Notes from the field: Reflections on a recent trip to Ulukhaktok

Two IK-ADAPT team members, see  Lesya Nakoneczny and Ellie Stephenson, capsule were recently in Ulukhaktok assisting with the Nunamin Illihakvia/ Learning from the Land program, treatment which wrapped up March 30th 2014.

The final month of Nunamin Illihakvia saw a flurry of activity as hunting trips took place on the sea ice, sewing participants worked hard to complete children’s sealskin parkas, and participants shared their experiences of the program in interviews. More than 150 people came out to an end-of-program feast to enjoy the food and admire the sealskin clothing and tools that participants had made. Attendees also had the opportunity to see an advance screening of a video about Nunamin Illihakvia, which included footage shot by program participants and assistants, as well as Lesya and USC honours student Rowan Schindler. Ellie and Lesya worked with coordinators Laverna Klengenberg and Susan Kaodlak, IK-ADAPT Community Adaptation Leader Adam Kudlak, and many program participants to document these activities and conduct program evaluation interviews.

Though Nunamin Illihakvia is officially over, we look forward to sharing and celebrating what it accomplished! In the coming weeks we will be releasing the final version of the Nunamin Illihakvia project video, as well as a photobook and report. We also look forward to sharing details about a new program supporting health and climate change adaptation that is being launched in Ulukhaktok called TUMIVUT: Tracks of our ancestors towards a healthy future, which will carry on the momentum of the Nunamin Illihakvia program.

Here are some of Lesya’s reflections on her time in Ulukhaktok:

Mornings in Ulukhaktok start start calmly with coffee, breakfast and a thorough discussion of the day’s weather. It’s sunny outside when I look at the thermometer, which reads -25C. I wonder out loud if it will be windy today. Winnie, the owner of the B&B where I am staying, tells me to look at the flag across the street. It’s flapping gently. You can see the airport from her living room window, and there is barely a cloud in the sky. Today is another beautiful day in Ulukhaktok.

Every day is busy, and while I head to the Kayutak Center I run through my schedule for the day. I need to go through more of the footage shot by Rowan, an undergraduate student from the University of Sunshine Coast who was here in February. I also have a short video interview planned. All of this filming will culminate in a video about the project, capturing the experience of Nunamin Illihakvia and highlighting the importance of seal for Inuit health in the context of climate change.

Learning while in Ulukhaktok never stops. Every day I am fortunate to learn more about seal hunting and sewing with sealskin. There are sewing classes on Wednesday and Saturday evenings, and the ladies are working on sealskin parkas. For most of them this is their first time making a parka out of sealskin, but they are guided by elders to great success. The parkas are shaping up and they look beautiful. As I fumble along making my first pair of sealskin mitts, I fully appreciate the skills required to make warm and durable clothing out of sealskin. I look on as one of the participants puts together the design for her trim, and ask to take a short video of her sewing. Clothing made from seal skin is not only well suited for the climate in the North, but also very fashionable! The ladies handle their creations with care. These and other pieces will be on display at the upcoming community feast and wrap up event, so everyone is working hard to get their parkas finished.

After sewing, Ellie and I walk east to go home. The sunsets here are long and colourful; even though it is after 9pm part of the sky is still glowing blues and purples. As the snow crunches beneath my feet I think about making tea and chatting with Winnie about our days.


Image: Departing from Ulukhaktok  just after dawn for a hunting trip on the sea ice, March 2014.