GG praises Nunavut in first official visit to Iqaluit
“We look at this wonderful learning experience which is the North"
No, Governor General David Johnston didn’t eat any seal heart.
But Johnston, on the first day of a six-day Nunavut tour, still got to savour plenty of raw caribou, Arctic char and maktak in Iqaluit Aug. 15 during a community feast held in his honour.
Seal is normally standard fare for such events, but local hunters had none to offer, so there was no repeat of 2009, when Michaëlle Jean, then the Governor General, famously downed a piece of raw, bloody seal heart during a visit to Rankin Inlet.
That event was seen as a bold statement of support for the beleagured seal hunt.
But Johnston, on his first official visit to Nunavut, was no less effusive in his praise for Inuit culture and its place in the Canadian identity.
“The art and the culture of the North is so powerful and so renowned,” Johnston told a hockey rinked packed with Iqaluit residents. “If you think of things for which Canada is known around the world… Inuit art has expanded through the world.”
The Governor General also praised Nunavut for being a crucible of innovation, where Inuit meld their traditional culture with the modern, high-tech world.
“We look at this wonderful learning experience which is the North,” Johnston said, “as you take your traditions and your culture from the past and apply it to a new and changing world, choosing the best from both, and thereby giving important lessons in sustainable development, in family, in culture and history and art that all of Canada and all of the world can learn from.”
Iqaluit mayor Madeleine Redfern said seal heart or no seal heart, visits by the Governor General are important to get the word out in southern Canada about the realities of daily life in Nunavut.
She said seal, polar bear and whale are all staples of the Inuit diet, even as the hunting of such animals comes under attack from some who condemn the practice over concerns about climate change or animal rights.
“We do have a very different hundred-mile diet than in the South,” she said.
Earlier in the day, Johnston stepped off a Challenger jet at the Iqaluit airport and inspected a quarter guard made up of Canadian Rangers, air cadets and RCMP members, before heading across town to meet with Nunavut Commissioner Edna Elias.
Johnston also met with Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. Cathy Towtongie and Iqaluit mayor Madeleine Redfern before touring Nunavut’s legislative assembly.
Johnston presented Nunavut filmmaker Zacharias Kunuk, best known for his film Atananarjuat: The Fast Runner, with the Governor General’s Northern Medal, which honours contributions to Canada’s Northern identity.
Kunuk joked that the medal “is part of my collection now, I have so many of them.”
“I’m just doing my job,” he said of his films, all of which feature Inuktitut dialogue and English subtitles, “just trying to make Inuit, their culture and their language, appear in film. I always did that.”
The Governor General travels to Qikiqtarjuaq Aug. 17, then on to Repulse Bay and Kugaaruk, before wrapping up his tour with a visit to Resolute Bay, where Canadian Forces personnel are taking part in the Operation Nanook sovereignty exercises.