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From Justin Nobel’s photo series Nunavik, Summer 2008. Nobel’s work has appeared in Bay Nature, the Chicago Tribune, Montreal Gazette and Audubon.
In the summer of 2008, Justin Nobel travelled to Nunavik, a group of fourteen communities in northern Quebec inhabited by about 12,000 people, most of them Inuit, and about 4,000 visitors a year, mainly miners and hunters. In the community of Kangiqsujuaq, Nobel photographed the whalers who participated in the first official bowhead whale hunt off Nunavik’s Hudson Strait coast in over a hundred years. Fisheries and Oceans Canada had issued a licence for the 2008 hunt after the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada changed the bowhead’s status from endangered to threatened in 2005. Residents of the area gathered for the butchering of the bowhead meat, which was then given to the communities in Nunavik. However, a bulldozer that was supposed to be brought in to flip the whale had trouble getting to the site, and much of the meat rotted. After three days, the stench of the carcass was so potent that some spectators vomited.
During the High Arctic Relocation in 1953 and 1955, the Canadian government moved Inuit families from northern communities, including Nunavik, to the more northern settlements of Resolute Bay and Grise Fiord to strengthen Canada’s sovereignty over the Arctic during the Cold War. The settlers had to adjust to a colder, harsher climate and a very different set of wildlife patterns, and hunting was difficult. During the 1993 Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, those who survived gave accounts of unimaginable hardship and deprivation. To honour the Inuit who suffered during the High Arctic Relocation, two monuments will be unveiled in Nunavut in September 2010. The unveiling was scheduled for September 2009, but it was delayed by a year because the stone used for one of the monuments—local Grise Fiord granite—was so hard to work with that the artist broke more than twenty diamond blades in completing the work.