Arctic expedition offers learning experience about Inuit culture, climate change

In August, Community Foundations of Canada teamed up with Students on Ice, inviting nine community leaders on a journey to experience Canada’s north and travel to the shores of Greenland. The expedition offered an opportunity for participants to deepen their understanding of Inuit culture and the impacts of climate change on the Arctic region.

The trip began in Resolute Bay, Nunavut as the ship visited several ports along Eastern Canada’s Arctic, including Prince Leopold Island, Mittimatalik (Pond Inlet) and Beechey Island before spending five days at various stops in Greenland.

Over the course of 16 days participants aboard the MS Ocean Endeavor were engaged in hands-on workshops and field trips with researchers, artists, teachers and cultural leaders from across Canada.

Here’s some of what our delegation experienced along the way.

Annie Aningmiuq, Community Foundations of Canada

For years, I have wanted to participate in Students On Ice (SOI) for many reasons. SOI is an award-winning organization with a reputation for encouraging youth to learn about the arctic, my home. I have wanted to understand and experience this sense of inspiration first hand. In recent years, the organization has brought more and more Inuit and northern youth on board. For some, it is their first time away from home and upon their return, they are more confident, have a new appreciation for their communities and are inspired to learn more. Over the years, I have had close family and friends take part in SOI as educators, health workers, mentors and artists and overall, the same type of inspiration seems to occur for them too.

When I began my work with Community Foundations of Canada in April of this year, I was thrilled about my new role as the Engagement Coordinator. Working with or for the north has always been a priority of mine so when my new job asked me if I would be interested in going on the expedition, my personal dream for years, a hundred things went through my head but immediately, my answer was yes. Of course, yes.

It’s hard to explain my experience on SOI in a story that is both detailed and condensed. I find myself continuously thinking about my time on the MS Ocean Endeavour, our home on the ocean for the 16 days that took us from Nunavut to Greenland. We learned from thought provoking educational panels and workshops, listened to inspirational stories and we created art in many forms. Each day, I tried to soak up as much as I could by learning new things and being present in the moment. I led workshops to teach Inuktut and participated in as many workshops as possible.

Professionally, I feel that the expedition made me want to expose myself to more diverse activities to support my future professional developments. Be it education or even fine arts, being a participant on the ship made me want to tap into my existing skills and explore new ones to continue learning in a way that encourages me to grow.

Personally, my experience was extremely meaningful. As we walked on the lands that my ancestors have used for thousands of years and saw the historic sod houses and artefacts scattered all around, I felt so much gratitude to them for creating the pathway for us today. Breathing in the fresh arctic air with hints of tundra and sea, I felt a sense of bliss as we stood in some of the most breathtaking scenery in the world. Simply put, I felt humbled and grateful that I was able to take part in this experience because of my work with CFC.

While in Greenland, I found it incredible to be with other Inuit that had so many similarities to my family and me. Growing up on Baffin Island, I knew that our neighbours were Inuit that had similar food sources, traditions and languages but in a way that I could not understand then – our countries divided us. I learned a bit about Greenlandic culture and politics from my Inuit political role models, Kuupik Kleist, former Prime Minister of Greenland and Aqqaluk Lynge, former President of Inuit Circumpolar Council. I have followed the work of these two individuals with admiration for years and to be able to have a private conversation with them was definitely a highlight for me, one I will remember for a long time.

Our CFC delegation was amazing. Some of our delegates created songs and two sang in front of 200 people. One student delegate swam in the Arctic Ocean; another one was a group leader and one lead a mentorship program on the ship.

This trip allowed me to set new goals for myself, but being back to my regular routine and normal life, I am left thinking: ‘What now? How do I maintain the inspiration and momentum I got from this experience in my everyday life?’

Annie Aningmiuq, Engagement Coordinator, Community Foundations of Canada

Alana Squire, Donor Services Specialist, Winnipeg Foundation

“The opportunity to participate on the 2017 Students on Ice Expedition, was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The cultural and scientific knowledge shared about the world’s polar regions, the people who inhabit the land, and the detrimental effects climate change is having on their livelihood and our environment was pertinent, inspiring and provocative.

The Students on Ice Foundation and their partners and supporters have created a unique immersive experience that encourages one to engage their mind, body and soul in the process of discovery of self and others, and then to use that to create meaningful change in our comm(unity) and the world.”

Michael Mezei, President, Mawer Investment Management Ltd.

“I gained a much deeper appreciation for the North, both the land and its people. I left with a feeling of just how vast the Arctic really is, even being there it’s hard to wrap my head around the distances and open space.

During my time aboard the Endeavour, I learned more about the deep connection of Inuit people to the land, animals, culture, language, and just how important it is to maintain the Inuit way of life and connection in a modern world. I was also touched by the important place of Inuit Elders within the community.

All this led to a tremendous admiration for a people who have somehow found a way to make a life from what the land and sea has to give (seals, fish, caribou) in remote and harsh conditions. The journey also evoked a deeper appreciation of how the North and Inuit people add a deep richness to the geographic and cultural diversity that is our strength as Canadians.”

Jayna Brulotte, Community Initiatives Specialist, Victoria Foundation

“The Students on Ice experience was transformative. Participants – students and staff alike – were transformed by the resilience and warmth of the Inuit; vastness and fragility of the land; and wisdom and creativity of our fellow passengers. The Ocean Endeavor was also transformed, from an expedition vessel into a strong and diverse community.

The community that was built on the ship not only provided a deep sense of belonging, but also allowed for meaningful conversations around challenging issues. It led to taking risks, exploring new endeavours, stepping outside of our comfort zones. Best of all, that’s just the beginning as we take what we learned and felt, and work to create positive change in our communities.”

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