Inuvialuit using Facebook to communicate.
By Adam Wightman
The Inuit communities of Inuvialuit, a wild, unforgivable region in the tundra of the western Canadian arctic, have long been isolated from the rest of the country—as well as themselves.
Prior to the 1980s, if a person in Inuvik, the largest town in the region, wanted to communicate with one of their friends or family living in any of the other six communities in Inuvialuit, they would have had to use the post.
“Before they had satellite, they wouldn’t have any telephones at all. It would be Canada Post, newspapers, and writing letters to people,” laughed Lucy Kuptana, the executive director of the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, which works to settle Inuit land claims within the region.
The introduction of the telephone was obviously a huge step towards intercommunity communication, allowing families to keep regularly in touch. But in the past few years, there is something that is even a larger step for regional communication, a quantum leap for Inuit intercommunity interaction: The Internet and, particularly, Facebook.
“Facebook is pretty huge. It used to be like Bebel and Myspace, but everyone usages Facebook now,” Kuptana says of her people.
One of the things that has made Facebook such a game-changer in the northern life of the Inuvialuk people— the Inuit group from the region—is that it allows them immediate and intimate connection to family members who they otherwise wouldn’t see much, she said.
“With me, I have family that lives right across Canada, from BC to Ontario to New Brunswick. It is great for me because I keep updated and find out what’s going on with family and their children. It’s nice. It’s a nice way to keep in touch.”
With a population of roughly 3,000, Inuvik is the largest town in the Inuvialuit region, which has a total population of around 5,000. It is the only town in the region that one can drive into all year round. Two other communities have ice roads, and so can be accessed by vehicle during the winter months, from December to April—if one is willing to take what can be a treacherous journey. Many cars and hauling trucks have been driven through the ice. And if your vehicle shuts down on-route in a remote area of the road, there could be nothing around for hundreds of miles, leaving you stranded in arctic temperatures, a possible death sentence
But the other three communities can only be accessed by plane. This means that a major barrier for the Inuvialuk has been the howling wilderness that lies between them, unconnected by the infrastructure that us Southern Canadians take for granted everyday.
And social media is changing on that. Where the telephone allowed individuals to talk on a one-to-one basis, Facebook is much more—it provides an open forum where one’s posts and messages can be read by and responded to by anyone who uses the social media. It fosters communication between them, and so is a virtual town hall in cyberspace. It would take incredible organization and effort to bring together all of the region’s people to discuss issues in a physical building. But this is now possible at the click of the mouse and a few punches of the keyboard.
It is for this reason Kuptana’s Inuvialuit Regional Corporation is about to get a Facebook page. They hired Laura Brown as the director of corporate-public relations primarily for that purpose, to help navigate the corporation throughout the world of social media.
For Kuptana, Facebook is a way that can help to develop the human-skill capacity of the Inuvialuit people. Not only will it raise awareness with them of the issues related to the final land claim agreement with the federal government, but also it will allow them to be aware of opportunities to work with the corporation.
“It’s good to communicate and get the messages out there to people. A lot of times people don’t know that a certain job is posted, or there is this certain program is available or a scholarship is available.”
The corporation is looking to use Facebook to hire within the community, and develop the human capital of the region that way, she said.
“We have people who are beneficiaries of the land-claim agreement (those Inuit living in Inuvialuit) who are working for the organization, like myself, rather than hiring from the outside. So that is one of our goals is building capacity from within the communities.”
While Internet is widely used in the region, there are definite challenges remaining its availability. It costs a single house $80 to $90 to use, and some of the communities still have dial-up. So her corporation is pushing to get more Northwest Tel to develop more infrastructures in that regard. But she see’s bright things for the possibilities unleashed by the new media, she said.
“It’s just a great way to communicate.”