BLAIR FRASER October 17 1964


BLAIR FRASER October 17 1964



A vast world show place of revolutionary developments, a prospering population of whites, Indians and Eskimos on equal footing, enjoying the rich fruits of untold natural resources


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IN THE PAST DOZEN YEARS the Canadian government has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into its Arctic and sub-Arctic regions to pay for various versions of politicians' “visions of the north.” In 1962, the last year for which figures are complete, twenty-two government departments and agencies, with four thousand resident (and subsidized) civil servants, spent sixty-two millions in the Yukon and Northwest Territories, and took in only thirteen millions in revenue. (In the Yukon the Unemployment Insurance Commission paid out fifty-four thousand dollars, took in fifty dollars. In the NWT, two of the three millions of revenue to Northern Affairs was from the sale of beer and liquor.)

Taxpayers have not protested this colossal outlay for a meagre return, nor has the government indicated any intention to abandon or even reduce its efforts. This is a long-range program aimed partly at discovery of new wealth, but primarily at the rescue of Canada's primitive people, Eskimo and Indian, from the Stone Age and their introduction to the twentieth century. What’s new is that lately (for the

first time, strangely enough) a hard look is being taken at results achieved so far, and a hard question asked: what exactly have we got. and what may we reasonably hope to get, for these massive expenditures? With approximately one civil servant for every ten people living in the area, what is being done for them? What is the ultimate end in view, and when may we expect it to arrive?

Canada's considerable investment in money and manpower has brought the north dozens of new' schools, many hospitals and nursing stations, airstrips and gravel roads, and a sprinkling of almost-modern communities to house the four thousand civil servants and their families. The intention of Operation Northland has been to create new employment for Eskimos and Indians.

It is too soon to say these programs have failed — but they have certainly not succeeded. Today's reality is a far cry from the most publicized of the visions of revolutionary developments in the north, that of John Diefenbaker.

Indeed, Arthur Laing. the present minister of Northern Affairs.

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The speeches are different but the fact is Canadian policy in the north really hasn’t changed

openly refers to the north as "a problem area" and openly welcomes counsel on how the problem can be solved. He comes back from inspection tours shaking his head and saying, "We’ve got to find something in the ground up there." When he talks of untapped resources in the north, as he often does, he takes care to note that before resources can he developed they must be discovered — and in C anada s Arctic and sub-Arctic, few resources have yet been discovered.

Laing’s speeches sound different from those of other days, but the fact is that Canadian policy in the north has not really changed. Even before the Department of Northern Affairs was created in 1953, the broad outline of policy had been set by Robert Winters, then minister of Resources And Development. It continued substantially unaltered, except for being speeded up from time to time, under four more ministers — Liberal Jean Lesage, now' premier of Quebec: then three Conservatives, Douglas Harkness, Alvin Hamilton and Walter Dinsdalc.

First job: beat poverty

What makes Laing sound different is a change of emphasis. He believes, as the other four ministers did. that eventually the resources will be found and the north become a source of wealth. But he feels his most urgent task for the present is to do something about an expanding native population with dwindling means of livelihood and consequent growing squalor and poverty.

How'ever. the number of Eskimos and Indians in wage employment is still negligible. The problem of bringing them into the twentieth century is as far from solution as ever.

In August I was one of three reporters who accompanied Arthur Laing on a tour of the north with a rather unusual party — six ambassadors, seven prominent businessmen, and the president of the Canadian Labor Congress, Claude Jodoin. Partly, and ostensibly, the object of the exercise w'as to interest the businessmen in opportunities for northern investment, and the ambassadors in alerting their governments to the same effect. Primarily, it was to give Laing and his officials the benefit of some expert advice. Laing wanted his guests, all able men, to look at the north and tell him frankly what they thought of it.

By coincidence three of the party had just completed another and very different northern journey — four hundred miles by canoe, from Norway House at the northern end of Lake Winnipeg to York Factory on Hudson Bay. A. H. J. Lovink, the Netherlands ambassador, Dr. Omond Solandt. ot DeHavilland Aircraft of ( añada Ltd., three other friends and I spent eighteen days on a route that our aircraft would have covered in

less than two hours. Our ground-level observations had some relevance to the purposes of the Laing tour.

Our canoe route lay through what is probably the most forlorn of all places — an Arctic ghost town. York Factory was founded by the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1680. to be its principal trading post, and remained in continuous operation for two hundred and seventy-seven years. It was from York Factory that young Henry Kelsey set out in 1690. by a route that

overlapped ours, to explore the Saskatchewan and become the first white man to see the Canadian prairie (forty years before La Vérendryc and his sons crossed the Grand Portage from Lake Superior on their way to the western plain). Lord Selkirk's illfated Highlanders were taken over our route in 1812. to found the Red River settlement. It was the main thoroughfare for the heavy York boats that carried supplies to Norway House on Lake Winnipeg and Cum-

berland House on the Saskatchewan River.

Until about a century ago it was a busy commercial highway. On the mile-long portage at the foot ot Robinson Lake we found the decaying remains of a railway, where the York boats and their cargo used to be hauled on small handcars; there must have been others like it. around other rapids and falls, but no trace of them now remains.

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For seven years now. York Factory has heen completely empty, ever since the last remaining Indians moved to join a larger band at Split Lake, and left the mission and the trading post with nothing to do. Alder thickets are already a dense jungle around its dilapidated buildings and what used to he its street. The old Hudson's Bay post wears an imposing bronze plaque declaring it to be a Canadian Historic Site, but the post itself is falling into ruin — windows broken, doors sagging. paint peeling, floors littered with broken beer bottles.

On the country round about, the commercial activity of nearly three centuries left no mark. The land is as empty and desolate today as when Henry Kelsey first laid eyes on it. The forests have never heen cut, for the simple reason that they are not worth cutting — they are only a hundred miles south of the tree line, where the Arctic barrens begin. Except around the settlements at Norway House and Oxford House, we saw' no human beings, and no other sign of previous habitation than some prospectors' claim stakes here and there and the occasional, untenanted trap-line cabin.

The two settlements are about the same size, roughly tw'o thousand people each, of whom about two thirds are treaty Indians and the rest halfbreeds and a handful of whites. At Norway House Herb Rempel, the Hudson's Bay Company man who gave us dinner before we set off, said, "I don't think more than five percent of the people's income here comes from the resources of the country. Directly or indirectly, the rest all comes from the government.” Doug Stevens, at Oxford House, who has been with Hudson's Bay in various northern posts for thirty years, was a little more optimistic: “I’d guess probably as high as ten percent, maybe

fifteen percent is earned by hunting and fishing.” The rest would be either wages paid by the government for service jobs (caretakers and the like) or welfare payments.

On the airborne trip three weeks later, we found the same kind of situation all over the north. One third to one half of the Indian and Eskimo families are on direct relief each year for periods that average four months. Of the hundred and sixty-six Eskimos at Aklavik. forty-one were on relief in the best month of last year. September; during the spring breakup in May, the worst period of the year, the number on relief rose to a hundred and forty-eight or roughly seven eighths of the population. At Inuvik. on the other side of the Mackenzie Delta, the figures were similar — sixty-three of the three hundred Eskimos on relief even in September, and no fewer than two hundred in May.

Welfare payments average about twenty dollars per person per month. For most families this is more than they can earn. Of the sixty Indian families at Whitehorse, the capital of the Yukon, forty have annual incomes of a thousand dollars or less, and another ten earn less than two thousand. Most of the remaining ten have government jobs.

True, Indians and Eskimos make up less than half the total population of the Yukon and Northwest Territories, but the figure is a little misleading. Of the whites in the Northwest Territories, more than four thousand are concentrated in the twin towns of Yellowknife and Hay River, on opposite sides of Great Slave Lake. Hay River will soon be the northern terminus of a new railway, built by the CNR with government subsidy to make possible a big lead-zinc mining development at nearby Pine Point. The ore at Pine Point is not a new discovery (claims were first staked

there in 1898. by prospectors on their way to the Klondike), but it couldn't be developed without a railroad, and the railroad couldn't be built without government aid. Now that the aid is forthcoming and the railway nearly finished, Hay River has no special problems. As for Yellowknife, it is a prosperous mining town and seems likely to remain so. Socially and economically. though, the YellowknifeHay River district is just a slight northward extension of the Province of Alberta. Its prosperity has little or no bearing on the unsolved problems of the farther north.

The other big concentration of whites in the north is the Yukon Territory. Of its fifteen thousand people. only about twenty-two hundred are Indian, and none Eskimo. Its living standards arc high, its buildings handsome and modern. Whitehorse. the capital, is as pretty a town of five thousand as you'd find anywhere in Canada, with neat picturcwindow'cd houses and fine lawns (grown on topsoil that has to be trucked in from a pit ten miles from town). It’s a gay place, too. In its cosy little night clubs the entertainers seem to know the customers by their first names, and vice versa. Apparently nobody is too old or too young, too rich or too poor to be included in the rollicking social life that goes on all the time.

The fight against the shrink

Nevertheless, the Yukon has some problems not wholly dissimilar to those of the Northwest Territories. It too is trying to maintain a standard of living on a shrinking economic base. The value of mineral production (the only primary industry of any consequence, except for tourism) is lower than it was ten years ago — about thirteen million dollars. The army’s recent decision to withdraw from operations in the Yukon takes away a major source of buying power and secondary employment. Prospecting goes on. both for minerals and for oil and gas, but climate and terrain make it obvious that any strike must be unusually rich before it can compete with similar resources in easier locations.

Crest Exploration Limited, a subsidiary of California Standard, has a huge property of a hundred and fortyfive square miles near the YukonMackenzie border which is a good example. How'ard Nicholson, president of Crest Exploration, was one of Arthur Laing's touring party, and he gave us a lucid outline of both its opportunities and its obstacles:

The deposit itself is enormous — an iron ore body more than three hundred feet thick, known to have twenty billion tons and perhaps as much as forty billion. More than a billion tons of ore lie exposed on the surface, wdth another five billion under ground shallow enough for cheap, open-pit mining.

Development, though, will be colossally expensive. The ore is not good enough in quality to be shipped out raw; it will have to be up-graded. It will then have to be carried out six hundred miles to the nearest openwater port, over a railway which has not yet been surveyed, let alone built.

Cost of the railway may run as high as three hundred millions; the mine itself and the ore up-grading plant might cost as much again. "Five hundred millions up" is the preliminary guess at the total investment required.

To make such an enterprise economic. a large market will have to be assured in advance — not less than ten million tons a year. Japan is the only customer in sight that could absorb such a quantity, and even there it would mean tying up forty percent of Japan's current requirement of iron ore. Other countries with easier climates. notably Australia, are competing fiercely for this Japanese market.

Howard Nicholson warned us not to think of this touch-and-go enterprise, even if it is launched, as a socialwelfare project. To make it feasible at all. the company would have to import highly sophisticated machinery and a highly skilled labor force to operate it. Employment for the unskilled. semiliterate Eskimos and Indians would be limited. Even the white population of the Yukon might find the new harshly competitive atmosphere very different from the easy-going life they now enjoy.

I asked one leading citizen of Whitehorse, "What leads people to come up to the north in the first place?"

"Oh, we're all escaping from something," he said cheerfully. "In this country a man can turn his back on the past and make a fresh start."

He didn't mean, of course, that he and his fellow northerners were all fugitives from justice. What they were escaping, he went on to explain, was not pursuit, but pressure — the rigidities. the formal stipulations of life "outside." (Northerners really do say "outside" when they speak of the rest of the world, an alien and somewhat hostile place.)

Up here, you don t need a piece of paper to prove who or what you are, he said. "If there's a job open for a plumber or a steamfitter. and

you say you’re a plumber or steamfitter, you get the job and no more questions asked."

His wife cut in, "Mind you, we get a lot of shoddy work that way.” But she seemed to feel, as he did, that the gain in peace of mind was worth the price in efficiency.

We had an example of this genial custom right before our eyes, in the night club where we were talking. One of the three entertainers had been hired by the proprietor, in a burst

of compassion, when he lost his job as clerk in a hardware store. Another had worked as a salesman of musical instruments. They sent to Vancouver for a mutual friend who, they said, had a good voice, and they were in business as a music-and-comedy trio. It was obviously a popular show, even to the patrons who saw it every week. It had a fresh, gay, relaxed quality that was contagious, vastly better than the kind of fourth-rate professional you'd expect to find in a small remote

town. Nevertheless it wasn't professional, and if the boys did try to offer their wares "outside,” they would be withered by the competition. I suspect this might be true of some other northern enterprises.

But the Yukon, with its population six sevenths white, literate and possessed of modern skills, is thereby delivered from the worst of all the problems of the north — the divisive demoralizing impact of education upon a primitive society.

Great strides have been made during the past ten years in the education of Eskimos and northern Indians. About four thousand Eskimo and Indian children arc now attending the two hundred and fifty-odd classrooms of federal schools across the north. Of these about a third are living in hostels, separated from their families and their traditional way of life for the months of the school year.

Some teachers say they’re not worried by this. “We give the child a chance to learn to the limit of his capacity,” 1 was told in Resolute Bay. "Those who have the ability can go on to high school or even to university. The others can go back to the Eskimo way of life.”

What worries other teachers, and the government, is that the Eskimo way of life is itself a hard thing to learn. Boys who have spent their whole childhood in a white-man’s school no longer know how to make a living as their fathers did.

During a visit last March to Great Whale River in Arctic Quebec, I flew up to an Eskimo settlement forty miles up the Hudson Bay coast where a family group was living in the traditional way (the only one in that area that’s still doing so). Of the patriarch's two sons, one was his father’s pride — a good hunter, adept at every Eskimo skill, well qualified to become the head of the family. He had never been to school. His younger brother had gone to school, learned to speak English and to read and write, but in the Eskimo community he was regarded as completely worthless, a lazy good-for-nothing fit only for women's work and not much of that.

What’s a horse to an Eskimo?

This gap between the generations is wide enough, even for children who continue to live with their parents while going to school. It is much wider for those who leave their humble one-room houses or (in some cases still) their tents and igloos to live in the steam-heated splendor of a new federal school.

There are probably no finer schools in all Canada than the Sir Alexander Mackenzie School at Inuvik, or the Sir John Franklin School at Yellowknife. From the spotless tiled washrooms to the vast gymnasium-auditorium, either would be the pride of any high-priced suburb. In the hostels most of the children arc bunked four to a room: otherwise the facilities aie as good as any private boarding school in Canada and better than some. The Inuvik school with its hostel cost about four and a half million dollars.

But with all this investment in bricks and mortar, no attempt at all was made to devise a curriculum for primitive pupils. Eskimo children who have never seen a horse or a cow learn to read about Dick and Jane’s visit to grandfather's farm. Except for those that individual teachers may contrive, the school suggests no point of contact between what the children are learning and what they know already. They are being prepared for an environment which, for them, docs not exist.

Nowhere is this fact made more cruelly plain than at Inuvik, the brand-

new administrative centre ot the Lower Mackenzie district. Inuvik was started ten years ago. intended to replace the dilapidated village ot Aklavik on the other side of the delta. It cost fifty million dollars (counting its fifteenmillion-dollar airport) and in one sense it is a showpiece — neat comfortable homes, a good hotel, a hundred-bed hospital, the most beautiful church in the Arctic. Water and steam heat are supplied, and sewage taken away, by an insulated aluminum-pipe container called "the Utilidor."

The Utilidor segregates the people of Inuvik more rigidly, and more effectively. than any Jim Crow realestate law could do. 1 he civil servants who live "on the Utilidor pay a rent that is based on salary anti ranges from ninety to a hundred and fifty dollars a month. But for a private citizen to build a house in the "serviced area," as one or two are planning to do. would cost between fifty and sixty thousand dollars. The Utilidor itself costs two hundred dollars a foot.

Needless to say this de facto segregation is not meant to be based on color or race. No doubt in time Eskimo teachers will staff the Sir Alexander Mackenzie School, Eskimo nurses and perhaps even Eskimo doctors the hundred-bed hospital. But even then the contrast will remain between them, the chosen and educated few', and their parents and brothers and sisters who live in the squalid "unserviced area" beyond the Utilidor. (It could be called the "native quarter” except that it is also the dwelling place of the white businessmen of Aklavik. who burn with envy and resentment of the privileged civil servants.)

Old Aklavik, thirty-five miles away by air and seventy by canoe, presents the opposite extreme. In appearance it is a slum. The houses are falling down. the school is dingy and dilapidated, the ancient and scruffy "hotel"

looks like something out of a Klondike movie. Indeed, the whole village is being eaten away by erosion and eventually will fall into the Mackenzie River.

What redeems Aklavik is the fact that it is real, not a figment of bureaucratic imagination like Inuvik. This is what life in the Mackenzie Delta is really like, the standard of living that local resources (with some help from government welfare payments) will support. Whites. Indians and Eskimos

live in much the same environment.

When David Neve, the administrator. brought his wife Brenda and their children to Aklavik from Great Whale River last spring, they found their house in almost as squalid condition as those of their Eskimo neighbors. By herculean efforts of cleaning, painting and repairing they have made it reasonably attractive now. and thereby have sparked a clean-up, paint-up movement in the rest of the village, but there is nothing to single

them out as Superior Beings. The dingy school, unlike the tiled and polished splendor of Inuvik, shows the effect of the children's participation in its painting and decorating.

The Aklavik school goes only to grade eight, but that is as far as most Eskimo children go anyway, and w hen a child finishes school at Aklavik he is still at home. At Inuvik he emerges into an environment that has no place for him — unless, of course, he is one of the tiny minority, so far. who

go south for further training. Even they have problems. At Resolute Bay we met a girl who had gone ail through the educational mill, and had then taken a job in Ottawa. After about a year away she was home again, with a nervous breakdown and an illegitimate child.

These problems were not unfamiliar to Arthur Laing’s distinguished guests, even those who had never seen the Canadian Arctic before. Dr. John Knox, dean of the diplomatic corps and ambassador of Denmark, knew a great deal about his own country's experience with the Eskimos in Greenland. l.ovink of the Netherlands had been the last governor-general of the Dutch East Indies, and had dealt with Stone Age people in New Guinea. Sir Henry Eintott, British High Commissioner, is a newcomer to Canada but a man of much experience in Africa. Omontl Solandt. as chairman of the Defence Research Board, had set up the research laboratory at C hurchill, and had traveled all over the north many times. The others had similarly relevant experience of various kinds.

Just what they told the minister is hard to define. There was no formal summing-up, except a round-table talk the day after we got back, and even then there were many different views. But there were a few points on which a consensus seemed to emerge, which may yet he translated into policy.

One was the need for more research, in two wholly different fields. First, research in the physical sciences, of the kind that can only be done in the Arctic — the nature of the aurora borealis, the origins of the Western Hemisphere's weather, the forces in the upper atmosphere that seem to converge around the magnetic pole, and so on. Quite a lot is being done already, but there is room for much more. There's also room for more effort and expenditure in looking for mineral resources, as opposed to building facilities for resources that may some day be discovered.

Second, and even more important, is the need for research into the problem of educating primitive people. No nation has solved this problem yet, but many have had experience. What should the Eskimo and Indian children be reading, instead of Fun With Dick and Jane? What can restore the dignity and self-respect of a proud hunter who finds himself fit only for a menial job? How can tribal loyalties be reconciled and merged with national loyalty? (This question, which bedevils Africa more than any other, has hardly arisen in Canada yet — but it will.) Should the people of the north be encouraged to move south and find employment, or should the government go on trying to create employment for them at home?

No answers yet exist to these questions, nor can any be found merely by spending more money. "We can't buy our way out of this,” Laing remarked one day. But they are probably more important, in the second half of the twentieth century, than any other questions in the world. If Canada could find the answer, in her little pilot plant of the Arctic, it would be as great a service to mankind as we can ever hope to render. ★