Each year, Adventure Canada sponsors an Inuk youth from one of the four Inuit regions of Canada to take part in Students On Ice, established in 2000 “to educate the world’s youth about the importance of the Polar Regions, to support their continued growth and to inspire initiatives that contribute to global sustainability.” Alexia Galloway-Alainga will join this year’s expedition, from August 8-23.
Born and raised in Iqaluit, Alexia, a third year undergrad in social work at Carlton U, may have been destined to play the role of cultural ambassador: Her mom’s side of the family hails from Arctic Bay, NU, while her father’s family is from NS. Alexia feels her roots are firmly planted in Nunavut, and she plans on returning to the territory when she’s completed her studies.
Alexia’s experiences in the south have taught her that southerners really don’t know a lot about Inuit. “I think people who, maybe are coming to the Arctic for the first time, or who aren’t familiar with Inuit—we’re not as represented, I find. That’s something I’ve really learned in my schooling in Ottawa. Ninety percent of the time people say they never got any education about indigenous peoples.”
Frequently, that leads to a knowledge gap, even at the most basic level: “Inuit, First Nations, and Metis people are all different groups of people. We don’t all have the same traditions. We don’t all do the same practices. We have different forms of dancing, different forms of singing. We live such different lives in such different environments.”
Alexia is excited to bring her own traditions and understanding to Students on Ice—but is also looking forward to learning from others. “Having come from Nunavut and spent my entire life here, I think my familiarity with Inuit cultural heritage and traditions is something I’ll bring. And being open and learning! My role is definitely learner.”
Thanks to a presentation in elementary school, Alexia had long been aware of SOI, and realized it could be a great fit for her after several acquaintances benefited the experience. “I figured, you know what, I should do it. I am a representative of the Arctic, I’m a throat singer… I know that I do hold knowledge about Inuit and Inuit Nunangat, but I know I have much to learn.”
As someone who effectively lives in two worlds, North and South, Alexia is conscious of the unique perspective that comes with mixed heritage. She’s written a poignant blog post about being a red-haired, fair-skinned, freckled Inuk.
Alexia is just as keenly aware of the way her experiences while aboard SOI will contribute to her ability to represent Inuit, especially in the south. “Having that experience, widening my experience of Inuit Nunangat will help me a lot. This is an opportunity as an ambassador. Having that knowledge and having that experience that SOI will give me is a good asset… When people meet me (down south) they’re often super curious and don’t know much about the Arctic.”
Alexia realizes exploring the Arctic offers special learning opportunities. “I have never been to Resolute Bay. I have been to Arctic Bay only when I was younger. I have yet to go up further north…. I’ve been to Greenland but not to the three communities we’ll be visiting.” An experienced camper and traveller, Alexia is also excited about the SOI expedition as a chance to get outside. “I’m definitely looking forward to the land. I love being on the water. I love hiking, I love seeing plants, berry picking… that’s something I very much look forward to. Just being outside and doing these things.”
Photos courtesy of Dan Iqqaqsaq