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Filtering by Tag: Reflection

Northern Lights Reflection by Patrick Hickey

Eva Wu

Patrick Hickey giving piggy back rides in Kangiqsujuaq.

Patrick Hickey giving piggy back rides in Kangiqsujuaq.

While I was 10,000 feet in the air flying well above the frozen barrens that were Northern Quebec (Nunavik) below me, I had my doubts.  Here I was, a mental health advocate from the south about to spend a week in the northern community Wakeham Bay (Kangiqsujuaq), Nunavik to talk about mental health.  In an area of the world where average suicide rates are record breaking, how could I know that I would be able to really achieve anything?  My doubts were quickly left behind.

After spending the week in Nunavik, I was exposed to the raw reality of the Canadian North.  I saw its beauty, its harshness, its hurt, and its hope.  Kangiqsujuaq is an Inuit community on Ungava Bay, with a population well below 1000 citizens.  I arrived in the community greeted with 90 kilometer an hour winds, and temperatures flirting with negative 40 degrees centigrade.  The high winds and cold temperatures were no match for the grounded warmth of the people I was to meet during my stay there. 

It took time.  There was no spontaneous connection between the community and I, which is to be expected when going to a new place.  However, by the third day or so, I was being called by name.  It may not seem like a big deal, but when you hear someone addressing you by your first name, when you’ve never formally introduced yourself to them… it’s a sign.  The tolerance has progressed.  You’ve been accepted.  And when a youth looks at you, and simply says “Matthew.”, the introduction is complete and you know that you’ve made a connection. 

That is how I would summarize my week in Kangiqsujuaq.  A week of connection; to history, to time, to culture, to others, to myself, to the cold, and to many other things which will slowly reveal themselves in good time.  The knowledge that was exchanged during our time in the North was invaluable.  Not only what I was able to share regarding mental health, but the scope and the magnitude of what I was able to learn during my brief stint in Wakeham Bay was priceless. 

There is no denying the epidemic that is mental illness and suicide in the North.  It was intertwined throughout the community we visited this past February, and it seemed as if no one could escape its reach.  For every connection made, another story was told of a personal connection to mental illness, or to suicide.  And really, no one can escape its reach.  Intrinsically, we all have a state of mental health, and more instrumental to the matter, mental illness does not discriminate.  It can directly affect each and every one of us.  

The incredible thing about my time in the North was that even though I am already beginning to see the sheer amount of what I have learned in Kangiqsujuaq, I am also beginning to appreciate the fact that my experience will only continue to yield dividends as time progresses.  I am still learning from my experience, and I am now sharing my experience with others.  Moreover, as we stay in touch with members of the community, we are informed of follow up projects that are beginning to unfold across Nunavik- a promising, but not surprising update.

I am rather indebted to the people of Wakeham Bay for my time in the North, and I am eager to pay it forward by sharing the knowledge and connection that the North had to offer me with others.  We all have so much to learn.

Laughter: Their Voice Not Ours

Eva Wu

Kangiqsujuaq Northern Lights Post-Project Reflection: Eva Wu

Eva Wu sitting by the bay that gives Wakeham Bay its name.

Eva Wu sitting by the bay that gives Wakeham Bay its name.

Never have I been constantly surrounded by the ringing of laughter for a whole week straight, day in and day out. It’s hard to get tired of it, in fact to me, it was what made this entire program completely unique.

Our first day, I distinctly remember walking into the community gym to play a game of impromptu volleyball with the local youth. The fluidity and understanding that travelled between each player was absolutely spectacular, a cohesive bond that a big city girl like me had never experienced. More important than anything, the entire game proceeded with next to no verbal communication, yet it was not silent. Laughter took the place of chatter. It is a place where words aren’t necessary to convey feelings, meanings, and stories. It is a place where there was mutual respect and love. 

Each day, regardless of how comfortable each student was with us Southern students, their chuckles between photography and mental health sessions helped lighten the mood. Though they were silent in terms of words, we were able to understand what they were feeling, as their giggles rang through the halls, emanating with curiosity. 

Each night Gabrielle and I would flip through hundreds of photos, sorting, cataloguing, editing. Eventually we came to the realization that the students focused their photos more on each other than their surroundings, prompting us to believe that they truly wished to capture each other’s joy and emotions in their lens. This further strengthened our confidence that these youth had the potential to use their images to extend their care and support throughout their community.

Eva's picture of the northern lights flickering over the complex that we stayed in.

Eva's picture of the northern lights flickering over the complex that we stayed in.

On our last night, I was informally interviewing Madeline and Jamie Yaaka regarding regional tourism for my report that I will be presenting at a Mock Arctic Council in Alaska this week. One particular perspective really struck me. They said that when tourists come to the community, they turn a blind eye to the addiction and health problems that the region faces. This raises the debate about how Northern communities should be portrayed to their Southern visitors. Often people only focus on all the issues, or all the cultural and natural beauty, but how could change happen if they don’t present all sides of reality? 

Walking into the project, we knew that we couldn’t tell the students' story. We didn’t know them, and we wouldn’t know them. A week spent in proximity with these youth would lead people to believe that we can grasp their feelings and stories, though it was quite the opposite. The longer we listened to their laughs and banters the more we realized that yes, any reporter can come in and write an article, but only these kids can tell the whole story. That, is exactly why we came. 

Their laughter and their voice is what the world needs to see. Our perspectives do not encompass their community, their world. The cameras and the tools we have placed in their hands are what we can provide them, but what they choose to do with them is the part that can allow people to see the life through their eyes.

-Eva Wu

PS. This is our first, and definitely not last, video created by Eric Foss about our experiences up North.

Post Project Reflection by Gabrielle Foss

Eva Wu

Gabrielle Foss after a few minutes outside in Kangiqsujuaq.

Gabrielle Foss after a few minutes outside in Kangiqsujuaq.

Warm. That is not the first word that would normally come to mind when one thinks about the Arctic. However, that is exactly the feeling that washed over me immediately after touching down in Kuujjuaq, QC, en route to Kangiqsujuaq to complete our Northern Lights Project. Within minutes of my first time setting foot in Nunavik, a local counselor named Mary Kaye greeted us with such friendliness that was hard not to feel right at home. This impression of being totally accepted and welcome in the North would not leave until the moment we touched down again in Montreal at the end of a fantastic week.

From our first night when the students showed their willingness to put up with our lack of volleyball prowess, to the last days when people took the time to take us dogsledding or give us a tour of the Pingualuit National Park interpretation center…to say that we were treated well during our short time in Kangiqsujuaq would be quite the understatement.

It is often said that food brings people together. This became evident during our first dinner of homemade sushi (featuring fresh Arctic char) with Marion, Madeline and Jamie Yaaka. This theme continued throughout the week as we shared one hundred Timbits with the students who love donuts just as much as we do, engaged in a bannock-making lesson by Sarah, and consumed copious amounts of chocolate-hazelnut heaven with Madeline and Jamie.

Powerful. That’s another word that came to mind during the week. Our remarkable landing in Kangiqsujuaq featured 90km per hour winds, giving us a small taste of the immense natural forces ready to be unleashed at any moment in the Arctic. And when we saw the sun illuminate the mountains across Wakeham Bay, or witnessed the Northern Lights dancing in the sky, the natural beauty was striking.

On the flip side of this intense environment are the people of Nunavik, who live and thrive on these lands. Resilient seems to be the best descriptor. This culture of physical and mental toughness became evident when our dogsledding guide was concerned about us being too cold while he himself had no gloves on in -43 degree temperatures. Strength was shown as well by the students, who were engaged and active participants in our workshop that started mere days after a tragic death in the community. Jessica, James and Yaaka displayed resilience as they spoke about historical trauma and its impact on Inuit people.

1 in 5 people have a mental illness, but 5 in 5 have mental health. This is a statistic that has always intrigued me, but became even more relevant during the Northern Lights Project. When Patrick asked the students, “do you know someone with a mental illness”, almost everyone said yes. This small survey proved how important it is to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness in this community, so anyone struggling with their mental health will be able to get the help they need.

Next he asked, “do you have mental health”, and almost no one said yes. I think this is because the students thought we were asking, “do you have a mental illness”, not realizing that everyone has mental health – like physical health – that has to be taken care of. I was very happy to see the students grasp that idea that it is possible to have poor mental health without having a diagnosed illness, or good mental health while living with an illness.

One last thing that I realized was the importance of hands-on learning in the students’ lives. During the photography activities, I was amazed at how quickly they grasped concepts of aperture, shutter speed, white balance, and lighting. And how eager they were to put their new skills to the test! The pictures they created seriously impressed me.

Another form of hands-on learning happened every night in the gymnasium. I had no idea that sport was such a large part of these students’ lives, but as soon as we started playing volleyball with them, it was clear they had quite a bit of experience under their belts. During a discussion on self-care, they said that sports are beneficial to mental health because team activities allow them to support each other.

And it was through these games that Eva, Patrick and I were able to connect with the students. We all learned to trust each other, without even speaking a word, whether in English or our amusing attempts at Inuktitut. Nakurmiik for reading and stay tuned for more updates from the Northern Lights Project team!


Some of my pictures from the week can be found here:


Eva Wu

Post Students on Ice Reflection by Eva Wu

Image by Eva Wu as the Students on Ice vessel M/V Ushuaia sails through the Lemaire Channel, Antarctic Peninsula.

Image by Eva Wu as the Students on Ice vessel M/V Ushuaia sails through the Lemaire Channel, Antarctic Peninsula.

The holidays were amazing for most people who got to take time off and reunite with their families, but for me, I had another adventure to embark on. For the past two weeks I journeyed with Students on Ice to a remarkable and life changing world, Antarctica.

There are truly no words in the English language that are able to capture the essence that Antarctica emanates. It's sublime beauty and power can in no way be reiterated with photos or stories, but I brought back what I could to try and portray this majestic continent.

One of the most pressing challenges that we faced everyday as we sailed through the boulders of ice was judging distance. We all knew that the mountains were big but we never knew how big. All the peaks stretched well above the clouds but it was at the point that every single mountain went well up and beyond to where the colours faded away. Standing there on the deck of the boat there it was impossible to conceive of just how far away and tall these sublime beauties stood.

There was this one time when we watched an avalanche fall from halfway up the mountain and it gave us just a glimpse of the grandeur. We heard the boom, we saw the crack, and we saw the fall. The snow fell like a waterfall from the peak, but slowly, ever so slowly. The stream of light grey drifted down like a feather on a summers day.

After that we realized just how mighty this land is. As the captain of a British Antarctic Survey Base said to us, "Antarctica takes no prisoners." If we fall down a crevice or tumble down a cliff, we would be done.

An iceberg that floats by our ship, taken by Eva Wu.

An iceberg that floats by our ship, taken by Eva Wu.

It is even harder to imagine if all of this were to disappear. Should the climate change more than it has already then the glaciers would disappear and the mountains would fade away. The future generations would not be able to truly appreciate this other world and understand the otherworldly and eerie landscapes that nature can shape.

If my time in Antarctica has taught me anything it is that every action counts towards preserving our environment and habitats. There is truly no other place in the universe that is like Antarctica, and all I can hope for after I relay my memories is that this world can act as a catalyst for people to preserve our Earth and our people.

With these images Art with Heart can incorporate them into the photo albums and installation projects that will soon be popping up all over Toronto. We can make the most out of this chilly expedition to send those in need to a whole new other world so that we can develop and grow together.