(Library and Archives Canada/Charles Gimpel)
The COVID-19 pandemic and outbreaks in a number of communities throughout Nunavut have introduced the Inuit housing disaster into focus. Insufficient and unsafe housing is endemic in lots of Inuit communities and has been blamed for poor well being outcomes and susceptibility to infectious illness for many years.
And these issues have historic roots. Canada has been operating federal authorities housing applications for 65 years within the North, together with experimental Styrofoam igloos that had been examined at Kinngait, Nunavut from 1956 to 1960.
The one reporting of the Styrofoam igloo mission was within the kids’s part of The Age, a newspaper in Melbourne, Australia on Sept. 9, 1960. The headline learn: “Eskimos Discover Plastic Igloo Higher Than Snow Homes!” The article knowledgeable its younger readers that the plastic model of the normal Inuit housing construction was constituted of 18 inch by 36 inch Styrofoam blocks, held collectively by picket meat skewers and adhesive.
The concept of housing individuals in Styrofoam huts appears laughably insufficient and even callous at the moment, notably when in comparison with housing requirements for non-Indigenous Canadians. However using Styrofoam igloos is likely one of the few cases the place the Canadian authorities tried offering Inuit with culturally delicate housing.
(Library and Archives Canada/Nationwide Movie Board of Canada fonds/a114847)
The place did Styrofoam igloos come from?
Till the Fifties, it was federal coverage that Inuit communities ought to proceed their conventional methods of life with little interference. By 1955, nonetheless, there was a rising consensus that the federal government ought to present a primary way of life to all individuals dwelling in Canada, convincing the federal government to vary its coverage.
Over the subsequent 5 years, a lot of experimental housing constructions had been examined in Inuit communities, together with the Styrofoam igloos, Styrofoam quonset-style huts inbuilt Iqaluit, and double-wall canvas tents. These initiatives had been supposed to resolve excessive cases of sickness and toddler mortality related to conventional self-built constructions whereas sustaining present types of Inuit housing.
The Styrofoam igloos had been the brainchild of James Houston of the Division of Northern Affairs and Nationwide Assets, who, in keeping with The Age, came across the thought of utilizing Styrofoam, a petroleum-based product developed within the Forties, to construct a extra moisture resistant igloo.
An Inuit man named Pitsulak, who was “well-known as a quick builder of snow igloos,” The Age wrote, was introduced south to Ottawa to chop the Styrofoam blocks for a take a look at igloo, constructed “on a round flooring of two layers of plywood with Styrofoam inlaid between them.” The ensuing 18-foot (5.5 metre) diameter construction was then disassembled, shipped to Kinngait and reassembled by Pitsulak.
(Library and Archives Canada/Rosemary Gilliat Eaton fonds/e010836042)
Designed to suit conventional mobility
The Styrofoam igloos and different housing fashions examined within the Fifties had been designed to slot in with conventional Inuit mobility, subsistence practices and mimic present types of Inuit housing. They had been additionally developed by individuals with expertise dwelling and dealing within the Arctic. Houston had travelled all through the Canadian Arctic and recurrently visited Inuit communities as a promoter of Inuit artwork and printmaking. He thought-about himself aware of Inuit housing wants. The involvement of Pitsulak additionally introduced important data and expertise to the mission.
The Styrofoam igloos are additionally a mirrored image of the post-war ideology of “excessive modernity,” a perception that science and know-how may very well be used for social profit. “Instantly the white man jumped forward,” The Age declared, producing a Styrofoam igloo “so superior to the considered one of snow blocks … that the Eskimo has even praised the effectivity of the brand new invention.”
However what the Inuit neighborhood at Kinngait truly considered the plastic constructions is unknown. And it was precisely as a result of the Styrofoam igloos had been designed to align with Inuit tradition that they had been discontinued.
On the finish of the Fifties, the federal government had begun to encourage Inuit communities to desert the mobility and subsistence practices that culturally delicate housing supported, and reside in everlasting settlements the place they believed it will be simpler to manage social applications and bolster Canada’s Arctic sovereignty claims.
The constructions additionally failed to satisfy cost-efficiency and sturdiness requirements and didn’t conform to nationwide constructing codes.
(Library and Archives Canada/Rosemary Gilliat Eaton fonds/e010835896 Credit score: Rosemary Gilliat Eaton)
The case for related housing
Housing inbuilt Inuit communities after 1960 mirrored constructions discovered generally in Canada’s south. However this type of housing has confirmed ill-suited to Inuit wants.
Early fashions lacked area for butchering, storing meals, repairing searching tools and weren’t constructed to face up to Arctic climate. Housing designed for southern households was ill-suited to Inuit cultural values like prolonged household cohesion and choice for open home area. Buildings had been additionally rapidly over-crowded and failed to resolve well being issues.
A 2017 Senate report confirmed that many of those points persist in Inuit communities, with constructions much like these constructed within the ‘50s and ’60s nonetheless being occupied at the moment. The COVID-19 pandemic has solely exacerbated the problem.
Housing is well being: Coronavirus highlights the hazards of the housing disaster in Canada’s North
The Styrofoam igloos might not have been “Higher Than Snow Homes,” as The Age boldly said, however they’re an eccentric instance of what can occur when Inuit housing initiatives are developed with cultural sensitivity and lived expertise in thoughts. Fixing the Inuit housing disaster would require cultural session and well-funded housing that when once more displays Inuit wants.
Scott Dumonceaux receives funding from the Canada Analysis Chair within the Examine of the Canadian North.