Clad in a film of dust and huddled over his work, Lyta Josephie delicately angles the saw against the black tail of what will soon be a walrus. The shriek of blade against stone echoes throughout the neighborhood. It’s a late afternoon in October, and the winter freeze hasn’t yet fully enveloped the far reaches of northern Canada. Still, it’s -10 degrees Fahrenheit and with the wind whipping off the water and howling between buildings, it’s only going to get colder.
But if Josephie wants to work, he has to work outside, because all carvers work outside. A flaw of design, there are no buildings in the territorial capital meant to house the work he does. Nor do the next phases of a planned subdivision fully account for snowmobile routes out of the city for hunting. Nor do houses come equipped with areas to prepare freshly hunted game, a staple of the northern diet.
The south has a history of getting things wrong in the north. Only now are planners starting to consider the region’s traditional lifestyle to build more efficient communities.
More than half a century ago, forced government-led relocation moved Inuit from small communities to larger settlements. In Iqaluit, the capital of sprawling, frigid northern territory of Nunavut, they were placed in utilitarian housing. It was cold, cramped, and inefficient, a sharp departure from seasonal shelters used by the constantly moving communities. “When Inuit were first moved into houses in the 1950s, they all slept in the living room, because that’s what they were used to. Obviously they don’t do that now, but there was a huge cultural shift moving into houses,” says Gayle Kabloona.