When I was growing up in Pond Inlet, we’d see about 15 cruise ships a year visit the community. When I joined One Ocean Expeditions for the journey through the Arctic, I thought, “Ooh, I know what it’s like to welcome tourists, but now I get to see what it’s like to be one of them.”
I was honoured and humbled to represent Nunvaut on-board, and meeting with passengers and people in communities in the North on a daily basis was a rewarding experience. They were 12-hour days, but they didn’t seem that long.
I did presentations about life in the Arctic and talked about cultural identity. To have had the chance to share my culture was important — I saw it as an opportunity to bridge the gap between the North and the south. For example, I shared stories about the extreme temperatures and light changes we have to deal with. In May, the sun is out until 10 p.m. Then, from about the end of October onward, we’re living in darkness. What does that mean for the community and schools?
Sometimes, my own community doesn’t always see the potential of tourism. But then when they see someone like me come off the ship, it can give them hope. The young people see that I’m from here and they realize that they have the potential to do this, too.
The people in the Arctic are what really resonate with me, and part of my job is to help passengers understand that the experiences they have will be greatly enhanced when they start to appreciate Inuit culture.
Putting passengers and Inuit together is invigorating. You have people sit down, laugh, share a meal and experience the Inuit way of life, but then you also have Inuit come aboard and see some of the dynamic science that happens on these voyages. It’s really an opportunity to bridge two worlds.
I’ve been inspired by One Ocean Expeditions’ activities in the North — the things that happen beyond just the experience of the expedition. They’ve helped out the medical clinic in Pond Inlet, they’ve provided food for children in schools in isolated communities and they’ve repatriated photographs, information and ephemera from museums. There are currently exhibits in Pond Inlet that allow local people to see photographs of their parents or grandparents from the 1920s, 30s and 40s for the first time.
It’s this idea of giving back that I like. It’s a change in paradigm from “Let’s go up and look and take photographs and experience it ourselves,” to “No — let’s go up there and be partners with the Inuit and always try to leave something of value behind.” There’s a real magic in that.
I work with Ikaarvik, a program that works with Arctic youth to be the bridge between research and their communities, and with Ocean Bridge, an organization that focuses on ocean conservation. But during the summer, when ships come to Inuit communities, I’m also a tour guide, which is how I came to work with One Ocean Expeditions. I joined them last summer as an onboard culture guide, teaching passengers some basic Inuktut and running some sewing classes. When I wasn’t doing those things, I was talking with passengers and answering questions they had about the North, its people and their culture.
On land, there are only a few guides for the more than 100 visitors from each ship, so meaningful interactions are limited. But being onboard gives me more time to talk with passengers, and for them to get to know me as a person, not just a token Inuk. I went to Nunavut Sivuniksavut, an Inuit school in Ottawa, so I have some understanding of the southern perspective, and I used that to help passengers see things from the Inuit point of view in a way they could understand.
Being in the North is a powerful experience for visitors, especially if it’s their first time. But this journey was special for me, too, because it was the first time I visited Dundas Harbour, where my grandfather was born, and the first time since I was three that I’d been to Arctic Bay, where my grandmother was born. I lost both of them to cancer in the last few years, so being in these places wasn’t just amazing — it was healing.