The clock is ticking. Eight weeks and waiting, Inuit filmmaker Zacharias Kunuk still hopes to learn why International Polar Year Canada rejected his internet project, From an Inuit Point of View: Arctic Climate Change from the Inuit Side.
Since its start-up last December, Kunuk's new website www.isuma.tv shows hundreds of user-generated videos in sixteen Indigenous languages by Inuit and Aboriginal filmmakers across Canada and worldwide. When Canada's International Polar Year Office called for proposals for communication, training and outreach in the north, Kunuk offered IsumaTV as a new platform for discussion of Climate Change from an Inuit point of view, enabling Inuit to contribute to Canadian understanding of the Arctic as a front line of Global Warming. On May 28, IPY Canada Executive Director, Kathleen Fischer, announced $5.2 million in grants for 17 projects but nothing for IsumaTV. Instead, IPY funded an IMAX film for the Sudbury Science Centre celebrating Canadian IPY research; another documentary about IPY research on seabirds; and a third about the early 19th century arctic travels of a National Museum of Canada biologist.
On the heels of the Prime Minister's historic Apology to Inuit and Aboriginal Canadians for a century of government assimilation, Kunuk, an Officer of the Order of Canada and recent recipient of an honorary Doctor of Law degree from Trent University, was shocked at how his proposal was dismissed. 'First I got a form letter,' says Kunuk. 'You know, "I regret to inform you...a large number of excellent proposals were submitted...." But when I saw what they funded I wrote to ask why we got nothing. Then I got a second form letter, a little longer than the first. I knew this was another form letter because they sent me the wrong one! Mine was addressed to somebody else who complained too!'
Kunuk's rejected project would have trained a dozen young Inuit to make short films about climate changes in their home communities, and given prominent Inuit spokespersons including Sheila Watt- Cloutier, former nominee with Al Gore for the Nobel Peace Prize, Mary Simon, former Arctic Ambassador and now president of Inuit Tapariit Kanatami, Peter Irniq, former Nunavut Language Commissioner and Hon. Louis Tapardjuk, Nunavut Minister of Culture, Language, Elders and Youth, a forum to discuss the changing Arctic from the perspective of Inuit human rights. Ms. Simon and Mr. Irniq both were invited by the Prime Minister to join him on the floor of the House for his June 11 Apology, at the same time their contributions to IsumaTV were being refused by IPY Canada.
'Up here in Baffin Island,' Kunuk explains, 'we have a $4 billion iron mine planning to run giant tankers right through the walrus calving ground. Hunters are falling through thin ice. Southern scientists tell us polar bears are becoming extinct. If the Northwest Passage opens up we might see Russian, Danish and American warships on our front doorstep. Our government should be asking for our knowledge through the internet, not refusing it. We're still here. Doesn't anyone want to know what we think?'
IsumaTV already contains Kunuk's 2001 Cannes Festival winner, Atanarjuat The Fast Runner, the well- known TV series Our Dene Elders, first-person testimonies by Inuit and Aboriginal Residential School survivors and a growing collection of films, music and blogs by individual filmmakers and Indigneous film festivals in Canada, the U.S., Mexico, Australia and others. In its first six months IsumaTV has emeged as a global blockbuster, with almost three million hits from thirty different countries.
Despite IPY rejection, IsumaTV will grow in 2008-09 as an interactive media and networking platform for Truth and Reconciliation, where both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians can work together on common urgent issues of social change and global survival in the 21st century.
CONTACT: Zach Kunuk, zkunuk [at] isuma [dot] ca 867.934.8809. Norman Cohn, cohn [at] isuma [dot] ca 514.576.0707; Lucius Barre 917.353.2268 or visit www.isuma.tv and www.isuma.ca.
* VIEW: Our Elders are our University: Meeka Mike expresses disappointment with Polar Year funding choices shortchanging Elder knowledge.
* READ Correspondance between IPYCanada and IsumaTV here IPY_IsumaTVemails.pdf
* READ 'Truth or Consequences', an essay by Zacharias Kunuk here: TruthOrConsequences.pdf
* Read about webcasting: Webcasting.pdf