2018 Arctic Expedition: Day 9

The theme of today’s blog entry is ice. As students and staff know firsthand, ice plays an enormous role on expedition and in the biodiversity, history, and culture of the arctic. Today’s events illustrated the incredible beauty and environmental importance of ice, but also the challenges it can pose.

As we sailed to Mittimatalik (Pond Inlet) today, we were greeted by lots of new sea ice.  There was time spent surveying the water for wildlife and by early morning, people were already spotting polar bears (the first on expedition!), narwhals and belugas. Morning Isuma programming included journalling, visual arts, podcasting and a presentation on dogsleds where students had the chance to make dog harnesses. Conservation specialist Rachel Vallender also gave an intro to polar bears.

(c) Robert Kautuk /SOI Foundation

 

At Around 2pm, we arrived in Mittimatalik to pick up a team of Parks Canada employees and community members. Pick up proved to be challenging due to the ice, but eventually our special guests were on board running workshops and engaging with SOIers.

Our original afternoon itinerary included a stop at Sirmilik National Park, however landing wasn’t possible due to sea ice. Instead, we spent more time on the deck watching the floe for wildlife as the landscape sailed by. Our friends from the community and from Parks Canada also led us in workshops on Inuit stories, seal skinning, Inuit clothing, Inuit Games, throat singing, and drum dance.

The day ended with a musical jamboree featuring a lively mix of accordion, guitar, and vocals provided by Jeff Anderson, Jassie Simonee, Michael Pewatualuk, and Twin Flames.  And some pretty awesome dancing to go with it! Everyone was quick to bust a move in celebration of another full day of learning and to honour the power, magnificence, and complexity of ice!

 

Student & Staff Blogs

 

Alex Nnamchi
Montreal, Quebec, Canada

It’s been just over  two days since I last blogged. Tiredness and being busy has hindered my efficiency in providing updates. Therefore, from here onwards,I’ll finish blogs every two days to better highlight what’s been going on. Since my last blog (July 28), we’ve travelled through the Davis Straits from Ummanaq in Greenland to Pond Inlet in Nunavut. The town Ummanaq, which means ‘heart-shaped’in Greenlandic, gains its name from a nearby mountain that resembles a heart. After arriving on its iceberg filled shore, we hiked around the iconic heart shaped mountain, which led us to a small green cabin believed to be one of Santa Claus’ homes. It was small,cozy, and homely. Though a bucket of old baby pacifiers next to Santa’s portrait baffled me. After our hike we visited a children’s home in Ummanaq’s town center. Despite being a small orphanage, most of the rooms were vacant because many of the children were out of town, either on a music tour or camping elsewhere. Itwas nice seeing how the children appeared to be very well taken care of.

After leaving Ummanaq, we said goodbye to Greenland and began our journey through the Davis Strait for Baffin Island. The following day,on July 30th, we woke up and went out on deck to only see open water around us. It was the first time ever in my life that I hadn’t seen land mass. It was startling, but interesting, as it reminded me of how remote my surrounding really was. Since there was no possible activity to do on land, we spent the day on the ship attending lectures and workshops from members of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and Inuit seal researchers. Because I already had a good grasp of knowledge regarding the WWF, I was much more moved by the seal workshop. In it, we watched a seal documentary called “Angry Inuk”. The film was about the socio-economic importance of seal hunting in Northern communities of Nunavut. The documentary followed the effects of the European Union’s ban on commercially hunted seals as well as the misconceptions of seal hunting. The ban on trading seal products to the EU was seen as the Great Depression for those who reside in Nunavut. The film was an eye opener because it displayed how animal activist organizations such as IFAW and Green Peace campaigned against seal hunting primarily because it was very profitable to do so, since they are seen as cute and cudly sea mammals. Most seals that are hunted have been increasing in population over the past 40 years and are extremely far from being on the endangered species list. Inuit people can afford to hunt them without exhausting their population. I’ll be honest, I used to be against seal hunting when I was younger. I was unaware of the importance of doing so and the lack of alternatives to harvesting seal. Most of us fail to realizehow much more expensive food from the grocery store is up North than where most of us come from. If you add that to banning the trade for seal fur, one of their dependencies for their economies, this  will only make things worse as a whole. I hope that I can try to raise awareness of this once I go back to my community.

The following day, (July 31st), we finally arrived in Canadian waters. Our home, the Ocean Endeavour, was penetrating the thin sea ice that became increasingly present as we got closer to Canada. After doing some yoga for my early morning energizer, we went outside, and spotted a polar bear on the ice. It took me around 5 minutes to spot it because of its camouflaged fur. Once I spotted it, it jumped into the water and disappeared again.One of our staff members “JR” spotted a pod of narwhals, but failed to announce it on the PA. It was a shame I couldnt see one but we’re only halfway done with our expedition, so we have time. Once we arrived in Pond inlet, we watched a demonstration video on how to deal with polar bear encounters to prepare for our arrival in Sirmilik National park. It is beautiful, one of the nicest, if not the nicest scenery I’ve ever seen. I actually did see a narwhal because I was toldthat if I saw amoving reflective surface in the sea ice surrounded water, it was a narwhal. Because I never saw it clearly, I won’t count that because I did not experience any sensation. Unfortunatelyw e were unable to land onshore because there was too much ice around us. As a result, we had onboard workshops instead. I attended the seal skinning session led by an elderly Inuk woman. I enjoyed attempting to skin the ring seal used for the workshop even though I wasn’t very good at it. Hopefully, tomorrow we get to set foot on land and walk around the National Park. I’ve been very tired this day, so I apologise for any sloppy writing. But don’t worry,I’ve not forgotten about all of you. I would post some photos but sadly it’s not permitted. I’ve taken many and we’ll have access to them once I get back.

 

(c) Robert Kautuk/SOI Foundation

Andrea Gura
Quito, Pinchincha, Ecuador

So for the past three days for which I have forgotten to write blogs I have been doing yoga every morning on the top floor of the ship, looking out at icebergs casually floating on the sea. Never in a million years would I have thought that I would do yoga next to ice bergs.

To describe these past three days properly I would probably have to use far more page space than what a blog allows me to. I have, for the past three days, come down to the blogging room in attempts to write and submit a daily blog, but all those attempts have not been succesful because I consistently failed to put into words the thoughts I wanted to share in the time frame I had. Therefore, I will simply summarize the past seventy two hours by saying that they have been the most insightful, introspective, enlightening, and encouraging ones of my life. Among the things I have participated in are a songwriting workshop with Twin Flames (the indigenous music group on board), a soccer game in Greenland against Greenlandic teenagers on a black sand beach where glaciers were washing up on shore, a square dancing little “party”, panels and presentations about topics ranging from ocean literacy to truth and reconciliation in regards to the history and treatment of indigenous peoples of northernmost Canada to dog sledding in the north to climate change…  These days are truly jam packed with conversations and experiences that I would not be able to get anywhere else. The intellectual curiosity and motivation on board is outstanding.

I would like to take advantage of this blog entry in particular to extend the BIGGEST thanks of all time to all of my friends and all of my family who made a contribution to my GoFundMe I created a couple months before embarking on this expedition. I know this is the least original way to express thanks, but I will say it anyway: without you all, this journey of mine would not have been possible. I cannot wait to show all of you the photos and videos I have taken as proof that you are getting your money’s worth. Thank you, thank you, thank you, and thank you ten billion times more.

 

Aurora Eide
Sandane, Norway

What awaits in the Land of Blue – ?
What mysteries lurk in the morning mist…
Ready to grasp the unknowing expeditioner’s heart.
Can stillness hold such secrets?
What treasures reside in the deep, deep blue?
We sail through the ice,
passengers of life.
With questions trembling on burning lips –
we prepare to be changed
forever.

—————-

Good morning from the Ocean Endeavour! It’s soon breakfast time here so this will just be a quick little update from yesterday and today’s plan. I wanted to start off with a piece of a poem I’ve written while in the Arctic. Hopefully I can develop it further later, and also create more poetry. The only problem with this expedition is that there is SO much to do and so little time! We’re halfway through already and I don’t want this journey to end. If this expedition had been a month, or even a year long, I would have wanted to stay! And that says something about how much I love it here.

So yesterday was a full day at sea while crossing the Davis Strait, and it could not have been a smoother sea (literally). The ocean was so calm and flat, not even a ripple. Our expedition leader Geoff told us this was extremely unusual for the Davis Strait (which is open water). Also, the ice that could have caused us trouble – didn’t! How lucky are we? Now we are in Canadian waters heading towards our first stop in Nunavut: Pond Inlet. There is some ice in the waters around Pond, so we will get updates sometime this morning on what the situation looks like. Crossing fingers for more luck. Also, I have finally established my sea legs! For the last 3 days I have not felt sea sick at all, which is such a relief. I am simply loving life on the ship, waking up to the most stunning view every morning. I still can’t believe how privileged and lucky I am to be here. To be able to wake up in the morning, put on warm clothes, step up on deck and see piece after piece of blue sea ice come floating through the morning mist. Or last night, when we went outside at 11pm just to witness the golden sunset of a sun that never sets. Clouds relfecting the sea, the sea reflecting the clouds, and on the horizion a strip of pure gold bursting through, filling the cold air with magic. I take pictures, but the pictures just won’t do it justice. The beauty of the north simply won’t be captured by anything but a heart, but in my heart it will remain forever. Every day I feel something change within me. Every day I learn something new, see something from a different perspective. And what used to be “public knowledge” (facts you can read in books, watch on TV) is now all turning into personal knowledge; knowledge of the heart. With every experience I feel the Arctic grow in me, whispering to me, changing me. And I take it all in. I breathe in the cold air of the sea, knowing that these moments are treasures and I am a better person because of them.

 

 

Eva Niviaxie
Kativik Ilisarniliriniq Teacher Trainee

Ippasa greenlandmi qimailaurtugut, unganaartuulaurtuq , nunanga ,qarqangit, piqalujangit, nunalingit , inungillu tungnganarsuti taimaittuumata. Uummanarmit nunalirmiilaurtugut qarqamiut . Ikaulilaurmijugut canadamut qiqirtajuatigut. Sikunit ippigusuqattagiaqalaurtu aqutivut , ursuatukkut ingirralaurtugut. Ullumi Mittimatalimmut tikikainnaqugut, qarqangit purtujuurmijuit inaqunartuusutillu. Nunaakainnangittugut nunalimmut mirnguisirvinganut aigiaqakainnasuta sukainnangittugut sukunut. Qanuingngitunga tamaaniittuilu.

(c) Robert Kautuk/SOI Foundation

Jessica Painter
Teacher, Portage la Prairie, Manitoba

So far, this expedition has been an amazing journey. I haven’t been blogging as much as I’d hoped I would but it’s because there’s just so much to do, see, and so many great conversations to have!  All of the sessions have been amazing and the hardest part of the day (other than not over consuming in the dinner hall!) is choosing which sessions to attend. The conversations and presentations have been very informative and have helped shape my views on the issues that people, plants, animals…etc. that live in the North are faced with. There’s so much to take in that I really feel the need to process all of that information.

For the first time I’m actually keeping a journal every day which is helping me process everything but will also be something that I can share with everyone when I get home. I see the importance of doing this now to help me make connections and integrate what I’ve learned into my decisions and life not only on a personal level but also as a teacher.

Yesterday, David put on a session that I absolutely loved called “Skin and Bones” where we looked at the anatomy and some of the uses of arctic animals. He had a broad array of skulls, bones, toys, and even some slippers for us to look at, compare, and guess their origin. It very much reminded me about how we run our Envirothon club where we often present information in a very hands-on manner. We were all sitting around in a circle, passing around skulls, making guesses, trying to derive information from what we could see and feel.  Seeing the passion in everyones eyes as they made their guesses and the intrigue as they were examining each specimen was refreshing and a good reminder for me to continue to incorporate manipulatives into my classroom and Envirothon club. I was also very envious of Davids wonderful collection and thankful that he was able to share and pass around all of the peices including the seal skin flippers from around 1915!

Every session, panel, presentation, and conversation has taught me something so far. I’m so thankful that I’ve been provided with this rich opportunity to learn and meet new, incredible people and information. My heart and head are so full.

Jessica

(c) Robert Kautuk/SOI Foundation

Julianne Jager
Stittsville, ON, Canada

Jusqu’à maintenant, j’ai decidé de me concentrer sur le point de vue des communautés Inuit, comment ils utilisent la nature, leur histoire, les effets qu’ils remarquent sur l’environnement autour d’eux face au changement climatique et la pollution, en plus de leurs utilisations de ressources naturelles. Ceux-ci sont des sujets qui sont rarement visités en détail et qui sont parfois ignorés ou placés de côté, même lorsque les informations en relation avec ceci peuvent être d’une grande importance au niveau national, ainsi que mondiale. Ainsi, j’ai appris au sujet des traditions et de la culture Inuit, la colonisation, comment ils utilisent chaque partie d’un phoque ou d’un poisson (dans le fond, n’importe ce qu’ils chassent), ce qui les a aidé à survivre, leurs desirs pour le future et les liens entre les connaissances indigènes et la science. Ainsi, à l’aide des nouvelles perceptions et de la compréhension que je posèsse actuellement, il est temps de découvrire ce que nous pouvons tous faire pour préserver un environnement sain, diminuer les emissions de dioxide de carbone, conserver la biodiversité, reduire l’utilisation de plastiques et beaucoup plus!

 

Louis-Philippe St-Arnaud

Ottawa, ON, Canada

19h35

Pond Inlet, Nunavut, Canada

Salut! Ce matin, nous sommes arrivées devant Pond Inlet, la communauté que nous devions visiter plus tard. Mais la glace bloquait notre passage, alors nous avons appliqué notre dicton ”flexibility is key” et sommes allés vers le Parc National Sirmilik. Mais là, encore, la glace bloquait le passage! Ce n’est pas grave, au moins nous avons pu observer des montagnes absolument majestueuses! C’était comme le monde Everest, mais en plus petit, avec un peu de neige au dessus de la montangne. C’est tellement beau, la nature qui est protégée par les humains (c’est un parc national)! En effet, c’est une très bonne leçon de vie, ce dicton. Il y a des choses qu’on ne contrôle pas, alors il est mieux de s’adapter que de la combattre.

Conmme ça, au lieu d’aller au Parc National en soirée, j’ai appris à faire du ”throat-signing”! C’était super intéressant. Pour ceux d’entre vous qui ne le savent pas, c’est une compétition entre deux personnes. L’une d’entre elle fait un son, et l’autre doit l’imiter, pendant que la première personne fait un autre son que la deuxième personne imite et ainsi de suite. Le résultat est un enchaînement plutôt cacophonique mais beau à l’oreille de sons provenant du fond de la gorge! Cet atelier m’a fait réaliser de quelles manières créatives il est possible de s’amuser, et que la culture est accessible à tout le monde. J’ai pu faire les sons de gorge assez facilement, mais c’est d’enchaîner les sons correctement qui est difficile. Ça a beau être une compétition, pour apprendre, il faut une coopération entre les deux personnes. On s’entendait alors sur un rythme plus lent, et on persévérait lentement comme cela. La patience, comme m’ont enseigné les montagnes et les glaciers, ça fait de grandes choses. Je ne suis pas encore un adepte compétent, mais j’ai fait du progrès! Et la pratique fera le reste!

Oh! Ce matin, j’ai vu un ours polaire! Il était très loin, et j’ai dû utiliser mes jumelles (mais il était encore petit avec le grossissement. Il était plutôt jaune, comparé à la glace sur laquelle il marchait. Même s’il n’était pas très près, ça m’a fait quelque chose, de le voir. Il était sur de la glace formée en mer qui était plutôt fragmentée. Et loin de la terre (on s’approchait de la terre, mais il était quand même au milieu de l’océan). Quel habitat instable, des petits bouts de glace! Bon, ce n’était pas si pire, mais quand même. Et il se peut que cet habitat fonde, en raison du changement climatique. Mais malgré tout, l’ours polaire, brave, vient chasser sur cette glace. Imagine, te promener sur des bouts de glace flottants, qui pourraient peut-être casser, comme une course à obstacle. Quel défi!

Par la suite, Rachel, une membre du Service Canadien de la Faune, nous a parlé un peu plus des ours polaires. Il est important de noter que les ours polaires sont simplement à risque en raison des changements climatiques. Ils ne  sont pas en voie d’extinction, mais tout le monde le croit parce qu’ils sont mignons et qu’il y a des photos utilisées partout pour sensibiliser au changement climatique. Plusieurs experts sont concernés, mais il faut noter que les ours polaires se débrouillent assez bien dans plusieurs régions. D’autres, comme celles près de la Baie d’Hudson, sont plus sensibles. Mais j’ai bien peur que, à la vitesse qu’accélère les changements climatiques, il est bien justifié d’être concerné.

Ce matin, j’ai aussi eu la chance de sortir dehors avec ma clarinette. C’est si beau, les montagnes couvertes e, la communauté, et les oiseaux gracieux! Je m’en suis inspiré pour écrire un début de chanson. Mon objectif, c’est d’avoir quelque chose à présenter avant la fin de l’expédition. Comme je l’ai mentionné plus tôt, il y a plus que les mots pour s’exprimer. La musique, l’art visuel, le corps, on peut tout essayer!

La musique, c’est aussi quelque chose qui unit les gens. Hier soir (30 juillet), nous avons fait du ”square dancing” à la manière des Inuits. Il fallait taper des pieds à terre. Même si personne à bord était un danceur professionnel (je crois), tout le monde s’est lancé sur la piste de dance aux sons de l’accordéon qui accompagnait. C’était si amusant! Et ça démontre que, comme c’est le cas pour l’écriture de chansons ou l’art visuel, tout le monde peut s’essayer. Tu n’as pas besoin d’être bon, personne ne juge. On fait juste s’amuser! À travers ces expériences, j’ai appris que, dans la vie, il ne faut jamais avoir peur de se lancer.

Bon, assez jasé, revenons au gros de la journée. Ce matin, il y a eu des ”Arctic hours”, des conversations sur des enjeux touchant l’arctique, et des ateliers intéressants. La ”Arctic hour” à laquelle j’ai assistée portait sur la compréhension des océans et leur conservation (”Ocean literacy and conservation”). En effet, il est important de comprendre que les océans nous offrent plusieurs services. C’est une source de nourriture (20% des protéines consommées par les humains) et un aspect important de l’économie (environ 282 milliards de dollars de produits et services sont produits dans les États-Unis, sans oublier que 3 millions de gens sont employés par des entreprises qui dépendent des océans). De plus, 50% de l’oxygène que l’on respire vient des océans, sans oublier qu’il régule le climat de la planète parce qu’il couvre 70% de sa surface. En plus, ils nous donne des médicaments qui aident à lutter contre le cancer, l’Alzheimer, les maladies cardiaques et autres maladies importantes. Il est donc important de savoir que, s’il y a des changements dans les océans, il y a des changements dans notre société. Encore là, on peut voir que nous sommes connectés aux océans.

La discussion a aussi touché au fait que les Inuits ont occuppé le territoire de l’Arctique depuis la nuit des temps, alors leurs connaissances (que l’on appelle IQ, pour Inuit Q…(éditeurs veuillez compléter le mot) sont très valables. Ils savent oû sont les poissons et autres animaux, contrairement aux checheurs qui ne vivent pas là. On a également regardé une vidéo sur la sécurité face aux ours polaires (parce qu’on s’en va dans le parc National Sirmilik cet après-midi, je suis tellement excité! ), et les aînés Inuits en savaient beacuoup sur les précautions à prendre.

Il est également important que les entreprises apprenne à comprendre les océans, car elles dépendent d’eux. Une proposition faite a été d’inclure les entreprises avec la science dans l’Arctique, car les bateaux qui vont là bas avec des marchandises sont très coûteux et pourraient être utilisés de plus qu’une façon. Cela les conscientiserait davantage à l’importance des océans et comment les protéger. Par exemple, presque tous les bateaux brûlent de l’essence lourd, moins raffiné et plus polluant, parce que c’est moins cher. Cela contribue à l’acidification des océans. Même le Ocean Endeavour le fait, alors tout a un impact. À ce point ci, personne ne devrait brûler de l’essence lourd, alors il faut conscientiser les entreprises avec ce genre de connaissances. Ce serait quelque chose que je devrais faire pendant mon activisme pour l’environnement.

Il y a plein d’autres points qui ont été discutés. Je vous racontrerai tout ça à mon retour. Après cette discussion, il a eu un atelier sur les impacts du changement climatique dans le Nord et sur les Inuits. Pendant cet atelier, j’ai appris que la glace devient de plus en plus mince, ce qui fait tomber les chasseurs qui l’utilisent comme voie de transport dans l’eau. Les Inuits on donc moins accès à la nourriture chassée, un problème qui est renforcé par le coût ridicule de la nourriture importée du sud. De ce fait, 70% des enfants vont à l’école le matin avec un ventre vide. Nous devons cesser le changement climatique, pour ne pas compromettre davantage la situation des Inuits.

Il est aussi important de comprendre que le changement climatique crée des températures froides plus extrêmes, en raison du dérèglement du système climatique. La température moyenne de la planète augmente, mais il y a plus de froids extrêmes et fluctuations bizarres. Par exemple, Nancy (une Inuk) a partagé que, une année, en Mars, il faisait très froid et ils devaient s’habiller avec des pantalons de skis, des gros manteaux, tout le kit. Toutefois, la semaine d’après, le climat s’est tellement réchauffé qu’elle pouvait se promener avec un simple cotton ouatté. Par la suite, en Mai de la même année, il y a eu un blizzard. Le changement climatique cause donc des fluctuations de climat ridicules, ce qui affecte les Inuits. Imaginez si le changement climatique causait ce genre de fluctuations chez nous. Ce serait difficile à suivre.

Bon, c’est tout ce que j’ai à vous dire pour aujourd’hui. À plus!

-Louis-Philippe

 

Marlayna Griffin
Arnprior, ON, Canada

Hello from Nunavut!

Visiting Ummanaq in Greenland was so much fun! It was inspiring to see how different cultures and peoples can interact despite not speaking the same language. The town is beautiful. It is flanked on one side by mountains (Ummanaq means ‘heart mountain’ which refers to one of the mountains behind it) and on the other by an ocean filled with icebergs. The houses are painted in bright colours, and the locals were very welcoming to us. They even opened some closed stores and exhibits in order to tour us around the children’s home, the dance studio, and the old blubber house.

Last night we entered Canadian waters as we crossed the Davis Strait. It was surprisingly very calm, and we had a great day at sea as we participated in a tonne of great workshops. In the morning I learned about the history, technique, and culture of Inuit dogsledding, and started making a sled harness for my cat. Surprisingly I wasn’t the only one! Then my group did the bottle drop. Every year Students on Ice participates in the Bottle Drift Project — bottles are tagged with numbers and a message is put inside, informing whoever finds it of the initiative, and who to contact. It helps scientists track the flow of currents in the oceans. It is also a super cool way to meet someone new! We got to write a little bit about ourselves and SOI before tossing them overboard.

In the afternoon, we had a presentation about the history of settlers arriving in Canada and interacting with indigenous people, which concluded with a lot of people sharing their personal stories. It was hard to hear, but I am grateful that they were willing to share because it is such a vital piece of the education process for others. Thankfully the crew knew how to make us feel better — a dessert buffet outside on the back deck, followed by some quiet group time, really helped a lot of people out. Before dinner we also had a group square dance, because they have a lot of square dancing competitions in Inuit communities! It was a ton of fun and an easy way to lift spirits. After dinner we had a variety of great presentations from people on-board, such as drum dancing, throat singing, and information about Pond Inlet, which is where we are going to land today!

Right now customs officers are on-board to stamp everybody’s passports so that we can officially enter Canada and explore Pond Inlet. Until then, we have some free time to go outside, to blog, etc. I’m starting to miss night time, but the 24 hour daylight is super helpful in letting us see new things! I saw my first polar bear today.

Until next time,
Marlayna

 

Mary Argun
Salluit, Quebec, Canada

it’s ulu Ibrahim + Annie Argun

I’m not dead. I’m fine, and I’ve had fun. This might sound weird, but i can wake up at 7 am now.
– Mary Argun

(c) Robert Kautuk/SOI Foundation

Mikayla Boulé
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

You would think 220 people aboard a ship would talk less about the Titanic. I mean, if we’re hurtling through waters dense with icebergs or thick with sea ice, I undersatnd that it might come to mind, but wouldn’t a sense of self-preservation or a reluctance to tempt fate stop you from quoting the movie? Or whistling Celine Dion? You can whisper a hushed “Titanic” when we clip some thin ice at breakfast, but if this puppy goes down, no one is winning an Oscar.

A little over 36 hours ago, we said farewell to Greenland and began making our way accross the Davis Strait from Uummannaq Fjord. Our visit to Uummannaq was almost unbelieveable, but if I find a metaphor to do it justice I’ll let you know. JR lead a bunch of us on a short vista-ridden hike to the home of Santa himself. While not generally acknowledged as the home of the jolly old elf year-round, this little cabin at the base of Uummannaq (“heart-shaped”) mountain is featured in a 24-part film-epic that airs advent-calendar style in Greenland every December. If Santa does live there, I imagine his sleigh is in fact pulled by hearty Greenlandic dogs rather than reindeer, since Uummannaq teemed with dogs relaxing in the warm sun. According to one of the educators who had recently done research in Uummannaq, the entire fjord becomes a dogsled highway once the ice freezes over, with on and off ramps to every little community. We also learned some more unfortunate news, that really drives home how difficult living and thriving in Arctic regions continues to be. Two nearby communities were evacuated and relocated last year after a large landslide devastasted the community. Based on the threat of such an event reoccuring, it looks like those homes will need to be permenantly abandoned. While the streets were even more alive with dogs and bicyclesin the afternoon, the small habour was also packed with icebergs (the scientific term for some of the smaller ones is in fact “bergy-bits”). The creativity and skill needed to even get into one’s boat, nevermind getting it to open water, should be some sort of recognized sport. In the fifteen minutes I spent on the pier at the end of the day, I saw a gentleman use no less than four boats to get out to his own.

After leaving Umanaq we shifted gears, with a final discussion of our time in Kalaallit Nunaat and a warning to prepare for a rough crossing on the Davis Strait. Having been lucky enough to escape seasickness myself, I was picturing  massive black waves with equal parts terror and glee. The actual crossing was something else entirely. Our route through was approved, we met little dense ice, and were able to go pretty well full speed ahead. I spent a lot of time out on deck yesterday, and would have sworn the water was navy-blue silk, the same consistency of the calmest nights on Deep Bay. We dropped messages in bottles over the side, and saw them bobbing in our wake for ages. Having never been in the middle of an ocean, the feeling of complete isolation (save for the 800 birds our ornithologist counted in an hour) was both insulating and unsettling.

Our streak of luck continued today!  The ice cleared, and we are presently anchored just off of Pond Inlet, soon to debark in Sirmilik National Park!

I am off to lace up my hiking boots.

Mikayla

 

Sarah Boux

Dear Parents,

Thank you for your amazing children. Time and time again we have already said that this is an amazing group of students to work with as we see the experiences here are changing their lives in front of our eyes. But if we are honest with ourselves, they were awesome before they came to us. They were awesome because of you.

So whoever you are to the students on this expedition, a mother, a father, a grandmother, an uncle, a neighbour, whatever role you play has a mentor. Thank you for helping to create them. Parents play a huge role in shaping who we become, even if at times we don’t want to admit it. Often times its the little things that we do or do not do.

When I think of my own mom, she always composted. To the extreme she would sometimes eat food off other people’s plates, cut mold off cheese and just say it was more penicillin. When the water warms up for her shower, she collects it in bottles and uses that to water the plants. Yet I never thought of her as an environmentalist. This was just how to live. Growing up and meeting other people I realized how my mum was not the norm, and in turn how lucky I was. Although my teenage self strongly disagreed. Now I care deeply about the environment and continue the practices to tread lightly on the Earth. She also taught me to study what subjects I wanted, regardless of the difficulties. She was the first female dentist in her town. I went on to another male dominated profession of physics. My mother traveled to China, Switzerland,  New Zealand and so much more. I think it came as a bit of a shock to her when I started to travel on my own but really she must have seen this coming.

I can only imagine many of you are feeling the same way. Perhaps you instilled a wanderlust in your child through family vacations. But I know for many of you, this is the first time your child is traveling without you. We are so privileged to have each and every one of them here with us. For others, they do not travel much and have left for the first time all together. I can not imagine how overwhelming this experience must be for you. I assure you, we are taking good care of them. They are housed, dressed and feed more than they could ever want. We also hope that they are learning something too.

So thank you. Thank you for the effort you put in to instill strong morals, empathy, comradery, respect and curiosity into your child. And thank you for letting us borrow them. We promise to return them safe and sound.

Sincerely,

Sarah

(c) Robert Kautuk/SOI Foundation

Sarah MacNeil
Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Yesterday was our first and only scheduled day at sea, which essentually means that from sun-up till…well, sun-still-up, the sea and the sky met at the horizon. Whether looking out over bow or stern, port or starboard, the multiple shades of soft blues and greys would all blend together, everything remarkably smooth and glassy (which is almost unheard of in SOI Davis Strait crossing history). The midnight sun made its appearance, ripping along the seam of  water and cloud, which was perfect timing to properly confuse the circadian rhythms of those not yet asleep.

Sleeping in cabins on a ship comes with a couple points of protocol to follow: first, make sure to clamp your porthole shut, so that you can at least trick yourself into feeling like it’s nighttime; second, remember to secure all doors (closets and bathrooms) so they don’t bang around during nighttime swells (not that I’m speaking from experience or anything); third, learn to channel the reponsible adult you could be and make yourself get a minimum of shut-eye. Enforcing my own bedtime in these conditions is without a doubt my biggest challenge of the expedition.

On the flip side, the nicest thing about waking up on this ship is that each day is incredibly full of new potential. That and the fact that there is always fresh coffee brewed and available to even the earliest of risers.

In this one short week, my morning routine has taken shape, and consists of rolling out of bed, fumbling in the dark for whatever feels like the proper clothes for the day (the first couple nights aboard I managed to plan ahead and lay out my outfit, conveniently practical for sneaking out without waking up the cabinmates… but that was a different time), heading up to the library/snack area, grabbing a cup of coffee, and stepping out on deck to take in the view. Usually I remember to put my camera in my pocket and tuck my journal under my arm, but this morning I also remembered to snag my binoculars, just in case.

I have a couple favourite spots on deck by now, but this morning I decided to go check out the bridge, which is where all the important navigational decisions are made, and which is occasionally open to visit. A few other early-risers were already there, taking in the ice floes ahead of us and, beyond that, our first glimpse of solid land. These same early risers were also there to hear a message come on over the radio –

“Euh Geoff, I’ve got a customer here, about a kilometre off the port side.”

We all shuffled out of the bridge, a bit unsure of what we were looking for, except that it was worth trying to spot. So, making use of my binoculars, I looked out and discovered that a “customer” is, in SOI speak, just a little old polar bear.

The excitement and morning energy grew palpable as an announcement was made over the loudspeakers, and more eager observers crowded to upper and lower decks in the hopes of spotting our Arctic friend – you could always tell when someone was successful in this, as another happy exclamation rose up.

I myself sighed pretty happily when I caught my first ever glimpse of a polar bear, but I’ll admit, the fun was really all in helping someone else have that same feeling. Everyone was racing out, one arm in a jacket, toque in hand, camera strap dangling from a wrist, all desperate to spot our customer. If you’ve ever tried to point out a distant yellow-grey shape in a landscape of ice floes though, you may understand just how easy of a task that was.

Many who had had their sighting were passing around their binoculars to those with the disappointed tones of someone kicking themselves for not having brought their own. Whether I was acting as a stand for someone who got the binocular strap caught around my hair in their eagerness, or crouching down to position the lenses for our littlest bear-watcher (Nelly, who at 7, has been on this ship 8 years in a row – you’ll have to ask her about it some time), I couldn’t help but feel like this was all a planned welcome to the next leg of our journey, a subtle and beautiful welcome to Nunavut.

Nakurmiik for reading, and  remember: always nab those binoculars before you head out the door… You might end up making your day, and someone else’s too.

-Sarah MacNeil

 Sarah MacNeil

Avez-vous déjà eu à traverser une frontière internationale? Et si oui, avez-vous déjà eu besoin de faire venir des agents douaniers de quelques centaines de kilomètres juste pour étamper votre passeport? Bienvenue à notre première journée dans l’Arctique canadien!

Nous nous sommes réveillés ce matin avec enfin de la terre ferme dans l’horizon. Notre route n’était pourtant pas évidente – quoique nous faisons cette expédition à bord d’une brise-glace (un bateau avec une coque renforcée pour passer dans des eaux glacées), il fait quand même partie de la vie quotidienne de consulter les chartes de glace qui démontrent, en couleurs, la concentration, l’épaisseur et l’emplacement de la glace dans l’eau. Ces facteurs, surtout à ce temps de l’année, sont en changements perpétuels, et c’est à partir de ces chartes que la navigation se fait, ou, selon les conditions, ne se fait pas.

Heureusement, le tapis de glace dans l’eau n’est, jusqu’à présent, pas une entrave à nos plans pour la journée. Si tout va bien, nous allons pouvoir mettre pied sur le sol canadien dans notre première communauté du Nunavut: Mittimatilik (Pond Inlet). Aussi une possibilité pour soit aujourd’hui ou demain – une visite au glacier du parc national Sirmilik!

Même si la terre est excitante, l’eau même demeure tout aussi intéressante, parce que là nous rentrons dans un lieu super riche en biodiversité marine – il n’est pas encore midi et déjà ajoutés à la liste d’observations sont des phoques, plusieurs oiseaux, des narvals et (retenez-vous) un ours polaire!

Le Groenland va certainement nous manquer, mais parait que le Nunavut nous promet quelques aventures aussi…

Nakurmiiik, et à bientôt!

– Sarah MacNeil

(c) Robert Kautuk/SOI Foundation

Sean Brandt
Outdoor Education and Biology Teacher, Saskatoon, SK, Canada

Reflections on Greenland

I was aware prior to this excursion that visiting the coastal communities of Greenland would place us among a small percentage of the global population who are privy to these experiences, and for that I am forever grateful to both the Students on Ice program and the National Science & Engineering Research Council (NSERC), the funder for the Teachers on Ice Program.  Although it will take me many weeks to organize my thoughts and learnings on this expedition, my knee-jerk reaction to Greenland is twofold, as both the scenery, and the local people have enriched my experience.

Upon arrival in Greenland I was immediately struck by the beauty of the landscape.  As I eagerly peered out the window of our plane I saw immense mountains and greenery dotted with a seemingly limitless amount of small freshwater lakes.  In contrast to the Saskatchewan North however, the trees that grow here, north of the arctic circle, more closely resemble shrubbery back home.  The lack of height in the trees allow your sightlines to remain largely unobstructed.  Many of the bodies of water we encountered gave the viewer the same effect as an infinity-edge pool, the ponds are placed along steep ledges on the mountainside in such a way that you can’t see where they end.  Our time on the land has been led by experts in botany, geology, natural history, and aquatic sciences from the SOI staff we are learning a lot- the students from the area are teaching too, which is nice to experience.

The people of Greenland- both on the SOI staff, and the local people of the communities we have visited have been eager to share their culture and language with us.  Although my ability to speak Greenlandic is abysmally poor, I am drawn to listen to its rhythm.  Both Qeqertarsuaq (kek-er-tar-su-ak) and Ummannaq (oo-man-awk) stand out in my mind for different reasons.  The former, because we were treated to a concert and music festival on the beach beside an ocean sprinkled with Icebergs (undoubtedly the most unique venue I have ever been to for a concert) and the latter, for the enormous faces of rock aligned to make a heart shape, but also because of the museums showcasing traditional seal skin kayaks, clothing and hunting tools of Inuit people, all explained by a very eager curator- we liked him immediately.

Our SOI staff from Greenland have kept our evenings filled with music and learning.  Myra has been teaching of Greenlandic geography, history and colonization, whilst Vivi has been sharing Greenlandic cultural practices: storytelling, drumming, mask dancing and song.

Our time here has been phenomenal, and as we now head across the Davis Strait toward Canadian waters, I am simultaneously sad to be leaving a country with so much left to explore, but excited to see new places of my own country that I have yet to experience.  Regardless of which corner of the arctic we visit, it is evident that the voice of the Inuit people: their culture, successes and their struggles needs to be more prominent in the classroom and curriculum, something that the five Teachers on Ice have already started to discuss and develop; but that is a blog entry for another time.

My best to family and friends back home, and to my boys, Declan and Cohen, Daddy loves you to the moon and back- or perhaps more appropriately, I love you as big as the ocean!

-Sean

(c) Robert Kautuk/SOI Foundation

Tara Doherty
Burlington, ON, Canada

We are now officially in Nunavut! Greenland was truly amazing. Our last day was memorable. We visited Ummanaq, and I hiked around the base of the heart shaped mountain, to a Santa Claus house. The entire hike was amazing. I also hiked with Gaba and Ethan, who certainly made everything more interesting. I have so many pictures (almost 300), and can’t wait to share them. I also found an incredible macro feature on my camera during our first land outing, a few days back, so I’ve been spending some time playing around with it. I can’t thank Henry’s enough for the camera, as I now have a record of this amazing journey.

Today, during our workshops, I was able to test an ROV that I had made (as a group of 3) on our first day at sea. Ours was the only one that fully worked, and it was incredibly fun to try and steer. It could go left, right, and up and down through the water. At first it just ended up going in circles, as we tried to get the hang of steering, but once we figured it out, it worked so well! It also helped that we were just coming into Pond Inlet, so the view was absolutely amazing. I got an awsome picture with my group and our ROV with the mountains in the background.

As fun as the last few days have been, they have also been educational and emotional.  Yesderday, we had a presentation about the effects of colonization on the Inuit, and it then became a converstation where people shared their experiences and pain. It was emotional and hard to hear, but I feel very grateful that they shared their stories. Later, when we had pod time, we weren’t able to do our schedueled activites, as there was too much heavyness still from earlier. Instead, we had a conversation and talked through the emotions anyone was feeling. For me, as someone who is not Indigenous, this really brought me to the realization that I need to take everything I’ll learn here and use it to bring change. I hope to continue to learn more about the issues, and ways that I can help.

(c) Robert Kautuk/SOI Foundation

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