I just returned from the Canadian far North, an incredible trip that allowed myself and four students the privilege of teaching technology design at the Mangilaluk school in the remote, Indigenous community of Tuktoyaktuk. It turns out they taught us as much, if not more, than we did.

The trip had been remarkable in many ways. But most insightful to me was how simple, yet meaningful life can be when you live in a close-knit community where everyone knows each other and has their backs when needed. Tuktoyaktuk (“Tuk”) is a hamlet of about 900 people (and 100 houses!) set on the incredibly beautiful shores of the Arctic Ocean in the Canadian north – in fact, the only community on the Artic Ocean that can be reached by road in Canada! Its people are Indigenous (Inuit), also called Inuvialuit, and traditionally speak Inuvialuktun. This was my second visit to Tuk, on a project that engages the school in co-designing an educational platform for the Inuvialuit traditions and language. The project is called BridgingRoots and is led by a team of UVic students in our INSPIRE program. The BridgingRoots name itself was coined to illustrate the platform’s role in connecting generations of Inuvialuits in the teaching, sharing and protecting their traditions and language.

Our one-week trip had been very productive, and exhausting, and thrilling! First, time has a different meaning up there! We did not see dark at all in one week (the sun does not set between May 29 and Aug in the Arctic), and so going to sleep felt impossible! The temperature, brightness and position of the sun was the same at 2 am as it was at 8 pm… to stimulate production of melatonin we tried closing the blinds close to midnight, and it still felt like the lights were on! Getting up in the morning felt so bright that made us keep the blinds closed a bit longer just so our eyes adjust. With that, it meant much longer days, and we could work/play till 1 am… every night (or I should say day!). Funny how the day/night cycle contributes to the life’s rhythm. This week, instead, the bright sun has been with us every single moment in Tuk, creating a unique, disturbing feeling of timelessness.

It also meant that we could spend more time with the students and community members, teachers and parents. We got to know how connected they are in the community; with large families, everyone knows (or is) someone’s cousin, grandmother or father. Life is tough up there (temperatures in the winter drops to -50C and June met us with 2C weather; for subsistence, hunting and fishing are two main sources of food), yet the sense of community is overwhelming. Those that are able to hunt and fish, share with extended families and friends, in return for baked bread and clothing. Everywhere we went, we were extended meals, and baked goods, and jewelry; the kids gifted us hand made bracelets - very simple yet visibly from their hearts. They showed us how to pluck geese, let us feed race dogs, and even shot rifles! In such a short time, they welcomed us wholeheartedly in their community! See here a short video summary of our week in Tuk!

The timeless living, weather and nature dependent, felt disorienting at first, yet the community feel lands a comfort rarely felt in our busy lives in the the big cities. They taught us that no matter how hard life can be, it definitely does not feel like that when you have each other and a big community that you call your family.

I can’t wait to return to Tuk. Stay tunned with updates on our project and platform we are developing. Check out our INSPIRE website and the BridgingRoots project description for reflections on our journey.

Published: June 11th, 2024

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