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Cragged

It was smooth, round, flat and broad
Large, as it was, flung, hurdling towards a window
The window dark, shut even in perpetual daylight
That stretches beyond the reaches of the Canadian Shield

Thrown as far as the ravenous crow flies
As far as the aurora magnetically shines
Hungering for change, it’s dissidence sublime
Its course beyond signals of dishes of modern design

Satellite greetings to the apex of the world!

Obsequious to the sender
This is not a blue movie
But I am feeling blue

A society in convalescence
Hindered by the modern age

somewhat

Used to be skeletons were never kept in closets
The bones remained under piles of rock

without a bone to pick

The time to grieve is over
and over
and over
again

time to move forward

Beyond unjust moments, travesty and tragedy
Beyond ice-less oceans and actually doing something about it
Beyond apathy, prejudice, and everything in-between
Beyond you and I

Farther

Effecting a different understanding
Complexities of cultural collisions
This new collusion
Band aids have to be removed
Like shackles around the soul
Even of the soulless

those masters of cultural devastation

Sure as the grip of the juvenile’s
Fingers tighten around the rock
Preparing to take down Goliath
We must act as one

Under the light of an eternal sun

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Only In The North

I often hear people of all walks of life that live in Nunavut use the phrase ‘Only in the north’ or ‘Only in Nunavut’.  It is almost always in reference to a negative situation or experience.  I hear it in response to high prices, lack of quality service in terms of repair and maintenance, and often in reference to the maniacal crimes and situations caused by the debauchery of the citizens of Nunavut.  Certainly due to our lack of road infrastructure there are times when need cannot be reached by supply.  This does not mean that the level of service or quality of work should be diminished further since we are facing these challenges from the get-go.

Yesterday, someone questioned the freshness of a product.  I assured this person that it was absolutely fresh.  I was told, ‘Well you have to check. This is Iqaluit!’.  To me that was the same as saying ‘only in the north’.  Unfortunately, people have lowered expectations of service, product, and quality in our territory.  I assured this person that I do not lower my work ethic or standard of quality regardless of where I live.  I strive to give my customer’s quality service, honesty, and the respect they deserve.  Evidently, others do not share in my standards.  The customer went on to tell me that she saw a liquid egg product that was expired by two years previous at another store.  It may have been exaggeration but I know there is truth in the story.  This apathy towards customer concern is extremely distressing.

I once saw a chef in Rankin Inlet thrown across the kitchen from an electrical shock from a stove that had been serviced by a shoddy electrician.  I have heard people quite loudly say to clerks in stores ‘only in the north’ in reference to our high prices in Nunavut.  I have heard contractors, sprinkler fitters, plumbers, and carpenters try to justify obviously bad work with this ridiculous mantra.  To some it has become a joke, I however do not find it a laughing matter.

The drunk passed out on the blacktop on a sunny afternoon in July – only in the north.

No one is wearing seat belts – only in the north.

People smoke with children on their backs – only in the north.

The mechanic stole the parts I supplied and used cheaper ones – only in the north.

The hallway in the high school reeks of tabacco – only in the north.

Houses cannot be built this summer due to supplies being shipped to the wrong place – only in the north.

Being in the drunk tank gives one bragging rights – only in the north.

Women regularly sport black eyes – only in the north.

Children have no rules – only in the north.

Those statements I made are ridiculous.  Not only are they a reflection of our apathy to things many Canadians take for granted but they can create prejudice.  It is high time more people exercised personal responsibility and started performing with excellence in all their pursuits in our territory.

I demand quality customer service.

I demand action regarding the social ills of our territory.

I demand service without attitude, unfriendliness, or patronization.

Are these things too much to ask?  I think not.

All we have to do is act.

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♪ Aasi Tim Horton’s ♫

The news across the nation this week has been ripe with stories about the opening of Tim Horton’s kiosks in the territory of Nunavut.  This was the last territory (or province) without a Tim Horton’s franchise.  The excitement has built for weeks, even years depending on who you talk to.  Anticipation of this event has definitely had its share of mixed reviews, those who are hardcore Timmie’s loyalists and those who despise the entry of a new fast food franchise into the almost virgin megacorp community of Nunavut.  I sit somewhere in the middle, to me Tim Horton’s is the lesser of two evils.  It doesn’t offer greasy deep-fried factory farmed crap, yet it does carry positive attributes of the fast food that distinguish it from other franchises.  I am quite choosy about my coffee and my feelings about Tim’s is one of ambivalence.  Its arrival does raise questions about the growing presence of fast food and the love affair many of the citizens of Nunavut have with these franchises.  To best explain the thoughts I have about these companies and their relationships with their customers I have to return to the brutally cold January day in 2004 when I moved to Nunavut:

I stepped off the plane Rankin Inlet, Nunavut and began what was a springboard site to ‘cook my way around the world’, happily I haven’t left yet.  I saw darkness everywhere.  Well, it was only January the fourth and daylight is sparse this time of year.  I would be getting about a five or six hours of sunlight day.  That’s OK, ‘Night time is the right time!’ as my friend Chris would always say reveling during the perpetual dark of the Arctic Winter.  At the small terminal building I met my new co-worker who was there to pick me up.  I took up my bags and threw them in her Jimmy.  Getting in I quickly realized the manner of people transformed a bit when living so far away from their southern comforts.  I reached for my seat belt out of force of habit.  “We don’t do that here!”  said Noreen  in a commanding tone.  Surveying the hamlet, I saw how vastly different it was to where I hailed from.  I was a Southern Ontario boy and I had finally left the endless landscape of mini malls, car culture and fast food outlets that litter the Can-Am Auto Alley in a myriad of commonalty, or had I?

Before embarking to Nunavut, I had the good fortune of having a contact in Rankin, an old cohort named Chris.  He and I knew each other from the not-so-old days in the restaurant scene in Stratford, Ontario.  I had received over a few lengthy, yet brief phone calls my Nunavut 101.  All the normal advice was given and amenities described.  He had informed me about a KFC/Pizza Hut outlet in Rankin.  The main point being in how it was grossly expensive compared to the cheap fast food I never ate back home.

Settling into Rankin, I spent most days exploring with evenings left to work and meet people.  Getting to know people happened fast since Chris had been there awhile already.  I met people from all over Canada with many tall tales to tell.  The others I met who lived in the hamlet their whole lives had welcoming information to share and grand stories in tow.  Something became apparent to me very early on, a strange association people made with fast food culture.  When upcoming trips ‘down south’ were to occur people who were returning home would always reference fast food.  “The first thing I’m doing when I get to the airport is getting McDonald’s” or “I’m going to wolf down two big mac’s as soon as I get there.”.  This seemed and still is odd to me.  When I return home the first thing I want to do is visit to a park, see a tree, see friends, go to a bar, get some sushi, or maybe just walk around.  I don’t associate fast food with my home, even though its abundance is impossible to miss.  Yet, even people who lived here exclusively most or all of their lives share in this sentimentality of fast food.  You only have to get off the plane in Winnipeg from the Kivalliq region of Nunavut to catch the droves of people heading to the famous slop-and-plop Chinese Buffet, ‘Foody Goody’.  In Baffin, some may choose to spend most of their trip to Ottawa in the Hotel and at Wal-Mart.  This phenomena speaks volumes about the rapid entry of consumer culture and corporate food chains into the psyche of a host of Northerners and Southern expatriates alike.

One of the most endearing qualities of Nunavut is the lack of big box stores and fast food chains.  There are corporations operating here at a franchised supermarket level.  They are community oriented and strive to provide necessary and quality service to the people of the territory.  They have a rich history and tradition in the communities, and some trace their roots back before the communities existed.  Hundreds of years in fact.  Being devoid of Wal-Mart, Taco Bell, Starbucks, and Chapters complements the barren beauty of the land in Nunavut.  It also leaves the ability for small business to prosper.  The mom and pop business model thrives in Rankin.  Living there my favorite places to go were the Red Top Variety Store and the Sugar Rush Cafe, both successful small businesses.  Back in those times, Chris and I did our share of ordering things, but it was never KFC and Pizza Hut.  For one a ten inch medium size pizza was well over twenty dollars and the preparation and food handling was always questionable in the worst way.  The real reason was our solid experience in the finer avenues of the restaurant world.  Our respective parents hadn’t raised us on the greasy molestation of questionable meat and processed cheese that fill the mouths of the drooling denizens of food courts across our country.

The culture of fast food has embraced one of the last magnificent, untamed lands of our country.  The barrage of television commercials in a place that has only had the tube since the mid-eighties has contributed significantly to the novelty and want for these items, products, and brands.  Of course, not everyone is subscribing to this false manifestation of southern hospitality.  There are those who prefer to hunt for their food, cook their own meals, or perhaps moved here to leave that monolithic slime bucket of genetically modified mad cow burgers and freedom fries behind.  I would never generalize to that end, however, it is apparent that most people love this culture of convenience.  They have bought in to the almost mythic commercial branding the giants of the quick service industry have done so well with, wherever they send their troops.

To indulge in creäture comforts is something we all enjoy.  For some it seems that fast food is the solace they require to make life in a remote place more familiar and cozy.  For others it is an escape to the ‘big city’ or it brings feelings of a long-awaited vacation.  The exclamations of how many Big Macs one is going to wolf down or the extreme anticipation of a DQ Blizzard is only a harbinger of the innate desire for satisfaction.  A satisfaction that can never arrive because fast food will never make you truly happy.  It may arrive here in battalions of drive through and delivery some day. Perhaps then this surreal association with comfort and pleasant feelings will dissipate.  The hunger will never disappear and it’s not just because the calories are empty.  The desire for something different from the norm or the same as the south will always plague the people who desire these brands with such exaltation.  The void will never be filled.  When it does arrive the cultural impact will be immense, Nunavut will lose a part of its territorial identity that helped make it one of the most unusual societies in the West.  The culture that follows  these food entities will have a monumental impact on the communities.  Health problems such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease and many others will increase.  The environmental impact will be tremendous volumes of waste.  Mom and pop restaurants that provide friendly places to dine and meet won’t able to compete.  The architecture of the towns will become more homogeneous.  Towns and cities in the south fight a tough fight to deter these transformations from happening.  Much would be lost with a disproportionate amount of fast food and big box stores in our hamlets and municipalities.

Wednesday December the first heralded the opening of Nunavut’s Tim Horton’s.  The people were heard, the signs were up, the coffee was flowing.  Someone even liked it so much they had twelve extra-large on the first day.  The burn off of that high must have been heavy.  Tim’s went the extra step of ensuring they hired people from the territory and made their famous oval logo include Inuktitut syllabics, one of the official language of the Nunavut.  These are the steps of a company committed to community involvement and presence, and is duly noted.  The Inuktitut lettering in the logo pictured reads ‘Always Fresh Coffee’ roughly translated.  Many people are unilingual here and that is a nice gesture.  It is pragmatic since language laws will enforce bilingual signage in the near future.  Any effort made to include the city and territory or support of culture and local interest will not go unnoticed.

Plainly, Tim’s provides better food than most fast food outlets and has been fixture in Canada for a long time.  Canadian again after a splitting from Wendy’s a few years ago.  It is pleasing to hear that Tim’s returned to its Canuck roots and left that superpower of the fast food world behind.  A chicken salad sandwich from Tim’s versus an offering from the Wendy’s value menu is markedly different in calorie content, sugar and salt levels.  They appear as a benevolent proprietor of a brand of coffee Canadians love.  Sponsoring hockey camps will be an asset to the avid hockey programs across Nunavut.  Their environmental platform is sound, it’s too bad Nunavut doesn’t have the recycling or composting infrastructure to support it.  They may provide fast, quick service food but asides from the pastries there are healthy choices.  The coffee is highly popular around the country, and even if  it’s little more than 401 driving coffee to me, people want it.  I trust everyone will exercise moderation, especially with the pastries.

My only hope is that the opening of this new Tim Horton’s will not usher in a wave of other larger and negative entities of the fast food nation.  Roll up your rim and enjoy Nunavummiut, but let’s try to keep our territory from getting overrun with chain stores and fast food.  A cup of coffee and a donut is a Canadian tradition but lets not get carried away with lofty dreams of golden arches and underpaid store greeters wearing smiley face logos, for that will not complement our territory’s identity in a positive way.

Footnote:  In the title, ‘Aasi’ means always in the Inuktitut language referring to the Tim Horton’s jingle.

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