These are some of my reflections on my first visit to Iqaluit, Nunavut in Canada’s far north. I travelled up there in late March 2016, with a group of young musicians from Halifax’s Maritime Conservatory of the Performing Arts. I wrote this on the plane flying south, on clear cold (-25 C) day:
I feel humbled by the shear scale of Canada, by the richness of its culture, and the beauty of its environment.
It is amazing to fly north and watch the trees disappear, until all there is to be seen is white, interrupted only by twisting frozen rivers, and windblown rock. A small clump of houses appears at the top of a large bay of ragged ice: Iqaluit. Clinging to the tundra, entirely built of foreign materials, an island of unnatural objects in the midst of the incomprehensible mass of wilderness.
I feel humbled to have met Canadians that are so different from me in their culture, their history, their way of life. Northerners, both Innu and whose origins are from the south. (There’s a good Inuktitut word for southerners that translates to something like short, fat, bearded white man. Darlene and Naiome, you’ll have to help me here!) These are people that laugh quickly and frequently, and that share everything they have, without question. They are warm people in a rough and rugged place.
I feel humbled as well, to call some of these people my friends, and I hope that I’ll get to share what I have, with them soon!
I feel humbled to have learned a little morsel, a small sliver of a rich and ancient culture. One that is Canadian but so different from anything I’ve ever encountered before firsthand. And my heart breaks to learn more about the impact on our indigenous cultures from my own culture’s ignorance, lack of respect, and arrogance. I have read and heard about the impact of Residential Schools, but have never before visited the land of the victims, and both imagined, and witnessed a bit of the profound trauma that the people have endured: trauma that now must be overcome to return to a “normal” that will be nothing like the normal their grandparents experienced.
I felt challenged by the town of Iqaluit itself. It’s rough around the edges, difficult to navigate (thank goodness for gracious volunteer parents, often colourful taxi drivers and snowmobile trails that travel “as the raven flies”! Although the distances aren’t huge, the roads all seem to lead in surprising directions…), and the hills are steep! But despite the cold (it was only -27) there are still many people walking along the streets, along with the trucks, taxis (lots of taxis!) cars and skidoos. The houses can be rough too, there are lots of broken and boarded up windows, with cars, boats and snowmobiles often buried in snowdrifts. A testament to brutal weather, and to poverty. I learned about why they’re all on stilts (solid rock) and about the red lights on the houses, (letting the water trucks know their water tanks are full!)
I feel privileged to have made this journey.
I feel grateful to Experiences Canada, and to the many hard-working volunteers in both Halifax and Iqaluit who worked so hard to make this trip of a lifetime possible. They planned, shepherded, coached, cooked, served food, answered questions and drove us around!
I feel lucky that my life in music has taken me to so many amazing places and given me so many wonderful experiences!
I feel happy for the kids (and adults!) who have discovered a little piece of that music life, that have been given the chance to share their music with a new audience, make new friends and see and experience new things, they may never have seen without this trip. Music is about many things, but they don’t often teach us in school, or at our lessons that it is really about people, and amazing discoveries! Well, it is.
I feel truly enriched by all this. I won’t forget it ever, and I hope I get to return, to learn more, laugh more, freeze more, and to feel so warm and calm again, on the edge of the world.