Prior to now, the extent of my experience in the remote community of Aklavik was a quick heli touchdown in 2021. That was a quick stop at the airport to grab more fuel on our way to survey sheep in the nearby Northern Richardson Mountains. But for the entire day & night of September 28th, I got to have my feet on the ground, meeting the wonderful residents of the quaint Hamlet.
Remember the snowstorm from September 26th & 27th that prevented my travels to Tsiigehtchic? If not, read chapter 3 here. Well, Inuvik and Aklavik were hit even harder those days by the winter weather. Planes didn't fly to Aklavik on the 27th (a community accessible only by river boat or air craft in the summer, but drivable on an ice road in the winter). I was so worried the lingering disagreeable conditions on the 28th might cancel my trip, but after only an hour and a half of delays in the morning (waiting for conditions to improve and the plane to be de-iced) we were finally trotting across the runway up to the North Wright plane.
Once we arrived, we had to re-jig the school sessions slightly, as we missed one of the morning blocks we had scheduled due to the flight delays. Thanks to the administration staff, we were still able to connect with every student in the original schedule.
From 1:00-2:00pm we visited the Northern Studies class (grades 10-12). These students were such a highlight for me. They made us coffee as we settled in and were kind, interested, and excellent learners.
Aklavik is the community nearest the study area for the divii project, and so the folks here are generally the most active in the work where there is opportunity. What was really cool, is most of the kids in this class already knew about the project. Some had family members or friends who had gone out on past fieldwork, and one student had even gone out himself! The knowledge of the land and interest in the local wildlife created a buzzing energy in the room, and we all had such genuine and fun discussions as a group.
At 2:00pm, we hustled over to a different room where every student in grades 4-6 was waiting for us. This was originally supposed to be two separate sessions, so this was a sizeable and fun group. As we brought out the animal hides, sheep horns, and wildlife cameras to get their hands on, "organized" chaos quickly ensued. I say "organized" only because our stash of prizes kept the students with one ear turned toward us while they took part in fun, hands-on exploring and learning with their peers.
I was thrilled to be able to have Steve Andersen (GRRB), Tracy Davidson (ENR), and Kristi Benson (GTC) as both my travel companions and integral supports during the school sessions. I really feel like this was such a solid group for our purposes. Having Steve represent the GRRB side of wildlife work, Tracy represent the NWT Government's wildlife monitoring, and Kristi being able to speak to traditional knowledge work, we really had a great variety of Dall's sheep information to offer. If I was able to do more sessions like this in the future, I'd really like to have a local knowledge holder participate to share stories and traditional knowledge as well. It didn't work out to have an elder join this time, but I'm hopeful there will be more opportunity in the near future to do work like this.
After wrapping up at the school around 3:30pm, I stood outside the school, looking out at the cloudless blue sky, feeling warm sun on my face and the chill of the snow pressing through my boots. I stood, feeling quite sentimental. My school visits for 2022 were done and they had gone better than I could have hoped for. What a wild ride it had been putting them together and then making them happen. I couldn't be more proud and grateful for the students, staff, and my team. I knew we were on a time crunch to finish the prep for our next event, but I took this special moment in with a few deep breaths, and then reluctantly paused my reflections for later.
Thanks for reading - I hope you're enjoying this series! Be sure to check back in for the final two blogs coming shortly.