In The Middle of Everything: Reflections from the Arctic

I find it difficult to put into words how transformative our trip to Northern Canada and Greenland was with Students on Ice three months ago. As with many trips somehow the pictures just don’t do it justice.

Gord Downie recently captured an important sentiment in his words about Prime Minister Trudeau: “He cares about the people way up North that we were trained our entire lives to ignore, trained our entire lives to hear not a word of what’s going on up there.” This is exactly how I felt, not just about the people, but also about our disconnection (geographically and psychologically) from this land and vast ocean that made me feel so alive. As social impacts and climate change continue to affect Canada’s North, I hope we all have an opportunity to experience what makes this place, people and planet so amazing.

What follows are some journal entries and reflections from my colleague Melody and I during a 16-day expedition by boat from Labrador to Greenland via the Hudson Strait. 

Torngat National Park, Nunatsiavut, Labrador

ramahThe boat continues its sway like the gentle rock of a babies crib (for now anyway), and somehow I seem to have found my sea legs rather quickly.  Today, we were inspired by the majestic mountains of Eclipse Channel in the Torngat Mountains National Park in Nunastiavat Labrador.

These rocky giants opened up their arms to show us one of their most spectacular waterfalls. Zodiacs took us to and from the boat and we also got an extra tour right to the base of the waterfalls.  I was not expecting such landscapes here with their Rocky Mountain-like awe and the blue-green cool, clear water. We discovered the many life forms showing themselves near the base of the mountains. Snow continued to drip down slowly as the bright sun provided its warmth. (~Erin)

Ramah Bay, Labrador

Today we visited an abandoned village in Ramah Bay, which is in the Torngat mountains on the coast of Nunatsiavut, Labrador. Ramah is a stunning slice of Canada, with mountains all around and beautiful clear water. The area we were in had a fresh waterfall (which some of the students went into) and a shore perfect for fishing.

This area also contained fascinating remnants of the village, including sod houses and a graveyard. Inuit lived here for thousands of years before Moravian missionaries from Germany arrived. On land, there was a workshop that shared some of the history of the village and talked about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and what actions we can take as Canadians to make Reconciliation meaningful.

Ramah has so many unique Arctic plants and flowers, with beautiful colours like deep blue, purple, pink, and yellow. It’s a real challenge picking which workshops to do each day, but I hope to do a little bit of everything. It is wonderful to see so many students learning about Reconciliation and Inuit culture in the places Inuit have lived and traveled through for thousands of years.

Tonight we head to Hebron, where we will be attending the announcement on the National Inuit Suicide Prevention Strategy released  by the National Inuit Organization, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami. It’s rare to experience such an historic moment for Canada in person, and in such a significant place. (~Melody)

Hebron, Labrador and Greenland

blog-post-3With the launch of the National Inuit Suicide Prevention Strategy, we had an opportunity to reflect together on the ship about what this means for the communities and people of the North. Yesterday, I sat in on a session about the social determinants of health in the North that brought out the complexity and frustration around the difficult issues that have started to define the people in this area of the country.

I experienced a ‘light bulb’ moment the other night as I watched a young Inuk interact with two Inuit women who are Elders from northern communities. I saw the beauty in how they spoke with each other and the comfort of this inter-generational conversation. That is when I was reminded about how much there is to learn from northern communities that rarely makes it into southern education curriculum or media.

In the session, we talked about the narrative told by statistics in the news about the poverty, suicide, school dropout rates, etc. This narrative becomes what many people in the South know of the North which then gets reflected back to the North by the ‘help’ and ‘support’ that is offered by people who think they know better. We definitely can’t ignore these staggering statistics, but two big questions emerged to frame the dialogue.

One, how can it be in a country like Canada that any of these indicator levels are so poor and have persisted for so long in the North? And two, do these social indicators reflect how Indigenous people would measure their quality of life? For example, there are no social indicators for how people feel about language, their country, their personal and family connections, or their time on the land.

The disconnect between these two competing narratives can lead to a confusing sense of self and as one student even commented: “I had to travel South in order to regain my sense identity and learn who I truly am.” Why did she have to leave her community to learn how amazing and special she was? Why can’t we tell that story and learn from what makes our northern communities strong and vibrant?

What we heard yesterday was that it will take strong leadership to champion what matters most and change the narrative. Many people suggested that this starts with the education system, one that is Inuit-centred and creates strong leaders who are connected to the things that build and support their knowledge. The responsibility also lies with us who live in the South to educate ourselves and seek knowledge and personal connections from those in the North. To me this is Reconciliation. And when we all do our part, I’m confident we will all discover our own connection to northern culture and communities in a way that will help create a new narrative of hope, resilience and equality. (~Erin)

Ilulissat, Greenland

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We are currently in Greenland, which I have to say has significantly surpassed my expectations. First of all, it has been warm and sunny every day that we have been here. We have spent the last few days exploring the amazing fjords of Greenland, hiking through small towns, and getting up close and personal with some whales.

Today, we had the fortune of seeing the Greenlandic ice fjord in Ilulissat, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most amazing things I have ever seen. I will have to let the talented SOI photographers and videographers speak for me on this one as describing it in words wont do it justice.

Even through the trip is almost over, we still have plenty to look forward to including some wrap-up activities with the amazing students and staff, and (hopefully) a visit to the Greenland ice cap, the largest ice cap in the world outside of Antarctica. Can’t wait! (~Melody)

 

Interested in learning more about Students on Ice? Watch this video created by a student on the trip, and contact us to learn more about our partnership with SOI.

In the middle of everything from Nicholas Castel on Vimeo.

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