A discussion on where Town of Inuvik should spend contract money raised an interesting debate at the 2018 Inuvik Sunrise Festival meeting last week.

Local photographer and filmmaker Tony Devlin expressed surprise at documentary and DJ-hosting jobs going to a southern firm.

Inuvik has professional filmmakers and even DJs, members around the table said.

Chris Sharpe, communications manager for the town, was forced to defend the town paying southerners to do a job people here could potentially do. In the North, that’s not an easy stance to hold.

It also relates to another subject brought up at the meeting, which was who the real audience of the sunrise festival is. Traditionally, the event was foremost a Northern community experience, with interest in attracting tourism only emerging in the last number of years.

The marquee winter event seems to be a lightning rod for tough questions.

This summer, at the first meeting to discuss this year’s event, one of the top adventure guides in town suggested moving the festival to a better date for tourists, as one week after New Year’s and in the heart of winter is a tough sell for most people.

I had some of the same questions during my first festival last year. The weather was about as warm as one could hope for in January, but I remember standing out on the Twin Lakes in the dark wondering why anybody would want to be outside right now.

It was hard to see what the attraction would be for tourism beyond the novelty of the first sunrise, which in effect is a fleeting moment in still-dark days that has a decent chance of being covered by cloud anyway. Children skating on the rink and playing in the ice fort seemed to enjoy the event most.

Talking to Sharpe, one would quickly see he comes to Inuvik with a big-city vision but still keeps in mind the nature of the community. He wants to cover all the bases – traditional, community, national and more. Striking that balance, like everything, is easier said than done.

Getting national talent to come in and host the DJ party or make a documentary about Inuvik could have spin-off effects in town, such as increasing Inuvik’s brand and allure to southerners or connecting with a market that might not be reached if only local talent were used.

On the other hand, Inuvik is struggling. Devlin joked that the southerner filmmakers could come up and see how poor the locals are because they have no jobs.

So what should be the primary focus of the town for contracts? Employing locals, or considering outside service providers if there’s a belief that the quality will be better?

Perhaps Sharpe’s approach leads to a longer-term boost for Inuvik on the national stage, with the short-term tradeoff being fewer job opportunities for locals today.

It can’t be denied that he’s pushing for the betterment of Inuvik despite questions about the approach. Sharpe has reinvigorated the town’s social media presence and seems to be successful attracting sponsors while trying to bring the town up a level in its brand appeal.

But Northerners supporting Northerners is a staple of life here. Kurt Wainman, owner of Northwind Industries, talked about his hiring approach for building the Inuvik Tuktoyaktuk Highway: local first, then regional, then wider.

Though a national approach could pay off in the future, Northerners need money today. The town will have to seek a balance that offers opportunities for locals while achieving its larger marketing goals.

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