Calls for protection of Canada’s Lancaster Sound

The Arctic Heritage and Beauty of Tallurutiup Tariunga, known as Lancaster Sound in English. (Oceans North Canada)
The Arctic Heritage and Beauty of Tallurutiup Tariunga, known as Lancaster Sound in English. (Oceans North Canada)
An environmental group has partnered with Inuit artists to produce a short film it hopes will draw attention to the long-delayed promise of creating a marine conservation area in one of the most biologically rich and sensitive areas of the Canadian Arctic.

Chris Debicki of The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Oceans North Canada says he hopes the poetic tribute to the beauty and heritage of Lancaster Sound, or Tallurutiup Tariunga, its original name in Inuktitut, will jumpstart the sputtering process.

Shot in and around Pond Inlet, near the eastern entrance to the famed Northwest Passage, the film is based on a poem by Iqaluit artist Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory. It’s narrated in English and Inuktitut by Jeannie Arreak-Kullualik of Pond Inlet.

The video retells part of the Inuit creation myth of Nuliajuk, goddess of the sea.

A ‘peopled place’

Williamson Bathory said she wants break some of the stereotypical ways the Arctic has been portrayed in the media and popular literature in light of dramatic changes facing the environment and the Inuit communities that have inhabited the area for millennia.

“I want them to know that that the Arctic has always been a peopled place,” said Williamson Bathory, “that this is a homeland, that people that come from the Arctic are deeply connected to the land and the water, and that there are many, many stories to hear and to tell about this connection to land and water.”

Williamson Bathory also warns against using words like “pristine” when referring to the Arctic landscape.

“It’s a dynamic place, things are happening there with the animals, with the water, with the people,” Williamson Bathory said.

It’s important to engage in a discussion and a dialogue on how to make meaningful connections to the Arctic land and water, she said.

“There exists a meaningful connection at the moment where people are using their family traditions, their language, their culture to be in a deep connection with the land and water there,” Williamson Bathory said. “It’s important for people who come from the Arctic to assert themselves as people engaging in this discussion.”

A long-delayed promise
 FILE - The Coast Guard icebreaker Terry Fox sits in the waters of Lancaster Sound, Nunavut at the eastern gates of the Northwest Passage in August 2006.
The Coast Guard icebreaker Terry Fox sits in the waters of Lancaster Sound, Nunavut at the eastern gates of the Northwest Passage in August 2006. (Bob Weber/The Canadian Press)

Debicki, said the struggle to protect the Lancaster Sound goes back to the 1970s and 80s when there was a lot of interest in oil exploration in the Arctic.

From time to time, that interest in tapping into the Arctic’s oil resources has come back into the fore. And as recently as last year, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers has lobbied the federal government to keep the area open for oil and gas exploration, Debicki said.

“The federal government committed to protecting the Lancaster Sound and to creating a national marine conservation area,” Debicki said. “The process has lagged and we’re hoping this film, which is coincidentally coming out with obviously a new federal government in Canada, will be a bit of a kickstart and a bit of a reminder that this process and these commitments are long overdue.”

Related stories from around the North:

Canada:  Birding and conservation groups call on Canada, U.S. to preserve boreal forest, Eye on the Arctic

Finland: Lapland TV host becomes nature enthusiast, Yle News

Sweden:  Sweden’s Society for Nature Conservation: some plastics should be phased out, Radio Sweden

United States: U.S. polar bear conservation plan focuses on near-term goals, Alaska Dispatch News

Levon Sevunts, Radio Canada International

Born and raised in Armenia, Levon started his journalistic career in 1990, covering wars and civil strife in the Caucasus and Central Asia. In 1992, after the government in Armenia shut down the TV program he was working for, Levon immigrated to Canada. He learned English and eventually went back to journalism, working first in print and then in broadcasting. Levon’s journalistic assignments have taken him from the High Arctic to Sahara and the killing fields of Darfur, from the streets of Montreal to the snow-capped mountaintops of Hindu Kush in Afghanistan. He says, “But best of all, I’ve been privileged to tell the stories of hundreds of people who’ve generously opened up their homes, refugee tents and their hearts to me.”

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