Internet Changes Arctic Bay When a remote Inuit community got Internet access, traditional customs were suddenly in competition with YouTube. The result: a great music video.

Internet Changes Arctic Bay

Internet Changes Arctic Bay

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When a remote Inuit community got Internet access, traditional customs were suddenly in competition with YouTube. The result: a great music video.


It's Day to Day from NPR News. I'm Alex Chadwick.


I'm Madeleine Brand. This is already an old story. The Internet comes to a remote, faraway village, and quickly the young ones embrace the web, and quickly their culture starts fading as they get into the Googling and YouTubing. Well, some educators in Arctic Bay, that's on the northern shores of Canada, they've decided to try to turn this story on its head. And so they're taking this Internet thing and using it to teach teens about their grandparents' traditions. Sue Karlin paid a visit to the Canadian north and filed this report.

SUE KARLIN: It's not easy to get to Arctic Bay, more than 400 miles above the Arctic Circle. The village is so remote, it takes long flights, a two-day cruise along the Northwest Passage, and an hour's drive over harsh terrain to get there. Snow is everywhere, even in summer.

(Soundbite of dog barking)

KARLIN: And it's quiet, with just an occasional Husky to break the silence. But things changed in 2000, when villagers got their own dial-up, bringing an instant connection to the outside world. This started a rift between Inuit youth, who only wanted to surf the net for the latest cultural news, and elders who worried their own culture of hunting, gathering, and community was losing ground. For the 700 villagers, technology was threatening the traditional way of life.

Ms. ANNA QAUNAQ (Economic Development Officer, Arctic Bay): When we first got the Internet, there were hardly people out. They were on the computer for hours on end.

KARLIN: Anna Qaunaq is the village's economic development officer.

Ms. QAUNAQ: I was one of them, yes. But it's been here for a few years now, and we've tried to make the best of it.

KARLIN: Local educators wanted to use the Internet for more than recreational surfing. First, they got a grant for several multimedia programs. Now, there's a video club where kids might tape local music or news, and put it on the net. That's how this Inuit Hip-Hop song, "Don't Call Me Eskimo", ended up on YouTube.

(Soundbite of song "Don't Call Me Eskimo")

Unidentified Man: (Singing) It's our way of life, to hunt for seals, back off Green Peace, we just want some meals. Don't tell us what to do, Paul McCartney. When we go clubbing, we're having a party.

KARLIN: There are also videos of more traditional music, meant to teach these teens about their roots.

(Soundbite of traditional Inuit music)

KARLIN: Two local girls performing Inuit throat singing, a traditional call and response chanting.

(Soundbite of Inuit throat singing)

KARLIN: Tapeq Ataguchia (ph) is pleased that this tradition won't be lost. She's 87, the oldest person in Arctic Bay. She holds court in a small hut made from whale bone, driftwood, and seal skin, and held together with moss and frozen mud. Its only light is a multi-flamed stone lamp. In the past, it was fueled from seal fat. Today, it's Crisco. This hut is where Tapeq comes for healing workshops.

Ms. TAPEQ ATAGUCHIA (Through Translator): When the Internet first came, there was less interest, but now the Internet has been around for some time, people are starting to get back to learning traditional ways. It's starting to balance.

KARLIN: You don't have your own website?

Ms. TAPEQ ATAGUCHIA (Through Translator): She'll use her brain as a computer, that's enough.

(Soundbite of laughter)

KARLIN: Aside from preserving tradition, these programs also teach job skills. In a region where suicide and alcoholism run rampant, this gives kids a sense of purpose. It may also help them get high-tech jobs when a deep water port and nearby air strips, still in the planning stages, become a reality. And, if the elders have their way, it'll happen without an identity crisis.

(Soundbite of foot stomping and singing)

KARLIN: I'm Sue Karlin.

BRAND: And Sue's piece came to us with help from the technology magazine, IEEE Spectrum.

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