As a newly-hired E2C Coordinator for Students on Ice, I was fortunate enough to take part in the 2019 Arctic Expedition as part of my training.
I first met Geoff Green, the Founder and Executive Director of Students on Ice, in Ottawa in 2004 at a conference on recreation. Geoff did a presentation on a wee project that he was involved with – he had a great slideshow of youth from around the world living on a ship in the Arctic with a whole bunch of scientists, educators and expedition professionals. It looked fascinating and I made a mental note of the opportunity for my own Northern Indigenous children once they were mature enough to attend. I harboured no illusions that I would ever have the opportunity to participate myself, but imagine my delight in successfully applying for a staff position with Students on Ice – the same year my daughter had been accepted on a scholarship to attend.
Prior to departing on this journey, I spoke with an Inuvialuit elder in Inuvik about the High Arctic communities and what I might expect to learn on this trip in regards to climate change. I mentioned to the elder that I was fearful of learning things that would literally scare me for the rest of my life. The elder looked over at me and asked if I was travelling with youth. I answered in the affirmative and he smiled and said ‘that’s the answer to your fears… youth’.
The expedition itself was a fascinating, and truly humbling experience. The ship itself was one thing – comfortable, busy and full of life – but when we would zodiac ashore or stand on the decks looking over towards these gorgeous masses of land, ice and water, that was something completely different. I used the phrase ‘depth of the horizon’ a number of times on expedition – the vastness of the land we were looking at, combined with the size of the waters we were travelling on reminded us how small each of us are as individuals. We would leave the ship to zodiac to the shore and when travelling on the water we would see people the size of ants on the land. There were times you would look across a bay and think that you could swim it before an expert leaned in and would tell you that the other side was actually 6-10km away. Optical illusions for sure.
I went in to expedition with an open mind – and was not disappointed. After hiking/walking/sitting/talking/appreciating and listening to experts each day and being fortunate enough to break bread each evening with them, I did learn things that will turn my hair white (or make me even more bald, if that’s even possible), but I also learned that we can make a difference as well.
The students by far impressed more than I can put into words. The questions that they asked, the interest they showed in learning about polar issues, the intensity of their understanding and the quality of the conversations they had around the dinner table, in the library, sitting on deck and while participating in activities was inspiring… and hopeful.
I returned to Inuvik invigorated and excited to begin the Expedition to Community part of my job – working with some of our SOI Alumni from the Beaufort Delta region on go-forward community service projects, whatever those may be. I also sat with the same elder again and recounted my journey. He looked over to me at the end of our conversation and asked ‘Are you still scared?”, and I gave him a sheepish half-smile when I answered ‘A bit, but you were right – these kids today give me hope’…I learned a lot about myself on this journey, but more importantly, about the confidence and attitude of today’s youth – and if I had a gratitude journal, it’d be filled with thanks.