Being an instructor for Sirius Wilderness Medicine in Nunavut allows me to combine my passion for pre-hospital emergency care with a life of adventure in the Great North. This includes accomplishing unique projects in collaboration with organizations that make a difference in the Inuit territory, such as the one we recently carried out with Artcirq.
Spring 2018, I leave my cabin and make my way to the airport in Qikiqtarjuaq. We fly to Iqaluit, the Nunavut capital, where I have a connecting flight to the town of Igloolik. Next, we stop in Sanirajak, a small community neighbouring Igloolik. Visibility is low. We hurry to board the new passengers and continue our ‘milk run’. Approaching Igloolik, we fly over the village three times, but the storm has now grown bigger. Back to point A. Travelling in the North requires flexibility!
Fall 2018, second attempt for the wilderness first aid training in Igloolik. Among the passengers of the turboprop on its way to the small Inuit community of 2000 people is Guillaume Saladin, co-founder of Artcirq. He was in Iqaluit to receive a recognition award for the numerous positive impacts that his organization has had on the community over the course of more than 20 years. Artcirq is an Inuit performing arts collective with the mission to bridge traditional Inuit culture to modern artistic practices by creating meaningful and original work through the performing arts, music and video. Artcirq performs on international stages, but also in a wilderness setting on traditional lands. Artcirq tries in its own way to harmonize traditional knowledge and modernity.
At the Igloolik airport, Alex Arnatsiaq, Artcirq coordinator, is waiting with his snowmobile to bring me to the Black Box: Artcirq’s headquarters, where the training will take place. Once the boxes of equipment are loaded in the qamutik (traditional sled), we travel the few kilometers that separate us from the town in minus 20 degrees Celsius. It is mid-October above the Arctic Circle; the sea-ice is already forming.
Making it happen
I find myself here to teach this course because Nunavut is a small, connected world. A few years ago, Alex participated in a program I was teaching; I was training leaders from several Baffin communities to develop their own ski programs for youth. On this occasion, Alex completed his first Sirius training course. For him, a course specific to wilderness settings with both theoretical explanations of the body’s mechanisms and practical application of skills, all within the unique context of the Canadian North, is not only a significant addition to his skillset but a necessity for all who venture into this territory. We stay in touch and work on the idea of offering this course to Artcirq in his community.
The dream finally came true this fall, thanks to a bit of coordination and the support of Sirius Wilderness Medicine, who wished to sponsor this non-for-profit organization that contributes to social wellness in the North.
Thus, with a group of performers, program coordinators, and local hunters in charge of the land activities, we completed a 20hrs wilderness first aid course. We put emphasis on the specific needs that Artcirq communicated with us: musculo-skeletal injuries while training at the Black Box and frequent multi-day, self-sufficient projects in remote settings. We combined the course with a 3-4 hour circus workshop every evening. This gave me both the opportunity to observe with my own eyes the potential mechanisms of injury and the privilege of participating in an exchange of expertise. Beyond the breathtaking abilities of the Artcirq performers, what strikes me is the vibrant atmosphere at the Black Box. Motivated youth are coming here to spend their never-ending energy, supervised by inspiring leaders.
During the first aid simulations, the group’s management of the more complex scenarios speaks to their team-work experience and, as an educator, I am thrilled to have a group this engaged in the course. These individuals have already faced real-life first aid situations, so it is easy for them to understand the importance of the material being taught. Limited resources, extreme weather conditions, the need to improvise are the reality for all who live here, and the courses we teach provide meaningful experience and vital tools. I am happy to be able to share my knowledge with people who are involved with youth, culture and well-being in their community.
A few days later, I haul my boxes back to the airport. Living in a town accessible only by plane means knowing that we won't see each other for a while. But I leave knowing that a dozen more people are equipped to continue living and running projects on the land in a safer way. It is now up to them to share their knowledge. Artcirq adds a string to its already well-equipped bow and Sirius Wilderness Medicine contributes to the social development of the North with its expertise. I go back to my cabin in Qikiqtarjuaq, grateful to be part of this network.
True to herself, Mother Nature had one more blizzard for me. This time, we flew over Iqaluit before turning back and sharing one last evening of training with all of the Artcirq team.
Instructor and medic for Sirius Wilderness Medicine
Translation edited by Anita LeBaron Wells