Travelling in the Company of Inuit

Kathleen D814034 by Michelle Valberg

Guest post by John Houston.

Photo by Michelle Valberg shows Kathleen Merritt—artist, culturalist, and youth leader—in 2015 aboard our Arctic Explorer expedition.

When I travel to the Arctic, I travel in the company of Inuit. Always have, ever since an Inuit dog team carried my mother from Cape Dorset to Kimmirut, the start of a long journey south so that I could be born.

We were returned to Baffin Island on the C.D. Howe three months later, and that trip likely sparked my love of sailing Arctic seas—but I think it goes deeper than that. The Arctic feels as mysterious, exotic, and elusive a place today as it must have appeared through the spyglasses of early explorers. The mind requires context to make sense of its images, its rhythms, its scale—and no one can create that context like Inuit can. We also need time to process all that information—and travel by ship allows and affords us that time.

I think a sea voyage with Adventure Canada is the best way to experience the Arctic. They were first to engage Inuit resource staff, a decade before other ecotourism operators would follow suit. The opportunity to spend time with people who live their culture, who embody their values, who share their world so generously—brings one to a better understanding of what culture is. What spirituality is. What hospitality is.

Perhaps international of awareness of the Inuit began with Robert Flaherty’s film Nanook of the North. Now, his granddaughter, Martha Flaherty, is one of the Inuit featured in a new film she has co-written. The ancient Inuit oral tradition was challenged by the arrival of our non-native culture, but Inuit quickly found new ways to communicate. Inuit culture is alive, and thriving. It is thriving in their art, in their performance, in their film, in their television—and now, in their digital media. It is thriving in festivals and gatherings, in communities large and small, in the North and beyond. Inuit are communicating to the world and amongst themselves the need to cling tightly to culture in order to preserve identity.

The Arctic sea and land are calling. If we listen, they will set things right deep within us. And the Inuit we meet along our travels remind us of what is truly important in life. As long as I am able, I intend to travel the Arctic seas. Always have. Always will.

John Houston is a culturalist, filmmaker, and expert polar swimmer. He has travelled with Adventure Canada since 1991.