A guest post by Robert Comeau. Photo by Scott Forsyth.
During our trip out of the Northwest Passage this past September, we made a community visit to the hamlet of Arctic Bay. We’d been unable to make our stop in Grise Fiord due to ice conditions—and our Expedition Leader, Jason Edmunds, wanted to make sure we stopped into an Inuit community in Canada before crossing over to Greenland. So, we made an impromptu stop into Arctic Bay.
As soon as we landed on the shores of the community, a snowball fight erupted between about two-dozen kids and some of our resource staff. After the snowball fight, we were able to explore the community with these youth showing us some of their favourite spots to hang out.
These kids reminded me of the kids in my community. Even though Arctic Bay is over 1,500 kilometres north of my hometown of Iqaluit, it felt like I was in a smaller version of home. This sense of familiarity was strong. In the case of Arctic Bay, it was these young Inuit that welcomed us so warmly. It was similar in the Greenlandic communities.
This hospitality extends throughout Inuit Nunangat, which is the Inuktitut term for everything that encompasses the Inuit Homeland. Southerners know this as the Arctic. I think this is a distinction that is very important to make—because when people think about the Arctic, many don’t think of its inhabitants, us Inuit. So, being able to travel as one of the Inuit Resource Staff aboard the Ocean Endeavour offered me the opportunity to help passengers understand our culture and our way of living in Inuit Nunangat. Each year, more and more expedition cruise ships are coming into Inuit Nunangat. With this increase, it is important that Inuit are present on expeditions to make sure that passengers experience our homeland to the fullest extent.
Inuit are very proud of our culture and ways of knowing. We are even more proud to be able to share this culture, this knowledge with visitors—or each other. Travelling from one end of the Northwest Passage to the other, we cross through many different Inuit regions with both similarities and differences. In almost every community we visited, we were lucky enough to cross paths with hunters coming back from being out on the land. In Illulissat, hunters were bringing ashore some caribou from their harvest and you could hear the Inuit Resource Staff commenting on how delicious the country food looked. This allowed us to share with the passengers our experiences and knowledge about harvesting caribou in our respective regions. I am tremendously grateful to have been able to help passengers understand our distinct way of life.
For me, one of the best parts of our expedition was when passengers had the opportunity to try some of our country food for the first time. This included frozen caribou meat, smoked fish, dried fish, frozen fish, and maktaaq (narwhal blubber/skin). “This is actually really good,” was the verdict! It was hard not to eat too much of it while cutting it up and handing it out, though…
The inclusion of Inuit Resource Staff by Adventure Canada enables the passengers to experience Inuit Nunangat as Inuit have since time immemorial. Simple rituals bring us all together; a game, a shared meal, a handshake. A smile. Who knows what expeditions to come will bring to us, but that’s the fun part.
So: to the passengers we were lucky enough to have aboard this past summer I say: Qujannamiik, a warm thanks. To the future passengers that will be aboard next summer and the summers to come: Tunngasugitsi, welcome.
Robert is a culturalist, hails from Iqaluit, and is currently studying History and Political Science at Carleton University. Robert has lived in, quite literally, all four corners of Canada and has experienced the west coast, the prairies, the east coast, and Ottawa. Home will always be the Arctic for Robert. He strongly believes that youth should be not only participating in the dialogue but helping also helping direct this dialogue. Robert is engaged in his community in Ottawa with organizations such as the Ottawa Inuit Children’s Centre and he hopes to help improve the overall quality of life for Inuit and ensure that youth in the Arctic have opportunities to have their voices heard. Join him in 2017 aboard Into the Northwest Passage.