Canadian Inuit Help out Their Russian Kin Arctic Native People Send Aid to Their Cultural Cousins Hit byRussia's Crisis

Article excerpt

Call it "hands across the icecap."

It's an unusual aid initiative from the native peoples of Arctic Canada to those of Arctic Russia. It illustrates how, in the age of e-mail and fax machines, "horizontal" connections among members of a cultural group may be more important than the "vertical" connections within the traditional nation-state.

Fourteen tons of foodstuffs and supplies landed in the Russian Far East Wednesday as the first phase of what is hoped will develop into a multimillion-dollar program to help Inuit (Eskimo) villages of the Chukotka Autonomous Region. The money has come from the Canadian government. But the aid is being organized by the Canadian branch of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference (ICC), a nongovernmental organization representing the 125,000 Inuit of Russia, the United States, and Denmark, as well as Canada. Its agenda focuses on development and environmental issues. The food and supplies were flown into Anadyr, the regional capital. From there, the aid is being transferred to three predominantly Inuit villages: Enurmino, Sireniki, and Yanrakynnot. Officials are quick to point out that the aid is to be distributed on an equal-opportunity basis, to non-Inuit as well, but clearly the personal links between the indigenous peoples in the two countries have been a factor is getting the aid organized. The airlift, in the planning stages since November, has occurred as Canadian Inuit are feeling a shock closer to home: the loss of nine people in an avalanche in the northern Quebec community of Kangiqsualujjuaq. As one official puts it, the tragedy highlights how "marginalized" the Inuit are, with inadequate housing and other problems. But they have demonstrated their generosity before. An international aid officer in Ottawa notes that during the Ethiopian crisis of the mid-1980s, Inuit were among the highest per capita donors in the country. …