Hi there! This is Gabrielle here, doing my first blog post after returning from an eye-opening educational expedition to the Arctic with Students on Ice. I was able to participate in the expedition thanks to an extremely generous scholarship from the Leacross Foundation, and I took advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to spread the Art with Heart impact above Arctic circle. I was able to donate 4 of our original photo books to an orphanage in Uummannaq, Greenland. 3 more books went to the community of Pond Inlet in Nunavut. The final book was supposed to go to the tiny town of Resolute Bay, Nunavut, but plane delays caused us to miss our community visit to Resolute. So the last photo book went home with a good friend and fellow Students on Ice participant who will donate it to a medical centre in her hometown of Carman, Manitoba. Here are a few of my reflections from the expedition and how they relate to AWH:
There are two sides to the Arctic. The part we often hear about in the news is the stunning natural environment - from the glaciers to the flora and fauna - that is being negatively affected by a rapidly warming climate. It is my preexisting awareness about these challenges that caused me to believe that natural sciences would be the sole focus of the 15th Anniversary Students on Ice expedition to the Arctic. And it is true that as we cruised past glorious icebergs up the lush west coast of Greenland, and manouvered between the rocky islands of Nunavut, we gained a deep understanding of the Arctic environment. However, I have also come away from this expedition with a reenergized passion for the other, less publicized side of the Arctic: the social element. This would also be a good time to say that Art with Heart would like focus most of our future efforts to help our neighbours in Northern Canada with the art of photography!
During our captivating and stimulating two weeks aboard the expedition vessel, we heard directly from Northern youth and established leaders of the Inuit community about the changes they would like to see in the North. Nunavut's rates of unemployment and suicide are the highest in Canada, life-expectancy and high school graduation rates are the lowest, and the inequalities don't end there. These problems are complex yet entirely preventable. Mary Simon and Udlu Hanson - two incredible ladies who represent the Inuit people in global conversations about business and policy development - spoke strongly about the crucial role of education in solving Arctic social and economic issues. A system has to be developed that incorporates Inuit culture, so that parents will be proud to encourage their kids to stay in school. Education leads to small businesses, jobs, long-term housing and waste solutions, and endless other possibilities. In addition, programs have to be included that will improve the mental health of youth, and create hope for the future of the Arctic. Enter Art with Heart.
Just as the early European explorers could not survive without the Inuit to guide them, in order for us to make a difference in the North we need to work closely with the people that live there. Through Eva’s expedition with SOI to Antarctica, and my recent Arctic voyage, we have been fortunate enough to build connections with some amazing people from the North who are deeply knowledgeable and passionate about their culture and communities. We hope to work with them to complete the following project goal: to do photography lessons for teens in a Northern community in order to provide a creative outlet, thus improving mental health. And at the same time we would put together a short documentary-style video to raise awareness about the Arctic when we return home. Many details still have to be put together for this plan to work. For example we have yet to decide what community in which of the four Inuit regions of Canada (collectively known as the Inuit Nunangat) to visit: most likely either Nunavut or Nunavik (Quebec). This initiative will also require a lot of grant applications and fundraising, however we have already gotten a head start on that front! Earlier this summer we reached out to BUFF Canada (http://www.buffcanada.com/) and explained our mission. They were so generous as to let us print 50 custom BUFF Originals to use as fundraising material! Eva - our talent resident graphic artist - whipped up an Inuit art inspired design and it was turned into a BUFF. I brought the BUFFs to the Students on Ice welcome home event in Ottawa on August 10, and $500 worth of these awesome products were sold! Thank you BUFF and SOI for the support.
Robert Comeau of the Youth Arctic Coalition spoke about the importance of involving youth in decisions made about the North. He stated, “Youth are not the leaders of tomorrow, they are the leaders of today.” We are living in a time where the future of the Arctic is at a tipping point. It is being affected by countless pressures: governments trying to claim drilling rights, industries proposing shipping routes, Inuit people fighting to keep their culture alive, and the Arctic environment being threatened by rising global temperatures. Whether the scale tips one way or another, the youth of today will be living with the consequences. Art with Heart wants to do our part to ensure a healthy next generation of Arctic youth.
With university starting in a few weeks, we are all sure to be busy so the blog might be quiet for a while, but rest assured we are working hard behind the scenes to make this dream a reality. Until next time!