We stand on the Arctic Ocean looking out at a vast landscape of white, dark rock peeking through on the mountains that flank the sea. As we make our way single file across the deep drifts of snow-capped ice, we see few signs of life. Periodic tracks of Arctic hare, wolf, or fox cross our path. We once spot a fleeing hare bounding up a steep mountainside, and a ptarmigan, barely visible against the snow, flying swiftly out of sight. And we have the good fortune to see several seal basking in the afternoon sun, a reminder there is life teaming beneath the ice we are walking and sleeping on as well.
We have traveled from the small hamlet of Arctic Bay on the northwest tip of the Baffin Island across the mountain-strewn and rugged Borden Peninsula to the Tremblay Sound of the Arctic Ocean and beyond, over 170 miles to the hamlet of Pond Inlet. The weather has been overall good, with temps ranging from the teens below zero up into the twenties, and only a few days of strong winds, snow, and poor visibility. The higher temps actually make for more difficult travel, causing the snow to soften and stick against our pulks as we pull them through deep drifts.
Travel here in the Arctic can definitely be challenging. Conditions change by the minute. The morning may bring a white-out in which you see maybe 100 feet ahead. Within a span of 30 minutes, that white-out can clear to reveal brilliant sunshine. Or the air may be calm one minute, and then the next, without warning, you are pushing through a raging ground blizzard with strong winds.
There is a stark and surreal beauty to the land here. We sometimes feel we are in a dream. When the wind is calm, the silence is absolute, the peace enveloping. With near 24-hours of daylight, sleeping in a tent can be challenging, however. You wake at 2am and think it is time to rise. Or you hear the stirrings of your tentmates and imagine that perhaps a polar bear is near, nosing its way around the tent and preparing to strike.
Some mornings you wake and crawl from your sleeping bag and your whole body aches from the hard work of pulling a heavy sled through deep snow for hours and many miles. You walk outside the tent into a brisk cold wind and you wonder how you will find strength to keep moving forward that day. And yet you do. You push forward, feel the backward pull of the pulk against you as you head out, and before long you find a rhythm, your body warms with the hard work, and you marvel at the strength of your body and the beauty of the wild lands around you that stretch as far as your eyes can see.
In the small northern communities we visit, we hear many incredible stories. Stories of a not-so-long-ago past when people lived a more nomadic life, following the migratory patterns of animals and traveling great distances by foot and dog team. Stories of hope despite daily challenges such as the phenomenally high price of groceries here, the limited job opportunities, and the high youth suicide rates. Stories, too, of the strong sense of community that still exists in the north, of taking care of each other, and of working to sustain a thousands-year-old culture and language in this newly wired world.
These northern communities are isolated, with no roads to connect them. They can be reached only by plane, snow machine, dogsled, or foot in winter, or by boat in summer. Understanding how, when, and where to travel across land, ice, or water is key. Understanding how to survive in the harsh terrain and conditions of the Arctic is critical. The importance of traditional knowledge, language, and culture have not changed over time here. The communities we visited, of Arctic Bay and Pond Inlet, are continually seeking ways to bridge the worlds between modernization and tradition, embedding youth with the ability to survive and thrive in the unique Arctic environment, as well as take pride in their heritage, culture, and language.
We’ve met many individuals working to make a difference here in the north, individuals who choose to care about their communities and the land and the culture here. You can view our video updates to hear from folks such as teacher Audrey Qamanirq , elder Paul Ejangiaq, and Clare Kines from Arctic Bay; Geela Tagak and Sheatie Tagak from Pond Inlet; and Inuit Circumpolar Chair J. Okalik Eegeesiak. We hope you’ll continue to check back for new interview clips as we post them, as well, and that you’ll share your own stories of hope and inspiration through Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #choose2care.