A memorable junket, Part II: my 2003 journey with the GG

Here was the real treat for me as I tagged along on the 2003 state visit with Governor General Adrienne Clarkson to Finland and Iceland. This state visit took me back to Inari, a Saami centre of in northern Finland with a population of about 2,200. The stop there offered a chance for Saami, Inuit — three on that leg of the trip — and the other Canadian visitors to learn more about Saami culture, and share.

The discussions in Inari stuck closely to the issues such as people, culture, the land and animals, in contrast to the previous stops in Finland. In Helsinki, Clarkson’s husband, author-philosopher John Ralston Saul, presided over a noon-ish wine tasting — of Canadian wines — at the downtown Sipuli restaurant that left me dizzy. And, in the city of Oulu, Finland’s northern high-tech centre, officials seemed puzzled about why the Canadians, who mispronounced the city’s name (oh-loo) as oooo-looo or ow-loo, were there at all… although the Oululaiset knew what to serve for lunch: wild mushroom soup, moose steak and berry mousse.

From the Kaleva, Oct. 9, 2003

From the Kaleva, Oct. 9, 2003

Oulu’s daily newspaper, the Kaleva, took pains to describe Clarkson’s visit as well as her role in Canada. A journalist from that newspaper had even visited Iqaluit before the GG’s visit as a way of informing readers in Oulu about Canada’s North, and also interviewed me in Finnish — which I had learned as a young girl.

But Oulu’s vision of what a state visit should look like appeared to be an event designed around trade-deal signings rather than talk, as was the case in 2003: at a discussion at the University of Oulu on “Change and Development in the Changing World,” presentations and comments came largely from Canadians or non-Finns, and few students attended the open session.

A Canadian government official on the state visit maintained that it was important, despite the lukewarm connection, to show Finland that Canada isn’t simply about hockey and snow. Instead, I thought, it would be perceived as a land of wine, haute cuisine and academic talk?

As for Clarkson, at the next stop further north in Inari, the focus on good food continued as she asked what reindeer usually eat. That question came as a Saami herder fed a plump animal.

“They like birch leaves and mushrooms. This summer, there were plenty of mushrooms so they’re well-prepared for winter he said.

Governor General Adrienne Clarkson (at right) learns about reindeer near Inari in October, 2003. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

Governor General Adrienne Clarkson (at right) learns about reindeer near Inari in October, 2003. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

At the reindeer farm outside Inari, inside a fire-lit tent called a lavvu, Into and Marit Ann Paadar accompanied their traditional drummer, the romppu, and performed Saami songs or joiks. Into and Marit explained that Saami in Finland have three very different ways to say thank-you, depending on which Saami group they come from — giittu, takk or spasi. When the couple married 30 years earlier, they said couldn’t understand each others’ dialects, so they adopted Finnish as their common language.

We also visited Inari’s Saami museum, called the Siida or “village,” where young Saami singers provided the entertainment and Saul and Clarkson received gifts of Saami capes.

“Clarkson gushed over the thrill of finally meeting people dressed like the colourfully dressed ‘Lapps’ she’d read about in history books as a child,” I finally wrote in Maclean’s. “Woops,” I thought at the time — that was like calling Canadian Inuit “Eskimos” — but the polite Saami smiles only froze at Clarkson’s gaffe.

Finland's Saami leader Pekka Aikio gives John Ralson Saul and his wife, Governor General Adrienne Clarkson, a  luhkka, a traditional article of clothing, which can be worn outside a fur coat or by itself in warmer weather. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

Finland’s Saami leader Pekka Aikio gives John Ralston Saul and his wife, Governor General Adrienne Clarkson, a luhkka, a traditional article of clothing, which can be worn outside a fur coat or by itself in warmer weather. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

Later in Inari, Sheila Watt-Cloutier, then the president of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference (now Council), Piita Irniq, who was the Nunavut commissioner, Mary May Simon, Canada’s first Arctic Ambassador, and Clarkson joined the president of Finnish Saami parliament, Pekka Aikio, someone I’d first met 10 years earlier, at the Saami radio station for a discussion that aired on Saami radio and television.

Finnish Saami parliament, Pekka Aikio  and Mary May Simon, Canada's first Arctic Ambassador, participate in an October 2003 round-table discussion for the Saami radio network in Inari, Finland. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

Finnish Saami parliament, Pekka Aikio and Mary May Simon, Canada’s first Arctic Ambassador, participate in an October 2003 round-table discussion for the Saami radio network in Inari, Finland. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

The importance of the reindeer, said Irniq, reminded him of the importance of the seals in Inuit culture.

But unlike Inuit in Canada, Finnish Saami, whose parliament has only advisory powers, have no rights over their land, Aikio said.

“We would like to have the situation of Canadians,” Aikio said. “It’s fantastic what you have in Nunavut.”

But there wasn’t much time to think about that as we rushed from Inari to the Ivalo airport and back to Rovaniemi for the night and then, the next morning, to Iceland.

Read more about Siku girl’s 2003 state visit to Finland and Iceland on A Date with Siku girl.

You can read the first instalment here.

A memorable junket: my 2003 journey with the GG

How many glasses of Canadian wine and how many rich meals can a journalist from Iqaluit consume?

The surprising — perhaps — answer to that, which I found during ex-Governor General Adrienne Clarkson’s 2003 state visit to Finland and Iceland, is not that many.

A few days into the 10-day junket I couldn’t face one more official toast, banquet or multi-course airplane meal.

John Ralston Saul quaffs win at a Helsinki wine tasting of Canadian wines during the 2003 state visit to Russia, Finland and Iceland. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

John Ralston Saul quaffs wine at a Helsinki wine tasting of Canadian wines during the 2003 state visit to Russia, Finland and Iceland. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

While the food and booze came my way non-stop , I didn’t forget the state visit was funded by taxpayers.

And I remembered that, thanks only to the Department of Foreign and International Affairs, which covered my costs, I was the only journalist along for the ride (allowed to come because I worked for northern news organization and, while on the state visit, wanted to explore the interest for the Siku circumpolar news service, which Greenlandic broadcaster Inga Hansen and I tried to develop.)

So, unlike some other “delegates” on the state visit, who could party late and hard, I tried to keep my mind clear for reporting for the newspaper I work for, Nunatsiaq Newsand Maclean’s (to which I had pitched a column about the trip, eventually called Polar Gambit): being a journalist along for the ride was not always easy or even fun.

Now, more than 10 years later, I can look back at the stories I wrote on this state visit and be grateful for my sleepless nights: if I hadn’t written these stories, and somehow sent them via tediously slow internet connections, I wouldn’t remember a lot of what happened.

Why did I keep all the pieces of paper we received on the journey, every schedule, speech, briefing paper and menu? Their existence surprised me when I was going through my files, which are now at the Arctic Institute of North America in Calgary, Alberta, where you can also find the rest of my photos, notes and other northern paraphernalia from 20 years of working as a journalist and broadcaster in the Arctic.

But if I hadn’t kept those menus — those food offerings seemed stupendously over-the-top at the time — how would I recall that meal in Inari, Finland: salted white fish and trout “à la Inari,” fried reindeer sirloin, “lappish potatoes” and cloudberry cream jelly — with a selections of wine, of course.

Menus from two meals during the 2003 tour.

Menus from two meals during the 2003 tour.

Most of the 30-plus members of the official delegation, who spent five days in Finland and then another five days in Iceland in October, 2003, weren’t even from what most Canadian northerners would consider the North.

They were from Ontario, Quebec or British Columbia. The delegation included winemakers, authors, architects, musicians and a smattering of artists, officials and academics.

But Clarkson and her husband, John Ralston Saul, said all Canadians are northerners.

“Where do you draw a line? It’s not just two pieces. There’s Ellesmere Island and it’s definitely not in Iqaluit. Iqaluit isn’t Whitehorse or Yellowknife. There are many Norths in Canada,” Saul said at the time.

Canada, Saul and Clarkson said, is much like Finland and most other circumpolar nations, with a “North-North” and a “South-North.”

Helsinki, the capital of Finland, is, for example, 1,200 kilometres south of Utsjoki, a Saami community at the northern border of Finland.

Clarkson and Saul suggested to me that Canadians should start identifying themselves as northerners to share with each other and support each other.

“The whole of our country is a northern country,” Clarkson said. “You don’t want to segment out different parts of it.”

My tour companions: Shelia Watt-Cloutier, then president of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, Nunavut's  former commissioner Peter Irniq, Mary May Simon, who was the time Canada's Acrtic Ambassador. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

My tour companions: Shelia Watt-Cloutier, then president of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference (now Council), Nunavut’s first commissioner Peter Irniq, Mary May Simon, who was at that time Canada’s Arctic Ambassador. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

But if hadn’t been for the presence of Inuit  — Sheila Watt-Cloutier, then president of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference (now Council), who later would be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for her work on climate change, Nunavut’s first commissioner Peter Irniq. and Mary May Simon, who was at that time Canada’s Arctic Ambassador, one might have thought folks from Vancouver and Toronto or the careful, Anglo-Canadian accents of the GG couple or wine-tastings defined Canada’s North.

Alarmed by word that this state visit, which started in Russia and would end more than three weeks later in Iceland, would cost more than $1 million, the House of Commons standing committee on operations and estimates started to examine its spending. The price tag of the visit would eventually come in at more than $5 million.

That’s a cost estimate I had no trouble believing as we wined and dined our way through Finland and Iceland.

Read more later on A date with Siku girl about the 2003 journey from Ottawa to Helsinki, Oulu, Rovaniemi, Inari, Reykjavik, Akureyri and back to Ottawa.