Why I Canoed 1,200 Miles to the Arctic Circle to Report on Climate Change


The author, paddling. Cinemagraph by Zoe Miller
The author, paddling. Cinemagraph by Zoe Miller
JEAN MARIE RIVER, NWT—If you want to know what our continent’s Arctic coast looks like, Google Street View isn’t much help.

By Brian Castner | MOTHERBOARD

Take Canada’s Northwest Territories. You can vicariously poke around the funky capital, Yellowknife. You can click through the two main bush-breaching highways, see the igloo church in Inuvik, and find where the camera car got lost and turned around at a hunting shack. There’s even a photo of stray dogs near the overgrown gas-stop of Enterprise, fitting but random.

Zoom out on the map a bit, though, and you’ll find that those photographed areas constitute nothing more than two small papercuts on a whale-sized chunk of land. Most of Google’s map coverage of the Northwest Territories is a low-def green blur. In Google’s defense, there aren’t many streets, not as most Americans or southerly Canadians would recognize them anyway. And it is a really big place, about the size of California and Texas and Montana combined. Google’s inability to acquire and catalog the data of this portion of the Earth feeds what we southerners think we know about the Arctic: it’s big and it’s empty.

But that second part isn’t entirely true. Moose aren’t the only residents up there, and climate change—warming the Arctic twice as fast as the rest planet—impacts more than polar bears and walruses. Indigenous communities, the traditional homes of the Dene and Gwitch’in and Inuit First Nations peoples, dot the rivers and lakes, outposts of an old civilization in a vast land.

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