But I think I'll talk about something that I haven't really addressed yet. It's not an easy topic and commenting on it is fraught with pitfalls, particularly for an outsider and a newcomer. I apologize in advance for the heavy topic, and I'm nervous about causing offence, but this is what has been on my heart.
I generally try to stay positive, because there are so many good and fun aspects to life here.
But the reality is that life is not good or fun for everyone.
Inuvik has been through a lot of hardship recently, and there seems to be more bad news every day. Because I've been here such a short time, it's hard for me to judge whether these circumstances are normal or not, but based on what I hear, it seems that Inuvik has suffered more blows than it deserves recently.
Where to start? Inuvik is faced with high unemployment with very few prospects of big industrial projects in the future -- the long-awaited gas pipeline is still many years or decades away and there's just not a lot of mining, oil or gas activity. This has been devastating for the local economy and many people don't have any hope of finding a job. Their options are either to stay and depend on family and the social system, or move south, maybe never to return.
Then there's the reality that heating prices will likely double this winter because the nearby natural gas reserve is running out, and the alternative gas is twice as expensive. Even though the new price is still comparable with what other northern towns pay (Inuvik has been lucky with the low prices for 12 years), it's still overwhelming for many residents and businesses in town who simply won't be able to pay their bills. There are more houses on the market now than ever before.
There's also significant alcohol abuse, which confronts you every time you walk past the local bar. Sadly, it is all too easy to turn your face away and hope that by ignoring it, the issue will get better on its own. I keep hoping that someone else has a solution to the social problems that alcoholism brings, including domestic violence and broken homes. I don't think another government program is the answer, or at least not the complete answer. That kind of healing requires a change of the heart.
There is mental, physical and emotional pain at every turn.
There are gambling addictions, drug addictions, and homelessness.
There are house fires that destroy people's life possessions
There are armed stand-offs, unprovoked violent assaults requiring reconstructive surgery, and heart-breaking suicides.
There is poor attendance at school, depressingly low graduation rates, and very few entertainment options for kids (although on the bright side, the Inuvik Youth Centre has ramped up its programming recently). The community has been shocked to learn the number of youth involved in crime this year, including destroying the food bank, vandalizing the greenhouse, setting cars and buildings on fire... our hearts drop when we hear that kids as young as 12 or 13 are instigating these pointless crimes. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/north/story/2012/10/23/north-inuvik-youths-break-enter-vandalism.html
And there are tragic deaths. A week ago, the community lost a young man full of promise. Paulousie was just 18. Police have determined that his death was an accident, as he was run over by a vehicle. It is hard to understand and accept these things when it involves someone that young. He was kind, athletic, good-looking, generous, and immensely loved and missed. His death hit me hard because he was part of the cleaning crew that came into our office every day after 5 pm. He was always polite when he came to take out my garbage, would say hello, and just seemed like a sweet kid listening to music with his headphones on. I wish I'd made more of an effort to get to know him. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/north/story/2012/10/30/north-teen-grieved.html
But if there is a silver lining, it is the abundant love, generosity and compassion in town that is fighting against all this tragedy. People come together to support each other without hesitation. There are endless efforts to raise money for different causes. Almost every day there are fundraisers, luncheons, raffle draws, gala dinners, bingos, auctions, or pancake breakfasts.
But in a small town with big problems, there are big hearts and big hopes.
And that's what made me fall in love with this place.