Home Arts, Culture & Education Education Spring Camp – Learning Inuit Traditions

Spring Camp – Learning Inuit Traditions

Driving in through the tidal ice trail. © Michael H Davies

How amazing would it be to participate in an Arctic adventure for a week, to live off the land? What about learning Inuit traditions such as hunting, fishing and sewing? This is the reality for children in Pangnirtung, Nunavut – not only is this a school trip but it’s an experience that will be remembered for a lifetime.

The annual Spring Camp in Pangnirtung, Nunavut, takes place in April, running for about a month. The camp was started 15 to 20 years ago, and its mission is to educate children about Inuit traditions. Children from Kindergarten to Grade 12 participate in the camp. Younger children attend a day-trip while senior students stay for five days and four nights. The younger children attend their trip during the earlier days of the month while the older kids travel later in the month. Conditions tend to be worse later in the month. Throughout the month guides have to chisel paths in order to get in and out, as the tide comes and creates impassible mounds of ice.

Julie Alivaktuk preps a seal skin as was
shown to her moments before by an Elder. © Michael H Davies

Travel to the camp location is 45 minutes out of town by snowmobile. Qamutiit, wooden sleds, are attached onto the back of snowmobiles. There is no electricity at the camp; everything is cooked on Coleman stoves and water is gathered from a frozen river. Activities include seal hunting, ice fishing, traditional sewing and in the past caribou hunting. Whatever is hunted is eaten and Elders who attend the camp show students how to prepare the seal. Every day the Guides announce which location they are going to and the kids jump in the Qamutiit and are taken to a daily activity.

The students sleep in tents and cabins, Government funding aided in building cabins for the younger children. Guides sleep with rifles to protect camp as the threat of polar bears is very real this far North. Guides also bring dogs, as they are sensitive to sound and the smell of bears.

Elders from the village join in to share traditional Inuit stories about the Northern Lights and the Qalupalik. The Qalupalik is an ancient Inuit legend about a creature that is human-like and lives in the sea. If children disobey their elders, the Qalupalik may take them away. The legend behind the Northern Lights is as follows: If you whistle, they will come closer and if you clap, you will scare them away. When shimmering in the night sky you might hear the airy sounds of people in the town whistling to get them to come closer.

On the shore of Pangnirtung loading up early in the morning and heading out on the sea Ice out to Camp. © Michael H Davies

Some students can receive credits toward their schooling by attending this camp, but, more importantly, the whole experience tends to inspire and educate the children who attend. Lots of graduates from high school go on to become guides for the camp. The students then become the teachers and get to be involved in something so important and critical to the preservation and appreciation of Inuit culture. Inuit tradition is very important and having younger people involved will only help to keep the tradition going from generation to generation.

Children are very receptive to the whole experience and get to learn valuable traditions that will continue with the younger generations. Kids often don’t want to go home and ask if they can stay for a few more days. They also ask if they can partake in classes out on the land.

The Spring camp has been a great event for everyone involved and is a spectacular hands-on learning experience for the children. The value of this camp goes beyond school credits; the immaterial value of the Inuit tradition is important to keep alive and thriving. The children will become teachers of these old ways and go on to show their own families the way of life in Nunavut.

Kate Kemp