Zacharias Kunuk

On Their Terms: A Digital Project to Give Inuit Say in Developers' Arctic Ambitions

BY Elisabeth Fraser

A new project in Canada’s north is attempting to bridge the digital divide facing Inuit communities. In doing so, it hopes to give them a say as developers move to take advantage of their resource-rich land.

Digital Indigenous Democracy (DID) is an effort to bring the community empowerment of new media technology into remote low-bandwidth indigenous communities in Nunavut, across Canada, and around the world,” says Norman Cohn, an award-winning Canadian filmmaker who is also the project co-director, with partner Zacharias Kunuk, an Inuk filmmaker.

The idea is to provide high-speed Internet access to Inuit living in northern communities, where extremely low bandwidth access makes surfing the net a slow and cumbersome task. “These people, who most need access to these networks, have the worst cost-per-bandwidth in the civilized world,” says Cohn.

Life in the Northern communities where Canada’s Inuit live can be challenging. Traditionally, the Inuit are a hunting society. However, nowadays both global warming and opposition from animal-rights groups are negatively affecting the hunt. There are high levels of poverty, substance abuse, and suicide. There is a housing shortage, and high levels of family violence, as well as chronic health problems like diabetes. The remote and vastly scattered locations of these villages carry distinct challenges as well, including sky-high prices on basic goods. Most places are hard to access from the south, accessible via boat during the summer, or by expensive flights year-round. And, despite federal investment to improve bandwidth access in these communities, the Internet remains very slow.

Just how slow is it? “Most people can remember how the Internet was when they first tried it out five or ten years ago, and how much faster it is now,” explains Cohn. “Use of the Internet we take for granted right now is only possible because our bandwidth has increased by hundreds of thousands of times, and at a low cost. Those speed increases have not impacted northern Inuit communities. Their Internet is among the slowest and most expensive … There is a digital divide, certainly in the Canadian North, as much as in Bangladesh.”

Canada’s Inuit are one of three Canadian Aboriginal groups (the others are the Métis and First Nations). They are somewhat unique amongst Indigenous peoples in North America, because they have negotiated a self-governing agreement with the federal government of Canada. Whereas Canadian and U.S. First-Nations people often live on government reserves and receive government assistance or a special tax status, Inuit are by and large self-sufficient.

Cohn says the project is essential to help Inuit protect their rights in a new age of resource extraction. “The origins of this project are in the evolution of two enormous world developments. The one is the evolution of new media technology and its potential for social networking and political change, which we’ve seen in the Middle East,” Cohn says, referencing the Arab Spring. “And this intersects with the evolution of global warming, which has created an increase in natural resource development in the Canadian Arctic.”

Digital Indigenous Democracy has been financed and tested around a specific giant mining development (the “Mary River Project”) by the Baffinland company.

“If (the development) goes forward in its full capacity, it would be the largest mine ever in Canada,” says Cohn. DID was created in the context of Baffinland’s ongoing environmental review process, which involves consultation with local stakeholders. These talks have produced an Inuit Impact and Benefit Agreement, as required by law under the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement.

“Our project was proposed and financed to test out this technology as a way of improving Inuit communities’ ability to participate in the decision-making process of such an enormous development that will impact these communities forever,” Cohn says. “So, we had a compelling technological concept for equal justice, but we also had a compelling urgent need for that project to take place as soon as possible.”

Started in April 2011 via Canada Media Fund financing, Digital Indigenous Democracy went live one year later, in April 2012. It runs on the ISUMA TV platform, created by Cohn and co. in 2008. The multimedia website features photographs and government information documents, as well as audio and video recordings, in English and in Indigenous languages like Inuktitut.

In addition to putting forward local content, in the form of radio programming, films and documentaries, and community news,DID has played an active part in the local consultations involving the Baffinland project. A series of radio call-in shows allowed locals to ask experts questions about the development, and Baffinland feedback collected via DID has been complied into a report, which will be presented in the next round of public hearings, tentatively scheduled to take place in mid-October.

Lloyd Lipsett is a human rights lawyer who has been participating in the public consultation process surrounding the Baffinland project. He took part in radio call-in shows the DID group organized in Igloolik, Nunavut, to answer questions and inform locals about the Baffinland project, in English and Inuktitut.

“If you want the people to be confident that the mine is benefitting them, they need to have the information to make that judgment. It’s important to recognize that the movement towards transparency in the (extractive industry) is really picking up steam,” says Lipsett, who notes the Canadian government has announced it will pass binding regulations ensuring mining companies have greater disclosure towards various levels of government, something the United States and European Union have already done.

Canadian constitutional law and international law now explicitly confirms Indigenous people have the right to be informed and consulted about any resource development that impacts their lands and their communities. According to Lispett, the new approach towards consultation offered by DID is a benefit to locals and developers alike.

Most human-rights interventions involving extraction projects happen after development has started, when things are perceived to be going badly. “Getting involved in public hearings before the project has taken place; you are taking a proactive approach,” says Lispett. “You’re dealing with all the different stakeholders, including the company itself. To talk to them in a proactive, forward-looking manner, is much more constructive then pointing your finger after, and saying, “You’re doing this wrong, you’re violating this right, or that right…We’re offering you suggestions as to how you can develop this mine in a way that is respectful to people.”

The economic stakes are significant, too."The wealth in the arctic is enormous,” says Cohn. “It’s sort of like the new Congo, but suddenly much more accessible than it ever was before. “The world has changed since King Leopold went into the Congo, but only if technology helps people take advantage of those changes. (DID) is the only way Indigenous people will get a real fair seat at the negotiating table, dividing up what everyone agrees are trillions of dollars.”

Frances Abele is a Professor of Public Policy and Public Administration at Carleton University. She is familiar with the project. She touts the community-building aspect of DID. “If you haven’t been to the North, it’s very hard to picture just how far apart everything is,” she says. “To allow people to speak to each other in real time is a really powerful change in order to have people talk about their common interests, and politics.”

“The local radio has been very, very, important for a long time, it’s the main way that people find out what’s going on, and they listen to that every day,” says Abele. “The genius of what Norman and Zacharias are doing is that they’ve been able to build on that network to create these communities.”

Mark Airut is the manager of the Igloolik radio station, now run by ISUMA since last May. He is Inuk, and echoes Abele’s praise for DID. “I think it’s really great, lots and lots of people are now following us, and now they listen to our radio all over the world,” he says. He says since ISUMA took over, the station’s workers have gone from being voluntary to paid staff, and many locals say ISUMA radio is now all they listen to. “We’re doing our best work on educational stuff,” says Airut. “It’s really successful.”

Currently, Cohn estimates the project is two-thirds completed. “Our website will play at high speed in what will eventually be ten indigenous communities,” he says. ISUMA has been hooking people up since the spring, and will continue to do so during the fall.

Underlying the entire project is the principal of open data and transparency as a tool to combat inequality. “Indigenous people see these developments as the only chance they have to get out of poverty and into the 21st century,” says Cohn. “If all the people involved are sharing in the exploitation of the resources, then it’s not pejorative. If the people involved are being exploited, then its pejorative … Today, you cannot get away with that level of inequality unless it’s hidden from public view.”

Cohn believes DID can be a powerful tool to give Indigenous people their fair share of the pie. “If people have those tools, you cannot deny them those rights,” he says. “These communities are sitting on mountains of minerals, of gold, of uranium.” He sees a future for this project in Indigenous communities throughout the world, and notes it is in developer’s interest to properly inform and consult, or risk huge lawsuits down the road.

How much the Inuit will eventually profit from the Baffinland development remains to be seen, but Cohn is hopeful. “Indigenous people are not genetically impoverished,” he says. “If everyone owned the land they were living on, Inuit people could quite very well be rich,” he argues. “Why are Inuit peoples more like Palestinians than Saudi Arabians? In 2013, you can’t do that to people, unless you’re doing it in the dark.”

Elisabeth Fraser is a freelance Canadian journalist. She lives in Montreal.

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network and the UN Foundation for their generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.

www.techpresident.com

 

About

Cara Di Staulo's picture

by Cara Di Staulo

30 September 2013

2809 views

Tagged:

Baffinland, DID, digital indigenous democracy, Isuma, Mary River, Norman Cohn, Zacharias Kunuk

About

derekman88's picture

by derekman88

08 June 2012

2070 views

ᓂᐲᑦ ᐃᓄᒃᑎᑐᑦ Dr. Zacharias Kunuk O.C. Part 2, 4:32 June 4, 2012, Inuktitut, see also Part 1, see also Part 3, My Father's Land, Formal Intervention to NIRB Final Public Hearing, Mary River Project, (Oral Inuktitut) July 2012; Dr. Zacharias Kunuk film maker, hunter, grandfather talks about growing up and his introduction to films and film making and his Inuk Point of View on mining and development in his father's land.

 

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Duration:

4m 32s

Tagged:

animals, Baffinland, Igloolik, interview, Inuit, land, mining, NIRB, Zacharias Kunuk

Languages:

Inuktitut

Location:

Igloolik, NU, Canada

About

Zacharias Kunuk's picture

by Zacharias Kunuk

31 December 2009

175146 views

Inuit epic set in ancient Igloolik, Atanarjuat The Fast Runner is a life-threatening struggle of love, jealousy, murder and revenge between powerful natural and supernatural characters, Canada's first feature film written, produced, directed, and acted by Inuit. 2001 Camera d'or, Cannes Film Festival; Best Picture, 2002 Genie Awards; #1 Canadian Film of the Decade, Macleans, CTV.

A film by Zacharias Kunuk, Paul Apak, Norman Cohn and Pauloosie Qulitalik

PRODUCTION INFORMATION

Year of Production: 2001
Duration:
172 minutes
Genre:
Drama based on historical legend
Production Company:
Igloolik Isuma Productions
Language:
Inuktitut with English, French s-t

Country: Canada
Region:
Igloolik; Nunavut, Canadian Arctic

Director: Zacharias Kunuk

Producers:
Zacharias Kunuk, Paul Apak Angilirq, Norman Cohn, Germaine YG Wong

Writer:
Paul Apak Angilirq

Director of Photography:
Norman Cohn

Sound Recordist:
Richard Lavoie

Editor(s):
Zacharias Kunuk, Norman Cohn, Marie-Christine Sarda

Original Music:
Chris Crilly

Costumes:
Michelline Ammaq, Atuat Akkitiq

Principal Cast:
Natar Ungalaaq, Sylvia Ivalu, Peter-Henry Arnatsiaq, Lucy Tulugarjuk, Madeline Ivalu, Paulossie Qulitalik, Eugene Ipkarnak

Executive Producer:
Sally Bochner

 

REVIEWS

“A masterpiece.... The first national cinema of the 21st century”

A.O. Scott, NY Times

“Mysterious, bawdy, emotionally intense, and replete with virtuoso throat singing, this three-hour movie is engrossing from first image to last, so devoid of stereotype and cosmic in its vision it could suggest the rebirth of cinema.”

Jim Hoberman, Village Voice

“Nothing less than a complete revelation and reinvention of cinematic form…. a definite ‘must-see’.”

Katherine Monk, Vancouver Sun

"An astonishing epic film"

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

“Un film d'une singulière beauté”

Jean-Michel Frodon, Le Monde

“A milestone...a fascinating cultural document”

Liam Lacey, The Globe and Mail


SCREENINGS & TELEVISION:

Official Selection - Un Certain Regard -Winner Camera d'or (54th Cannes International Film Festival, May 2001)

Complete listings at the Atanarjuat companion Website

 

RELATED LINKS

Press Kit / / Film Stills
Companion website
Lesson Plans on Sila Inuit Educational
Atanarjuat on IMDB
Atanarjuat on Rotten Tomatoes
Atanarjuat on Metacritic
Atanarjuat on Amazon

View our catalogue to order Atanarjuat Products

 

DISTRIBUTOR INFORMATION

Isuma Distribution International c/o VTape, wandav@vtape.org, +1.416.351.1317 fax-1509; info@isuma.ca, +1.514.486.0707 fax-9851.

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Duration:

2h 41m 51s

Tagged:

Atanarjuat, Atanarjuat The Fast Runner, drum, fast runner, ift_community_Igloolik, Igloolik, Isuma, katajjaq (throat song), pisiq (traditional song), purple saxifrage, qijuktaq (plant for fires), The Fast Runner, Zacharias Kunuk

Languages:

Inuktitut

Location:

Igloolik, NU, Canada

About

samcc's picture

by samcc

27 January 2017

663 views

Produced by FilmCAN and Primitive Entertainment. 

Directed by Zacharias Kunuk.

Filmed for the National Parks Project, director Zacharias Kunuk explores Sirmilik National Park, near the Nunavut community of Pond Inlet, through the voice of an Inuit elder.

Winner "Best Short Documentary" 2012 Genie Awards.

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Duration:

10m 26s

Tagged:

Inuit Knowledge and Climate Change, national parks, pond inlet, sirmilik, Zacharias Kunuk

About

samcc's picture

by samcc

27 December 2016

316 views

In August 2016, The Journals of Knud Rassussen opened the Tillutarniit (pulses) film series in Montreal. Zach explains the motivations of making this film, details the historical context behind the story, as well as the research and filming process. 

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Duration:

6m 9s

Tagged:

Avva, film screenings, Igloolik, Inuit films, journals of knud rassmussen, Montreal, shaman, Tillutarniit, Zacharias Kunuk

About

Jon Frantz's picture

by Jon Frantz

07 November 2016

466 views

 Zach builds a totem pole

Editing: Maia Iotzova

 

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Duration:

1m 22s

Tagged:

carvings, haida gwaii, totem pole, zach kunuk, Zacharias Kunuk

About

Jon Frantz's picture

by Jon Frantz

02 November 2016

551 views

 Zach Kunuk visits Haida Gwaii

Editing: Maia Iotzova

 

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Duration:

3m 21s

Tagged:

edge of the knife, haida, haida gwaii, visit, zach kunuk, Zacharias Kunuk

About

Jon Frantz's picture

by Jon Frantz

02 November 2016

508 views

 Zach seal hunting

Editing: Maia Iotzova

 

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Duration:

3m 19s

Tagged:

edge of the knife, haida, seal hunting, traditional, zach kunuk, Zacharias Kunuk

About

samcc's picture

by samcc

18 October 2016

2050 views

Duration:

6m 5s

Tagged:

Baffinland, DID, digital indigenous democracy, Mary River, mining, mining hearings, My Father's Land, Zacharias Kunuk

About

IsumaTV's picture

by IsumaTV

14 October 2016

4076 views

Zacharias Kunuk with Lloyd Lipsett, Formal Intervention, NIRB Technical Hearing, July 23, 2012, Igloolik, Part 1/2 3:13 English Version. Zacharias Kunuk, speaking Inuktitut, describes his childhood growing up in the heart of the Baffinland mining region, going to school in English, eventually becoming a filmmaker.

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Duration:

3m 13s

Tagged:

Baffinland, Human Rights, Intervention, IsumaTV, lloyd lipsett, Mary River, mining, Zacharias Kunuk