Alert Bay youth – Gwimolas Hunt Cranmer and Giselle Alfred – recently returned from a 16-day East Coast journey with the Students on Ice Torngat Mountains Expedition. From their floating classroom they explored coastal Labrador, including the incredible Torngat Mountains National Park.
This extraordinary ocean-based expedition brought together twenty-five youth from around the world, with a team of experts, educators, elders, researchers, and artists. The expedition focused on experiential learning and discovery, connection to nature, to knowledge, to each other, and provided each individual opportunity to connect to themself.
Gwimolas and Giselle were chosen to participate in this program through a competitive selection process, with scholarships being provided by Nawalakw and Sea to Cedar.
The Students on Ice expedition kicked-off in Ottawa where they spent a couple of days sightseeing, participating in events and visiting cultural exhibits. After a quick stop in Halifax, the group travelled to Happy Valley-Goose Bay where they boarded their floating home and classroom, the Canadian icebreaker, MV Polar Prince, a 67 metre (220 ft) research icebreaker.
The ship made stops in Nain and Hebron Harbour on their way to the Saglek Fjord at Torngat Mountains National Park Base Camp. From there they made stops in Silluak, Nachvach, Eclipse Sound, Ramah Bay, Okak Harbour. Each day, the team had unique and inspiring hands-on experiences that dove deep into culture, climate change, ocean conservation, biodiversity, history, and related policy and governance.
Along the route they met with cultural teachers and elders to learn about cultural sites and the history of people on the land. The youth learned to drum dance, practiced Inuktitut words and participated in some Inuit games. As the group adventured by land and sea, they saw an abundance of wildlife including polar bears, caribou, Minke and Beluga whales.
Through the science team on the ship, youth learned how to take geological samples and collect a variety of different types of data, including how to sample seawater for environmental DNA (eDNA). One group collected specimens with a plankton tow and then were able to prepare slides in the science lab with the collected specimens. Youth were also able to participate in a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) launch in Nachvak village, using advanced remote technology they set up, deployed, and piloted the ROV.
It wasn’t all science and studying for the participants – lots of fun was had by all. The youth participants completed an amazing race challenge, had a talent show and played games galore. Giselle and Gwimolas have returned to Alert Bay with lots of stories to share with their community.
In her own words – reflections by Giselle Alfred
When I think of my experience on SOI (Students on Ice), I can’t help but smile and be happy. In my Culture, we have a phase ika̱n noḵe’ in our language, Kwak̓wala which translates to ‘My heart feels good’, which precisely sums up how I feel towards my experience.
Reflecting, I haven’t been able to pick a highlight on the expedition since every moment became one. The expedition helped me transform in ways I couldn’t have thought of before. I was able to gain confidence in myself and explore interests and sides of myself I didn’t know existed while also connecting with the whole expedition team in a way few understand. The SOI team, Youth Participants, and even the Ship’s Crew quickly became my family when a mere week prior, we were complete strangers.
I would encourage others to apply for the SOI experience because it is likely, unlike anything you have ever experienced.
The advice I was given before going on the SOI Torngat Mountains Expedition was to go in with no expectations and not be scared to connect with others. This is exactly what I would tell others since there are no words to describe your experience on the expedition and the amazing people you will meet.
For myself, the trip was more than I could have ever thought it could be, and I know, like other fellow Alumni, I want to return already.
Published in The Eagle, Octover 6, 2023