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German president, Canada’s governor general see Tuk erosion first-hand

Governor General Mary Simon, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and a delegation of more than 50 people took a four-hour tour of Tuktoyaktuk on Wednesday.

At an evening gathering inside Tuk’s Kitti Hall, with residents waving German flags, Steinmeier said: “I want to assure you, we see your reality. We hear your voices, and we take your interest to heart.

“Your fight for protecting nature is of highest importance … and the projects you’re conducting here, together with German scientists, will help to step up international efforts to fight climate change.”

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Mayor Erwin Elias and other community members presented slides showing photos and videos of Tuktoyaktuk’s coastal erosion. 

The delegation inside Tuktoyaktuk's hamlet chamber
The delegation inside Tuktoyaktuk’s hamlet chamber. Karli Zschogner for Cabin Radio
A wave storm in Tuktoyaktuk during the summer 2019
Waves strike Tuktoyaktuk’s eroding shoreline during the summer of 2019. Photo: Weronika Murray

The Northwest Territories hamlet has spent years coming up with a plan to move some homes away from its rapidly eroding coast, a problem complicated by erosion of an island that currently protects Tuktoyaktuk’s harbour.

Tuk is also working to upgrade its own climate monitoring. For example, Arctic Inspiration Prize money from 2021 has helped to create a program that monitors air, water, erosion and landscape change.

Scientists from Germany’s Alfred Wegener Institute have for years worked on the problem of Arctic coastal erosion, while German science has a broader presence in the NWT through initiatives like CoMet, studying the distribution of carbon dioxide and methane in the far north.

“I believe that by learning from each other, by inspiring each other, we create a partnership that learns from the past and makes for a better future,” said Steinmeier, whose visit came as part of a broader Canada trip that also took in Ottawa, Ontario, Vancouver and Yellowknife.

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A former foreign minister, Steinmeier has been Germany’s president since 2017. The role of president in Germany is primarily ceremonial – the country’s head of government is its chancellor, currently Olaf Scholz.

Nunakput MLA Jackie Jacobson (right), a sergeant in the Canadian Rangers, greets Frank-Walter Steinmeier
Nunakput MLA Jackie Jacobson (right), a sergeant in the Canadian Rangers, greets Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Teresa Procee-Henry for Cabin Radio
Antje Boetius, Alfred Wegener Institute director, in Tuktoyaktuk
Antje Boetius, Alfred Wegener Institute director, in Tuktoyaktuk. Karli Zschogner for Cabin Radio

Antje Boetius, director of the Alfred Wegener Institute, accompanied Steinmeier to Tuktoyaktuk.

“It was really good that we could take a visit here with the president and delegation, members of parliament, because as everywhere in the world, we are fighting to make steps forward … towards a climate-neutral society,” Boetius said.

“For them to come here and see how people in the whole world, but especially also here, suffer from climate change and struggle so much to adapt, to deal with it and become resilient? I know how it makes an impression.”

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As part of Wednesday’s tour, the delegation participated in an ice-depth monitoring session with members of the SmartICE program.

The governor general and German president take part in an ice monitoring session
The governor general and German president take part in an ice monitoring session. Karli Zschogner for Cabin Radio
Agnes Gruben-White
Agnes Gruben-White. Karli Zschogner for Cabin Radio

Elder Agnes Gruben-White said the day felt special as an opportunity to see, speak with, and hug Simon again in Tuktoyaktuk. Simon, Canada’s first Indigenous governor general, was born in Nunavik and served two terms as president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami.

“This afternoon was just wonderful,” Gruben-White said. “It was amazing for the people, how exciting it was … it was such short notice that everybody just kind-of scrambled here and there.”

Simon told community members: “I’m really happy to be back in Tuktoyaktuk. I think I was here about 15 years ago and met many of you, and it’s really nice to see you again.

“I haven’t received such a welcome like this in a very long time. I feel really blessed to be welcomed by all of you.”

Drummers in Tuktoyaktuk
Drummers in Tuktoyaktuk. Teresa Procee-Henry for Cabin Radio

Gruben-White drew a comparison with the visit of Queen Elizabeth and then-Prince Charles to Tuktoyaktuk in 1970, a tour for which her parents had been ushers.

Gruben-White said she used to live near the shoreline in Tuktoyaktuk, but coastal erosion forced her to move. “Never mind Russia,” she added, referring to recent concern about Canada’s Arctic security following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. “Erosion is more important. I go for a walk and you could see the difference … I never ever thought it would go so soon, so fast.”

The visit ended with gift exchanges and performances from Tuktoyaktuk’s drum dancers, before the delegation departed at 8pm.