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

Canada: The Show Went On

Much has been made of the unprecedented Aboriginal participation in the planning and hosting of  the 2010 Olympic Games. This has a lot to do with the fact that many of the sporting events are taking place on the traditional territorial lands of the Four Host First Nations – the umbrella group consisting of the Lil'Wat, Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations (First Nations are one of three officially recognized Aboriginal peoples in Canada, along with the Inuit people of the Arctic and the Metis people of mixed Indian-European descent).

Artcirq video

Linda Matchan and Michele McDonald's Artcirq video airs on Worldfocus on Tuesday February 23.

Canada's Nunavut territory covers about two million square kilometers and comprises a fifth of Canadian territory. It's home to about 29,000 people, mostly Inuit. Along with their proud heritage and striking landscapes, residents struggle with unemployment, poverty and cultural dislocation. Suicide rates among Inuit youth are ten times higher than the national average.

Canada: Close Call for Artcirq at Winter Olympics

Linda Matchan, for the Pulitzer Center
Vancouver, Canada

Two days before Artcirq's scheduled performance at Sunday's medal ceremony at the Vancouver Olympics, something went terribly wrong.

For months, the Inuit circus members had been dreaming of the moment when they'd take center stage at B.C. Place, proudly representing their Arctic territory of Nunavut before the world. "I have no words for this," said acrobat and clown Jimmy Qamuqaq, as he strode past the stadium on Friday, the day of the final rehearsals.

D.C. Students Experience "Circus Without Borders"

This fall, in the midst of an unusual academic year, over two hundred students in Washington, D.C. were still able to explore filmmaking and circus arts through virtual field trips with “Circus Without Borders,” a Pulitzer Center-supported documentary directed by Susan Gray, and produced by Linda Matchan.