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In a land called Nunavut, it's 'Toonik Tyme'

It's springtime in Nunavut - a season for snow, spotting the guy in caribou skins, and building an Arctic bungalow in 90 minutes.

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You can tell when it's spring in the Arctic: It gets warm enough to snow. The last few days here have seen a brilliant sunshine filtered by light snowfalls.

But it is nonetheless spring in Nunavut, Canada's newest territory, nearly 770,00 square miles in the eastern Arctic hived off from the former Northwest Territories just a little over a year ago.

And here in Iqaluit, the capital city, they're celebrating Toonik Tyme, a springtime festival with a distinctly northern flavor.

The Inuit, who make up about 85 percent of the population here, were early inhabitants of Greenland as well as what is now Nunavut, and are renowned in legend for their superhuman strength.

Now that spring has set in, Iqaluit is a happening place. The big thing in town, these days, is "Spot the Tuniq" contest. In traditional folklore, the Tuniq heralds spring, and he is a sort of Arctic Easter Bunny, dressed in caribou skins. Those who glimpse him around town during the festival are encouraged to report their sighting on a special Toonik Tyme Hotline in order to enter the "Spot the Tuniq" contest and be eligible to win prizes.

Toonik Tyme is being celebrated for the 37th time, which makes it fairly ancient in the annals of a community that got its start only during World War II, as a military air base.

The festival program includes a range of activities reflecting a mix of traditional Inuit culture as well as mainstream North American culture - drum dancing and throat singing on one hand, and a production of the musical "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," which was staged by the Iqaluit Music Society.

The fascinating throat singing is hard to describe to anyone who hasn't heard it. It is a kind of rhythmic nonverbal singing that comes from the throat rather than through the mouth. It involves all kinds of resonances and reverberations, including some at a much lower pitch than the singers - generally female - would seem able to reach. Typically pairs of singers face off in competition; the winner is the one who can get her opponent to collapse into giggles first.

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