuit people have been treated as “exotic” documentary subjects by turning the lens onto the strange behaviours of Qallunaat (the Inuit word for white people). The term refers less to skin colour than to a certain state of mind: Qallunaat greet each other with inane salutations, repress natural bodily functions, complain about being cold, and want to dominate the world. Their odd dating habits, unsuccessful attempts at Arctic exploration, overbearing bureaucrats and police, and obsession with owning property are curious indeed.  A collaboration between filmmaker Mark Sandiford and Inuit writer and satirist Zebedee Nungak, Qallunaat! brings the documentary form to an unexpected place in which oppression, history, and comedy collide.”