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.

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Like an iceberg, 1999 cont.,”And then there was Nunavut”

Like an iceberg, 1999 cont.:”And then there was Nunavut”

Looking into the Nunavut legislature. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

Looking into the Nunavut legislature. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

The hopes of many Inuit were raised by the the creation of Nunavut — Canada’s newest (and Inuit-majority) territory — in 1999.

Nunavut also gave me an opportunity to sit still for a while.

With its moments of drama and boredom, the Nunavut legislature’s sittings unfolded like a slow-moving television show, and the “ledge” became a cozy place to pass the hours. The legislative chamber’s shape was reminiscent of an igloo, the chairs and gallery benches covered in sealskin. Pangnirtung tapestries and Baker Lake wall hangings decorated its walls, and the legislative mace was a long narwhal tusk.

Mace at the Nunavut legislature. (PHOTO BY DAVID MURPHY/NUNATSIAQ NEWS)

Mace at the Nunavut legislature. (PHOTO BY DAVID MURPHY/NUNATSIAQ NEWS)

When in session, the legislature’s schedule ran with a calming regularity, unlike the flow of news. The day’s session always began on time. There were the predictable orders of the day: statements, questions and tabled documents.

I sat in the gallery behind the health minister. It was my favourite spot  because I could see everyone— and nestle there for hours.

The antics of the rookie MLAs provided me with much entertainment. During a memorable afternoon in November 1999, there was the last-minute walkout of members David Iqaqrialu, Jobie Nutaraq and Enoki Irqittuq, just before the final vote on Bill 3, which was to give formal assent to Nunavut’s short-lived unified time zone.

Nunavut’s decentralized administration stretched across three time zones, making communication difficult for government officials whose days began and ended at different times, depending on where they lived.

So to some people, putting Nunavut into one time zone looked like a great idea. The idea was especially popular in Nunavut’s western Kitikmeot region, where the work day lagged two hours behind that of Iqaluit, the capital. But in the east, many residents complained that in the winter, darkness would come too early under their re-adjusted time zone.

As the MLAs against the single-time zone sulked outside, other members scurried to form a quorum. But even this tension is short-lived. The members finally came back to vote against the bill’s adoption.

But they learned the Government of Nunavut had already adopted a regulation putting the time zone change into effect.

The members voiced their discontent in a scene that reminded me of television courtroom programs because they sounded stilted and scripted. Premier Paul Okalik then said the move to put Nunavut into a single time zone — which was later repealed — hadn’t been done behind their backs.

“This is not new. We’re been seeking options for the benefit of Nunavut,” Okalik said. “Irrespective of where you are in Nunavut, you can call me at the same time.”

During more boring moments in the legislature, some ministers read newspapers or pass notes to each other, and, at other times, they yawned. If nothing interesting was happening, I looked at what the legislators are wearing.

The Premier often wore a plush sealskin vest. On some days, up to six of the 19 members followed his fashion lead, turning up in sealskin vests, sometimes with designs or even dyed in variety of colours. The choice of what members decided to wear, however, wasn’t entirely about comfort or good looks — they said it was also a way of showcasing Nunavut’s sealskin industry.

MLA Donald Havioyak wears a colourful tie to the ledge, although he associates ties with residential school. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

MLA Donald Havioyak wears a colourful tie to the ledge, although he associates ties with residential school. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

Some sported colourful blue ties with Nunavut’s distinctive polar bear logo or ties featuring animals from geese to bears. The occasional tie was made from sealskin. Instead of a tie, one MLA preferred to wear a string bolo topped with an ivory drum dancer.

Although Kugluktuk MLA Donald Havioyak said he didn’t like ties “because they remind me of residential school” — where he was obliged to wear one — Havioyak wore one anyway —and picked cheerful designs for his ties.

“If you’re well-dressed, you’re respecting the people you represent,”  said Nunavut’s sole woman member and minister of public works, Manitok Thompson.

MLA Manitok Thompson in her amautik. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

MLA Manitok Thompson in her amautik. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

Thompson’s outfits alternated between professional suits and a selection of three traditional amautiit, decorated with beads.

“I wear them on special occasions — or if something stressful is going on,” Thompson said.

Others in the chamber wore sealskin or caribou kamik boots, sometimes  in combination with silapaq parkas. Occasionally sealskin boots also showed up along with suits. Some always stuck to conventional southern-style suits, because they said they were more comfortable.

MLA Peter Kattuk wears a white silapaq to the Nunavut legislature. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

MLA Peter Kattuk wears a white silapaq to the Nunavut legislature. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

White dress shirts, however, were not seen as often because, as one member confided, these were particularly hard to find at Iqaluit’s poorly-stocked retail stores.

As a result, members were even known to borrow white shirts from each other to wear on special occasions.

Colonial apparel from an earlier era was also displayed by the stiff traditional black and white robes worn by the speaker and his staff.

Pages in the Nunavut legislature sit outside in the foyer. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

Pages in the Nunavut legislature sit outside in the foyer. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

Pages, usually found outside the ledge in the teenage uniform of jeans and t-shirts, wore a variety of different traditional Inuit clothing from each of Nunavut’s three regions.

The clothing was designed to combine Inuit Qaujimajatuqaangit, that is, Inuit language and traditions, with Canada’s parliamentary system of government.

Nunavut health minister Ed Picco, Commissioner Piita Irniq and Speaker Kevin O'Brien pose in the legislature. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

Nunavut health minister Ed Picco, Commissioner Piita Irniq and Speaker Kevin O’Brien pose in the legislature. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

And diversity was mirrored not just in what people wore, but also in the many languages spoken in the legislature. Nunavut’s Speaker should choose between five different ways to say “thank you,” from nakormik to koana, while business was often conducted in several dialects of Inuktitut as well as in French and English, Canada’s two official languages.

But even this legislature was not immune to the social problems outside. The first speaker, as well as the education minister, were both charged with serious criminal offences — sexual assaults — within months of the new territory’s creation.

But at least this new government wanted to focus on solutions and put these solutions into bite-size pieces that I could handle. As I left the legislature, I stopped and looked at the art exhibits in the foyer, or chatted with friends, before zipping up my parka and heading out to the windy streets of Iqaluit.

Like an iceberg wraps up June 2.

You can read earlier instalments here:

Like an iceberg: on being a journalist in the Arctic

Like an iceberg, 1991…cont.

Like an iceberg, 1991…more

Like an iceberg, 1992, “Shots in the dark” 

Like an iceberg, 1992, “Sad stories”

Like an iceberg, 1993, “Learning the language of the snows”

Like an iceberg, 1993 cont., “Spring”

Like an iceberg, 1993 cont., “Chesterfield Inlet”

Like an iceberg, 1993 cont., more “Chesterfield Inlet”

Like an iceberg, 1994: “Seals and more”

Like an iceberg, 1994, cont., “No news is good news”

Like an iceberg, 1994 cont., more “No news is good news”

Like an iceberg, 1994 cont., “A place with four names”

Like an iceberg, 1995, “More sad stories”

Like an iceberg, 1995 cont., “No place like Nome”

Like an iceberg, 1995 cont., “Greenland”

Like an iceberg, 1995, cont. “Secrets”

Like an iceberg, 1996, “Hard Lessons”

Like an iceberg, 1996 cont., “Working together”

Like an iceberg, 1996 cont., “At the edge of the world”

Like an iceberg, 1996, more “At the edge of the world”

Like an iceberg, 1996, cont. “Choices” 

Like an iceberg, 1997, “Qaggiq”

Like an iceberg, 1997, more “Qaggiq”

Like an iceberg, 1997, “Qaggiq” cont.

Like an iceberg, 1997 cont., “Qaggiq and hockey”

Like an iceberg, 1997 cont., “Brain surgery in POV”

Like an iceberg, 1997 cont.: “Masks on an island”

Like an iceberg, 1997 cont., “Abusers on the pulpit”

Like an iceberg, 1998, “Bearing gifts”

Like an iceberg, 1998 cont., “At the top of the world”

Like an iceberg, 1998 cont., “A bad week” 

Like an iceberg, 1998 cont.: more from “A bad week”

Like an iceberg, 1998 cont., “Memories”

Like an iceberg, 1999, “The avalanche”

Like an iceberg, 1999 cont., “An exorcism, followed by a penis cutting”

Like an iceberg, 1999 cont., more on “the Avalanche”

Like an iceberg, 1999 cont., “Robins in the Arctic”

Like an iceberg, 1999 cont., “Fossil hunting”

Like an iceberg, 1999 cont., “Where forests grew”