A Transformative Journey on the Paulatuk Exchange
From September 25 to October 1, 2022, we had the privilege of hosting students and teachers from Angik School in Paulatuk, here in central Ontario. We had an exciting time showing them some of the many attractions in our area, but the REAL excitement for our students was the opportunity to travel to Paulatuk in April 2023.
Our adventure began with a flight from Toronto to Edmonton, where we overnighted. The next day, our travels continued with a flight from Edmonton to Yellowknife, and on to Inuvik, where we boarded our charter flight to Paulatuk.
We were greeted at the airport by the smiling faces of many of the exchange participants and were transported into the community. The -25˚C temperatures were a bit of a wake-up for us!
Angik School and the community of Paulatuk, where the last student exchange was over 40 years ago, welcomed us with great friendship, great food, and great activities. We spent two days on ice-fishing trips to local lakes. Although the number of fish caught wasn’t phenomenal, the experience of ice fishing through 6-foot deep ice certainly was. Community members, including the local RCMP officer, were most helpful in transporting us and all the required provisions with their snowmobiles and qamutik. Some of our students were even outfitted with more appropriate winter wear for the trips when our “Ontario winterappropriate” clothing wasn’t quite appropriate for Paulatuk conditions! It really does “take a village” to host an exchange.
Our students benefited from learning several traditional Inuvialuit crafts from Elders in the Paulatuk community. Everyone had the opportunity to make a tapestry, and several of the students also tried their hand at beading. The finished products were beautiful!
Experiencing traditional food items was another highlight for our Central Ontario students. We feasted on caribou, Arctic char, and trout, and were able to sample beluga muktuk. On days when non-traditional foods weren’t on the menu, we were certainly well-fed with other more familiar foods. In addition to the traditional foods, we participated in several traditional games, both inside and outside the school. We also listened to and participated in, a presentation by the world-renowned Paulatuk Moonlight Singers and Dancers, who shared their traditional dances and drumming skills with us.
Students had the opportunity to ski or snowshoe to the wreck of the ship The Roger in the bay just outside Paulatuk. This ship was one that was used to transport children from Paulatuk to residential schools in Aklavik and Inuvik, and its visible presence is a reminder of the need for healing and reconciliation between settlers and Inuit peoples.
Two of the Paulatuk Elders, both of whom were taken to residential schools at the age of five, shared their stories with us. One of the Elders told us that he didn’t return home (even for holidays) until he was 10 years old. By then, he had almost forgotten who his parents and family were. The most touching moment of the entire exchange (for me) was when this man said that he and several other residential school survivors had contacted the nun who had been their supervisor in the school residence. They talked and shared their stories, and at the end, they told the nun that they forgave her. To me, that showed great courage and great generosity of character. I’m not sure that I would have been able to do the same thing.
Tuktut Nogait National Park is located several kilometres from Paulatuk, but the Park Office is in the hamlet. Students had a chance to learn about the park, and about its importance in the preservation of the Blue Nose Caribou herd.
On our last evening in the community, Angik School hosted a student dance – the first dance at the school in recent memory. Following the dance, we headed to the hills outside of town for a bonfire and some time together. Before we knew it, it was midnight, and the sun still hadn’t set! Not something we’re used to in central Ontario.
If anyone is interested in participating in a once in a lifetime exchange like we experienced, I would encourage you to contact Experiences Canada and find out more about how to take part. This exchange to Paulatuk was my 15th exchange, and every time I’m on an exchange, I see students’ lives changed for the better. I would highly recommend a similar experience for every Canadian student!