Polar Sea 360°

Episode 06

Surviving Civilization

Making a Future in Pond Map it

By Abbie Ootova Angnestisak, an ambitious 21-year-old mother of two and Inuk performer, who is featured in The Polar Sea 360. While exploring her own dreams and aspirations for the future Abbie addresses some of the issues that Inuit youth battle, including her own experiences of the pain of suicide in her community, Pond Inlet.

Pond Inlet, Nunavut

I am Abbie. I was born in Iqaluit but I have lived in Pond Inlet my whole life. Growing up every spring, summer and fall my family went out onto the land to fish, pick up geese eggs, and hunt geese, seal and other arctic animals. During the summertime in the camp the men go out hunting and the woman usually sew clothing or pick blueberries and qijuktaa (a plant that we burn to make food).

“Nunavut has the highest suicide rate in Canada, but the help is just not there”


I am a throat singer. My sister Lorna first taught me when I was 10 years old. I love throat singing because it is part of my culture and a part of my job. Every summer I perform for non-Inuit people when the cruise ship arrives and we show them what we do in our community. Our community is respectful, beautiful, and kind but young people here in Pond Inlet struggle with challenges like bullying, drugs, alcohol, sniffing, suicide, and other bad things; things that cause a lot of people to drop out of school.

The situation here in Nunavut is that more young people are committing suicide than ever before. Someone is always committing suicide – every year, many times a year – winter, summer, spring or fall. Seven of my classmates have tried to commit suicide. It’s hard for me to see that. I’ve known these people since kindergarten and they are facing serious problems. When our teenagers face sadness or anger they turn to suicide because, at the time, their problems seem impossible to overcome. It seems like there is no immediate solution to the tough times.

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“I think teenagers turn to suicide because they have no one to talk to”

I can’t exactly say why people are committing suicide but I can tell you there is no one reason why. We live in a very small community and the thing that is causing the anger and madness seems like it will always be there. People get mad about something and it seems like there is no end to it, so they commit suicide. From my own experience of living in small communities you have no way out of the anger. There are no activities, there is no escape.

I think that teenagers turn to suicide because they have no one to talk to. Many people have been through traumatic experiences like severe beatings and abuse and they carry the emotional pain by themselves. There’s a lot of stuff going on in their mind and if they don’t talk about it or go to counselling then they continue to destroy themselves.

Seven years ago my best friend and niece committed suicide beside our house. My dad found her and I was the first person to hear that she was outside. It was very hard to see my father, the expression on his face. It was very hard for me; I can’t even explain the anger, the madness, like I should have done more. I should have encouraged her to talk more. There are lots of questions in your head when you go through this.

I couldn’t talk to anybody after that experience, not even my family. I didn’t want to hurt. I didn’t even want to help anybody because all I could think about was her. The guilt was right there. Especially, as a person who has had a loved one commit suicide, I understand that you can feel sensitive, unstable afterwards, more willing to kill yourself over something small.

“It really hurts seeing teenagers killing themselves, but we don’t need to face this anymore”

It really hurts seeing teenagers killing themselves, but we don’t need to face this anymore. Our community should be working to eliminate suicide. Suicide affects everyone around the people who kill themselves, especially if other youth have been thinking about doing the same thing. You can see in the news that Nunavut has the highest suicide rate in Canada, but the help is just not there. If Pond Inlet had more facilities for its youth, such as counseling or a youth center, the situation might improve, not only here, but all over Nunavut. I would love to help.

And we, the youth, need to be stronger. The hardships will pass. If you’re young and facing suicide you need to wake up and take action. Don’t always think about the negative things. Do more of what you love. Having a hobby might help you face your troubles. Acting onstage is what I love to do and it helps me.

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“There’s joy in my heart again and I can finally start talking”

When I was 10 years old I started doing drama workshops and by 16 I was travelling around Canada performing as the main character in the play Night, a powerful performance about the current problems facing Canadian Inuit. Acting is my passion; it shows my personality. When I’m on stage I feel pins and needles that come from being proud and powerful. I feel appreciated for my talents and privileged when I’m chosen to be a part of an act. There’s joy in my heart again and I can finally start talking. I’m happy I am here.

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This post is also available in: French, German

Understanding Suicide in Nunavut Map it

This article explains the historical context underlying the current situation of suicide in Nunavut using excerpts from the 2010 Nunavut Suicide Prevention Strategy, produced by the Government of Nunavut, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., the Embrace Life Council, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police V Division.

Nunavut, Canada

Suicide touches the lives of all Nunavummiut. The immense loss of lives – concentrated among Inuit youth – is well-known within the Territory. Few peoples have experienced the scale of death by suicide that Nunavut Inuit have in the last 40 years, and few jurisdictions have suffered the degree of suicide-related trauma that Nunavut has. Nunavummiut have been exposed so directly and repeatedly to suicide that they have come to accept the situation as normal. Despite this, it has been extremely difficult to talk openly about this issue in Nunavut, whether on the personal, family, community, or political level.

“In the last few decades, hundreds of Inuit in Nunavut have died by suicide”

Until quite recently, Inuit society had a very low rate of death by suicide. While suicide occurred, as it does in all societies, it happened infrequently, and rarely involved young people. In contrast, in the last few decades, hundreds of Inuit in Nunavut have died by suicide, placing Nunavut’s suicide rate far above the Canadian average (Charts 1–3). Young Inuit men make up the largest proportion of these deaths, although they are not the only group at risk. Inuit women in Nunavut die by suicide at a lower rate than Inuit men in Nunavut do, but the suicide rate among Inuit women in Nunavut is far higher than that of women in the rest of Canada.

Most people – experts and laypersons alike – trace the roots of the current elevated rates of suicide to the historical trauma suffered by Inuit in Nunavut. Almost all reasoning around the cause of the elevated suicide rate in Nunavut has to do with the rapid and radical societal change that has occurred here; and most discussions of suicide prevention focus on how to counteract these changes.

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“The elevated suicide rate in Nunavut has to do with the rapid and radical societal change that has occurred here”

While Inuit had differing levels of interaction with whalers, missionaries, and fur traders for centuries, most Inuit feel that the truly traumatic impacts on their society began after World War II, when Government of Canada policies coerced Inuit into moving from their seasonal camps into newly established communities. Southern values were imposed in these new communities: the wage economy was introduced; formal schooling of children was made mandatory; Inuit traditional justice was replaced by the Canadian justice system; inadequate and substandard southern-style housing was erected; and non-Inuit administrators tightly controlled the operations of each community. Inuit associate this transitional period with an overarching loss of self-reliance.

The cumulative effects of this massive disruption of Inuit society produced dramatic results. The first and all subsequent generations of children who have grown up in communities embody a fundamental transition in Inuit society, away from a traditional Inuit lifestyle and towards a mix of Inuit and southern values. The generations of Inuit who have been raised in communities since have struggled with the delicate balancing act of living concurrently in two very different cultures.

The new physical and social environments of communities affected Inuit health in many ways, but the rapid spread of infectious and respiratory illnesses, especially tuberculosis (TB), had an especially significant impact on Inuit society. Tuberculosis was at epidemic levels in Inuit communities, and in the 1950s and 1960s Inuit were often sent by ship to southern institutions for treatment. Many died in the south, and others lost important social ties to their families and communities that were difficult to rebuild.

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“Most Inuit feel that the truly traumatic impacts on their society began… when Government of Canada policies coerced Inuit into moving into communities”

The settlement era also coincided with the imposition of the residential school system, which created an immense amount of trauma for Inuit children and their families. Many children in these schools lost their Inuit language, some because they were violently forbidden to use it even though it was the only language they knew. Students were denied regular contact with their families in their most formative years, which prevented them from learning skills that were fundamental to Inuit social life. Many were sexually, emotionally, or physically abused while at these schools.

Parents, older siblings and extended families were also traumatized by the residential school experience. When children returned to their home communities, they were greatly changed. Many had lost their ability to trust because of the trauma and abuse they had experienced at residential school. Further, because residential school students were indoctrinated with the belief that anything to do with Inuit cultural practices was wrong, these children were reluctant to accept the knowledge that their parents and grandparents were trying to pass on to them. Ultimately, the people in this generation never managed to build a strong foundation of Inuit social skills to live with and to pass on to their own children.

“Understanding historical trauma …is an imperative first step in breaking its cycle in Nunavut”

The trauma experienced firsthand by Inuit in the settlement transitional period has had an immense impact on all following generations, as many Inuit who were negatively affected in this period did not ever heal. This unresolved trauma compromised their ability to cope with stress in a healthy manner. Negative behaviour often followed in the form of alcohol abuse, sexual, physical, and emotional abuse, child neglect, and violent crime. It is important to note that elevated suicide rates emerged within the first generation of Inuit youth who grew up in communities. In the absence of an adequate healing process, a continuous cycle of trauma has been created, which has been passed from generation to generation. This is referred to as the intergenerational transmission of historical trauma.

The understanding that historical trauma can be passed from one generation to the next does not excuse afflicted individuals who harm others; nor does the examination of the roots of historical trauma in Nunavut allow definitive blame for the current suicide rate to be placed on any single entity. Rather, understanding historical trauma and how it is transmitted from generation to generation is an imperative first step in breaking its cycle in Nunavut. This understanding will inform the development of optimal forms of care, and will ultimately allow for a better understanding of how to prevent suicide in Nunavut.

To see the full Nunavut Suicide Prevention Strategy and action plan, click here: www.Inuusiq.com/Nunavut-Suicide-Strategy

This post is also available in: French, German

Golfing in the Arctic Map it

By Manfred Becker, a German-Canadian filmmaker and editor. In his work he often explores personal stories and human trauma surrounding current or historical issues. He shares personal reflections of his experiences directing The Polar Sea segments filmed in Gjoa Haven and Cambridge Bay.

August 26 - Gjoa Haven, Nunavut

Gjoa Haven, Nunavut on a late summer evening. The North wind blows hard, way below zero. Still, Joseph Kaniak and his sons are out for a game of golf. They putt when they can as they don’t know when the first snow will end their season, which barely lasts two months at the best of times. So this evening they will play all nine holes. There isn’t a speck of grass, just a mixture of some coarse sand and patches of ground cover. The ‘field’ resembles more of a gravel pit and obstacles come naturally. Mr. Kaniak carries a lot of golf balls as he runs through the course, which seem to disappear in the landscape.

The Kaniak family avidly watches golf on TV. Tiger Woods is their hero and they secretly wish one day the PGA Tour would come to Gjoa Haven. Given the effects of climate change that wish might not be so far off. Temperatures have been rising, extending their golfing season year by year. In the not too distant future there might be warmth that lasts long enough to plant grass seed. There is already a well-kept green in Yellowknife, barely 675 miles to the south.

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“I don’t have time to speculate about the future of humanity. I have immediate needs to attend to” – Gjoa Haven Resident

I imagine that the concept of Arctic golfing doesn’t really match Europeans’ stereotypical images of the North as a mythical place of icebergs, polar bears, and throat singers; but like all idealizations, reality deconstructs. For most southerners the thought of global warming triggers strong responses, ranging from carefully worded scientific data assessments (“It’s way too early to tell…”) to doomsday predictions by some environmental organizations (“Manhattan will soon be under water …”).

For the people I talked to in Gjoa Haven the immediate effects of climate change have been … well, mainly positive. Summers are longer and they can take their families out onto the land to hunt and provide country food that limits their visit to the local food store, where buying groceries for a family easily becomes a $500 affair. They have also experienced differences in flora and fauna. Now there are more fish around and vegetation is richer because of the warmer temperatures. But for the most part, people consider those a part of ‘change’ that simply happens in life, constant and expected.

Some local people told me bluntly, “I don’t have time to speculate about the future of humanity. I have immediate needs to attend to.” Okay, the ice in the winter is less reliable to carry snowmobiles and there have been more encounters with polar bears that venture closer to the hamlets in search of food but there is also promise: an ice-free Northwest Passage will translate into economic development. And that may reduce poverty in the North, which is currently nearing Third World levels.

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This post is also available in: French, German

Amundsen at Gjoa Haven Map it

By Stephen Bown, author of The Last Viking, the Life of Roald Amundsen

Gjoa Haven, Nunavut

On September 9, 1903 Amundsen spied a snug sheltered bay to overwinter. It would shield them from the grinding ice in the open waters, the bitter polar wind, and even provide fresh water sources. He called the spot Gjoahavn, now the Canadian town Gjoa Haven, and settled the little ship to be frozen in, where it would stay for nearly two years.

“Amundsen’s open-mindedness toward different people contributed to his ultimate success in the Arctic”

Amundsen and his crew hoped for new companions to relieve their own isolation in Gjoahavn. When they noticed five strangers, clad in shaggy caribou furs and bows strung over their backs coming over a hill, the trio strode boldly towards them “armed to the teeth.” When the native men saw that the Norwegian’s were unarmed (they didn’t recognise guns as weapons) they advanced smiling and talking loudly. The excitement and joy was mutual; the meeting was a grand success and the start of a cooperative, multi-year alliance.

As word of the friendly encounter spread throughout the region various groups of Inuit came to Gjoahavn for short periods. Helmer Hanssen related that the learning process was slow on both sides, “When we talked Eskimo they thought we were talking Norwegian, and when they tried Norwegian, it sounded to us like Eskimo, but we understood each other quite well and carried on long conversations.”

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For Amundsen the true treasure of the Northwest Passage was the knowledge and technology of the local people, which he knew he would need. Amundsen’s open-mindedness toward different people and new ideas contributed to his ultimate success in the Arctic and the Antarctic. He accepted their culture on its own terms, without romanticising the people or their way of life and he viewed them as cultural equals. “It is often said that the Eskimo are lazy,” he mused, “unwilling, and possessed of all other bad qualities under the sun. Certainly this was not true.” During the first winter all the crew members had bartered for suits of the finest caribou-skin clothing. “The thermostat showed -55C (-63F)… My experience is that in these parts in winter the Eskimo dress is far superior to our European clothes.”

“My sincerest wish for our friends the Nechilli Eskimo is that civilization may never find them”

Amundsen spent many weeks learning from the Netsilik. He hired an elder to teach snow-house building techniques to the Norwegians and, following the lessons the area around Gjoahavn was littered with dozens of snow houses. Amundsen reported that “Old Teraiu, who could not understand what we were building all these huts for, shook his head pensively… and exclaimed, ‘Iglu amichjui – amichjui – amichjui!’ which means, ‘This is a dreadful lot of houses.’ But in this, too, we arrived at what we wanted: we became at last good snow builders.”

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During another trip, the sledges stuck in the snow and Amundsen and two companions replaced the exhausted animals, hauling one of the sledges themselves. “After ceaseless toil from morning to evening, we managed to cover 3.5 miles. I realized now that this sort of thing was not good enough.” He learned the techniques for coating the sledge runners with ice for smooth running, and set out to learn about the training and maintenance of dogs in the polar environment. To the Inuit the use of dogs was a matter of life and death; they were working animals treated roughly, not like pets in Norway.

Amundsen perfected his polar survival techniques during the two years he spent in the Northwest Passage. When he set off on his famous race to the South Pole several years later his plan essentially blended Norwegian and Inuit techniques. In his book, The North West Passage, Amundsen wrote about Inuit customs, material culture, and told tales of his own interactions with the Inuit. The “Eskimo living absolutely isolated from civilization, are undoubtedly the happiest, healthiest, most honourable and most contented among them… My sincerest wish for our friends the Nechilli Eskimo is, that civilization may never find them.”

On August 13, 1905 when the sea ice was sufficiently melted and the scientific measurements completed the Gjoa and its Norwegian visitors left their local hosts priceless gifts and departed west into the unknown. “They waved long to us – probably a farewell for life,” Amundsen related.

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This post is also available in: French, German

Everything Stops for the Prime Minister Map it

By Manfred Becker, a German-Canadian filmmaker and editor. While directing The Polar Sea Gjoa Haven segment Manfred filmed the local celebrations of the community’s first visit from a Canadian Prime Minister.

August 26 - Gjoa Haven, Nunavut

Our crew is bunked in a guesthouse in the hamlet of Gjoa Haven, Nunavut. The shower and toilet are working hard these days, with four males in the crew. One day the toilet water just stops running, at the worst of moments. I make my way to the owner of the property to alert him. Charlie, a Newfoundlander, doesn’t seem surprised, “Yup. Welcome to Gjoa Haven!” Charlie explains that everyone in the hamlet gets their drinking water via tanker truck and their sewage is pumped out by sewage truck. Once the sewage tank reaches capacity it automatically shuts down the water supply so that the sewage won’t overflow. People call the municipality to send a truck to pump the sewage out so water can flow again; except frequently that doesn’t happen, for a variety of reasons.

Charlie explains, “I once rented a house to visiting car mechanics that ended up without water for eight days. They still kept working with all the grease and everything.” He shows me his rental agreement. It explicitly states that the landlord cannot guarantee water supply, as it is out of his control. “People are used to it around here. It just happens.” Like the power outages or the interrupted Wi-Fi signal and cell phone service.

But today Charlie is worried. The Prime Minister is coming to town and, after a night out on the land, he needs to freshen up before attending a presentation put on by the local community, “Harper is scheduled to take a shower after 10 am in one of my other guest houses. Imagine in the middle of his shower his water stops running?”

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“When Harper finally entered the school auditorium, the people of Gjoa Haven greeted him like a rock star”

The people here are quite excited for the first visit by a Canadian Prime Minister. All available boats and ATVs have been rented by government officials in Ottawa and the hotel lobby has been turned into an operational center, locals are not allowed inside. Hercules planes, those gigantic grey military birds, land hourly on the tiny airstrip to drop off more of Harper’s entourage, supplies, and equipment. A Canadian coast guard vessel anchors in the bay, with a helicopter on board. The circus has come to town. Amazing what one can achieve when you put your mind to it!

When I ask locals about the big man’s visit I get shrugs all around. If the people of Gjoa Haven have misgivings about the excessive efforts and use of public funds for the PM and his entourage, they don’t share them publically. When Harper finally enters the school auditorium, showered and cleaned up, the people of Gjoa Haven greet him like a rock star. “We welcome the first visit by a Prime Minster to our land because we now know that he sees us!” says someone, smiling.

The people of Gjoa Haven, Nunavut risk enduring a full tank of shit and no water for days on any given day. Our Prime Minister has his firewood flown in from the South so he can ‘rough it’ on the land for a night in style.

I wish Harper’s shower would have ended abruptly. Maybe then he’d get it.

This post is also available in: French, German

Your Support System in the Arctic Map it

By Jean-Pierre Lehnert, a Marine Communication and Traffic Services (MCTS) Officer with the Canadian Coast Guard in Iqaluit, Nunavut.

Iqaluit, Nunavut

The Canadian Coast Guard has 22 centers in Canada. As an MCTS Officer I help coordinate traffic on Arctic waters through the Northwest Passage. The activities change from one centre to another but generally we provide continuous monitoring of all marine frequencies, like very high frequency (VHS), we respond to distress calls, and we communicate the needs of ships to those on shore. In Iqaluit the area we are responsible for is no doubt the biggest area in the country. It spans from the border of Greenland to the border of Alaska, all the way down to Hudson’s Bay and up to the North Pole. We are also responsible for the Mackenzie River, which is close to 1500 km long.

“The changing ice conditions have made the shipping season longer, affecting who’s attempting the passage”

We manage all traffic going through Arctic waters, which in the summer time at the peak of the season can be up to 75 vessels at any one time. At the end of one season 350 different trips may have taken place; some vessels make a number of trips each season. The changing ice conditions have made the shipping season longer, affecting who’s attempting the passage. Vessels are coming up earlier and leaving later than they used to. The biggest difference I’ve seen since I’ve been working in the North is the number of amateurs attempting the Northwest Passage. It’s not only pleasure crafts but all kinds of expeditions like kayaks and jet skis. 20 or 30 years ago the ice conditions were nearly impassable. Eight years ago there were three or four amateur vessels attempting the Northwest Passage but in 2013 there were up to 30.

The Canadian Coast Guard’s Marine Traffic and Communication Services Centre in Iqaluit makes sure that all the vessels entering into Canadian Arctic waters comply with Transport Canada’s regulations under the Canada Shipping Act, the Environmental Protection Act, or the Eastern Canada Vessel Traffic Services Zone Regulations. All vessels must provide us with copies of various certificates before the Canadian Coast Guard and Transport Canada can grant the clearance to proceed through Canadian waters.

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“15 years ago we were still communicating with vessels using Morse code”

These regulations don’t apply to vessels that are less than 300 tonnes, which means that all the pleasure crafts going through the Northwest Passage do not have to report. Some of them will report for safety purposes – they like us to know where they are and what they are doing. Others don’t contact us unless they need assistance. We have a satellite tracking system that allows us to see all the vessels, but in order to see them on our screen the vessels must have their transponder open to us on the ship so we can track them.

Even when we have their positions it doesn’t mean that everything is well on board so we like to keep in contact with them. Communication in Arctic waters has changed a lot over the years. 15 years ago we were still communicating with vessels using Morse code. I never thought that we would be able to use a phone to talk with a ship during the Northwest Passage; now it’s routine. We also maintain constant watch on the distress frequencies, 24 hour a day. It doesn’t happen very often but those ‘mayday’ calls are something that we hear.

A few years ago a sailboat got stuck in the ice near Franklin Strait during a rough storm. When they called for advice they told us that they had a baby on board; they were terrified. You can imagine being stuck in the ice, afraid of losing your boat, and having to disembark in the middle of nowhere. They were panicking but we knew that the wind would change directions overnight and free the ship of the ice. In the meantime the boat was sitting in the ice in terrible weather; the conditions were too dangerous to send a rescue plane, even if we needed too. They spent the night on the ice, waiting for the ice conditions to change. When the ice conditions finally changed the vessel was grateful that we had communicated with them. This kind of scenario happens a few times every season.

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“The biggest difference I’ve seen is the number of amateurs attempting the Northwest Passage”

In conjunction with the Canadian Coast Guard’s Regional Operations Centre located in Montreal, we also coordinate icebreakers, which can provide assistance to vessels in some cases. I can imagine the relief people feel when they see that big red boat coming. I think people have a pretty good opinion about what the Coast Guard is doing in the Arctic.

I’ve been working with the Coast Guard since I first came to Iqaluit in 1967 aboard an icebreaker. We had a lot of remote stations back then, which I worked at before new technologies made them obsolete. 2007 was supposed to be my last year but I wanted to go back to the Arctic for one last tour of duty. It’s just such an interesting place. You’re very much involved in every maritime thing that goes on up here. It’s pretty hard to give up. Every year I think it’s going to be my last but I’m still here!

The most interesting part of the job is the fact that you help people. It’s especially important here in the Arctic; the territory is so vast, so remote and people don’t have many resources. You may be 100 miles or more from the closest resource so if there is an accident it will take a very long time before someone can reach you. We provide people with the information they need in these situations. For example, when a vessel is stuck in the ice, we try to reach the nearest vessel to them that can provide assistance. It’s this feeling of helping people in need that motivates me to keep working.

This post is also available in: French, German

Setting Records Map it

By Line Cottier, a 13-year-old writer from Zurich, Switzerland who travels the world with her family on their Catamaran, the Libellule.

Bellot Strait, Nunavut

My name is Line Cottier. I am 13 years old and I have sailed the Northwest Passage.

Prior to this Arctic adventure we completed a one-year trip around the world and lived in Shanghai, China for one year. Traveling is one of the things I never get tired of because I get to experience new, exciting things with my family. It gives me the opportunity to try different activities, meet new cultures, see new landscapes, and learn about new countries. In my free time I like to write stories, listen to music, and take photographs. My dream is to become an author or journalist when I grow up. In the summer of 2013 my family and I shared an amazing adventure; with our catamaran Libellule (dragonfly in English) we sailed through the famous Northwest Passage from Greenland through Arctic Canada to Alaska.

“The sun didn’t set until midnight or later so it was almost never dark”

Traveling in the Arctic was different than anything else I’ve done. Firstly, the sun didn’t set until midnight or later so it was almost never dark; secondly, the Arctic water was freezing cold and un-swimmable, although my father and big sister went diving anyway – crazy, I know; and lastly, the Arctic actually had very little snow. Instead, we saw lots of green, gray, and brown landscapes with no trees. The most special things about the Arctic were the uniquely shaped icebergs and floes of pack ice; the many kinds of animals, such as muskox, Arctic foxes, seals, bowhead whales, and walruses; and the colors of the houses in small Greenlandic villages.

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“We worried about having to turn around and abandon everything”

The most exciting moment of the entire journey was the ice-clogged Bellot Strait. For several days in August we waited with two other boats in the poorly protected bay of Fort Ross for an opportunity to sail on through the Strait. While we waited, we discussed the latest ice charts and sang The Northwest Passage song with the other boats! It was comforting to know that we were not the only ones there. A few times we tried to venture into the Strait but the strong currents and moving ice made it too dangerous to pass through. Everyone aboard was stressed because we knew the longer we waited the more dangerous our path became. More ice was approaching from the north and it was getting very late in the season, so we worried about having to turn around and abandon everything. On the fifth night I was brutally awoken by ice thumping against the boat and when I looked up I saw my first polar bear on an ice floe. He was impressively big and yellowish white, and one of my favourite memories!

Despite the beautiful bear, we were all very frustrated because the only thing preventing us from getting through the Bellot Strait was 100 meters of dense pack ice. Shortly after we saw a Canadian icebreaker, Henry Larsen, paving the way for Russian cruise ship, Akademik Ioffe, and motorboat, Lady M. We (the three sailing boats) tried to follow as quickly as we could but the ice closed far too fast for us.

But then, an amazing thing happened: the icebreaker came back, just for us! Our catamaran Libellule was the last to go through the path and because we were the widest, we were almost squashed by the ice. The sounds of the ice chunks thumping against the side of the boat were terrible. I can’t imagine what would have happened if we had slowed down just a little bit. Everyone was full of adrenaline and when we made it to the other side jumped and laughed and cheered.

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“I learned so much about climate change because I experienced it every day”

In addition to these very exciting stories we also had a lot of free time on the boat, which we spent baking, reading, making music, kayaking, helping with boat, playing card games, fishing, and collecting delicious mussels for lunch. I also wrote short stories and worked on my (German) fantasy book, which I am planning to publish soon.

This trip taught me a lot. I learned so much about climate change because I experienced it every day. It gets warmer every year, which really affects the glaciers in the Arctic. They decrease bit by bit and as a consequence the water temperature increases. Without the ice many animals in the Arctic won’t survive. It makes me frustrated and irritated! Why don’t we care more about our environment? I know it is not easy to come up with a solution but everything makes a difference, no matter how big or small. For instance, I think that every house should have solar panels on the roof, trash should be entirely recycled, and everyone should use electric vehicles. I know that these are only small suggestions; but if everyone contributes small things, it can become a big thing!

Our amazing journey through the Arctic has changed me in a lot of ways. It has made me stronger and more conscious about the environment, more knowledgeable about the Arctic, and proud of successfully finishing the Northwest Passage as the first cruising catamaran ever. I hope I can continue to travel and experience more amazing adventures like this one!

This post is also available in: French, German

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