Nunavut, Canada: Hope on Ice

In the remote northern reaches of one of the wealthiest countries of the world is an aboriginal community whose young people are slowly perishing by suicide.

Hopelessness and despair are rampant in the impoverished Inuit territory of Nunavut, Canada, the legacy of a Cold War-era government strategy to establish Arctic sovereignty. The nomadic Inuit were relocated to permanent settlements and separated from their children, who were sent to distant government and church-run residential schools.

Now the policies that destroyed their parents' and grandparents' ways of life are haunting the next generation, who have lost their connection to their centuries-old traditions. Inuit youth kill themselves at a rate ten times the national average.

But in the tiny vulnerable community of Igloolik, where scores of makeshift crosses memorializing dead teenagers have been pounded into the frozen ground, some young Inuit have found a way to reclaim their lives and heritage. They've formed a circus – Artcirq – inspired by a Montreal acrobat and informed by Inuit traditions. They've become acrobats and jugglers and trapeze artists, and against all odds are headed to Vancouver to perform at the 2010 Winter Olympics.

The Artcirq story exposes the long-term human consequences of the 20th century abuses of the Inuit, mirroring the dismal trajectory of aboriginal peoples across the western world. It is also a story of hope, celebrating human grace, dignity, courage, and the power of youth to reinvent their heritage through art.

2010 update:

Linda Matchan and Michele McDonald also followed Artcirq as the troupe traveled to Guinea to partner with acrobats from the group Kalabante in Conakry, which supports basic education in Guinea, in a joint humanitarian mission.

The reporting shows how young aboriginal people on both sides of the globe - impoverished and marginalized in a globalized world - have overcome wretched despair through the arts and are reaching out to aboriginal communities in order to help them.

2015 update:

The original reporting from this project has led to the production of the "Circus Without Borders" a documentary about Guillaume Saladin, from Artcirq, and Yamoussa Bangoura, from Kalabante, best friends and world-class acrobats from remote corners of the globe who share the same dream: to bring hope and change to their struggling communities through circus. Their dream unfolds in the Canadian Arctic and Guinea, West Africa, where they help Inuit and Guinean youth achieve unimaginable success while confronting suicide, poverty and despair.

Seven years in the making, this tale of two circuses — Artcirq and Kalabante — is a culture-crossing performance piece that offers a portal into two remote communities, and an inspiring story of resilience and joy.

See the trailer here, and related events on the right.

Circus Without Borders Trailer from Northern Light Productions on Vimeo.

The documentary is now available to stream worldwide on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Vimeo, Youtube Video on Demand and

“Bring Me a Seal!”

Linda Matchan, for the Pulitzer Center (Photos by Michele McDonald)

1runninglateRunning late after a break, one student rushes into Ataguttaaluk High School, while two other students are unconcerned about being late.

"Did You Say a Circus?"

Linda Matchan, for the Pulitzer Center (Photos by Michele McDonald

The other day, on a bitterly cold morning in Igloolik, Michele and I suited up in four or five layers and started walking to the airport to meet up with Artcirq, the Arctic circus. They were heading to Iqaluit to rehearse the show they're performing at the February winter Olympics in Vancouver.

Igloolik, Home of Artcirq, the Inuit Circus

The tiny Inuit community of Igloolik sits 200 miles above the Arctic Circle in Nunavut, Canada's newest territory formed in 1999 as the result of a land claims settlement. Igloolik is home to only 2,000 people, many of whom still live in a traditional way, hunting seal and caribou and hand-stitching animal skin clothing. It is stark, tight-knit, and beautiful, but also very poor and deeply troubled, struggling to adjust to the transition from nomadic life just 50 years ago to a modern digital world.

An Alliance Between Circuses a World Apart

Circus performance is both entertainment and art. In some parts of the world, it’s also survival. Pulitzer Center grantee Linda Matchan talks about her new documentary "Circus Without Borders."