Sunday, November 30, 2008

Pictures Finally!

So after four months, and much hecticness, craziness and wonderfulness, I am settled in Vancouver and missing Nunavut so very much!!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Goodbye Nunavut

So I came home from Nunavut, after spending 6 weeks travelling to a number of different communities doing science camps for kids and felt a huge sense of loss, confusion and culture shock. First off, there were trees, which I love as you all know, but it felt strange to have the landscape covered by something so large and diverse. I also felt overwhelmed by the size of everything, Ottawa seemed huge and there were so many people all looking so different from each other, driving cars instead of Honda’s. Walking into my apartment didn’t help things much as Mike had already gotten rid of lots of our furniture and it was a disaster area, although looking back after the weekend, everything was very well organized on Friday. I haven’t had a lot of time to digest and think about all that I learned and experienced, but still having everything so raw seems like a good time to write down my impressions and thoughts. I’ve come back feeling like I have to do something about the negative things I have seen on my journey, but I feel so enriched by the positive things I have seen.

I think I will do a point form brain dump of what memories really stand out for me, not necessarily in order, but just as they come up in my mind:

· The Ravens there are so talkative, with a much larger vocabulary and penance for talking than elsewhere.
· Johnny Cash was ever present as a favourite musician all around.
· Walking down the very broken board walk in Iqaluit to the city square across from the old res and northmart to see the accordion player who came in from Kimmirut. The people square dancing there were unbelievable, with a huge repertoire of moves, smiles and seemingly endless energy.
· PUPPIES!!! So many kisses and they will follow you around just for some love. On a cooler day in Iqaluit a little one had a puppy stuffed down their shirt and I couldn’t think of a nicer way of staying warm for either of them.
· Walking down the street on a weekend in Iqaluit and having a little girl from my Sprout camp run up to me, give me a giant hug and smile and run off with her friends.
· Kayaking around Dog Island and seeing a seal head pop up and stare at us.
· The smell of the tundra, which has a warm, dreamy, sweet scent.
· The sound of the wind whipping around our tent in Kimmirut and the feeling like there was more to the wind than just air.
· When we ran out of water in our apartment in Igloolik, our neighbours offering us the keys to next door without a second thought, just wanting to make sure we were happy and comfortable.
· When an elder asks for something from a kid, they will stop what they are doing and go and do whatever they were asked without questioning or complaining.
· The screams of delight from the kids swimming in the Soper River, even though it was only about 10 degrees out.
· The bikes the kids decorated for the Nunavut Day/Canada Day festival in Igloolik.
· The bannock which kept getting better in each community.
· Walking down from the Arena in Iqaluit to the NRI on Wednesday with the fog and mist rolling in, coming to the edge of the cliff and gasping with surprise when I saw all the sea ice and ice bergs stranded on the beach when the tide went out.
· The gamey and sweet taste of caribou, especially the dried caribou Lori shared with me.
· Rick and Janet in Iqaluit inviting us in each time we wandered by.
· Watching the harvest moon rising above the hills in Rankin.
· The elder saying a prayer in the fog and rain on the morning in Rankin for the girl who had committed suicide the night before.
· Driving the giant old NRI Ford truck down onto the beach to pick up Lori & I’s kayaks after our long, cold ride and our return at low tide.
· Marc and I running away from two of our camp kids, Kyla and Ian who had water guns and us having to book it right through the town’s cemetery to avoid getting soaked.
· For some reason in Kimmirut the phrase du jour was “I’m from Rankin, where are you from?” despite none of the kids being from Rankin- that and an emphatic “NOT EVEN” to make a point.
· Hiking with the rec camp kids up the aptly named “Road to Nowhere” in Iqaluit and taking 2 ½ hours to get to the picnic site and when Lori and I went back on our own, it only taking ½ hour, the kids had so many things to stop and look at and explore, it was lovely.
· Almost missing our flight out of Igloolik and them delaying it ½ hour for us (and our mountain of luggage) to make it on.
· Susie sharing her pipsi (dried Arctic Char) with me in Kimmirut- YUM!
· My bag of rocks that I took back with me, more to add to the fish bowl of rocks I have already.
· Drinking cold and fresh water out of the Soper River.
· Feeling the softness of a sealskin and the heaviness of a muskox horn in the Kimmirut gallery.
· The joy on kids faces when they get to put their hands into a blubber mitt (a bag of lard, inside another bag) and feel the difference between their bare hands and blubber in freezing cold water.
· Becky playing around with the oscilloscope and getting it mounted perfectly so when she throat sang into it, it showed the sound waves perfectly.
· The fact we needed at least three polar bear patrollers and lots of guns each time we went out on the land.
· Having my hands frozen solid after climbing up an iceberg.
· The mosquitoes coming out in force in Rankin after the rain stopped.
· Hanging out with the girls in the tent in Rankin, with all our heads in the middle of the tent and the girls sharing ghost stories (I even got scared!!!)
· Being amazed at how warm the qallnic (lamp that is fuelled with fat) made Catherine’s tent in Igloolik.
· How smart the design of the ammouti is, with a pouch for a baby right against a mom’s back, and a hood that goes over the whole baby and mom to keep them both warm.
· How comfortable people were just letting their kids wander around and pass around their babies, it seemed like such a healthy and caring environment for kids to live in.

Alright, that’s a pretty big brain dump. Overall, my most strong impression of the north is that it is a land of extremes- both the landscapes and the people. I will miss it so very much, and really do hope to go back again one day.

Thursday, August 21, 2008


This is the end of my journey in Nunavut, and Kimmirut was an appropriate place to end. It is the most beautiful of the landscapes I have seen so far, with huge powerful looking mountains, crystalline blue ocean and only about 400 people living there. Our week got off to a bit of a shaky start on a few accounts. Firstly the trip from Iqaluit to Kimmirut was done in a twin Otter plane, which is a life experience in itself, and this plane was VERY full of food, in fact I had Ritz Cracker boxes jammed against my knees on the flight there. Marc also got off the flight and ended up with a horrible case of vertigo which would last the week. Pretty much none of our baggage arrived, save Marc's bag of art and one supply box which had all the stuff we had planned to do on the land. The Kimmirut camp was set up with one day in town and three days on the land so we built some bridges and mined some cookies on day one with 2 kids registered at the start of the camp and by the end of the day we had 25.

Kimmirut has a real sense of community, lots of smiles and waves while you walk down the street and our hotel was above the coop store, which is one of two places in town (the other being the ubiquitous Northmart) where you can buy things. This coop was a little different than other ones I'd seen because it had a lot more furs and pelts, it seems there is still a good trade in furs in Kimmirut. My hotel window overlooked the harbour which was breathtaking.

We headed up to Katannilik Park by boat up the Soper River. It was literally breathtaking, it was a beautiful sunny day, the kids and gear had all been shuttled up earlier in the day and once the kids went up, we headed back to town to thankfully collect our luggage which had made the next flight; camping would have been hard in a t shirt and jeans here.... The boat ride didn't take long and there was about a 10 minute hike once we reached the Soper Rapids to get to the camp site. It was in the middle of a valley, right next to the river and rapids, with a mountain to the South and wide open meadows to the North. The kids were swimming, with lots of squeals of delight when we got there so Lori and I decided to join them, yikes it was COLD, but the air was nice and warm so it wasn't so bad.

The way this camp was set up was that there was to be about 3 hours a day of science programming for the kids and the rest was suppose to be traditional knowledge taught to the kids by the four elders (2 men and 2 women). After dropping our stuff off among the tents and going for a quick swim in the Soper River, we headed into the cabin and there was seal meat stewing which I was invited to help myself to. Seal meat is delicious, the blubber surrounding the seal meat was a little harder to eat, but thanks to a tip from one of the kids that ketchup is really good with seal, the blubber ended up going down fine. There was also a type of blood broth from the seal that the kids were really keen on it. After the seal, me and a pack of kids wandered out onto the tundra and started picking (and eating :-) wild blueberries and cloudberries, which are absolutely to die for fresh off the tundra, still warm from the sun.

The next day was a little trying on my patience, but I think that was somewhat the point. I like to have things scheduled and prepared ahead of time, and that is not the Inuit way. Lori, Susie and I did camp in the morning, the kids were not quite awake yet and for some activities were totally into it, but not so much for others, so they wandered off and started up games of soccer. The one activity which was fantastic was collecting field specimens for the microscope. There are lemmings (avinnqaq's) abound in Kimmirut and catching them is a sport here, not only for the kids, but for the polar bear guard dog who we had along on the trip with us. While collecting specimens one of the kids got a lemming, and the dog killed it, so we performed a bit of an impromptu dissection (mostly with the help of the dogs teeth) and looked at its teeth (which are like little beaver teeth!), fur, blood and brain. It was really great how into the biology the kids were and their total lack of squeamish-ness.

After lunch, the group divided into girls and boys, and the guys all headed up the mountain for the elders to teach the boys about building Inukshuks, learning the landscape and hunting. The girls stayed behind and we had an amazing time. The elders started talking (in Inutkitut, which Susie translated for me, which I felt a little awkward and sad about, I wished that I could have understood) about being girls on the land, having to learn about preparing food and skins, and making clothes. They learned by watching their mothers and aunts and other women in camp, and asked a lot of questions. The women said that life back then was a lot harder, and being on the land now is easy in comparison. They talked about giving birth in ice houses, using arctic hare pelts for diapers and how much fun it was to do the sewing. I felt so special to have been given the opportunity to be a fly on the wall when the girls were listening and learning from these women who had seen such an enormous and for me, incomprehensible, change in their lifetime. To go from giving birth in an igloo, to watching their daughters and perhaps even granddaughters have to fly from their communities to Iqaluit to give birth in a very modern hospital must be so very strange and I would think overwhelming. These women keep so much poise and humour, I felt very comfortable around them. The elder then started doing a dance which was a game where one woman would get up and start tapping out a rhythm with their feet and another woman would have to get up and mimic her foot rhythm. I tried and totally failed! The girls then started an amazing dance, I’ll put up a video of it, cause it would be hard to describe.

The rest of the day was pretty much free time, which I had trouble with as I had gotten used to trying to cram in so many activities with kids for the past five weeks, that free time seemed wasted to me at first, I felt like I should have started an activity and get the kids learning. Fortunately I didn’t, because patience, waiting and just hanging out was a key part of time in camp and that in itself was an important learning experience for not just the kids, but me too. After dinner, Lori, Susie and I went berry picking for a few hours, it was wonderful to just let my mind go and focus completely on the here and now of picking fresh beautiful berries with a stunning landscape all around me, I felt the stress I had accumulated unintentionally through the trip just fall away.

That night was so very special. I ended up playing limbo and jump (jump is the opposite of limbo where you have a string and you raise it higher and higher and see who can get over without touching, Itee, one of the elders even tried for a bit). Tommy, our community contact for the camp, set up a bonfire and as we were heading down onto the beach for it, me and Oolaie, one of the campers noticed a huge harvest almost full moon rising up over the mountains. As the bonfire got going (with the help of some Honda gas..) the northern lights started up a show in the sky and the kids all started whistling. Apparently the northern lights represent your ancestors visiting you and if you whistle, they will come closer, if you clap, they will go away. The kids also mentioned something about whistling too much and they’ll take your head off, kinda worrisome... Anyways it was a perfect night to end an amazing trip.

The next day we did some more science activities in the morning and had loads of fun with the kids. Lunch included the best bannock I’ve had thus far on the trip, so very tasty!!! And then off to Sandbar beach for cartwheels in the sand, jumping in the water and then another hour or so of berry picking. Once back into town we held an open house for all the parents and families, and had lots of excited kids show up asking to learn about science, it just warmed my heart. On my way out I had some more frank discussions with some of the 11 year old girls at camp and again, was reminded that the fun loving children I watched chase lemmings and scream with delight in the river have problems become my own comprehension, this is truly a land of extreme’s in all aspects of life here.

I will do one last blog entry just to give myself some closure on this trip, which really did change my life in so many unexpected ways. I will also spend some time and make a massive photo album, as well as a more condensed one so people can see the trip through my eyes (and Kris and Tyler’s who took some amazing photos!) I am doing a cross Canada road trip next, so I will try and jot down any fun stories from that adventure too, it seems like the fun and learning never ever stops. Thanks for all your emails and comments, I am happy to share my experience with as many of you as possible, Nunavut is a truly spectacular part of our great country and I feel so privileged to have not only travelled to and around it, but to have had such a warm and unique experience there.

Saturday, August 16, 2008


So my last week in Iqaluit was spent with my favourite group of kids thus far. Sprouts camp is for kids who are hand picked from low income families, many are from the women's shelter, their parents may be in prison, they are in foster families. The first day of camp I wanted to leave and never come back. Over the course of this trip I have learnt a lot about myself and I have come to realize that I like controlled environments- things don't need to go as planned, but I like a semblance of order. This group of kids did not have that. That being said, I have never gotten so many hugs, seen such huge smiles and excitement for learning anywhere else.

By the end of the week, after I came up with some personal coping techniques, informed by the ever patient, talented and wonderful Becky, who leads the Sprout camp and was the same woman I heard doing throat singing my first week here, all the kids in the camp were so very near and dear to my heart. Splitting the kids into groups, and trying to make the learning process more about exploring than about coming away with a specific learning outcome worked really well with these kids. Also acknowledging that I don't need everyone's attention to go ahead with activities was something else I personally had to work on. These kids have been through way more horrible stuff in their lives at the ages of 5 and 6 than I could imagine, yet they still show up in the morning with smiles and laughter, which speaks to the resilience of children and humanity in general.

On Friday morning, I traded Marc for his rec camp so he could have some time with the amazing awe inspiring Sprouts and I got to go on a hike up the famous Road to Nowhere in Iqaluit, it was a sunny warm day and it couldn't have been more perfect for a group of about 60 kids to meander over hills next to a river and just have fun outside. I was a lovely morning, but the kids were so well behaved and listened so well, it felt a little surreal and too polished for me, so I was excited to get back to my Sprouts in the afternoon.

After a very intense and tiring week of camp, Marc and I wandered up to the peaks of Sylvia Grinnell park with some left overs and had a splendid picnic at the top of the mountain. I spent some solo time hiking around Iqaluit on Sat, following the grave yard trail out to the small neighbouring community of Apex and checked out the old Hudson's Bay Company beach, which is a beautiful sandy beach that happened to have chunks of ice on it, which were rapidly melting in the hot summer sun, so I sat there for a good piece of my Sat just enjoying the view, the fact I had the whole long beach to myself and contemplating the history and impact of the HBC in this region.

Sat night we were contemplating heading out on the town, but decided to go for a sunset kayak instead, which almost turned into a bit of a disaster when the Nunavut Research Institute truck which we were borrowing got stuck, very stuck, in the loose large rocky boat launch at the far end of town. After many tries, lots of burnt rubber and a few stalls we manged to get it back up the boat launch and headed off on a beautiful paddle along the west coast of the bay up towards the river and park. The start of the paddle was on extremely smooth water, not a ripple to be seen, but just before we got back (sunset ends around 11 pm ish) a wind picked up and thank god we got off the water because it whipped up to 30 kms/hr pretty quick. We carried the kayaks (actually we only carried one, some guys helping take out another boat walked up with our other one unbeknownst to us until we got to the top of the launch and noticed them behind us, quietly carrying our kayak, I love people here!!!) back up the long boat launch instead of chancing another sticky situation at the bottom.

There was lots of packing and organizing for Kimmirut, which I will write about in a bit . For now I am sad to have left Iqaluit, despite all it's quirky flaws, I have really come to love it here, it's felt like a second home, with people like Rick and Janet making us feel welcome, walking down the street and having kids I've been working with run up and give me a hug, and recently having little ones show up at our door on white row and ask to hang out and play. The land and landscapes here are breathtaking too, to have such beautiful spots all around the capital city of Nunavut is fabulous. I am sure I will be back!

Monday, August 4, 2008

Bergy Bits

So last week involved some much needed down time, not because I acknowledged the fact that I must rest or burn out, mostly because it was foggy, windy, rainy and COLD! Camp was good, it was lovely to have four instructors so we tagged in and out of activities. This week though I think that I will make up for that as there are only two instructors...

Onto my adventures, which I seem to be experiencing in endless supply here. This was an outdoor fun weekend of adventures, which was great, as I needed to get some exercise and just let my mind wander free. Last weekend was great, we spent some time wandering around town, got to watch an Inuit carver at work for about an hour and see a chunk of rock turned into a beautiful bear, it was awe inspiring, and when we asked how he did that in such a short period of time and how he knew what the carving would be, all he said was it's in the rock. Alright back to the story. Last weekend Kris and I desprately wanted to go kayaking, however many things conspired against us. One: there were no life jackets- two: the tide was going out, Iqaluit has one of the biggest tides in Canada, which will be relevant later in my story- three: it was really windy. So we tried, but the lifeguard in me kicked in when in my canvas and wood kayak from the 1970's that had no spray skirt, I started feeling the canvas bend from the waves, I decided this was a bad judgement call. Not that it was a hardship for us to go back into the cememtary (where we launched from, it's right down on the beach) sit on the rocks in the warm sunshine and watch the tide go out for an hour, but we wanted to kayak. Fast forward to yesterday... Kris sadly has left us, so it's just me, Marc, Lori and Suzie joined us today.... Lori and I headed out in the kayak. It was sunny, windless, we found lifejackets and the tide had already gone out, so we wouldn't have been paddling over rocks that were in the process of coming to the surface, they were already uncover. As nice as it was not padding over the rocks, we had to walk with bulky kayaks and me with very sub par footwear (my slip on suede shoes, because my boots were still soaked from the Saturday adventure I'll get to later). This wasn't fun, but it was also a very surreal experience because the sea ice has floated into the bay, which meant at low tide, it was all washed up around us, so chunks of ice the size of houses were all around us as we were taking the kayaks down to the shore.

Once we got the kayaks down to the shore (a very nice man managed to balance one of the back of his ATV and take it down the last few hundred feet) I ended up getting soaked launching mine, so my feet were pretty cold to start with. Back to the surreal aspect, we were paddling around in Frosbisher Bay, which an abnormal amount of sea ice ranging from little tiny pieces to bergy bits to full blown icebergs the size of a house. This apparently only happens with the bay full in the summer once every ten years, so we are so lucky to be here right now. Lori and I paddled around checking out the ice both in the water and marooned on shore. We came across two ringed seals, one white one black, they were so peaceful looking. We padded around the ice island right outside the bay, and it was practically a glassy calm, which was fabulous for looking at the kelp forests waving below us. I even paddled over top of some bergy bits (I know, silly thing to do, but it was such an amazing feeling!). We were out there for about two or three hours, so I was getting pretty cold, the lack of spray skirt meant that the icy Arctic Ocean was ending up on my lap. Lori said that back in the day there would be two people laying in the front of the kayak and another two laying behind, I can't imagine how cold it must of have been for them to travel this way, because you really feel the chilliness coming up from the ocean into the kayak. We took the truck down the beach a ways to take the kayak's back to Rick's- who is our contact up here with the Nunavut Research Institute (NRI) and is a lovely human being, people here have been so friendly! I promptly went home after and curled up in a warm shower for 20 mins to let my feet thaw out.

Early in the week on Wednesday when all the fog was around was went the ice rolled into the bay, and I had to walk down to the NRI for a job interview in the middle of the day. I took a short cut down the hillside and walked along the beach to get to the other end of town, and I happened to be doing this during low tide, so I got to wander in amongst all these icebergs and bergy bits with the fog rolling around in the background, it was such a creepy and beautiful feeling all at the same time. On Saturday, it was sunny and gorgeous, so at low tide Kris and I went on quite the hike around the bay to check out all the ice. My stories won't do this experience justice, and I fear my pictures won't either, so I will simply recommend to everyone to spend a sunshiny day climbing up and around icebergs on a beach. I spent almost the whole afternoon repeating in my head that it was SO good to be alive.

After our beach walk, we headed over to the jewelry studio which was run by one of our campers parents. It was fabulous, we showed up just as one of the artists was coming in to work. He showed up the studio, explained how it was ingeniously outfitted with recycled goods, such as old doors for work desks, an airplane nose as a fume hood, government building supports for a saw, and so on. He also brought out a narwhale tusk, a piece of whale baleen, opened the fridge and took out two walrus tusks (one with the nerve still in it), it was so amazing to touch all these pieces- the narwhale tusk was really light, but the walrus tusks were a lot heavier and much more blunt than I expected. He also showed us an amazing piece that was being worked on with polar bear claws. We headed over to a gallery selling the work the next day and grabbed a few pieces. Speaking of art, I have gotten some amazing pieces, complete with a dancing polar bear from the artist we saw doing the demo last weekend, so many beautiful pieces, so little space in my luggage :-(

Next week I'll be doing the Sprouts Camp, which I am so very excited for, it should be great, I think that I'll have lots of camp stories to write everyone with. After that, it's onto the land in Kimmiruit and then back to Ottawa. Time has flown, it really doesn't feel like a whole month that I've been up here.

Monday, July 28, 2008


So I started my first week here completely in love with Iqaluit. We touched down on Friday afternoon and Rick, our community contact from the Nunavut Research Institute picked us up from the airport and took us over to his beautiful home, just up from the beach, for dinner and good conversation. We hung out checking out the tour de france for a while and then I headed out with Rick to help feed his team of sled dogs, who are beautiful friendly dogs, although they were currently being besieged by mosquitoes. From there we headed up to his son's boat which had just returned after spending the day out at sea with a small beluga. We grabbed a slab of muktuk (the outer layer of the skin and blubber) and brought it home for post dinner munchies, it was very chewy, but with some soy sauce it was a lot tastier than I had thought it would be.

The next morning we woke up to a gloriously sunny day and woke up while sitting on Rick's deck overlooking the Arctic Ocean in a t shirt. After breakfast we headed up to Park's Day in Sylvia Grinnell park for Parks Day. We stayed just long enough to decide that it warranted more than the hour or so we had, so we heading onto our new home for the next three weeks. 322 White Row (it's not white any more, it was just painted so has been somewhat renamed Rainbow Row) is in the ghetto of Iqaluit, literally. Our place isn't bad at all, the view is stunning, looking out over the harbour, I can see the ocean from my bed!!! There's a nice big kitchen and a living room so I can't complain about that. More on the neighbourhood later.

So after unpacking we headed back up to the park and wandered into a naturalist walk on the flora of the tundra- there are trees here! They look like small plants, they are woody therefore are technically willow's. We wandered down along the Sylvia Grinnell River and noticed what we thought were crazy people swimming, but we waded in and it was lovely. Onwards up to the falls and rock hunting, there were some lovely copper samples and other rocks that as all of you who know me, I ended up with in my pockets. We checked out the falls which must have been a good fishing spot because there were about six tents set up above them. On the way back we hiked up to the second highest peak in the park, which had a panorama view of all the surrounding mountains, the ocean and all of Iqaluit- we also found owl pellets for a owl pellet dissection activity!

On Sunday we got a lot of set up done, and then Kris and I decided to head up to the Climate Change and Planning Conference that was going on at the Frobisher Inn (a hub in Iqaluit, complete with restaurant, bar and the town's movie theater). We got to see a presentation by Shelia Watts -Cloutier on the impact of climate change on the North and the struggle for labeling GHG emissions a human rights violation. After that there was an Arctic Fashion show, starting with amouti's (the jackets women everywhere here wear with their children tucked into a pouch behind them and a hood that can go over their head and the baby, they make so much sense) and boots made of ringed seal and caribou skin, and men's parka's and hip wader type pants all made from furs. They were so beautiful. Then came a contemporary fashion show mostly with seal fur. I am in full support of seal fur for fashion. People here eat the animal, make all kinds of things with the fur for survival, and if the seals are hunted for food, why not use the skins for commerce? Just my view, I don't support furs from factory fur farms in China, but seal skin from Nunavut definetely gets my vote beyond just the ethical issues, it is beautiful too. During the fashion show there was a high kick demonstration which was unbelievable, these young guys, perhaps around 18 had a stick with a small bundle of seal fur off a string at the end of it. They held it up to the ceiling and with both feet jumped up and kicked it about 7 meters off the ground. For the one kick the one guy hit the ceiling and couldn't go any higher. I would fall flat on my back!

After the fashion show and high kick we got to see throat singers. They were clearly more polished and skilled than the girls in my tent in Rankin Inlet, but despite their talent, which was awe inspiring and haunting, I still was more touched by my throat singing experience in Rankin. Following the throat singing (I know, I know, what an amazing night, we kind of snuck in too, as we weren't part of the conference...) we got to see two elders perform a number of drum dances which were as chilling and eerie as they were beautiful, the drum and the song transformed me somewhere not of this world while I was listening to it and it wasn't a bad place, but it was certainly powerful and different than any other music I had heard before. The night was not over, Tyler me and Kris headed back up to the park for a sunset walk (at 10:30 or so) and wandered up the river bed watching the sun sink below the hills and everything turn bright pink and orange.

Camp started the next day. This was the most challenging camp I have had so far, which is strange, as lots went amiss in Rankin and Igloolik was just huge, but despite having all the registration forms in, a college with all the resources we could want and four instructors, it was still difficult. I think a lot of this has to do with the fact that the kids in Iqaluit have access to a lot more summer camp type options and many parents decided to sign their kids up for science camp instead of the kids wandering into the camp of their own free will and getting their parents to sign them up after. Needless to say, it was a hard week with many different "personalities" but it was still ultimately very rewarding, as some of the kids REALLY wanted to be there and learn. I think we also manged to get some of the less enthusiastic kids into bits and pieces of science, which is at least a start, if nothing else the blubber mitt activity where kids put their hands into a ziplock bag filled with lard and then put that into a bucket of ice cubes to learn about arctic animal adaptations is always a huge hit!

On Monday night we rushed home from camp and took off again in big yellow school buses with no shocks back up to the park taking all the folks from the conference up to the park for a night of fun. It was 26 degrees that day, there was a huge heat wave in Iqaluit which I am now understanding is not the norm. Once we got dropped off, we headed straight up for a little lake that we had come across on our hike on the weekend, this time armed with bathing suits. It was a little intimidating at first, swimming in the arctic is not something that comes intuitively, but the water was wonderful, there was a bit of a breeze, so not too many bugs and it was one of the most refreshing and satisfying swims ever. From there we wandered back to the pavilion and had a night of really tasty bannock and tea with storytelling about the seasons and living on the land as well as more haunting drum dancing with a backdrop of a setting sun going down behind the mountains. Then the mosquitoes came out and we went home full of both new ideas and thoughts and damn good bannock.

The rest of the week wasn't as exciting we spent most nights preparing for the days ahead of us, they were intense. I am cooking a lot which is lovely, as I don't usually make time for a lot of cooking at home, and there is a surprising good selection of healthy and fresh foods up at the NorthMarts (owned by the North West Company who bought out the Hudson's Bay Company, which certainly left their marks on the North). We did get out one night to check out the huge full moon rising up over the ocean, it was stunning! Back to White Row. I sleep with ear plugs, one most nights there is a point at which a steady stream of profanities floats into my window around 2 am with someone storming away from a fight. On Wednesday night our neighbours were extremely drunk and locked out of their house by someone inside which caused about 2 hours of yelling and random unhappy banter. On Saturday night we called the police when a women punched a young teenage girl and two other women were fighting outside. This is a side of Iqaluit that makes me deeply sad. There is beauty in the landscape and culture, but there is still an ugliness here that I feel deeply, there have been so many scars inflicted on people here and it is clearly taking generations of time to heal. Working with kids gives me so much hope, they are smart, eager and full of joie de vive, so despite the pain and ugliness I've seen next door in Iqaluit, the beauty of the kids in the camps balances it out somehow.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Rankin Inlet

So I am in Iqaluit now, but I'll save those stories for another day, I want to let you all know a little more about the last community I was in, which was Rankin Inlet. There are about 3000 people there making it the second largest community in Nunavut, and it's right on Hudson's Bay, making it the southern most community I will have travelled to this summer. It is apparently known throughout the Arctic for it's mosquito's, I too now know it for it's mosquito's.

Marc, Lori and I were only there for five days, because the flights only go there on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, but so far this community has had my highest high and my lowest low. The plan was to do science camp in the community hall on Tuesday and head out on the land to Diane River with an older group of kids (10-15 yrs) Wednesday until Friday when we flew out. These plans got changed due to some community issues, ask me about it when I get home... Tuesday was great, we didn't really get to see much of Rankin, we had a great dinner at a little spot called the Wild Wolf Cafe, which overlooked the ocean. That night we ended up changing our plans for camp from Diane River to Iqalugaarjuup Nunanga, which is in the Nunavut Park about 15 minutes away from Rankin. The next morning we met our very sleepy campers (kids here don't usually get up until about noon, there is no set sleeping schedule, although there was a lot more dusky "darkness" in Rankin than Igloolik, the sun set for about two hours at night, which was great) at 9 am and sent them home again until noon. I ended up getting onto the back of an ATV, with a group of four strange Inuit men and heading an hour out of town on dirt roads/ no roads to Diane River to pick up our supplies, possibly not a great judgement call on my part, but it was worth it.

The land here was quite different than Igloolik, it had a lot more lakes and the wildflowers are in full bloom right now, which makes for slopes covered in bright purple and splotches of yellow. Rankin is also much hillier, which proved to be quite the adventure on the back of a four wheeler. We stopped a few times to make sure that all the guys were following the non exist ant path (as far as I could tell there was no path, the driver Pierre knew exactly where he was going, and was an excellent driver) on these stops, I learned what true mosquito's were. I had seen mosquito's in Tweedsmuir Park in Northern BC, but not like this, OMG!!!! We stopped in the cabins we were suppose to be staying in, picked up the food (unrefrigerated ground beef, which had been there for a few days, yecky). By the way, did I mention that there was a sighting of a polar bear and her two yearling cubs in the area the day before.... I was hoping to see her, but no luck, or good luck depending on your view. On the way back into Rankin we stopped for a breather (although it was hard to breathe with the bugs) and I got to see a wonderful view of the Diane River emptying into Hudson's Bay, just stunning!

Once back in town, we picked up our 14 campers, all their gear and some other random stuff and headed off in a yellow school bus sans shocks on a very rough gravel road, with boxes bouncing onto kids and struggles to open and shut the windows, it was a great start to the trip. We got to the park site and it was lovely, despite the low hanging clouds that were threatening to rain on us again (it had rained in the morning). This site has an old sod house, it's a great archeology site (although all the interesting parts other than the sod house were covered by ice, which is very strange for this time of year apparently) and it's right next to a river. We spent the next few hours doing a GPS activity with the kids, which digressed, or progressed depending on your view, to a nature walk complete with a loon's nest with eggs, lots of caterpillars and moss for the fire later. Once we got back to camp, a tent had been set up, the sun and wind came out (no bugs!!!) and we had two cooks and an elder to help us out, along with three bear watchers and our community contact Pierre. After lunch the kids spent some quality time with a 2 foot wide circle of land creating their own planets out in their imagination out of what they found in the little area of earth, the results were inspiring and fabulous, I need to exercise my imagination much more!

We did some more wandering and had dinner. After dinner the magic began. The kids started out with an Inukshuk building competition, with the goal of creating something in the park that visitors could appreciate and they would be able to come back and visit as they grew up. Both Marc and I got paired with a kid, so I learned how to build a proper Inukshuk, complete with legs, a body, arms and a head. It was great, and the kids totally got into it, Pierre also pointed out that they make great GPS's and they don't run out of batteries like ours did! After the building competition, we headed out on a garbage pick up session and found all range of things from couch pillows to lots of rusty nails. On the way, the kids came back across the loon's nest and tested the eggs to take home and eat, they were all edible. I had to deal with some inner conflict on this activity. I have been raised with the camping ethic of take only pictures and leave only footprints and am a conservationist at heart, so taking all the eggs out of a birds nest is wrong to me. That being said, eggs are a traditional food for the Inuit and they have been eating them since time immemorial, so who was I to say anything. I decided that holding my tongue was the best call here.

After trashed had been picked up we set off on another fun task, collecting moss. When I was in the Queen Charlotte Islands, in Windy Bay there was a most memorable patch of moss that I sunk into for quite some time just enjoying the feeling of laying in a natural bed, the tundra moss had the same magically floating feeling for me. The kids were all hard at work tearing up the moss to burn for a fire (clearly there is no wood because there are no large trees, although there are woody plants which are technically trees...). This was great fun and it ended in a campfire smelly enough to drive away the bugs and just the right temperature for roasting marshmellows and hot dogs. After the campfire, everyone piled into the girls tent (there were about twice as many girls as boys) and Pierre shared a very moving story about loosing his 14 year old son to suicide, during which all the kids were rapt with attention, and clearly got the message about the impact that drugs and alcohol can have, as well as some coping mechanism for dealing with pain in their lives, with a strong focus on getting onto the land like there were at the moment. After the talk, the best part of the trip so far happened for me. Pierre put a strong emphasis on embracing being Inuit, so once the boys left the tent the girls started throat singing. To be on the land listening to a tent full of girls throat singing was unbelievable, they all took turns doing different songs and they even tried to teach me, but I had some trouble and they all ended up laughing hysterically at me. We wandered out for a bathroom break and saw a HUGE harvest moon rising up over the horizon, it couldn't have been more perfect for the chilling ghost stories that ensued.

Throughout the night it rained, but the tent was set up very well so we stayed cozy and dry. We woke up to a breakfast of hot oatmeal with condensed milk (if you've never tried this, go for it, it's super tasty...). After breakfast the low of the trip happened. Pierre called everyone outside the tent and asked our elder to say a prayer, as a fourteen year old girl in town had just killed herself. In the mist of the morning coming off the river and light rain, I felt such a pain, I can't describe it, I looked at the young girls who I just had bonded with and couldn't imagine any of them taking their own lives, but it is such a big problem here in Nunavut. A few minutes later, two of the older girls just started howling when they found out who had died, and they were both taken back into town. A group of elders was suppose to come out and spend the day with us doing story telling and drum dancing, but that was cancelled and the feeling at camp was gloomy. This wasn't helped by the rain or the infestation of bugs that follows a rainstorm, so after some rock hunting and games, the kids voted to pack up and head back into town for the night. Before we headed back though we got to eat some freshly hunted caribou complete with the best bannock I've tasted, country food here is better than any four star restaurant!

We had camp the next morning, with some of the coolest ocean platform engineering I've seen, and then we were off to Iqaluit for three weeks. The land around Rankin is beautiful, very rolling and becoming, with lots of little lakes, filled with char, and apparently we were about a week or two too early for the caribou migration, which was too bad. I'll write more about Iqaluit later, but my love affair with the Arctic is definitely continuing! I'll try and load up some pictures this weekend, if I get a chance between kayaking, hiking and swimming....