The People Behind the Inuksuk

By Teresa Earle with photography by Fritz Mueller

VANOC all but took the inuksuk as its own. The committee organizing the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games selected the enduring emblem of Inuit survival as the Games logo, a controversial decision that raised questions about cultural appropriation and who stood to benefit from the multi-billion dollar Olympic franchise. Seizing opportunity in the international spotlight on their inuksuk, Northerners came to the Vancouver 2010 Olympics to claim it back.

At first it felt like just another job, and it was easy to be cynical about the Olympic-sized media circus we’d landed in. Anyone with anything to promote or sell was descending on Vancouver to get in on the action as this gleaming West Coast city became the global epicentre of media and marketing for a few weeks last February. We’d both been hired to join the team tasked with promoting Canada's North during the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games, mainly a pavilion established by the northern territories on Hastings Street and a cultural program being rolled out across the city.

Our job was to cover the northern presence: shoot, write, post and tweet about the cultural extravaganza from Canada's North that had been mobilized for the Games. For 18 days we followed throat singers, fiddlers, artists, athletes and huskies through the Olympic fray. Getting noticed seemed impossible: multi-national corporations and governments with deep pockets were out in droves touting beer gardens, red mittens and a zipline, among other swag and attractions. But it turned out that our northern beat was one of the sweetheart stories of the Games.

Aurora borealis, a sparkly polar bear and melting glaciers turned heads in the Opening Ceremonies, but slam poet Shane Koyczan stole the show with a spine-tingling recital of We Are More, his rousing poem about being Canadian. “Who was this guy and where was he from?” everyone wanted to know. Shane was born in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, and his moment in the spotlight marked the start of media curiosity in the North.

For two weeks, we witnessed an unprecedented display of performance and art from across Northern Canada. It didn't take very long before we – and our colleagues at Outside the Cube – started to feel a deeply personal mission in what we’d figured would be a cut-and-dried promotional assignment. From a teenage high-kicker from Whale Cove, Nunavut, on his first trip away from home to a team of white huskies from Inuvik, NWT, that charmed passersby in Yaletown, Northerners poured their hearts into their performances. They showed passion and integrity, and their talent took people by surprise. It was as if each one had come to personally fulfill an Olympic promise that the world would come to know Canada’s authentic, magnificent land North of Sixty.