Nunavut “Women in Action” walk to promote healthy living, cancer research

“The healthier lifestyle you live, the longer you live”


George Naikak Hakongak shaves off the last bit of hair on the head of Jeannie Ehaloak, the mayor of Cambridge Bay, May 4 during a Cambridge Bay fundraiser for the

George Naikak Hakongak shaves off the last bit of hair on the head of Jeannie Ehaloak, the mayor of Cambridge Bay, May 4 during a Cambridge Bay fundraiser for the “Women in action- Steps of hope” walk that she and five other women are starting May 7. (PHOTO COURTESY OF THE WOMEN IN ACTION)

Think about Cambridge Bay mayor Jeannie Ehaloak today and tomorrow, and the day after that, and then again for the following week, as she walks from Bay Chimo on the western Nunavut mainland to Cambridge Bay on Victoria Island, a distance of 220 kilometres.

Imagine Ehaloak, with a warm pink tuque over her now-bald head, as a moving spot on the sea ice.

While she walks, she thinks about her late sister, who died of cancer, and the need for more cancer prevention and research.

Ehaloak isn’t walking across the Coronation Gulf by herself.

She’s with five other women, Janet Brewster, Elisabeth Hadlari, Jamie McInnis, Donna Olsen-Hakongak, and Nunavut Commissioner Edna Elias. On their walk, which starts May 7, they’ll be also accompanied by a support team on snowmobiles and Yannick Ferguson, Elias’s aide-de-camp.

Elias, who came up with the idea of the “Women in Action — Steps of Hope” walk, said embarking on the walk had been “a goal of mine for a long time, and the time is right in my life, in regards to health and wellness, to make the dream a reality.”

And it’s a goal that Ehaloak, elected mayor last December, also embraced.

“I really believe in living a healthy lifestyle. I quit drinking four years ago, and I quit smoking eight years ago,” she said. “I want my kids to know that the healthier lifestyle you live, the longer you live.”

But to prepare herself for the walk, Ehaloak had to whip herself into shape.

During the week, when she wasn’t at her job in the lands department of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. or at hamlet-related meetings, Ehaloak exercised at least two hours — an hour of yoga and an hour on her elliptical trainer. On weekends she’d walk with her dogs for four hour stretches out on the ice around Cambridge Bay.

The result?

“I have never felt so much in shape since I was a kid. I feel I have all muscle in my legs,” she said.

Reached shortly before heading off from home, Ehaloak said she’s ready for the challenge.

The group plans to follow an existing snowmobile trail most of the way from Bay Chimo to Victoria Island. Ehaloak plans to walk on the hard packed snow, rather than on the trail, so she won’t sink in. When the walkers hit Victoria Island, they’ll have to head overland for a bit.

That won’t be easy, Ehaloak says, because the snow hides deep pockets of mud, and if you’re not careful, you can sink right in.

The group wants to cover about 22 kilometres a day. That pace, weather permitting, should put them into Cambridge Bay on the 15th or 16th of May — just in time for the community’s Omingmak Frolics festivities.

While the walk requires endurance from its participants, they’ve also received “tremendous support” for the walk, Ehaloak said.

From their families, who gave “us the time and space for going on training,” she said, and from businesses, like the Ikalatuktiak Co-operative association, which supplied all the food for the walk, First Air, Jago Services Inc. (which constructed the special tent frames for sleds, so that setting up camp could be done easily), and Adlair Aviation Ltd., which took the walkers and their supplies to Bay Chimo.

Woods Canada had agreed to supply camping equipment like sleeping bags, Ehaloak said, but that equipment sent by the Cambridge, Ont.-based company somehow ended up returned to Cambridge in Ontario instead of delivered to Cambridge Bay in Nunavut.

And then, there’s the support from people who have so far contributed more than $60,000 to the walk and breast cancer research.

The proceeds from fundraising will all go to the Alberta Cancer Foundation, which supports the Edmonton Cross Cancer Institute and breast cancer research.

On May 4, a group that included Ehaloak, Elias, Brewster and Keith Peterson, MLA for Cambridge Bay and a Nunavut cabinet minister, shaved their heads, for a price, and raised another $4,420.

You can also donate online to the walk at the Alberta Cancer Foundation website.

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