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Will the real Inuit family please stand up?Claims Nunavummiut were flown in to test a British theme park ride have been disputed
Northern News Services
Published Saturday, April 7, 2012
"The ice-age has returned to one part of the British countryside and has attracted the attention of a real Inuit family," London's Daily Express reported March 12, saying the family was brought in to "test out the ice, wind and snow effects at the Ice Age 4D Experience."
"They travelled from Nunavut, located in northern Canada on a 96-hour trip to the resort in Staffordshire to bring their lifetime's worth of extreme weather experience and winter months in sub-zero temperatures of up to -30 C to their assessment," Georgina Littlejohn of London's Daily Mail reported, parroting lines from the company's news release.
"We're thrilled the Inuit family has agreed to trial the new attraction for us," Katherine Duckworth of Alton Towers Resort was quoted as saying in both stories. "We're really keen to ensure the sub-zero 4-D effects in the Ice Age experience are realistic, and what better way than to get the advice from people who experience Arctic weather conditions in their everyday lives."
The story changed when Nunavut News/North inquired about the promotion March 30. Alton Towers public relations executive Carla Woolridge would not supply the family's name, home community, or how they got to England.
Woolridge did provide photos and a media release – with "revised" in its document title – that said the Inuit family was from a Yup'ik village in western Alaska, and that their trip took 36 hours, not 96 as was the consensus in the news reports.
"I don't know where the 96 hours has come from," she said in an e-mail.
Alton Towers is located about three hours from Heathrow airport, and an Internet search found the quickest flight to Heathrow would take 14 hours from Cambridge Bay for $6,470 each, 12 hours from Iqaluit for $2,714 each, or 37 hours from Grise Fiord with an overnight stay in Resolute (while the cost of the flight from Grise Fiord was not available, the cost from Resolute is $4,579 each).
Despite the apparent cost of the trip, the "large family" did not share their impressions of the attraction with the public.
"Unfortunately we are unable to provide any further information on the story other than what is contained in the press release," Woolridge said by e-mail. "It was never part of the agreement that they would do media interviews or allow us to release their details. The agreement was a photo shoot only. Due to our agreement with the family, it meant that we were unable to provide any more information about their visit."
Iqaluit filmmaker Alethea Arnaquq-Baril questions whether there was an Inuit family brought there at all, or if it was just a publicity stunt.
"You would think some positive comments from a real Inuit family would be good PR for them," Arnaquq-Baril said. "It makes me wonder, did the family have nothing good to say? Or was there actually no Inuit family there to begin with?"
The company did, apparently, reach out to Inuit late last year. Iqaluit artist and entertainer Becky Kilabuk, who has travelled extensively throughout Europe, Asia and North America to promote Inuit culture, said she was approached by Alton Towers in December, but was away at the time.
"They probably decided to go with somebody else," said Kilabuk, who was happy to be asked to be involved. That said, "you'd almost have to do the whole media thing, otherwise it's kind of a waste of their time and money if you're not willing to go all the way with it."
Amusement parks and museums often hire her to ensure their displays are culturally accurate, but after briefly viewing the photos, she said the resort could have done a better job in that respect.
"Their clothing is definitely not from up here," she said, noting she hasn't seen such clothing in the circumpolar Arctic. "Inuit have taken great pride in the aesthetics of our clothing and how we put it together. It's a thousands-of-years art form, so it's their loss not to invest the extra time to make it authentic."
"Even if an Inuk family did go there – which seems unlikely – the photograph is not of them," Arnaquq-Baril said. In her opinion, "It is a group of Asian people wearing costumes, and I would bet money that the costumes have some fake fur on them.
"The design and craftsmanship on those costumes is very poor. Nunavut Inuit make beautiful, meticulously designed and sewn clothing."
More important is the message the photography aims to convey, she said.
"Those are movie costumes designed to make the wearers look like primitive and savage hunter gatherers from the ice age. Perhaps those costumes are appropriate for the film they are promoting which is about the ice age, but it is insulting to me to put Inuit in them."
A lover of the Ice Age films, which she said "do not insult Inuit in any way," she suggested the resort's staff – if indeed the family was falsely portrayed as Inuit – should watch another film, Reel Injun, a documentary discussing Hollywood's portrayal of aboriginal people, which has been insensitive and insulting through its ignorance.