Arctic Dreams

The melting of the Arctic is sparking a goldrush, bringing energy and mineral companies north in search of oil, gas and minerals. To the people of the north it’s a confusing time. New business and industry can offer jobs and money but they threaten the pristine environment and seem certain to further dilute the native culture.

In this second programme on the future of the melting north Tom Heap visits Arctic Canada to find out more about the impact of development on flora, fauna and the native people.

He hears how the Inuit have taken up semi-western lifestyles only in the last fifty years. They were persuaded by the Canadian government to leave behind a life of small family groups following the seasonal movements of caribou, seal and whale in return for subsidised lives in new settlements scattered across the north. Their children were taken away from their parents to residential schools hundreds of miles away. The separation and inevitable abuse destroyed families and turned a proud, independent culture into one of dependence. Communities are still dealing with the fall-out, suffering the worst rates of suicide, alcoholism, violence and premature death in Canada.

In recent years the Inuit have gradually come to take more control over their own destiny. Today they have the power to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to miners and oil prospectors. A new generation of native leaders is determined that any money to be made from the natural resources will go toward turning around their communities.

Tom Heap meets local people to find out how they want development to proceed and hears from politicians and academics how the native people fit into the international picture. Will the Inuit really have a voice when the US, Russia and Canada begin squabbling over the region’s resources?

Producer: Alasdair Cross.

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