The Spirit Arc
Superpower Empire Episode #14
by Doctor What
July 11, 1991
"This is your captain speaking. We are starting our descent to Yukutsk International Airport in just a few moments. Passengers are reminded to keep their seatbelts fastened until the plane comes to a complete stop. Current temperature is hovering at a rather balmy 27 degrees Celsius and winds are light and from the south. On behalf of the entire crew and Air Canada, we hope you enjoy your stay here."
It took forever for Paul Okalik to make it to the airport exit. Not because of the number of passengers on the plane—the Vancouver-Yukutsk run wasn’t exactly considered a ‘busy run’ for Air Canada and there couldn’t have been more than 50 passengers on the plane with him. Nor was it the security hassles—between the stereotypical overly polite plane crew, the frightenly efficient Chinese ground crew and the fact that Paul’s entire luggage consisted of a beat up knapsack, he practically breezed through all the passport check-in points.
It was the fact that there was apparently a large group of ‘fans’—a dozen or so in size-- waiting for him—all of whom were eager to greet him.
A tall heavyset Russian looking man in a suit and tie was the first to meet him. Between his massive mane of black hair, his thick black beard and his physique, he looked for all the world like some kind of bizarre bear/man crossbreed. His handshake, on the other hand, was the very epitome of the diplomatic handshake—just strong enough to make a good impression but not too strong to break anything.
"Professor Nicolas Kusakoff, I presume?" asked Paul.
"Indeed it is—it’s a great pleasure to finally meet you in person, Mr. Okalik" said the man in English that seemed to be tinged slightly with something resembling a Chinese accent.
"Please—call me Paul. I hate all this formality stuff".
"Yet another thing we have in common…Paul." said Nicolas with just a hint of a grin on his face.
"And these people with you are…?"
"My best and brightest students" said Nicolas, practically beaming. A round of handshakes and smiles ensued and went on for several minutes before Paul was able to disentangle himself from it all. "Shall we?" said Nicolas, as the entire group walked to a series of cars parked near the exit.
Paul looked at the burgeoning city landscape passing by him as they drove to the hotel. He shook his head in amazement at what had been accomplished here in such a short time. Yukutsk had been a simple fort barely worthy of even being called a ‘town’ for much of its history until about 100 years when rather large deposits of gold were discovered. Even then, it was in danger of becoming just another ‘gold-bust’ town until about 70 years ago when the entire Yakutia region was annexed by China and made into a kingdom. The Chinese overseers (for lack of another term) ‘strongly encouraged’ development in their new acquisition.
Now a town that had been a one industry town of several thousand souls had become a city worthy of the name with a population that—if one believed the latest census reports—would reach nearly half a million within the next decade.
It gave hope to Paul that perhaps—just perhaps—the same thing could happen to Nunavut.
Certainly not in my lifetime mused Paul—but one day….
"Excited about the conference, Mr. Okalik?" asked one young female student who’s Mongolian facial features but dirty blonde hair indicated that she was the product of one of the many (and successful in more ways than one) ‘cultural exchanges’ that Yukutia had been establishing with various European and North American countries since the 1970’s.
"Indeed. This is the third time you’re hosting this conference, isn’t it?"
"The Fourth Conference on Anthropological Perspectives in Transnational Shamanistic Communities: New Paradigms on an Old Subject with Bending Boundaries and Blending Theories, to be precise." said Nicolas with a grin that, were it any bigger, would have been in danger of taking the top of his head off.
"Ummm…the title seems a bit…uh…wordy" said Paul diplomatically and with great hesitation.
"The Committee for Coming up with Big and Complicated Names for Stuff came up with it" said Nicolas, still grinning.
Paul—in spite of himself—burst out in loud guffaws of laughter. Nicolas’ students looked horrified—and the female student who had been speaking to Paul looked downright mortified—for several seconds. Then Nicolas joined in the laughter. Between Paul’s high pitched guffaws and Nicolas’ deep and melodious laughing, the students—one by one—began to join in the laughing with nervous titters of their own.
The car—still echoing with laughter—sped through the streets.
July 12, 1991
Paul was reading a copy of the Jakutija Gazette (which was an English translation of the local paper, the Jakutija) in a local restaurant.
Three years earlier, a joint Canada-Yukutia project had been created to re-establish a Wood Bison population in Yukutia (now long extinct). The Canadians jumped at the chance to, as the press releases said (and Paul knew them by heart—as he helped write some of them), ‘use this as an opportunity to secure the survival of a wood bison population outside Canada, to augment Canada’s participation in international efforts to conserve species at risk and to foster a sense of continued camaraderie with our northern neighbours’. The fact that the Canadians had far too many bison than they know what to do with in the Canadian North and not only got a chance to unload a few hundred of the beasts onto someone else without having to resort to unpopular cullings but actually made some money out of the deal was seen as a wonderful bonus.
The end result of that deal lay before Paul in the form of a rather large and very tasty Bison steak. He had just begun to start wolfing it down when he noticed Nicolas come into the restaurant. Waving an impaled chunk of the bison on a fork, he motioned him over.
"Enjoying your stay, Paul?"
"Quite so—it’s been a very informative day"
"What was your favorite part?"
"There were so many. I was intrigued by Doctors Schurr and Santos genetic markers research. I have to admit that a lot of it went over my head but if their mitochondrial DNA research can be verified, I really do believe that they will actually be able to ascertain the migration patterns of my ancestors from Siberia into the New World." said Paul. "Of course, my grandfather, being a proud and stubborn and powerful angakuq, would be honour-bound to swear that our people had always been there and that it is an insult to suggest otherwise and if you continued saying such nonsense he will have to—regrettably—plead for the spirits to avenge themselves upon you." he continued, smiling.
"Fortunately it seems that I have to deal with you and not a powerful shaman instead"
"Don’t be too complacent—it’s suppose to run in families" Paul said, with a laugh.
"And Dr. Balanovska’s linguistic work?"
Paul leaned back a bit and chewed on a piece of bison as he contemplated this.
"I have to admire the good Doctor’s persistence—managing to find similarities between a language that’s spoken by just 500 people in all of Siberia and an entire family of Amerindian languages is most impressive. Never thought that the word for birch-bark could play such an important role in proving a link between Navajo, Apache, Tlingit and Eyak"
"What did you think of Dr. Lok Siu’s presentation?"
"Fascinating film. I have to admit—being stuck in the relative wilds of Nunavut--I was unaware that Buryat shamanism was undergoing a revival. And that the Yukutia government was behind the project."
"Well—not the government per se—the two universities here are the ones who are doing all the work."
"With government money and assistance, no doubt" said Paul with just a hint of a smile.
"But of course. There are many such projects that we—how do you Western people say?—have our fingers in."
"This has to do with the Spirit Arc movement, correct?"
For the first time since they met, Nicolas dropped his jocular demeanor and took on a more serious one.
"It’s not just a movement—for many people of my generation, it’s become almost a guiding principle."
"And a very enlightened principle it is, Nicolas."
"How much do you know about it, Paul?"
"Just the basics--that about fifteen or twenty years ago the idea started percolating through Yakutia that all of the shamanistic cultures from Mongolia to Latin America were all connected on some level. That sharing knowledge and resources and relations between them all can do no wrong and can in fact be of great assistance. That a major effort must be made to save the ones that were dying and encourage the ones that weren’t dying to expand and grow and reach for their potential."
"Indeed—and it has had some major successes. Case in point—Nunavut."
Paul stared at Nicolas for a long moment—then laughed again.
"Nicolas—I hate to burst your bubble but the idea of an autonomous province for my people is a rather old idea. It’s been kicking around for generations. Now granted—I would concede that Ottawa was uncharacteristically fast in settling all the million and one bureaucratic details that crops up whenever a new province is created but it was an inevitable situation."
"Still—from Deputy Chief Negotiator for Settlement Claims to the new Premier of Nunavut in one decade is an astounding career path…"
"I’m not Premier yet, Nicolas."
Nicolas shrugged his shoulders. "You have a 20% lead in the polls, most of the population is firmly convinced that the province would never have been created without your work, you’re a dedicated family man and the election is in two months. Barring doing something stupid like getting caught having sex with your secretary, you’re virtually guaranteed to win."
"Is that why you invited me to this conference?"
Nicolas smiled grimly. "Frankly—yes. I wanted to show you the work we are doing here. How—in the space of 20 years—we have learned more about our connection with our distant brothers and sisters than we have learned in the previous 200 years. About all the work that still needs to be done."
"Our brothers and sisters? No offense Nicolas—but you don’t look like one of the local natives."
"Strictly speaking, I’m not. I am however part Nenets, from the Kanin Peninsula. My people suffered very much like yours—forced to resettle and assimilate. Fortunately my grandmother kept the traditions going and I still remember most of them. I look around now and I see how much has been lost—and how much was so very close to being lost forever."
Nicolas moved forward a bit.
"Never again will we make that mistake. Progress can be accomplished without having to give up the Old Ways, Paul! We’ve proved it! Not just here—but everywhere!"
Nicolas’ voice was starting to reach a crescendo.
"Look at what’s happening all over the world. Shamanism is being revived not just in isolated corners of Siberia or China. It’s happening in Finland. In Korea. In South America. Indeed—even in North America."
"If you’re talking about the ICAAC*, then you’ve been fooled by all the stories from their detractors about just how organized and powerful they are. They’re not, trust me—not to the extent that they’re depicted at any rate. They might have a really nice name but they’re pretty close to breaking into two or three different factions in my opinion."
"Still—they have done more for the causes of inspiring Amerindian cultural renewal than any other organization in the last 30 years. We were, in fact, partially inspired by their early successes to develop our Spirit Arc movement. Indeed—one can make a case that they helped with some of the hurdles for the creation of Nunavut in that your government had—how do you say?—‘concerns’ about what the possible ramifications may be if they dragged their feet too much over all the bureaucratic hassles and formalities"
Paul looked at Nicolas suspiciously.
"What exactly is it you want from me?"
Nicolas stared at Paul for a long moment---then laughed his melodious laugh again.
"You, my friend, have been watching too many of those spy movies! I would never ask you to do something that would require you to betray your country!"
"Then what exactly do you want from me?"
"You and I want the same thing, Paul—the chance to see cultures that have been nearly destroyed prosper again. Indeed—part of your campaign promise is the promotion of Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit in government. I want to give the rest of the cultures in the world a chance just like your people. What I want from you is just a simple promise."
"And that is?"
"That you remember that I am your friend—and that friends in high places with many contacts can be a valuable asset to you. And that friendship can be beneficial to me as well. "
Paul looked at Nicolas for a very long moment.
Finally—after what seemed like an eternity—Paul extended his hand to Nicolas.
"Nicolas, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."
*International Confederation of Autonomous Amerindian Councils