Many European explorers have passed through these waters, explorers of old looking for a shortcut to Asia. One of them was the English explorer William Baffin who searched for the Northwest Passage and journeyed here in the early 17th century. He died a long away from Baffin Island in the Persian Gulf in 1622 doing surveys for the East India Company. Henry Hudson also looked for the passage and sailed by Baffin Island on the way to what would become known as Hudson Bay in 1610. Recently scientists found traces of a long lost continent that used to measure 8 million square kilometers called a craton from the top of the world based on kimberlite rock fragments found on Baffin. They date from hundreds of millions of years ago during the time of Pangea, the supercontinent.
Ezra is a young Inuit man of twenty who hunts, who survives and who has a deep respect for the ways of his people, the Inuit of Pangnirtung (population 1,400), on the southeastern coast of Baffin Island, the world’s fifth largest. He knows who he is and where his people come from. How they have survived for countless millennia. And how his people have suffered having to cope with the modern world. In my encounter with him near the famed Uqqurmiut Centre for Arts and Crafts, I had the privilege of spending a few hours with Ezra, whose concerns for his people are varied.
Needless to say, the northern lights are marvelous up there, but according to the Inuit even those have changed and since 1990 have not been as bright as they used to be following climate change. If we can improve the climate situation, the lights will become brighter! An Inuit elder we met in Pangnirtung in 2011 said that we still had time to address climate change, but warned we are making too much pollution. “We are not relating to our culture, only to things — cameras, computers and not each other,” the elder said. “Now it’s all ATVs and skidoos. It was more fun in the old days, walking far and using kayaks.”
The following words are Ezra’s:
For us being on the other side, you can really see the things that happen when living with all of nature. In the case of the polar bear, everything revolves around him, you see the destruction coming from these machines. It’s a sacred animal, when is it going to stop? People realize that nature is not something to just conquer…minerals and diamonds … They’ll be no more lion, they’ll be no more tiger. So I say there are sustainable ways of living, if you’re only goal is to be alive, then that’s all you need. There’s respect between the earth and the people here. When there’s something unnatural, it turns into a cycle …that’s how it destroys things.
Sila has its own mind, its own consciousness. People disconnect from the idea that it’s a part of us. Everything natural is a part of us. When you destroy a plot of land to build a house, you’re not going to live forever. It’s going to fall into itself. The elders knew this for a long time — there was a fear of things that would eventually destroy nature. People are doing all these things for a profit, for money and that’s not natural. My uncle told us when he was young, people would gather and there would be disarray, the level of frustration people have, suicide, drinking. We say Namaitut — things don’t fit like they used to.
I’ve been in cities before, this is really on the edge of civilization. Even in my lifetime people are deciding whether they want to hunt with their father or go to school, Shakespeare, trigonometry. We go out there and we survive.
The polar bears, they ran away in the old days. Nowadays the bears aren’t as fearful of people as they once were. There was a certain respect when meeting people, they ran away. The dominant society does not follow Sila. It’s not how it used to be. The world is changing too fast.
This is how humanity lived until 5,000 years ago. They lived that certain way. There were certain laws, a certain code of living. Now all they’re concerned about is a certain truck. You don’t need all that stuff to live. Here it’s right on the edge between life and death. There was a fear associated with how people lived. That’s reality. People don’t get that sense of reality now.
That truck, when do you throw it out? And then what? You have to question all these crazy ideas people get — we don’t want to live like savages, we’re civilized.
At this point for people who know, we should be able to say enough, with what’s happening here. And go back to the times when it was actually working. People lived and survived, emotionally, spiritually no question of that. People were respected. We strayed from a certain road. It’s really not right. It’s obtrusive for one thing. All these conveniences. My elders and their elders, it was tough. They did well and lived well. Working all the time day and night to live. Now it’s typing, in front of a screen.
There was a certain point in time, when all of humanity learned from the hunter gatherer societies; then they started cattle — all these animals you can dispose of whenever you want. You’re fencing in all of these cows and you’re in control of what’s happening, which solidifies into a “civilization.” If I was around then, I would think they’re actually going to cage people and have them do repetitive things …make them into machines really. People don’t realize when you become part of the machine ...eventually it’s going to turn into this, this town. A few will realize this is not the way, of the law of nature. The machine that runs your life.
If your only interest is to survive, you’ll survive. That’s the way they’re meant to live. They’re about 7 billion people in the world, who’s going to convince all of them to say that’s enough. Its unstoppable in a lot of places. Drill for oil, or else you’ll die. You have to carefully go back to the time when human beings were still human beings.
No more machines. No more TV’s. No! But especially the way people use them, how much you use them, what you use them for, what’s it going to lead to if you use them. In most cases it removes you from each other, disconnection from the reality of nature. Who’s going to listen. Stop.
I hope eventually all people will get the will to survive. What is the meaning of life? That’s it! The meaning of life is to live. Everything you do in your everyday life. People in the city, there’s no interaction. People put on a mask. People are not real anymore. Something else takes over. How bad does it have to be before even people are not real? The absence of the sacred. The absence of the other side. They have to go together. It’s really a shame that it can’t be so simple. Hey stop that and do this instead. People are always on the go. People have to waken themselves. And make change. Things have to change. People try to change you into themselves all the time. What about simply living? There are still people who live for the sake of living. They still know what the big picture is. There are those who say, those people are savage. You have to live a certain civilized life. The evolution of this and that. No, I don’t think so. To be able to go on this big airplane, it’s unnecessary. It’s unnecessary to the concept of life.
Anchor yourself to the bottom of this and then you’ll see, that’s life. That’s the only necessary thing. Body and mind are connected. Somebody from the U.S. or Europe have to convince them that this is reality. People are indifferent to that. What’s natural or what’s not natural. They’re not natural. Something’s wrong there. Wait a minute, I don’t want a mine here, it’s just going to contribute to the mess we’re in, your imprisonment. I don’t want to be a slave to mankind really.
Very carefully, you have to say that things of men have bested the things of reality. Look at all of this mess. Who’s going to say this belongs here? This is a byproduct of our conveniences. We have all of these conveniences we take for granted. We know this to be true because we experience it, we had contact with how it was before. We still live off the country. Instead of buying food for which you have to be in a cage for a week, there’s food everywhere. Imagine that you’re in harmony with your family, with the universe, imagine that. It’s overwhelming. Everybody most of the time is happy.
It’s not a boss telling you what to do. You live a good life. There’s a lot of work to do, but everybody does it together. There’s no-one telling you how to live. How to be good to other people. Think about that one! How to live well. How to live a good life. When you take the steps to live towards that, you’ll see. Then you can see the harmony and realize I’ve made some mistakes and I have to stop doing them.
If you’re going to ignore the spiritual side, you’re going to be in trouble. If you’re a component in the machine, they’ll replace you with somebody else. There’s no concern of how you will be afterwards. You will not survive. Think about it. People are so accustomed to this. Who knows what’s going to happen. One day they’ll be no more gas coming to the area or fuel or food and they’ll just sit there and wait. But we’ll be fine.
Learn more about Cyril Christo and Marie Wilkinson's work at their website.