Navy, divers, scientists reach out to western Nunavut with CamBay feast
“We wanted to say thank you to Cambridge Bay and its people”
Special to Nunatsiaq News
CAMBRIDGE BAY — Cambridge Bay was buzzing with things to do April 17, but most people opted not to play bingo or to go out on the land.
Instead, they decided to attend a community feast inside the Luke Novoligak community hall.
“We wanted to say thank you to Cambridge Bay and its people. We wanted to show respect for the local culture and learn more about it,” said Adrian Schimnowski, the operations director and senior advisor for the Arctic Research Foundation, which organized the feast and community gathering.
“I went around and spoke with elders from the [Kitikmeot] Heritage Society to see what they would like to see at the feast.”
And they gave him some good suggestions.
The evening began with a drum dancing performance by Cambridge Bay elder Mary Kilaodluk. When the expert drum-dancer finished, members of the audience went up to get a few pointers and learn how to drum dance themselves.
“Everyone was riveted how powerful her drum dancing was,” said Schimnowski. In fact, teaching visitors cultural traditions became a theme of the night.
Two male nurses went on stage with Cambridge Bay throat singers Donna Lyall and Sarah Jancke at one point, holding hands and trying their best to learn from the two cousins who often perform together.
“It turned out to be a great way to connect the local people with the visitors. It really unified everyone,” said Schimnowski. “It was great to see everyone weaving together and ending the evening as one.”
About 250 Cambridge Bay residents watched as elder Mary Avalak lit a qulliq, with her grandchildren surrounding her, to officially begin the feast.
Nunavut Arctic College graduates of 2014 camp cook program volunteered to prepare and serve muskox and Arctic char for the night.
Shortly afterward, members of the United States Navy and the Arctic Research Foundation rose to tell local residents what they do and why they were in Cambridge Bay.
“The Navy does operations in the Arctic as a way of preparing because everything is challenging and it’s a good climate to practice in,” said Schimnowski. “It’s good for everyone to train for pretty much anything.”
Canada’s Joint Task Force’s Operation Nunalivut was underway at the time, an annual exercise aimed at asserting Canada’s sovereignty over its northernmost regions and enhancing the Canadian Armed Forces’ ability to operate in Arctic conditions.
Canadian military personnel were also in town to pair up with Parks Canada underwater archeologists to conduct under-the-ice diving at the site of the HMS Erebus, the sunken Franklin ship, in Queen Maud Gulf.
Jim Balsillie, the former CEO of BlackBerry, was part of the visiting delegation as founder of the Arctic Research Foundation, a body he created to help provide equipment and leadership in the search for Erebus and its sister ship, HMS Terror, which has not yet been found.
Their foundation helped to retrofit the research vessel Martin Bergmann, a familiar ship along the Cambridge Bay shoreline and dock.
“It was a really nice event,” said Navalik Helen Tologanak, who helped organize the feast in about a week’s time. “I’m really proud how it all came together. Everyone had a good time.”
Organizers said afterward they look forward to the next time they can get together to celebrate northern culture and nurture an ongoing relationship between north and south.
“We are going to have another [community feast] in September,” said Schimnowski. “We are hoping to make this an annual thing.”