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  • Writer's pictureSaskia de Wildt

An arctic summer throwback (July-Sept 2021)

The end of September is nearing, and winter has started to set in at Gjoa Haven, Nunavut. We wake up to thin layers of snow and frozen streams, and cold winds are becoming more frequent. Sundown has shifted from 11 pm to 5 pm over a matter of weeks. And summer's crisp sunny days are becoming more sparse. Except for today. It's beautiful outside; with clear blue skies and spectacular sundown as Percy Ikkuallaq drum dances into the night on the Tundra.

We've been filming and recording all day...

Not just Percy, but many other community members of Gjoa Haven as well.

Like many other Indigenous communities in Canada, Gjoa Haven is struggling with language barriers and loss of knowledge between generations. Not all elders speak English, and not many young people speak Inuktitut. So many ways of living on the land and knowledge on hunting disappear from the community as the older generations pass on. These are essential skills when you live in a place like Gjoa Haven. The hamlet is surrounded by incredibly beautiful tundra's and waters, that are as rich in fish and wildlife as they are dangerous when you don't know what you're doing.

But the people in Gjoa Haven find many ways to reconnect different generations. Amongst which through art. Through lifesongs (Ayaya's) and drumdances they keep the knowledge of traditional huntinggrounds alive. Through throatsinging they connect to the animals on the land and pass on their stories. And through camping trips, hunting practices are passed along to all familymembers, even the youngest. All of these activities are done across all age groups, where the elders show younger people how it's done - and transfer their skills along to the next generation.

I managed to convince the BearWatch project PI's to give me some budget so I could help facilitate such cross-generational artistic practices as part of my PhD work. And ended up chasing sunsets, flying drones, audio-record storytellers, and set-up workshops for local kids to learn how to work professional film equipment. The results of which I will share with you soon!


One person I do want to highlight especially here is Danny Aaluk. An incredibly talented graphic artist and gentle soul. We collaborated intensely during my stay in Gjoa Haven to prepare the graphic work for a motion graphic video that we're co-producing with the community. Every moment that we got together, we chatted about his familyhistory, the land and the animals.

It's those moments, outside of the actual work that give you the best insights on what life is like in the North. Something that I am as grateful for as I am for his amazing drawings.


What the landscape is like!

I know that many of you probably envision a slab of empty whiteness (at least that's how far my imagination stretched before actually coming here). In March 2019, when I was in Coral Harbour, that image didn't really hold up even in the heart of winter. But Arctic summer is a different deal altogether.

My time in Gjoa Haven was mostly spent in relation to the water. This was because my PI' s are also working on a sustainable fisheries project. We went fishing, camping and driving across King William Island on ATV's with George and his family, joining in on their work to get a feel for the land.

In Coral Harbour, I got to reconnect with Leonard and his family, after they took such good care of me when I was stranded there during the first weeks of Covid. It was great to see them again and what Southhampton Island looks like underneath the thick layer of snow that covered the land the last time I was there. It was pretty green in a dessert kind of way. Many lichens and lots of life. We did a lot of driving on the island. Looking for polar bears, fishing and hunting caribou.

And indeed we spotted a polar bear! On the very first day of our visit. Needless to say, he was less charmed with us than we were with him. He quickly took off into the freezing ocean.


What I did!

Next to co-creating artsy stuff? The usual fishing, camping, butchering, riding ATV's, testing boats, pulling cars from the ocean of course... Stuff happens outside. Rain nor shine. Lots of hurry up and wait. I like to get my hands dirty and join in on everything, but it's a pretty rugged world out there that asks for experienced mechanics, cooks, seamsters or fishers. My city skills were out of place at many of those moments - a refreshingly humbling experience. What I could do, however, was to be patient, friendly, and curious. And to enjoy this new world I dipped myself into. So I tried to do a lot of that. And to talk to everyone. Something I am very good at actually.


Some of the great people I met!

Enjoy some snapshots of the wonderful people I collaborated with; George Konana and his family, James Qitsualik, Tapputtia Aglullaq, Barbara Okpik and Holle, Mary and Angeline. The smiley-face with the cup of coffee is Peter, the guy who has been running the research circus up North for the past 15 years.


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