I have been travelling to the Arctic for about seven years now but I have never been on an expedition. The truth is I am not sure what one would look like.
The word “expedition” sounds sexy; it conjures romantic images of hardship and self-sacrifice in order to accomplish something few have dared to do or discover something yet unknown. The closest thing to an Arctic expedition I have experienced was during my most recent trip to the Nunavut hamlet of Kugluktuk when I tried to make it from the ice rink to the Northern Store in a blizzard.
Sure, I have travelled by snowmobile for days across the sea ice, camping along the way. I’ve been cold and have sacrificed a warm bed for caribou skins and a sleeping bag. It was all new to me, but for the Inuit hunters and Elders I was with, it was just another trip out on the land. Inuit have been doing that for generations.
To people living in Canada’s High Arctic, the idea that southerners call visits to their Arctic home an expedition elicits a chuckle and a roll of the eyes. When they visit me, are they on an expedition?
So when I returned from my last Arctic trip a few weeks ago and was asked the usual question: “How was your Arctic expedition?” I thought about it for a minute and realized that the idea of what I’d been doing was far more romantic than the reality. I could have just gone with it and maintained the illusion, keeping myself an “Arctic Explorer” in their eyes. Instead, I told it like it was: I spent most of my time in a meeting room in Kugluktuk conducting youth workshops and exploring the links between Inuit traditional knowledge and science. I drank lots of tea and had great conversations about life in the Arctic. I played pool with some incredible young people. I went to a dance and was duped into participating in a jigging competition. I stayed in a pretty decent hotel for which I paid an incredible sum of money and watched too many episodes of The First 48. And I made it from the ice rink to the Northern Store several times without incident. It was a great trip.
Blog post by Eric Solomon, director of Arctic Connections at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre.
Learn more about issues facing Canada’s Arctic at www.vanaqua.org/ournorth