SHAD SPOTLIGHT: Jordan Bertagnolli - Discovering what it means to be Canadian

My name is Jordan Bertagnolli, a SHAD Fellow from UBC 2010. As part of Canada’s 150th birthday celebration, I joined a signature Canada 150 project, Canada C3. Canada C3 started June 1, as the Polar Prince icebreaker left the Toronto waterfront bound for Victoria through the Northwest Passage. For 150 days as the ship traveled through Canada’s coastal communities, it engaged in the Canada 150 themes of reconciliation, youth engagement, diversity/inclusion, and our environment. It was a journey to connect Canadians, reflect upon our past, and look towards the future.

 

Polar Prince - Bathurst Inlet

 

I was one of 35 C3 youth ambassadors selected out of 3,000 applicants from across the country. I joined leg 10 of this voyage in the Kitikmeot region of Nunavut, traveling from Iqaluktuttiaq (Cambridge Bay) to Kugluktuk.

 

Hiking Tikiaruk “Index Finger” with fellow youth ambassador Alex

 

 

Much like SHAD, living in close quarters with a driven group of individuals is inspiring. The week I spent in Canada’s remote arctic can be best described as ‘Kadjianaktuk’, Inuktitut for all encompassing beauty from the human perspective. The endless landscape was beautiful and dramatic. However, it was the time spent with fellow C3 participants and the warmth of communities that welcomed us ashore that is still impacting me. It was a week that challenged my understanding of what it means to be Canadian.

 

I had applied as a youth ambassador because of my interest in the voyage’s theme of environment. Planning to continue my education examining how human health is shaped by our ecosystems, I was eager to use my background to engage Canadian youth in a discussion about the dramatic changes occurring in the arctic. However, leg ten had a significant focus on the theme of reconciliation. As a non-indigenous Canadian living in southern Canada, I was ignorant to the reality of the impact of 150 years of confederacy on Inuit communities. I heard how the Residential School System had left children unable to communicate with their families who only spoke Inuktitut. I was also told of the impact on northern communities relocated from traditional lands to government settlements.

 

The expedition leg started in Iqaluktuttiaq (Cambridge Bay). Cambridge Bay was traditionally a temporary Inuit dwelling spot, however, that changed. The residential school and centralization of economic opportunities relocated many of the surrounding settlements to Iqaluktuttiaq. This has separated many from their homelands.

 

On the water in Cambridge Bay with the Rangers for their search and rescue demo

 

While in Cambridge Bay, I had the opportunity to walk on Roald Amundsen’s ship, the Maud. He was the first European to successfully navigate the Northwest Passage. It was surreal to stand on this piece of history that had been at the bottom of the ocean for almost a century. I also had a tour of the Canadian High Arctic Research Station. As a testament to the warming climate of the arctic, a cruise ship pulled into the harbour of Cambridge Bay on our last day there. As the cruise ship disembarked, the community’s population doubled. It is hard to imagine that this form of tourism is now possible in remote northern Canada. 

 

The Maud

 

Our ship ventured into several bays along the Dease Strait, and we had several landings at abandoned Inuit settlements, archeological sites and geological features. To travel through these areas was a unique experience, requiring permission from the Inuit Land administration as the territory of Nunavut is Inuit-owned land. I was surprised to learn that most of our journey was in unchartered waters. At this stage in our nation’s history, it shows the limited attention Canada has given to the arctic. This rich area of Canada remains poorly understood to the scientific community; many of the research projects onboard are focused on creating a baseline for biodiversity in these ecosystems.

 

Traveling to these northern remote communities it became clear not all Canadians have the same access to services. Nunavut is Canada’s fastest growing region. With the increase in people, a housing shortage has occurred; some communities have hundreds of people on waitlists for homes.

 

Umingmoktok

 

These remote settlements have limited access, often relying upon ship or air for resupply. This isolation can be intensified with poor infrastructure. On this journey, the Polar Prince was unable to dock alongside any community from leg 5 in Nain Labrador until leg 13 at St. Johns B.C. 

 

 

Polar Prince in the harbor at Cambridge Bay

 

Across the Bay with the Rangers, in the background you can see Cambridge bay and the resupply ship off the shore. 

 

There are no hospitals in most of the communities. If there is a serious illness, people must be flown south. However, airports can also be difficult to access because of poor weather.

 

Despite these hardships, the Inuit communities we visited were rich, welcoming and resilient. It was also encouraging to see so many Canadians from diverse backgrounds across the country eager and willing to understand their past mistakes, as well as the diverse cultures, and ecosystems that make up Canada. As we look to the next 150 years as a nation, Canadians need to be actively engaged in the themes that are being explored in the C3 expedition. We need to better understand the challenges facing our indigenous communities and alongside them to work towards solutions, protecting our ecosystems for future generations and creating a diverse welcoming country.

 

Leg 10 participants at Tree River

 

I value my experience at SHAD UBC and the lasting relationships I forged during my time there.  We live in such as massive country, and this imposes barriers. Yet, like C3, SHAD created the opportunity for a group of Canadians to connect, and work together. It is through building these personal relationships that we better understand our country, our fellow citizens, and thus together we can work towards a brighter future for all Canadians.

 

On October 28, the C3 expedition reached its end in Victoria’s inner harbor. It was a surreal moment seeing the Polar Prince dock in downtown Victoria. It seemed so much smaller compared to its presence in the vastness of the arctic tundra in Nunavut.  I was able to join participants from all 15 legs as we celebrated the success of the expedition and its future impact through the development of legacy projects. A series of educational documentaries, visual art, and literary works will be produced to continue reaching Canadians, and engaging generations to come in the themes of reconciliation, environmental protection, diversity and inclusion, as well as youth engagement.

 

Polar Prince Docking at Victoria B.C.

 

It has been a few months now since my time in the Canadians arctic, and like SHAD this has been an experience that has shaped me. I came away from SHAD inspired about the role I can have in Canada as a youth. Through that month we successfully tackled a challenging task. Like SHAD, Canada C3 was inspiring. Leaving the legacy discussion in Victoria, I felt more equipped to be an active participant in the path towards reconciliation in Canada. Realizing that even the small things I do in my daily life can be a part of this process. As the expedition lead Geoff Green said, "We are approaching a potential turning point as a nation." In many ways Canada C3 felt like a tangible step towards that. I am looking at pursuing a degree in medicine. I have always had an interest in rural practice, however, after this trip I have had a growing desire to look north at more remote communities. If I am fortunate enough to receive medical training, bringing that to communities that have limited access to these services would be a tangible way for me to be involved with reconciliation and improve healthcare access for some for these communities.

 

Learn more about the expedition’s 15 legs 

 

If you would like to see more about my time in the arctic, the Canada C3 team has put together some amazing videos documenting the expedition. Here is a recap video of the leg 10. 

 


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