A month in Nunavik: What I’ve learned so far

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I sit at my desk in my living room as dusk shifts to night thinking about what my first month in Nunavik has taught me. I have a few decorations set up to make my place feel like home, and my legs are still tingling a bit from our second walk of the day. Tennyson is curled up in a little dog ball on a chair, snoring his head off, and I laugh a little at the total worry I had bringing my pets up here. Tennyson probably misses having another dog to play with, or a yard to bark at the neighbours from, but for the most part, he’s a spoiled rotten happy dog that gets at least three big walks a day, plays fetch in the woods, barks at ravens who I swear look big enough to eat him, and has access to all the living room furniture, if he kicks a cat off of them.

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I have learned that it isn’t easy to adapt to someone else’s culture when it comes to things like animals. I have had to discover what my limits are before I think I should interfere in the treatment of a dog in community.

I have learned that as a southern person, with access to an entire house of my own, and flights south to see my family, I am extremely privileged, and privileged in a way my Inuit colleagues are not in the benefits I receive. I struggle with that knowledge, and hope knowing I have this privilege will drive me to help dismantle divides between colleagues, no matter where they come from.

I have learned that my work is hard. That my team and I are all frustrated and unsure and feel daunted by the task at hand. I have also learned the deep, moving feeling of watching a teacher receive her degree after 15 plus years of hard work, and getting to share that moment with her children and grandchild.

I have learned that baking cookies for the office isn’t just a nice thing to do, it’s contributing to the culture of sharing and togetherness that many of my Inuit colleagues already nurture in our work place. My shortbread is welcomed alongside other offerings of fresh Bannock and fruit, to sit over and enjoy while working through deep seeded issues or lighthearted gossip.

I have learned many of the people around me have experienced more trauma in the last month than I have in my entire life. I have learned terms like ‘culture of trauma’. That violence, neglect, depression, addiction, abuse, and deeply felt dispossession echo through all of our work here.

I have learned I need to keep reading, and keep listening to, the stories of the Inuit of Nunavik. That, since the 1950s, Canada and Quebec have deeply scarred and altered the landscape and people of this region. That, in just two generations, life for people here has been scattered like snow on the wind; and that despite all that, they expect and want the world for their children; that it is part of my responsibility in my role to help build that world.

I have learned I need to be better at preparing for weather changes, and my own responses to them. I need to listen to my body when it’s exhausted (which is a lot) and find a way to better adapt to the moods of winter and darkness in my brain. I need to also listen more to those around me, and hear their wisdom about fur and mittens. I also need to learn to just embrace the wind and sleet and darkness.

I have learned I need to consume more vitamin D, and take time away from my computer screen, and share often about the beautiful landscape of the environment in which I make my home. I need to learn to paint with words the colours of moss and rocks, the feelings of northern lights dancing, the smell of wind blowing off the river.

I have learned that two glasses of wine while waiting for take out can fill you up totally, rejuvenating your heart for another week of hard experiences. Taking a moment to enjoy things you like, and with people whose friendships matter to you is very important.

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I have learned that building relationships with people around me helps to answer all the little worries like how do I pick up my cargo, and when does the post office close, and does the co-op have any goat cheese? Because getting stuck constantly on those types of questions means you aren’t stopping to get to know people, and that’s more important. Cheese can wait. (Well. not really, but they can help you find the cheese later.)

I have also learned is lonely here too. It’s important to acknowledge that. It’s hard to come home to just Netflix, or talking to a cat. It’s hard to check your mailbox and have no letters or notes from friends. It’s hard to maintain friendships over Facebook messenger or comments on your pictures when your internet goes out for hours at a time, and the content of those conversations feels so…empty. Actually, it makes you feel more disconnected. Like, a casual ‘how’s it going there?’ only warrants a brief paragraph of how you’re doing. There isn’t time spent thinking it through. There isn’t real sharing or understanding. And they are probably doing something while you’re talking to them anyway. It’s hard not to feel angry and hurt when you reach out to talk to people, and get only an emoji back in response. I have to remember that for people who are totally connected all the time, and surrounded by other people, the distance doesn’t feel that great. They feel connected by my pictures and Facebook posts. They don’t feel the distance like I do.

I’ve learned I have a lot more to learn.

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