Northern Lights was partially conceived during the opening ceremony of the 2010 Winter Olympics. The theme of the ceremony was all things Canadian, and part of it featured a light show recreating the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis, which, while not exclusive to Canada, being seen in Scandinavia and even Scotland and Ireland, is one of the tourist attractions of the country. The ceremony also paid tribute to the First Nations of Canada. Now, everyone knows about Eskimos – or thinks they do. Most people know they should properly be called Inuit. I didn’t know that Inuit was only one of the tribes that make up what are called the First Nations, the native peoples who were supplanted by white settlers. The Olympic ceremony tried to be respectful to them. To be honest, I thought it was patronising them, the way they were paraded in their native costumes in order to give the impression that Canada is a pluralist, multicultural society and everyone is happy. The truth is far more complicated. But at the very least it was an eye-opener to learn that there were so many of the First Nations and that they do still retain so much of their culture in the face of the modern world.

I looked for a setting for a story that would involve the Northern Lights and the First Nations, and came across Great Bear Lake. By coincidence Great Bear Lake is one of the places which has an Ice Road across it. I had heard of Ice Roads because there is one of those ‘real life drama’ programmes on Freeview about the drivers who take articulated lorries across the frozen lakes every winter on these ice roads. The story I wrote had no particular reason to feature the lorries or the road except as a feature of the view The Doctor was looking at in the opening scene, but it at least gave me a view into the location.

The First Nation associated with Great Bear Lake are the Sahtú. They are an ancient people but they live modern lives most of the time. The town of Deline at one end of that Ice Road is their main community. They send their children to school, to university. They have the same ambitions and ideas as anyone else. They don’t live in tepees and talk pigeon English or any such nonsense.

But they preserve their culture as far as they can. And rightly so. Performing their native dances for tourists is, on the one hand, selling out for profit. On the other hand, they are performing the dances, they’re keeping it all alive, and they’re educating people about their culture. I hope they manage to maintain the balance between the pure and very beautiful heritage and the demands of tourism for as long as possible.

In the course of reading about the Sahtú, I came across the story of how they were used by the Canadian and American government in the 1940s to mine and ship uranium. Hundreds died of cancer and related illnesses. Used is the word, and I really do wonder if the authorities knew that these native people would be affected? Were they employed because the white people thought their lives were expendable? Or were they victims of gross ignorance about that stuff? To add to the tragedy, it should be remembered they were helping to provide material for a bomb used against a people – the Japanese – with whom they have closer racial characteristics than they do with white Canadians.

Now, I freely admit this was the first I knew about any of this. I have no personal reason for soap boxing the tragedy of the Sahtú’s lost generation. But I hope that this little story involving the spirits of the dead and an alien entity which empathised with them pays a little respect to them all, and that, in turn, having learnt something about the First Nations through that Olympic ceremony, I have imparted a small bit of knowledge about them to others through this story.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sahtu
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deline,_Northwest_Territories
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Bear_Lake
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ice_road
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2010_Winter_Olympics
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Nations