A Guide To Research Travel In The North / Petit guide du voyage d’études dans le Grand Nord

If You Are Not Where You Planned To Be, You Are Where You Ought Be.

As part of the Mobilizing Inuit Cultural Heritage project, Erin and Ali traveled to Nunavut to examine connectivity issues faced by Inuit Artists. If you are planning to head North for research, here are some of their travel trips

Vous n’êtes peut-être pas où vous prévoyiez être, mais vous avez certainement affaire ici.

Dans le contexte du projet Mobiliser le patrimoine culturel inuit (Mobilizing Inuit Cultural Heritage), Erin et Ali se sont rendus au Nunavut pour examiner les problèmes de connectivité auxquels se heurtent les artistes inuits. Si vous pensez vous rendre dans le Nord pour vos travaux de recherche, lisez leurs conseils de voyage.

Iqaluit Airport During my first hour on the roads of Rankin Inlet, I noticed something missing. Traffic lights. The North was speaking to me loud and early – perhaps, I thought to myself, it was telling me that there are no predetermined signals to guide the flow of things here. As one Rankin resident aptly put it, “It is not about taking things one day at a time: here, in Rankin, it is about one hour at a time.”

And, mon dieu, did that ever prove to be true during my one week research trip. You may have planned to be at point A. But that may very well shift. If it does, be prepared. Research here has a strange, perhaps even sublime, way of realizing itself where you thought not.

Oh and did I mention we were NOT scheduled to be in Rankin Inlet in the first place? Ha!

On October 10th 2014, my colleague Erin Yunes and myself left Toronto to further our research with the Mobilizing Inuit Cultural Heritage (MICH) grant on ISP issues faced by Inuit Artists. Not only were we looking to contextualize our understandings of the ground realities, we wanted to experience them first hand.

For us, this was an opportunity of applied research. This was also an opportune space to evidence how knowledge mobilization is now an integral component of the research fabric. The truth is that unless we engaged with community stakeholders, the possibility of travel and trial would not surface in the first place. I guess, you could say, knowledge mobilization allowed us to parlay our raison d’etre as MICH researchers but also to mobilize our research into a community-based end product. Time will tell how successful we were. I must also add a caveat here. Through our knowledge mobilization process, we were also able to find gaps we would, otherwise, have not found in the literature.

Northwest Tel SatellieteAllow me to explain.

Landing in Rankin Inlet was our first taste of the North and our transit point en route to Arviat. Upon arrival, I wondered why the airport was painted in a stunning green. Similarly, from our aerial optic, certain buildings appeared to adorn unique colors. Perhaps this is laced with cultural symbolism? Perhaps it has something to do with sight and identifying buildings in harsh weather? Perhaps it is a mapping system? I don’t know. But, by communicating with the locals and finding my way there, a door of analysis surely opened.

Furthermore, if it was not for the powers of knowledge mobilization, this post wouldn’t have happened.

Anyway. I digress. Back to our research.

Many of you might already be familiar with the ISP issues that plague the North. Not only is the high cost of satellite technology a jarring concern, the socioeconomic issues open up a series of problems that need to be seen firsthand in order for one to understand how interwoven our lives are with connectivity. Here in Toronto, for example, connectivity is something that is just there – it is the oxygen of our digital economy. Thus, to be in a community with limited connectivity dramatically shakes our understanding of daily function. Our travels through the North revealed so much about how various hamlets are unable to partake in the transnational ecosystem and inspired an analytic reflex in us that, I am sure, will inform our upcoming work.

But, for now, let us pause on the ISP stuff.

I want to talk to you about what it is like to prepare for a research trip to the North. If, like myself, you are spoilt by an ecosystem which places a premium on speed and efficiency, the upcoming section will be a much needed lesson before visiting the North. If you are furthering your work in this area and are planning a visit, here are some tips to keep you on track:

1- Just because your travel booking says you will be Arviat at a particular date or time does not mean anything. We were turned back to Rankin midflight. Lesson: always try and find contacts you can reach out to at transit points.

2- If you plan to travel around the North for a week, expect it to take more than that. Lesson: always give yourself a day or two extra. Okay, I lied. A week extra. Trust me. There have been occasions where airports have been shut for entire weeks thanks to the weather.

3- You will always be hoping from one flight to another flight. We were fortunate to have our baggage waiting for us in the single lounge airport facilities. Others have not always been so lucky. Lesson: get baggage insurance when you book.

4- Follow the flight path. I know you have a whole list of spots you want to visit. But flights are not as malleable to your need there. Lesson: always try and stay within a flights natural route and limit the number of planes you need to change. This will help you in case of a delay but also if flights are cancelled as you will be in an area where you would know some people.

5- Computer services and broadband like connections are rare. Lesson: keep print copies of your important documents.

6- Packing light is not the same as packing smart. If you think you will need something it is probably best to take it along with you. Lesson: always inquire, in advance, about the services in the communities you are visiting and the availability of services and products.

7- There is no transit and taxis are your only means of transport in most cases. You may choose to walk to various areas. But, be careful, you are sharing the habitat. Lesson: if polar bears are known to roam the community, take heed.

8- ATMS are usually waiting for funds. Lesson: take cash.

Rankin Inukshuk9- Ah, it gets cold. If you are travelling in the winter and have only experience winter in Toronto, forewarned is forearmed. Lesson: bundle up.

I highly recommend taking small tokens of appreciations for the locals you visit. Lesson: attach a business card with whatever you share and try to stay in the minds of the people you meet.

Lastly, always carry around the documentation of your work. Whenever you are asked, you can share and substantiate your work. Lesson: be ready for questions.

Stay calm.

I am sure there is more to this. But, hey, here is a start. To close with some wisdom – when you are doing research in the North, do not be fixated by what is not there. Tune into what is there. #justsaying.

Leave a Comment