Some rocks are more strategic than others
By Bob Dawson
Photo of Inuit blanket toss. Yes, they fly high. They tossed Canada’s Governor-General at a feast. One of the elders showed her how. It was indoors, so they did not go high. But outdoors, they touch the sky. This is a community activity that requires complete trust. And that, they have. Trusting each other. Propel you high and catch you when you come down, and as confidence builds, higher and higher you go, exhilarated, happy, physical and real, knowing the community will raise you high and never drop you. Of this, we always dream – to be part of something bigger than ourselves, something we can partake of with others, a balance for our hunger to be independent. Canadians are fools not to get tossed into the air by Inuit. It should be a condition of Canadian citizenship. Ya wanna be a Canuck? Prove it. Go get yourself blanket -tossed by the Inuit; we can’t grant you citizenship if you don’t.
Said Rita Joe
To a white friend:
I lost my talk.
I think like you
I create like you
The scrambled ballad
About my world
Two ways I talk
Your way is more powerful
So I ask,
Let me find my talk
So I can teach you
-- (Rita Joe, Mi’kmaq tribe)
Nick of Iqaluit calls up: (early1980’s)
The talk in Frobisher and Yellowknife is that the Killiniq people signed a deal with Quebec. So let them go live in Quebec. How the hell can we provide services to Port Burwell from the Territories, and why should we? They did a deal with Quebec. So they can damn well move to Quebec.
Bob: The whole thing makes no sense, Nick. We are missing a piece of information somewhere, and I don’t know where. And your neck is getting redder by the day. What’s this anti-French thing? Next thing I expect to hear you say is, “Every time God talks in the Bible, it is always in English. If the English language is good enough for God, then it’s damn well good enough for the French.”
Nick: Just WHAT are you talking about?
Bob: It’s a joke, Nick. I’m just joking.
Nick: You want new information?
Bob: Yes, I am tired of the old clichés; bring me some new clichés. Even that is a cliché. Why is boredom and stability everyone’s top career objective? As if life is just something you have to grit your teeth and endure. Why not just shoot yourself in the head and get it over with?
Nick: Yes, yes, good point; very profound. Now, your basket-weaving class is on Wednesday’s and they take pictures of your brain every Thursday; how about Friday we take a little tour in a bushplane – pilot is eager to see it too; we pay the fuel and he pilots for free.
Bob: Those bush pilots are all insane.
Nick: Don’t go there, Bob. Just don’t go there.
Bob: Is this another Franklin Expedition? Where do you propose that we crash-land and become cannibals?
Nick: Let’s follow the chopper.
Bob: What chopper?
Nick: These Yankee flyboys came swaggering into the bar in the hotel, as if they owned the place, full of Yankee Doodle-Do. Chopper pilot and his crew. Pilot did three tours in VietNam, volunteered, flying Hueys. Took a leg wound landing in a hot LZ, completed his mission anyway. A decorated hero. Now he’s gone civilian but he has all these U.S. military contacts, and he’s got a heavy-lifter, a big Sikorsky dual rotor, retro-fitted with anti-icing; he trolls for work in the cold climates. He bought a free round for everybody in the bar – he must have paid $400; big wad of American hundred dollar bills in his pocket; soon he went off with a native hooker and then came back and bought drinks for everybody again. Peeling off the hundred dollar bills, saying “Keep the change”. He said his mission up here is secret, confidential. I told him, up here, nothing is confidential for very long, if you speak Inuktitut. The entire population of Eastern NWT (now called Nunavut) is 26,000 people, in an area three times the size of France; and 85% are Inuit. If you understand them you will know everything that goes on here.
I told the Yankee most of the southerners who pop in are short-term contract; and like himself, they will be soon gone, like all the southerners before him, except the ones who marry native or who decide to live in a shack and write bad poetry about how the cold purifies their souls. You know, Yankee Doodle, the Inuit already have a nick-name for you. Something about you being loud and stupid. And they are pissed at how you look at their daughters. You seem to assume they are automatically at your disposal if your wad of hundred dollar bills is big enough. Have you seen a shrink about that?
I would suggest you treat the women here with some respect and dignity. You wouldn’t want to have a harpoon accident.
Yankee: Harpoon accident?
Yeah, you know, somebody is off their game of seal hunting and throws a wild harpoon. I hate it when that happens. It will pin you to the ice or to the ground. Makes a hell of a mess. Gruesome. Always seems to happen to people who misunderstand the situation. They end up in the wrong place at the wrong time. Standing in for a seal or a whale at the pointy end of a harpoon. That’s a terrible way to die. And the soil is too damn frozen for a burial so we’d have to pile rocks on top of you.
The evening went downhill from there. No more free drinks. Everybody was pissed off at me for that. Hey, I just added an attention-getter to keep his eyes glued on the emergency exit door.
Is for to laff, is for yolking. In my countree, peepul is laffink. Is a yolk. For to laff.
He’s got a contract with the American Military, who are dismantling the Distant Early Warning and the Pine Tree Line radar bases, including the detection systems on Resolution Island across the strait from Killiniq.
Officially it was Air Traffic Control, unofficially ballistic missile detection. USAF been on Canada’s Resolution Island since the 1950’s. Packing up and going home now. Big clean-up to be done. So he flies out there and comes back with radar and electronic equipment, and then it gets shipped back to the USA if it has value or secrecy. But he also picked up a load of new telecom equipment at Iqaluit and flew east.
Bob: East? So what?
Nick: Well, where is he taking this new equipment? Either he flies out over the North Atlantic and dumps it in the ocean, which makes no sense, or he goes to Resolution Island, which makes no sense because the Americans are bulldozing their listening post, or he goes to Port Burwell, which makes no sense, because the village has already been bulldozed by Canada. So there are three possibilities, none of which make any sense.
Bob: Three possibilities, none of which make sense? Average situation.
One of the reasons civil servants feared going to Killiniq was that there was no runway; and there were several old airplane crash sites on the island, and the local pilots have a tendency to be insane. There was a program to upgrade all the runways of all the northern villages at a cost of six million dollars each – there are no roads, the runway is the lifeline, and the government wants to impose southern air safety standards on the dangerous north, driving the cost of travel in the Arctic way up. You can fly Montreal to Hong Kong and back, TWICE, for less than a ticket to Pond Inlet. Echo effect – everybody has to be like Ralph Nader, opposed to anything that moves fast, tastes good, or makes you happy. Life is a serious business, and telling you how to live is a job for university graduates. And as Ralph Nader discovered, life is Unsafe at Any Speed; Nader tries to abolish risk, especially for things that are fun; and then finds it is easier to just outlaw the fun, so you have nothing to do except wait around to see what kind of fatal disease you get.
Port Burwell was kept out of the runway construction program, because they said it would cost too much to build a runway on the mountainous topography of Killiniq Island. The estimates were that it would cost…. six million dollars, same as all the others, but Port Burwell was stricken from the list, with no explanation. Airplanes did land, or crash land, on the island itself, but preference was to land on the sea ice, which kind of keeps Air Canada out of the game.
These two videos are NOT from the Inuit; or from anyone whose name I would remember – I don’t know the pilot, so no use asking me. (We didn’t break no aviation laws, I swear. We wuz legit.) but it conveys the spirit of the north, and, the experience you miss out on when you land somewhere boring like Montreal or Toronto:
“Airport? Runway? We don’t need no airport. We don’t need no stinkin’ runway.” Like I said, northern pilots have a tendency to be insane.
Letter to high level manager at Indian Affairs:
At Port Burwell, did you not have a sign saying, “Would the last person being deported please turn off the lights?” You can’t just go around lighting up Arctic islands where nobody lives. You removed all the people, remember? It’s in your files. You gave all the people a free one-way ticket to the destination of their choice. Provided the destination of their choice is on the coast of Ungava Bay.
So is the island really empty? Or is it just empty of Inuit? Turn off the damn lights; it creates some bad feelings, because the last threat you made was that you would not repair the generator and they should expect to live without electricity, if they were so foolish as to continue living in their own homes. And now there is a brand new generator – a big one – and the lights are on in what remains of the ghost village.
The school is eerie. The school that would no longer have a teacher and you told them that if they wanted their children to have an education, they would have to move off the island, because there would be no longer be a teacher. The store-room is full of thousands of dollar of school supplies, untouched; there is artwork by the children on the walls, the desks all still there, with books and pencils and homework. And at the front of the class, a Canadian flag.
It looked like the children had gone outside for recess, and any minute now would come back to their desks.
Most other buildings had been crushed by a bulldozer; about $3 million dollars of construction costs in 1978 dollars… equivalent to $10,000,000 in 2011 dollars. Bulldozed to the ground.
There had been $171,000 of stock on the shelves of the co-op, and its two storage houses, ($574,000 in 2011 dollars), all of which was torched by government employees. They said that the food was attracting polar bears. The only thing that did not burn up was food – the tin cans of food were blackened, but not destroyed. Its started to attract polar bears after the fire, not before.
The closest Inuit are at George River, 185 miles away by motorboat on the high seas. On the island, all the Inuit were gone - their perfectly good snowmobiles and furniture and appliances dragged to the dump a mile away. But the island is not without human habitation. There were five men living there, with millions of dollars of telecom equipment, powered by diesel generator. There are strange things done in the Midnight Sun…
Dear Mr. Dawson,
.. the new activity on Killiniq Island does not involve Indian Affairs… it is a weather station…. we suggest you contact Environment Canada…. Thank you for your interest … blah blah blah
Hello Environment Canada .. I would like to speak with someone familiar with weather stations in the sub-Arctic..” Shuffled around to different people; finally one guy says… “Killiniq? That’s not ours. We get weather info from it but it is not out facility…”
“Well who is running it, then?”
“The Coast Guard…”
Hello, Coast Guard?
"Our Killiniq station was set up following an American military decision to close the radar and communications base on Resolution Island,” said a very senior person at the, telecommunication and electronics branch of the Canadian Coast Guard. When they decided to close the Distant Early Warning line and the Pine Tree Line, the American base was too big for us so we are installing new systems at Killiniq.”
Another call to another person of the same rank:
“Killiniq? Strategically it's one of our most important stations in the North.
Coast Guard officer, very senior:
"We expected to move into a usable village, we expected that the Inuit would still be there, and it is much harder for us now that they are gone. Water, sewage, garbage, manual labour, human contact, retail store - all gone. It is much harder to send five guys to live in that remote place all by themselves, with no one around for hundreds of miles. These are computer and communications experts, not exactly gung-ho soldiers. We got them to volunteer when there was a community there – with medical clinic and normal municipal services and retail supplies. We had been planning the move to Killiniq for three years, and we never planned for the possibility that the village would not be there. It came as a complete surprise to us. And it will cost us far more – we have to helicopter food and all the equipment to those five guys; they have no doctor, no landing strip; it’s downright dangerous to spend the winter there without the Inuit.”
"…It's a telecommunications post. We have the same kind of set- up on the St. Lawrence River. Killiniq was chosen because of its geographical location.
Another Coast Guard officer confirms:
“We had a communications station inside the American base on Resolution Island at the northern entrance of Hudson Strait. But the Americans closed their base, we had to move out. The life-support system at the US base was too large to maintain for our small operation. Some of us resisted the move to Killiniq because it is difficult of access. Killiniq was chosen anyway because it is the ideal geographical location.”
(1980): NorthWest Territories civil servant (name known but withheld):
"The Inuit were lucky to have the facilities provided...the government spent millions of dollars on the Inuit to make their lives a little more bearable… for example, the economic development department provided fishing nets to the Inuit and they were allowed to use the fishing nets as they saw fit.
you who gaze
your fingers up yonder
did not hold very fast
your fingers up yonder
did not weave
it fell down without touching;
without entirely touching against;
It didn’t touch.
(traditional Inuit song poem, traditionally with drums)
…I discovered that an old friend had high access at Indian Affairs; I will call him “Sam”. I stayed at his parents’ house in Paris years before.
And I also got calls from a man in Montreal who was retired, who spent his whole life lecturing and conducting war games at WestPoint Military Academy, where he was a leading strategist, at a very high level of strategic military planning. I call him “Curtis”. In honour of Bomber Curtis Lemay.
Sam (after talking to his senior contacts at Indian Affairs) said, “The closing of the village was a government decision, there is not even any debate about that among policy-makers. …”
… “Indian Affairs is telling the truth when they say it was not their show. Indian Affairs in Ottawa found out about the aircraft being chartered just the day before.. they frantically tried to stop it… they were calling Yellowknife and Frobisher and calling around Ottawa, but it was too late; they were not even able to find out where the decision was coming from…”
“Yes, we tried to stop it but by the next day it was too late”.
Sam: “Bob, you keep hounding the civil servants in Frobisher and Yellowknife. You say they did this and they did that. Civil servants at that level do not suddenly pick up the telephone and charter two freighter aircraft for four days, to land on the sea ice in the darkness of winter, to evacuate a village that just recently signed a Treaty, the first in their 4,000 years of being there. Your average civil servant does not make things happen on that scale. Even just chartering the aircraft would have to be a call for competitive bidding, masses of paperwork. Civil servants follow instructions; they do not decide to close a village. There was a squeeze play; somebody somewhere decided they had to get the Inuit off that island, and it was not a local decision. It was geo-political.”
“For some time, it appeared that the federal government was going to build them a new village in Quebec. Feasibility studies were done, budgets, negotiations; but it suddenly stopped; suddenly they said there would be no new village. So they left them stranded in existing villages that were already over-crowded, and far away from the land they now owned as a community.” (Category 1 land)
Curtis said: Mr. Dawson you are barking up the wrong tree. First you thought somebody was trying to get rid of the co-op ethic and the Inuit tradition of sharing, because of the oil fields in the Arctic, where there are no ideas about sharing at all. Now you make it sound more and more like a “U.S. military decision” and you keep going on about the Canadian Coast Guard, and the listening posts up there – radar, weather, relay of communications, listening devices; those are all just perfectly normal installations, nothing sinister; I’ve been associated with the military all my life, and my father before me, and my grandfather before him. And let me tell you, military guys have the utmost respect for the Inuit – they are the real boots on the ground in the north. The last thing the Coast Guard wanted is what happened. They spent three years planning to move there, into this successful community and all the services it can offer. Then we suddenly find out the Inuit are gone; then it got bulldozed – all except 4 or 5 buildings. It costs us far more now to provide life support for our five guys on that island. And they don’t want to re-enlist after one winter up there without a town nearby. It’s not what they were promised.
Bob: Have you ever seen anything like this before?
Curtis: All the time. All the time. Who used to own the Rock of Gibraltar? It is obviously part of Spain. Every generation of Spaniards puts up a hue and cry about getting Gibraltar back. Why has Britain held on to that rock since 1713? In real estate they say, the three most important factors are location, location, location. Plus it’s one hell of a rock.
British since 1713, even though attached to Spain. Any ship going between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean has to run the gauntlet at Gibraltar. Century after century, the British controlled important naval passageways everywhere they could grab hold of one. The British Navy ruled the world, and they knew about maritime choke points that you must control. Rock of Gibraltar is the archetype. There are tunnels throughout the Rock, with openings toward the Strait of Gibraltar, for out-going artillery fire. The surface of our planet is 75% water, and most world trade goes by ship. You want to be the ones who are officially or secretly in control of the access points. Gibraltar, Panama Canal, Suez Canal – … Killiniq …. You don’t think Killiniq has that prestige? Well, it does, in waves. The mid-seventies was a wave, and today there is another wave, of NATO-level concern about just what the hell the Canucks think they are doing, claiming the Arctic but doing nothing to show that they are serious about owning it. Duh!
The “Rock of Killiniq”
Difficult to attack a stone fortress that rises up out of the ocean. Difficult to sneak your ship through without being seen if there are Inuit Rangers up on top of that mountain. First piece of land north of the Torngat Mountains; so first piece of land with a sweep of the North Atlantic. Gateway to what Canada considers to be Canada’s Arctic waters: the rest of the world – including the U.S.A., have publicly reminded Canada that other countries, and some world legal scholars, have proclaimed that these waterways – in the top 40% of Canada, are international. Not Canadian. International, like the Atlantic Ocean. We have already had a Chinese boat, armed with machine guns, dock at a tiny Canadian Inuit village and demand the return of a Chinese fugitive who was said to be hiding among the Inuit. We have already had Russian aircraft – the world’s largest freight aircraft - come flying over the North Pole and then to the centre of the continent, straight down Hudson’s Bay, with lights turned off, landing at Churchill, Manitoba, loading a new Bell helicopter, and taking off back to Russia. No paperwork, no customs officials; just a night landing with landing lights turned off. Over Hudson’s Bay, which Russia does not recognize as being Canadian.
Killiniq stands on guard for thee, O Canada. Difficult to sneak through from the North Atlantic into Ungava Bay or Hudson’s Bay or James Bay or one possible entrance to the NorthWest Passage, without being detected, if there are Inuit living there. But in true Franklin Expedition style, we removed the Inuit; and thereby we removed the obvious solution to our problem. (Let’s get the Inuit out and then send soldiers from the south at ten times the cost, to hang on to the territory, completely alien to the soldiers from the south. (At least I hope they brought along their silver tea set .) Duh! (Side note: the Inuit Rangers, part of the Canadian military, are the only military unit in NATO in which the soldiers elect their officers. And we thought we could teach them about democracy?)
Polar bears like their breakfast nicely packaged in these handy zip-loc bags.
This is not Myrtle Beach or Fort Lauderdale. The Torngat Mountains rise a mile high, straight out of the ocean, the mountain range ends at Killiniq, along the northern part of the 3,500km border between Quebec and Labrador. Ask Canadians about the vast and spectacular Torngat Range. They have never heard of it. Canadians turned their back on the north, and they are going to lose it, at a fast rate, if they do not wake up and have a look at what country they are living in. Kiss it good-bye. Most of the world does not agree that these waterways belong to Canada. You can imagine this being a source of concern in some circles. Geo-politics is real, because real estate is real. Who controls access to a continent is something that matters.
US military on Resolution Island. These guys take their Home Entertainment System seriously. Great reception; good for watching nature movies or Hockey Night in Canada. Popcorn brought in by helicopter.
Curtis: Well you are still not barking up the right tree, but this is great progress: You are admitting the importance of geography. Now, if you pay a little bit of attention to history, especially modern geo-political history of the place in question, you might stumble upon what everybody else has known since 1978. Everybody at the strategy level, I should add.
Bob: I still don't see why it was considered necessary to move them to Quebec, and I still don't understand why it was made to happen so fast. I know nobody cares, but it's not something you see every day. Of 14 Inuit villages on the Quebec coastline, in Ungava Bay and Hudson's Bay, Killiniq was the ONLY one that did not receive ownership of the land the village was sitting on. There is a map showing ALL of the land designated for the Killiniq people. ALL of it is in Quebec. NONE of it is on Killiniq Island. NONE of it is in the NorthWest Territories. The map shows ALL their land is in Quebec. The map showing them gone from the island was printed two years before they were gone from the island. That's real voo-doo cartography; maps that predict the future.
Make a deep sound: eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee
We heard about Miam Maikan from the Innu; now let’s hear about wolves from my ethnic group. We need beauty and truth as much as much as any other cohort of confused people. And hey, native people, cut us some slack, will ya’? We don’t know what to do, we are trying to make sense of our lives just like you are. We woke up one morning and there was this huge country we are supposed to know what to do with, and there’s 50 native languages in Canada, and we don’t have a clue what these people are saying. And they think WE have power and they don’t? It depends what kind of power you think is real.
Hey, I get to put on my Heritage Canada Minute too, don’t I? Come on, equal time. We put on your music, now listen to this, it’s the same theme.
In the blue veil of the night
The shadows of the trees appear
Amidst the lantern light
The songs of birds seem to fill the wood
That when the fiddler plays
All their voices can be heard
Long past their woodland days
This is Loreena McKennitt, Canadian of Irish - Scottish heritage, (like me) paying tribute to THE WOLF. It is powerful because she so loves the world, that she celebrates it; the exhilaration of suddenly knowing we were created just to witness this