Whenever we are planning a trip, I will admit that I first think of far off, exotic lands. I know Canada has so much to offer and I have traveled to many parts of our country, but the thrill of an exotic destination is hard for me to resist. As a result I haven’t traveled in Canada as much as I should have.
This year I had the opportunity at the high school I teach at to chaperone a trip to Nunavut – a territory in Canada’s Arctic populated mostly by Inuit. This was an incredible opportunity to go above the Arctic Circle and to learn about Inuit communities and culture. We were partnered with the community of Taloyoak and in April they traveled to Ontario to visit us. We did the tourist highlights of the area – Niagara Falls, Toronto (CN Tower, Hockey Hall of Fame and of course Eaton Centre shopping), a visit to two manufacturing facilities, the University of Guelph, etc.
We then flew up to Taloyoak in April/May for an amazing visit. The best part was that we were not visiting as tourists but as guests of the community and people opened their homes to us.
- Landscape – since we are in the Arctic circle, you are above the tree line and the landscape is hilly permafrost.
- Culture – this community of 900 people was only formed about 60 years ago. Before this point, the Inuit of the area were nomadic relying on hunting and foraging.
- Food – I got to try some traditional foods like arctic char (fish), caribou, musk ox and even polar bear. Even though people live in the community, many still hunt and fish regularly. There were two small stores in the town and due to the isolation, food prices were expensive. The government does have a healthy food subsidy that helps, but there is still a lot of poor nutrition and poor education about healthy foods. Coke is very popular and the teens seemed like they were always drinking a can, even though it cost $4-5/can.
- Camping and Ice fishing – we went on a 2 night camping trip on the land, which was an amazing experience. We traveled out on snowmachines and kamatiks (sleds behind the snowmachines). Traveling in one of those is quite the bumpy experience. Some of our students caught some fish but that seemed to require more patience than I had. Just to drill the holes was a monstrous task as the ice was 8 feet deep.
- Traditional ways – we learned to use an ulu (traditional knife), saw drum dancing and throat singing, got traditional face tattoos, saw an igloo being built, learned some basic inuktutik, heard from the elders of the community and so many other enriching experiences.
- Seeing high school students absorb the experience. They made amazing connections with their Inuit partners and learned more about a part of Canada very few people get to visit.
- Souvenirs – I brought home lots of great things to remember this trip, which will probably be my only trip to the far north. I got a soap stone inukshuk, an ulu, caribou antlers that I found on the land, mini kamiks with real polar bear fur, seal skin bracelets I sewed for the kids, and even a frozen arctic char.