Barriers to Bridges: Working with Inuit youth through the Ikaarvik Program

In celebration of National Indigenous People’s Day, we caught up with Eric Solomon, Director of Arctic Programs at Ocean Wise to find out more about the Ikaarvik program and his work with Inuit youth in Nunavut.

OOE: Hi Eric. In your own words, what is Ikaarvik all about?

Eric: Ikaarvik is a program that was formed originally in Pond Inlet, Nunavut. It works with youth in Inuit communities to be a bridge between research and their communities. There is a lot of research that goes on in the Arctic, but there is not a lot that really engages Arctic communities in a meaningful way. The research agendas are usually set in the south, the methodologies are usually set in the south and the questions are usually set in the south. Ikaarvik works with Inuit youth to help them work with their communities to set research agendas that are important locally for those communities.

Microplastic Sampling in Pond Inlet

OOE: How did you develop the programme?

Eric: Ikaarvik began around 2010 when Shelly Elverum, who is the program lead, was teaching at the environmental technology program in Pond Inlet. The students were learning much about research methodologies, but they wanted to know how their communities could get involved in research that benefits them. Ikaarvik really began when the youth started to think about how communities in the north could engage more meaningfully in the research conducted. As young people, there are many ways they can influence the research and they really were the driving force behind the creation of Ikaarvik. In 2013 we won the Arctic prize. This is what allowed Ikaarvik to grow into the program it is now, working in a number of Inuit communities, and the youth from Pond Inlet, some of them who are now mentors for young people in other communities actively participating in research that benefits northern communities.

ScIQ Summit Group

OOE: What was the vision behind Ikaarvik and where do you see it going?

Eric: 60% of Nunavut is under the age of 30 and 50% under the age of 15. So Nunavut is a very young territory. Youth are not considered to be the leaders of tomorrow, they are being expected to take on leadership roles today. So the vision of Ikaarvik is to provide youth with the capacity, the experience, knowledge and self-confidence to be able to take leadership roles in research in their communities. And with that, to empower them to work with researchers to address issues that are important locally. We want to see Ikaarvik continue to grow in more communities. We’re getting ready to hire Ikaarvik community coordinators in five Arctic communities. Ultimately, Ikaarvik started as a program by the north for the north. We want to make sure it stays that way. So, that means that we want to ensure that the mentors that are working with youth in the north now. It is not my program, it is their program, and we want to make sure that it stays a program that is really for the north.

OOE: Why is important to work with youth, especially in northern communities?

Eric: Youth today in these Arctic communities are being asked to take these leadership roles, and take them now, not when they become 40, or 50. So, it is important to work with youth in these communities because they are becoming the leaders of today. It doesn’t mean we exclude elders and others in the community, but it does mean that the youth play a very strong role in helping to set the agendas for the communities, and communicating about research with the communities. I think it is also important to involve youth in programs like this because youth in many Arctic communities have few opportunities to grow leadership skills, to develop self-confidence, to develop a vision for what they could become down the road. Ikaarvik helps provide youth with the opportunity to see themselves in a leadership role and see themselves be successful at it – to learn that they have a voice and that there are people who want to hear it; they have something valuable to contribute to their community.

Pond Inlet AIS Group

OOE: In what ways does OOE contribute to the program?

Eric: OOE invite Inuit on board to work with guests as guides, to help people understand Inuit culture and to interpret the flora and fauna around them. There have been a few Ikaarvik youth who have had that opportunity. It is a real benefit to the passengers, but it also a great benefit to these youth, because they are learning communications skills and they are beginning to understand the southern perception about the north. This is really important because in order to communicate effectively, you need to understand people’s perception. And these opportunities for Ikaarvik youth to come on board provide them with that possibility. It’s a great opportunity for these young people and it’s really empowering when they see that they have a voice. It is a very powerful experience.

Alex talking to a guest about the type of bone she has found.
Alex talking to a guest about the type of bone she has found.

OOE: What are the benefits of bridging the north and the south?

Eric: 67% of Canada is coastline. The longest coastline of any country in the world is the Arctic coastline, which is almost 40% of Canada’s land mass. Yet very few Canadians are ever going to actually get to visit the Arctic. Fewer are going to have the opportunity to learn about northern perspectives of the Arctic. It is changing faster than any place else on Earth, so it’s really important that Canadians start to understand the Arctic and the issues it faces. Things are changing and that is affecting the people who live in the north, so bridging the north and the south I think is really critical for Canadians; Ikaarvik and OOE are part of that bridging. When people visit the Arctic, they become ambassadors and help others to understand the problems it faces too.

Sylvia and Rachel with a plankton net in Pond Inlet

Thanks to Eric Solomon for taking the time to chat to us. You can read about Eric’s onboard research of microplastics here. To find out more about our Arctic voyages, speak to your preferred agent or contact our sales team here.