Iqaluit, Canada (Reuters) - Wind-whipped snow eddies dance across the aptly named Road to Nowhere on the outskirts of Arctic Iqaluit, and the mood is definitely mixed as locals await finance ministers from the world’s rich nations.
“As far as I’m concerned it’s a PR stunt for you guys,” one man said dismissively outside North Mart, one of two large food stores in the northern Canadian town of 6,000. “They won’t be leaving no money here.”
It is an unusual place to bring finance ministers and central bank chiefs from Canada, Britain, the United States, France, Germany, Italy and Japan and it’s true they won’t have much time to shop. Most arrive on Friday ahead of an opening dinner, and they will be gone by Saturday night after a working session that ends by early afternoon.
But some locals are glad to see the visitors, if only because they hope a trip up north — Iqaluit is only 300 km (200 miles south of the Arctic Circle — will help the outside world understand northern life better.
Mathew Nuqingaq, a local artist and goldsmith dressed in a hooded sealskin coat against temperatures that hover near -15 degrees Celsius (zero degrees Fahrenheit) before the biting wind is taken into account, said he was pleased to see Iqaluit get some attention.
“It’s good for business and it’s good for them to see how we live up here,” he said as snowmobiles roared by on snow-packed streets shared with pickup trucks, vans and heavy snow-removal machinery that arrives by sea during the summer.
“I don’t really follow all the issues that they talk about but I know that what they do can affect us and affect everyone else around the world, including right here in the Arctic and that’s a really important issue to us,” Nuqingac said. He hoped the visitors will take away some appreciation of a native culture that includes hunting for whales, seals and caribou.
“People don’t understand the environment and how we live off the land, so people make assumptions that we area dying culture and we have to sustain that culture,” he said. “We need the animals, the polar bears and everything else that is native here.”
From the outskirts, along the Road to Nowhere, the view is of a surprisingly tidy town spread along Frobisher Bay. It is an endless vista of white, with no defining line to show where Baffin Island meets the ice-covered Arctic Ocean.
Ironically, that may help explain why the meeting is taking place in Iqaluit.
“I think Mr. Harper (Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper) wants to put his feet on the Arctic and say this is Canadian territory,” said cab driver Daniel Hillman.
“I think that is a good move too, as well as the chance for people to see the traditional life here and see that when people go hunting for seals they use all the meat, they use everything and there is no waste.”
A proposed European ban on seal products, even though aimed at the annual East Coast hunt and not intended to apply to products from the Inuit, is a particular sore point.
“Europeans don’t understand that Inuit style is to live with that because we don’t have anything else,” Hillman said. “We don’t even have trees, we don’t have anything else.”
Editing by Janet Guttsman