Eastern Arctic business fair morphs into a cultural celebration
From trade show to showcase: Northern Lights 2016 kept them coming
OTTAWA — Everyone in the eastern Arctic now knows that slumping mineral prices have left the mining business coughing and spluttering and gasping for oxygen.
So how does an Arctic business trade show survive? By transforming itself into a cultural showcase.
That’s what organizers of Northern Lights 2016 did this year to maintain participation and keep their event going in the face of adverse economic headwinds.
The Northern Lights show, which has brought people from Nunavut, Nunavik, Nunatsiavut and Labrador together every two years since 2008, held its 2016 show last week at Ottawa’s Shaw Centre, formerly known as the Ottawa Congress Centre, from Jan. 26 to Jan. 30.
“When we started out it was going to be a Northern Lights conference and trade show. But now it’s a Northern Lights business and cultural showcase that really reflects the Arctic,” said Sterling Peyton, a co-chair of Northern Lights 2016 and chair of the Labrador North Chamber of Commerce.
To that end, the Shaw Centre played host to a mini cultural festival that celebrated the creativity and ingenuity of the people of the eastern Arctic.
One cultural highlight was the awarding of a $600,000 Arctic Inspiration prized to the Nunavut-based Qaggiq organization at a gala event held Jan. 27, featuring performances by Tanya Tagaq, Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory, Christine Duncan and students from Nunavut Sivuniksavut.
The annual prize, which hands out money from a foundation created by philanthropists Arnold Witzig and Sima Sharif, gave out two other awards that night: $600,000 to a tri-territorial recreational training project and $300,000 to a group in the Qikiqtani region that will use the funds to help youth who have suffered hearing loss.
Another was an art exhibit, sponsored by the Nunavut Arts and Crafts Association, held at the AXENÉO7 gallery in Gatineau, Que.
And painters, carvers, craftspeople and fashion designers from around the eastern Arctic displayed their work inside a light-drenched exhibition space on the third floor of the Shaw Centre.
As visitors and delegates strolled in, a steady stream of Arctic musicians and dancers performed each day on a stage set up at the north end of the arts and culture space.
At the same time, businesses and economic development organizations from around the eastern Arctic displayed their goods and services inside an adjacent hall set aside for a traditional trade show.
“There’s business, all kinds of business. But it’s also a showcase for everything that goes on in these regions,” Peyton said.
The cultural show attracted daily coverage from CTV Ottawa, the city’s most-watched television news service.
And a parallel series of workshops and forums offered a surfeit of attractions for economic and social policy nerds: detailed discussions on transportation, telecommunications, the fishery, Arctic science and Arctic business.
A special series of discussion forums, called Kajusivugut and sponsored by Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, looked at the Inuit Nunangat labour market and the complex issues related to Inuit job training.
Ike Haulli, the Igloolik business owner who co-chaired the conference as a representative of the Baffin Regional Chamber of Commerce, estimates that Northern Lights 2016 attracted between 4,000 and 5,000 visitors during the days that were open to the public.
They also attracted about 1,100 registered delegates and sold 150 booths to exhibitors, Haulli said.
That means by re-focusing the event, conference organizers have kept people interested in spite of the economic downturn produced by declining mineral exploration and low commodity prices.
“When we changed our agenda around and people realized what we were doing, they engaged with us again,” Peyton said.
That includes appearances by Dwight Ball, the premier of Newfoundland-Labrador, Peter Taptuna, the premier of Nunavut, Hunter Tootoo, the federal fisheries minister, Navdeep Bains, the federal minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, Randi Vestergaard Evaldsnen, Greenland’s minister of Industry, Labour and Trade, and Natan Obed, the president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami.
But the biggest political guest of them all walked into the Shaw Centre late in the afternoon of Jan. 28: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Trudeau, accompanied by Peyton, Nunavut MP Tootoo, Labrador MP Yvonne Jones and Yukon MP Larry Bagnell, created a minor sensation.
Trudeau’s discreet security detail struggled to hold back throngs of fans and selfie-seekers as Trudeau toured the show, viewing art exhibits, a fashion show and a performance by Nunavut Sivuniksavut. Along the way he posed for numerous photos and accepted gifts from Makivik Corp., the Qikiqtaaluk Corp., and the Nunatsiavut Group of Companies.
“I was walking with him and I don’t know how many times I thanked him. It was a wonderful thing to do for the show here. And I think it was good for him too because he demonstrated that he wants to be really connected with the North and everything that’s going on in the North,” Peyton said.
“This has been extremely successful and needs to be carried on. It’s worth carrying on.”