Thanks to the kind folks in Tuktoyaktuk for allowing me to crash the community game night a few Saturdays ago. I never thought I’d need to travel all the way to Tuk to learn how to play checkers! I learned quite a lot more than just that, though.

It’s difficult to picture what it means when we talk about many Arctic communities being remote. It has a lot to do with how easy it is to travel to and from the community. Many in the south equate winter weather with difficulty traveling but for many northern communities the winter is an eagerly awaited travel time.

The price of milk in Tuktoyaktuk, for instance is about to drop by half (it will still be outrageously expensive, however). That’s because the only road into Tuk opens when the Mackenzie River freezes over enough to drive on. Once open, trucks can access Tuk; until then and after the melt, only expensive small plane flights and some boats will bring supplies.

The view from Tuk. Straight ahead: 2,000 miles of ice with the next stop the Russian coast. Bear to the right, and Sachs Harbour is about 250 miles across the ice. Photo: Eric Solomon.

We also tend to think about the northern coastal communities as being “frozen in” during the winter as the sea ice forms around them. But that same sea ice means that people can travel by snow machine or sled across what was previously open water. The ice literally connects communities like Tuk to Sachs Harbour and others. It is an extension of the land that allows families to reconnect after a summer apart or to reach distant hunting grounds.

We hear a lot about the potential impacts on polar bears, whales and seals as Arctic sea ice thins, degrades and decreases. These are indeed worthy of our concern. The impacts on the people of the north are potentially tremendous as well; the ice is both literally and figuratively the foundation on which the Inuit way of life is built.

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