They know that. So should you.
Here is a one minute view of where you are going to spend the next few weeks:
So you want to do a documentary for television. Last gang came, shot for two days, then never used the footage. The crew loved it but some committee yanked it a week before broadcast. You don’t have to ask for my permission: I do not represent anybody. So far they call you “Furless one” because I showed them your picture, and they found it amazing that you are bald. And as for Jennifer, so far they are calling her “round”. Considered to be a good shape. Your nicknames may change once they get to know you. This is your new neighbourhood during the filming; it is the only inhabited spot for hundreds of miles. Good fishing, good hunting. This place is real, very real. It is vast and we are very tiny. It is dark for months in winter and sunlit for months in summer. There is magic everywhere; the ocean itself is a spirit; and there is a reality that is much more crunchy that anything in the south. Here, survival is at the top of your “to-do” list all the time.
What people is the helicopter bringing? To really feel alive, or for some obscure purpose? In their First Story, white people go from place to place “trying to get back to the Garden”. They will never find the same garden again, at least not the one they dream of. They move restlessly across the world; their empires come and go, and they do not find their way home; they never find the garden they are looking for. It is sad. Maybe someday they will find it.
The Inuit didn’t go looking for a perfect garden. The Inuit took their enemy – the cold – and made it into a friend; they did not defy nature and the magic landscape, they made themselves a humble part of it; and they pretty much just hung out for 4,000 years. Just grooving with the scene, Dean. Eating seals, fishing, zooming across the ice in a dog-sled, or zooming across the water in a kayak. And it was never safe. The life-expectancy was low. The dangers of nature were high. They were not safe, but they were strong and free.
Furless One and Round want to make a TV show, so they come here! Hahahahaha! The Inuit laugh all the time: everything is considered to be funny, unless specifically proven otherwise. The TV people, they don’t go fishing to go fishing, they go fishing to make a documentary about going fishing. And they never learn to fish. But they fly halfway across the planet and then rent a helicopter to film other people fishing. As if fishing was a new discovery and they are all amazed that there are creatures swimming in the ocean, and the Discovery Channel set out in a helicopter to prove it. Let’s hope none of the TV crew are named John Franklin.
Did you see the vegetation? Me neither. Sometimes there are flowers that grow a quarter of an inch high, sometimes a few tiny berries. But that's it. There are no fruits and there are no vegetables. There is no fuel. No trees, no lumber, no firewood, no coal, no oil. Well, there is a supply ship that goes from village to village once a year, weather permitting, ice permitting, but don't rely on that for your survival. You could be stranded here.
You are now several thousand kilometres from the nearest Wal-mart.
There is no predictable air service, no runway, no offices, no stores except for the annual bulk purchase, no roads, no cars, no other villages, no real semblance of government.
It would be quicker to list the other way, what you do have: ice cold water, ice, snow and wind. Rocks, stone, gravel. Mountains. Some plywood houses, or old shipping containers.
This place is extreme magic and extreme reality. This is one of the harshest climates that human beings have ever attempted to live in.
There were Inuit living here and eating seals 2000 years before Julius Caesar was assassinated in Rome.
They were living here 2,400 years before Genghis Kahn was born; they were eating seal meat here 2000 years before Christ and 700 years before Moses led the Jewish tribes out of Egypt; 3500 years before Shakespeare.
What happened to the Latin language? What happened to the Egyptian empire? Where is Genghis Kahn now that you need him? While empires rose and fell, the Inuit held steady for 4,000 years. There are big differences in how they see the universe; and having no concept of “ownership” is just one of them. The sense of time is different too. And the acceptance of fate, of being in the real world.
What are you selling to the Inuit? Do you want their endorsement or their capitulation? Have you decided to make them follow Ayn Rand, or Frantz Fanon? Did you come to play Jesus and they are the cross you want to carry; or have you come to liberate them from oppression? Start a money-raiser: “Save the Inuit sled-dogs” or “Prevent the Inuit from having sled-dogs.” No one goes north without a reason. Myself included. But If you think you are better than them, then please stay south and leave these people alone. We had a young couple one time, came and criticized everything about the Inuit – what they eat, how the children run around uncontrolled, how they should stop being who they are and become just like us, how we know everything and they know nothing.
If you hurt these people with your TV documentary, I will regret having told you where my friends live. I will rip off your arm and beat you with it. (Just a little Neanderthal joke.)
When you step out of your space capsule and first set foot on the Inuit planet, it’s okay to say that it is a small step for a man, a big leap for mankind, because they figured you would say something funny and sure enough, that is very funny.
BUT remember this: they have been living on this moonscape for 4,000 years. You have been here 4 minutes. And it shows. Go with that. Be honest about that, and you should be alright. And remember, if anything goes wrong – a storm, an accident, an illness - anything – your survival is entirely in their hands.
They know that.
So should you.