Thursday, September 29th was a clear cool day, perfect flying weather to head back to Inuvik. We were treated with spectacular views of the Northern Richardson Mountains as we climbed out of Aklavik. It's only about a 16 minute flight across the delta, so we were landed and heading back to the office in no time.
I'll spare you the details of my crazy afternoon, but to summarize: sorting finances, running errands, returning hides I borrowed to Parks Canada, cleaning up the office, organizing data, writing letters, and reports, packing up, finalizing my travel home, etc.
That night, Steve and Kristi came over for take out pizza and beers. It was the perfect evening of visiting, relaxing, and closure. Exhausted, we all packed it in pretty early. I had just snuggled into my sleeping bag when I received a text from Jacqueline that the aurora were visible right in town. I had known there was a good forecast for them that evening, but confirmation they were dancing gave me no excuse to stay tucked in my warm bed.
Between 11:00pm - 12:30am I drove around Inuvik, stopping at various spots to enjoy the show. Alone in the cold air, I finally felt quiet inside. While I watched the cascading ribbons of green, white, and purple move with such speed yet stillness, I started to reflect on this land, the people, and this trip. There was something deeper than gratitude that stirred in my heart that evening, but I said my thanks, and basked in the deep peace of the evening. It was the perfect send-off for my last night in the Arctic Circle.
During my overnight layover in Whitehorse the next evening, I went a couple places I've never been before that were so great I just have to share. I was lucky to get a sweet last-minute deal on a room at the brand new Raven Inn - if you're in Whitehorse I highly recommend checking it out. I also had a beautiful solo dinner & kombucha on the patio of Gather Yukon. The food scene in Whitehorse is pretty great, but this might have to be a new favourite for me.
It's been a few weeks since I've been home. As I prepare my final report to funders, I've been asked to answer the question "what was the reach of your activities?". Simple as it may be, it's an interesting one to really reflect on.
The funders are perhaps looking for a number: 150 students and 25 community members would probably be close. But how do I put a number, or even words, on the 4th grade student who tells me that they are going to ask their grandpa to take them on the land because they'd like to learn more about the animals now. How do I capture the impact of the senior-high student who is now planning on taking a related local summer job and attending post secondary because they think they've just been introduced to their career interest? And where do I even begin to start summarizing the impact that being a catalyst in those reactions has on myself and my future?
The reach of this work was not simply science communication. It was relationships formed, connections generated, ideas stimulated, and community engaged. Though I believe there was a fantastic uptake of the science, this whole trip to me was about using my skills and privileges to do something good for community.
My project does not use community engagement or traditional knowledge as data to be evaluated. I was hired on to specifically look at scientific tools (wildlife cameras and helicopter surveys) to answer questions of interest from the community and Gwich'in organizations. However, as a non-Gwich’in outsider invited to the Gwich'in Settlement Area to do this work, I have a personal responsibility is to ensure I am doing my work in a way that respects Gwich’in people, culture, and values. Connecting with people on the ground, doing what I can to give back (reciprocity), and communicating as often as I can (transparency), are elements doing work in a good way that I can honour throughout my research, and this trip was an impactful exercise in doing just that.
Beyond the scope of this trip and my thesis, I hope this work can provoke creativity from other researchers. Where people can find resources and time to connect in these deeper ways, it truly can be so impactful and rewarding to everyone involved.
Thank you for reading - I hope you enjoyed this series.
Steve: I am so grateful for all your support with logistics & planning, and taking time to participate directly. Thank you for being on board all my crazy ideas, that go beyond what was outlined in the thesis agreement when this whole project got started in 2021. You didn't really sign up to take on this much extra stuff, and I appreciate how you jump right in with me and guide me along the way.
Kristi: I am so grateful to have such a fantastic mentor, supporter, and friend. Allowing me sit in on the two traditional knowledge interviews will deeply impact my work and I am just thrilled to have had that experience. You made this trip a humbling and personal learning experience, and honestly just a ton of fun.
Tracy: Thank you for your involvement in the school sessions & open house - it was such a treat to watch you interact with the students and you brought a fantastic local story to the table (and sorry again you drove all the way to Tsiigehtchic in a snowstorm, just in time for me to have to cancel the sessions haha). You were so helpful with logistics in Aklavik and really put in the effort to make the open house come together!
To Jacqueline and Faye who came out with me to the schools in Inuvik, I really appreciate your time and effort, and I know the students did too. It was wonderful to meet you both.
A most sincere thank-you to the school staff, students, community members, traditional knowledge holders, elders, Ehdiitat Renewable Resource Council, Hamlet of Aklavik, Sharon Snowshoe, and many others who not only made this work possible, but enabled it to go as well as it did.
Thank you to the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council for funding 100% of this trip and all the events that took place