Tracking Climate Change in the North

August 20, 2017

We left Resolute last night after dinner, and headed due east and then south to continue our journey on the Northwest Passage to Gjoa Haven.  Our first (and only) stop of the day was at Prince Leopold Island Migratory Bird Sanctuary, a stunning set of cliffs that is the summer home to a few hundred thousand birds.  We were fortunate to have Paul Smith, a bird biologist with Environment Canada, as one of our experts, who gave us an excellent introduction to the broad-winged murres, kittiwakes, gulls, and northern fulmars that build their nests and raise their young on these steep cliff faces. Paul shared his stories of rappelling down cliffs to band these birds, and counting the birds by the thousands to assess the strength of their populations.  These birds are indicator species for climate change, and we learned of their challenges having to fish farther afield (sometimes up to 200km away) as fish stocks change (due to warming waters) or disappear altogether (from over-fishing.)  The effects of our huge eco-footprints are far-reaching, and are having negative effects on every species in the world, even north of the Arctic Circle. We’re struggling with this on this expedition – we recognize that as travelers we are having an impact on the land and eco-systems around us.  We’re aiming to keep these impacts small, but I worry that we’re not doing as much as we can; true of this journey and of my life back in Toronto.

Our group was happy to have a quieter afternoon on board – time to do some laundry, get some exercise (interval training in the hangar), do some writing or reading.  Aviaq Johnston, one of youth ambassadors, gave us an excellent overview of Inuit history, culture and governance that helped us to connect our learning throughout the trip. After dinner, Captain Stefan Guy gave a great presentation on how he would navigate through the waters of Bellot Strait and Franklin Strait the following day, given changing ice and wind conditions. We are taking the less-travelled route through Prince Regent Strait, heading south to Bellot Strait, a kilometre-wide passage that separates Boothia Peninsula from Somerset Island. We have been told to expect lots of ice – we’ll finally see what the Polar Prince can do as an icebreaker!

A Memorable Visit to Resolute Bay

August 19, 2017

We sometimes end our days on the ship with a sharing circle; this is a loose version of a First Nations talking circle, where each member of the journey gets to express their reflection on what we have experienced.  Tonight this lasted for an hour and half; it was an incredibly rich way to build our understanding of our adventures, and of each other.  One of the reasons tonight’s circle was so valuable was to help process our visit to the town of Resolute Bay.  This Inuit community is the second most northernly community in Canada, with a population of about 250 (more if you count the steady stream of scientists and fossil fuel explorers who travel through).  Its history is well-documented (including in a Globe & Mail feature article today by Margaret Wente, who is on this journey with us.)  In brief, Inuit families from Northern Quebec were forced by the Canadian government to relocate there in the 1950s to support a sense of Canadian sovereignty in the North; they were left on a rocky shore with no food, shelter, or means of survival. We heard this story from Allie Salluviniq today, one of the last living survivors of this relocation, right at the spot where his family landed. It says so much about the resilience of this Inuit community to not only have survived this harrowing experience, but to also have made this place home.  Allie’s family greeted us warmly, introducing us to their children and welcoming us into their homes. We were fortunate to be able to return this hospitality as they joined us for dinner on the Polar Prince; having the children on board with us was a special treat!

The warmth with which we are being greeted by the Inuit we are meeting is becoming a central theme for me on this journey.  We are having experiences in the water and on the land that leave us filled with joy and awe – the North is such a beautiful part of Canada that so few get to see.  But what is proving to be most meaningful are the people I am meeting – on the ship and from the local communities, from all walks of life, and from areas of Canada I haven’t been to before. What I am learning from them is sometimes difficult to hear – as a Canadian from the south, I am shocked to learn about the neglect and atrocities that have been inflicted on Canadians in the North over the last 150 years.  I am working through my complicity in this as a person of British ancestry; my forefathers were the ones who brought this pain and suffering to the ancestors of the people I have been meeting and travelling with over the last week.  The Inuit’s warmth, hospitality, and acceptance of all of us, despite this challenging history, is a rich life lesson about diversity, inclusion, and reconciliation – one that I will take with me long after this journey is finished.

Getting some Arctic Exercise

August 18, 2017

I continue to be surprised by how busy each day is on the C3 journey; if we’re not helping out with housekeeping or meal service, we’re often rushing to the decks to view the wildlife on the land surrounding us via binoculars (to date: one polar bear, two muskox, thousands of birds, and today, bearded seals.) But while we’re busy, there hasn’t been much time for exercise, so we headed into Sophia Inlet today, a small leg of water off of Griffith Inlet, to get some hiking in.  We stopped in two places on this tranquil bay – on a flat rocky beach at the far end of the inlet, and near a waterfall coming down a low mountain.  The beach area looked empty at first, but once we were walking, small treasures began to appear – a whale vertebrae, a weathered wooden post, kittiwake feathers, bright green algae, smooth stones, and barnacles.  This provided a welcome opportunity to create some natural collages, a way to remember what I find without taking these items home.  I’m experimenting with a range of ways to make eco-art on this trip – art that has small eco-footprints but maximum visual impact.  (I’m planning to pull them into a creative map when I’m back as a way of sharing this journey.) The second landing involved a hike up a beautiful waterfall, and then up the low mountain that it flowed down from – what a spectacular view from the plateau at the top!  We were surprised how many seal bones we found on our way up – we had found it a strenuous hike to the top, so we were left wondering which animals had the energy to carry seals up with them!  We returned to the ship feeling happy and tired, and ready for a rest in the Knot, our community lounge.  But no rest for the wicked, as they say – we jumped onto the tail end of the kayaking and the paddle-boarding taking place off the ship.  The Polar Prince was moored in Griffith Bay, surrounded by dozens of chunks of sea ice.  Squeezing into a dry suit (no small feat in itself, I discovered), I hopped into a Greenland skin-on-frame kayak, having only kayaked twice before.  As the dry suits keep you warm in the frigid waters, I could allow my full attention to focus on the tranquility of skimming through the water and admiring the multiple shades of blue ice.   The dry suit also afforded a float in the sea before getting back on the ship; it was so much fun to bob in the suit – way more fun than the polar dip the day before when I discovered how COLD the water really is! A fitting end to an active day, and a wonderful balance to our onboard programming on the ship in the evening.

Remarkable People on C3

August 17, 2017

We have some remarkable people on board leg 9 of the C3 journey; with time on board as we travel from one incredible place to the next, there is lots of time for deep conversations as we eat, participate in programming, or hang out in the ‘Knot’, the ship’s lounge. We were lucky to hear from our three youth ambassadors today – Aviaq Johnston, Marta Thorpe, and Ann Makosinski. Each is impressive in her accomplishments – Aviaq is a published author, Marta is an experienced undergrad researcher (who has milked a squirrel!), and Ann already has a few inventions under her belt at 19. (Read more about each of them here.) As one of our themes is youth engagement, I’ve been interested to learn more from these young women what has led them to be fully engaged learners? Each has spoken about the power of having dedicated and skilled teachers – for Ann, it was her parents, for Aviag, a high school teacher, and for Marta, a few of her university professors on the research site near Yellowknife.  It’s a good reminder that education can take place is many settings – you don’t need a formal classroom for engaged learning to happen.

This was only reinforced by our visit to Beechey Island tonight.  This is one of the documented landing sites of the Franklin Expedition in 1845; the graves of three of the members of their expedition are buried here. With the help of David Grey (an accomplished Arctic researcher and historian), and Tom Zagon (a member of the team that has been searching for the ships of the Franklin Expedition), we got an excellent introduction, in situ, to the early British explorers of the North West Passage.  The island is a bleak yet starkly beautiful place, and we were moved by knowing we were treading in the footsteps of these courageous men (some of whom were the age of my sons now.)  On the return to our ship (and after a wonderful reception on the Coast Guard’s ship the Henry Larsen), we were reminded of the legacy of the colonial explorers on the Inuit by Jaypooti and Jena, two of the Inuit on this journey.  Their honest sharing of the negative effects of these explorations – violence, degradation, domination, and colonialism – was a thoughtful counterbalance to the British perspective that has pervaded the history many of us have been taught about the Arctic.  Jaypooti, Jena, and Aviaq are proving to be knowledgeable, generous, and respectful teachers for us all, and we are lucky to have them on this journey with us.

A Beautiful Day in Croker Bay

Aug. 16, 2017

Each day on the Canada C3 journey brings another set of remarkable adventures, and our third day was no exception! We continued our trip through Lancaster Sound to Dundas Harbour on Devon Island.  A former RCMP and Hudson’s Bay trading post, we heard a touching story from Jena Merkosak of Pond Inlet, about her grandmother’s birth in this area.  As part of the programming on board, I was honoured to give a presentation on my own research in the area of environmental art activism, connecting to the C3 themes of Environment and Youth Engagement.  Charlene followed this with a moving presentation on residential schools and Project Heart, a community arts project that honours residential school survivors.  As someone of European ancestry, coming to terms with the intergenerational trauma caused by colonialism is difficult but necessary part of the process of reconciliation.  I appreciate Charlene’s perspective in this: there is “nothing helpful in guilting white people, or in re-traumautizing indigenous people” in this process, but “we all have to take the responsibility to teach the truth; we are all teachers.”  Figuring out who the right teachers are for different parts of this process is an ongoing conversation in our group.

The afternoon found us arriving in the spectacular beauty of Croker Bay on Devon Island.  It contains a huge glacial valley, reaching down to the sea at the Bay.  I found myself in a zodiac with experienced guide Jean Castonguay, sea ice expert Tom Zagon, and new Canadian Valerii Dombrovskyi.  With Jean doing the driving, we had the ice walls of the Devon Island Ice Cap to ourselves for an hour while the others hiked on top of it. The glacier is a stunning sight, with nature proving itself to be a skilled sculptor of ice, snow, and water; shades of white, grey and blue can be found on its multiple faces, crevices and gullies.  As we cruised along its length, we passed by many bergie bits and growlers (different sizes of sea ice), reaching out to touch their smooth surfaces as they floated by.  I got a chance to try painting with pieces of teh glacier on the beach next – one of the ways I’m trying to capture the journey artistically.  A hike on the top of the glacier followed, with my first taste of the purity of glacial water.  During this visit we were captivated by the beauty of the glacier, yet we struggled with the knowledge that it is melting quickly due to human-induced climate change, along with other parts of the polar ice cap.  I worry deeply about the effects of this, and it forms in part the impetus for my own work in Environmental & Sustainability Education.

As if the day couldn’t get any better, in the evening we found ourselves on the hangar for a special dinner prepared by chef Matt Krizan from Mahone Bay, NS.  With a view of the glacier out the back, and Matt’s broad grin presenting us a fabulous meal (how did he do this in a ship’s galley?!), we toasted how lucky we are to see these beautiful parts of Canada that few get to see.  If more could see them, would everyone work towards better addressing climate change? How will I change to do this in my own life?

Note:  Not surprisingly, wifi is proving to be elusive at times.  I am writing posts daily but sometimes having a hard time getting internet access to post them – please be patient as I get caught up.

          

Reflecting on Reconciliation

Aug. 15, 2017

Our second day on Canada C3 was a day of thinking through what reconciliation means for me.  As one of the themes of this journey, we’re practicing reconciliation by learning about the ways of knowing of the Inuit, as well as the those of First Nations’ peoples across Canada.  The morning found us in Tay Bay for our first hike on the land, guided by Jaypooti Aliqatuqtuq, an Inuit hunter, guide, and bear guard who is on this leg with us.  His deep knowledge of the land was apparent in his explanation of bear tracks, owl pellets, native plants, and hunting sites – he is attuned to details in nature that most of us missed.  Another one of the respected members of our journey is Charlene Bearhead, a knowledge-keeper from Edmonton.  A mother of 6 & grandmother to 7, Charlene has been the Education Lead on the National Truth & Reconciliation Commission, and is now the Education Coordinator of the National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls.  She is also a co-chair of the Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund, which supported the Legacy Room on the ship.  This contemplative space is filled with gifts from First Nation and Inuit communities along the Canada C3 route – lacrosse sticks, an Inuit drum, handmade snowshoes, books, and many meaningful artworks.  Charlene gave us a wonderful introduction to the Room and to the Fund (if you’re not familiar with it, please look it up.)

We were honoured to witness Jaypooti give Charlene a gift of polar bear claws for this room, which came from one of his hunts – it was an emotional moment that touched us all.  And the day ended with our first spectacular polar bear sighting on an ice flow, as well as observing broad-winged murres and kittiwakes on the steep cliffs Cape Hay.  Paul Smith, a bird biologist on the trip, shared his knowledge of how these remarkable birds survive in this harsh climate. This led me to think of the knowledge, the relationships, and the resilience we can learn from the Inuit, from First Nations’ peoples, and from ‘more-than-human’ beings like polar bears and seabirds, if only we take the time to listen, to observe, to feel and to connect.  For me, part of reconciliation is learning to see and respect the deep connections between all life forms on this planet, and how we can play active roles in contributing to their – and ultimately our own – health and longetivity.

What an Incredible Start!

What an incredible start to our journey!  Our first night found us anchored in the Polar Prince icebreaker in the harbour of Pond Inlet on the northern tip of Baffin Island, which is surrounded by the stunning mountains of Sirmilik National Park. The water was calm, the sun was shining (well into the night), and the temperature was warm – we had found a bit of northern paradise.  While a satellite glitch stopped us from communicating with the rest of the world on our first full day on Monday, it didn’t stop our activities. We headed into the zodiacs to get into Pond Inlet, to visit the town of 1800 and listen to Minister Catherine McKenna’s announcement of the establishment of the Lancaster Sound National Marine Conservation Area. This is a good news story for the environment in Canada – it will be the largest area of this type in Canada by far, helping to protect the rich diversity of northern Canada for generations to come.  (The Inuit residents of Pond were happy to see the rest of Canada finally recognize what they had known for hundreds of years!)  The afternoon found us aboard the ship of Students on Ice, an annual expedition that takes 200+ students and educators.  We shared two incredible meals with this amazing collection of people, learning more about their stories and expertise. There were a range of workshops led by Inuit educators – my favourites were Inuit throat singing and how to skin a seal, though the Inuit games played by the young people were a hoot to watch. By 10.30, just when we were ready for bed, we were trying on our survival suits in an emergency drill in the former helicopter hangar (now a gathering place for briefings.)  We discovered that there won’t be too many dull moments on the journey, and that full sleep may have to wait until we return home.

  

Canada C3 the trip of a lifetime!

While August is a signal for some educators that summer is half over, I feel like mine is just beginning – I’m heading out on a journey of a lifetime! I’ve been accepted to go on the Canada C3 Journey, a Canada 150 Signature project that aims to better connect Canadians through deepening our understanding of the three coasts (C3) that surround us, the land that sustains us, and the diverse peoples who animate our beautiful country. The centrepiece of this project is an epic 150 sailing trip that travels from Toronto to Victoria via the North West Passage; I’m on Leg 9, traveling from Pond Inlet to Cambridge Bay beginning August 13th on a retired Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker. I’ve been tracking this incredible journey since it began on June 1st, and can highly recommend watching the videos and reading the blog – what a way to learn about how Canadians are addressing Diversity & Inclusion, the Environment, Reconciliation, and Youth Engagement (the four themes of the journey.) Please join me on the C3 journey as I share my experiences in this blog, via Instagram (hjinwood) and on Twitter (@OISEese and @eseinfac). I can’t wait to get underway!

Playing with Gelli Printing

I’ve started playing with a new printmaking technique that has possibilities for low impact, biodegradable art-making.  Gelli printing is an approach to monoprinting that creates one-of-a-kind prints.  It utilizes a flexible printing matrix (or base) made out of natural materials – you can either buy one of these, or make your own using Knox gelatin powder and glycerin (the latter a less expensive option.)  Due to its flexibility, it can capture both positive and negative impressions of items layed on the matrix.  Laying down natural items like leaves, grasses, or ferns works beautifully, whether you lay down a base of pigment first, or after the item has gone on the matrix. This can be a great way to capture the experience of a nature walk.  I like the effects of acrylic paint with this technique, rather than water-based print making inks, but as these aren’t particularly environmentally-friendly, I need to experiment with creating a more natural form of pigment with it.  Check out all of the images on Pinterest that artists have posted for Gelli printing – hopefully it will inspire you to try it yourself!

Bringing Creativity into Sustainability

I was lucky enough to spend some time learning firsthand from Mitchell Thomashow two summers back, a wonderful scholar, educator, and writer who has been influential on my own development in environmental & sustainability education (ESE).  His EcoIdentity book was one of the first books on ESE that I read years ago, and now I’m working through his Bringing the Biosphere home (also an excellent read.)  Mitch’s latest work focuses on the Ecological Imagination, recognizing the important role of expression, imagination, and creativity in working towards sustainability   (http://www.mitchellthomashow.com/ecological-imagination/ )  As part of the workshop he gave at OISE, he mentioned a book published by the Museum of Modern Art called BioDesign:  Nature+Science+Creativity (http://www.biology-design.com/ ).  It’s a fascinating look at how we can partner with natural organisms and their ecological design capabilities to create sustainable products, buildings, and communities.  It takes the idea of environmental art-making to a whole new level.  MOMA has posted a preview of the book on their website to give you a glimpse into a more sustainable future…I just need to find a way to do this, even if small-scale, with students.  Ideas anyone?