Expedition Report: Hopedale to Makkovik

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24th September by Dario and Cornelia:

At 7 am, we woke up with some music and went to explore Hopedale. Originally known by its Inuktitut name Arvertok, in English “the place of whales”, the community was renamed Hopedale by Moravian Missionaries arriving from Germany in 1782. We visited the old buildings of the missionary.

Above town on a hill was an US Early Warning Station placed here after the Second World War. These radar stations are all over the Arctic and common sites through the Northwest Passage, approx. every 30 km. In some locations like Cambridge Bay there are still US soldiers, who have not much interaction with the local Inuits. Other locations are automatic and need fueled up by helicopters. In Hopedale the US soldiers used very toxic PCB probably as antifreeze for their systems that cause cancer to the loaks nowadays. They buried all the dangerous materials when they left. Result: The locals cannot use the surrounding for gathering food, like picking berries, hunting and fishing.

This year 950t of PCB contaminated material was shipped out. The locals told us that there is much more to clean.
It’s said to see how our “civilized” world treated this communities. Again and again older people are telling us, how they were taken away from their families and were not allowed to speak their own language.

On our way through the village we saw a man working on a sculpture with soapstone. We got some scraps of the soapstone. Later on the boat the children spent every little break from school in filing the stones and try to create even better sculptures then they sell everywhere in this region. At 10 am we got off the dock, sailing South, avoiding the many small islands, rocks and reefs along the Labrador coast.

Just in time when it got dark at 18.25 we reached Makkovik, the winner of the Tidy Towns Award” in 2010 with 400 inhabitants.
We went for an evening stroll and saw some men who caught a dolphin. It’s probably a white-beaked dolphin; they called it jumper. We could follow the whole process how they cut it off. They even eat the skin and the meat will feed many families. Every part is used and not wasted.
At the beginning we had mixd feelings. They explained us that they hunt not more than one a year. It is an important addition to their food stock to cover the time till the sea is frozen, when they are able to travel over the ice to their traditional hunting grounds more inland, specially now where it freezes later and later in the year. Meat is their food. The climate does not allow vegetable gardens and fruit trees.

The environment impact is for sure less, instead of burning a lot of fuel to fly in expensive pork that was produced somewhere on a farm far South with a lot of antibiotics and chemicals. Besides, buying meat is out of question for many families, because they just can not afford it. There are hardly no jobs generating cash in villages of a few 100 people. Subsistence is for many families the only way to survive.

A few people in Makkovic have a job in a huge nickel mine, closer to Nain, owned by a Brasilian company. What it looks as a good solution in the 1st place, has also it’s price. Here the impact: The mine is situated exactly at a main caribou migration route. Elders believe that this is the main cause of the decline of the caribou herd from 800 000, when the mine starts operating. In that days they had difficulties to land on the airstrip, so many caribou there were. Today there are 9500 caribou left in Labrador. The Inuits stopped hunting caribou for quite awhile, still in the hope that the herd recovers. Their ban shows that they care very much about their own land and sustainability is part of their tradition.
The other impact is more effecting the social life of the miners: Working in a mine is not for everybody. It means 24 hours camp life, 14 days on and 14 days off. Workers get to and off the mine every 2 weeks by plane. Imagine to spend half of your working life away from your kids, wife or husband? One of the most important tasks is to generate good job opportunities in the villages for the local youth that allows Inuit tradition and their unique environment to survive.

If the world community disagrees to their lifestyle and what they hunt, everybody should 1st look in its own mirror and take its own impact on our planet into consideration and also confess that we have so much more options than they have in their remote villages. The situation is very complex and it is not fair to blame them. It is just arrogant.

We better learn from them. They are so hospital and champions in sharing:
For dinner we ate delicious salmon Greg donated us, when his whole family came aboard to wave goodbye. He already donated us some orange juice for breakfast, what was a very valuable gift. We enjoyed it very much, because our last glass of juice was in Hawaii. Thanks a lot, Greg.

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