Arctic games a chance to build ties, Nuuk mayor says
Asii Chemnitz Narup talks trade, air service and the upcoming AWG
Nuuk’s mayor is hoping this year’s Arctic Winter Games, set to begin in March, will spur closer ties between Nunavut and the rest of the Arctic world.
“To me its very important that we have a close relationship to all the other people in the Arctic and this is a good opportunity,” Mayor Asii Chemnitz Narup told Nunatsiaq News by phone from Nuuk, Greenland Feb. 11.
“We will apply what we learn and hope that our relations to other Inuit people in the Arctic Circle [will grow].”
Nuuk is in the midst of final preparations before thousands of athletes, support staff, and visitors from across the circumpolar world descend on the city for opening ceremonies March 6.
And without the support of the entire city — which has a population of about 16,000 — the games couldn’t have been possible, the mayor said.
“These last weeks, they are hectic. A lot of things that we just realized now that we didn’t think about, but we’re confident that we’ll get there,” said Nuuk’s communication liaison Lars Damjær.
“We succeeded in reaching 1,700 volunteers the other day, and that’s what we need. It’s a good sign,” Narup added.
The city has been offering English courses to local businesses ahead of the games, part of a two-year project to prepare the city for an influx of tourists.
“We’ve done a lot to prepare them, and of course there’s going to be many people in Nuuk and that’s going to be big for local [businesses],” said Damjær.
But Iqaluit is receiving the single biggest recognition from the mayor’s office for its offer to host the entire hockey schedule for the 2016 games.
“You might already know that hockey is not a national sport in my home country,” Narup said.
Hockey arenas in Greenland’s capital are in short supply, and the city was unable to muster the resources to build a stadium for the games.
Iqaluit formally signed on to host the hockey tournament in 2014, unilaterally acting on behalf of Canucks everywhere who want to see some local shinny.
But that decision was not without controversy. Many territorial politicians suggested in 2012 that Nuuk should have been pressured to build an arena.
“When we found out we could incorporate Iqaluit [into the games], we were very, very happy and grateful that they accepted, that they agreed to host the hockey competition.”
Nuuk’s gratitude was supposed to come in the form of a visit by Narup to Iqaluit at the end of January.
She did actually make it to Nunavut’s capital, but illness prevented the mayor from leaving her hotel room after she arrived.
“I wanted to go there to say how much I appreciate our cooperation and I’m so grateful to the citizens and the volunteers and the facilities they have given to us. That’s so great,” the mayor said.
Narup was also scheduled to sit down with Iqaluit’s mayor Madeleine Redfern, but that too was cancelled because of the untimely virus.
Despite all that, Narup said she is looking forward to developing an ongoing economic relationship between the two cities.
The federal government’s promise to have a functioning deep sea port at Iqaluit by 2020 has Nuuk, and Greenland, excited for the potential opportunities.
“In the future to have a shipping route from southern Canada is very interesting to us for trade, because most of our imports come from Europe, which is far away,” Damjær said.
And a recent study suggesting Greenland could sell surplus hydro electricity to Iqaluit via undersea cable also has the mayor’s office intrigued.
But moving ahead with that project, the Nuuk representatives admit, will have to be left to higher authorities in Greenland’s government.
“Of course the viability of a connection has to be determined [for] how much energy can we actually sell, but we’re very interested in it. Our municipal board is working on plans to explore the hydro electric potential we have,” said Damjær.
And any hope of renewing Nunavut-Greenland air service will also have to wait.
Air Greenland cancelled its three-year service to Iqaluit in 2015, but promised at the time that flights would some day return.
“Since then the oil business in the Arctic has collapsed,” Damjær commented, saying exploration would have to rebound before flights could become viable again.
That said, Air Greenland will be offering a special Arctic Winter Games shuttle service to fly Canadian athletes across to Nuuk in the days leading up to the games.
The opening ceremony for the Arctic Winter Games will kickoff March 6.