When the indigenous Inuit people of Arviat received a sum of money under a land claim agreement relating to Federal Conservation Areas, they invested it in their future. With a young, growing population they sought the advice of tourism consultants to see if it was possible to create a sustainable, community led tourism product. And as Arviat is on the remote shores of Nunavut’s Hudson Bay and Arctic archipelago in Canada, reached only by plane or boat, this was a wise and wilful move.
Nunavut is Canada’s northernmost territory, and one of the world’s most sparsely populated regions. The Inuit have lived, survived and thrived in this region for over four thousand years. There is a rich cultural mix with a fusion of Ahiarmiut, Paadlimiut and Avilingmiut peoples gathering in the community since the 1950’s. This community is profoundly steeped in tradition, and it is this heritage as well as their unique living culture, that is at the core of their tourism offer.
Adapting something that is the norm into something ‘new’ for guests is not always as easy as it might seem. However, Arviat has exemplified strong cross community and stakeholder participation in devising and developing its tourism product. As a result of community ecotourism training, planning and extensive capacity building in areas such as accommodation, nature interpretation, cuisine, performance, marketing and guiding, all bases were covered. Arviat aimed high, and sought out experts such as Parks Canada which trained eight guides, and ArtCirq (the worlds’ only Inuit circus) which came in to lead cultural workshops.
By January 2011 Arviat Community Ecotourism was ready to go. Or ACE, as it was aptly nicknamed, as guests are now invited to immerse themselves in ancient Inuit history, with guided tours to the National Historic Sites of Arvia'juaq and Qikiqtaarjuk, ancestral home to the Paalirmiut Inuit for hundreds of years. At these, and other cultural sites along the Bay, the Inuit culture and traditions are presented to guests. The two leading components are Qaggiqtiit , the professional cultural performance group, comprised of twelve performers including ayahyah singers, drum dancers, throat singers and harp players. And Tupiq , or cultural interpretive programmes staged in a handcrafted caribou skin tent, or tupiq, with storytelling, history and the interpretation and demonstration of artefacts and historical tools and implements.
This veritable cultural tapestry has also opened up the nature tourism sector for the Arviat community, with an eclectic mix of guided tours available. Such as the caribou migration in May, whale watching in summer and the polar bear migration in autumn. ACE now has 30 - 35 Arviamiut people involved full time and generates more than US$150,000 annually for the community. The aim is now to replicate it in other parts of Nunavut. And, as this is a tourism product wholly owned by its people, a destination brand name should be a breeze. Because Nunavut means, quite simply, in Inuit, “Our Land”.
To find out more about this organisation please visit their website Arviat Community Ecotourism