IQ trips help non-Inuit learn some Nunavut lessons

An out-of-office experience


IQ is short for Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit, or Inuit traditional knowledge.

More directly, it can be translated as, "that which has long been known by Inuit."

One thing Inuit have long known that a newcomer quickly learns on an IQ trip is to start with an empty bladder – and to seize every opportunity to keep that bladder empty, no matter how awkward the lack of privacy may seem.

All it takes to learn that uncomfortable and unforgettable lesson is 20 minutes bouncing over hard-packed snow ridges while crossing a wind-swept lake in a qamutik, or on the back of a snowmobile.

Spring days are IQ days for the Government of Nunavut in Iqaluit. And IQ days mean trips out on the land for government staff.

It seemed that every other day last week, the more daring members of one GN department or another bundled up in warm clothes and headed out for an IQ adventure.

Wednesday it was the Justice Department's turn for an IQ outing – a three-hour, 50-mile snowmobile trip up the Sylvia Grinnell River, four hours of ice fishing supplemented by tea, bannock and noodle soup, and a 50-mile run back to town.

"It really promotes team building," Koovian Flanagan, deputy minister of the Nunavut justice department, said. "The whole GN is a supporter of IQ trips."

So, clearly, is Flanagan herself – and all the Inuit staff who were able to go. Their excitement and pleasure in being on the land and away from the office was palpable – and contagious.

IQ outings also "give non-beneficiaries a chance to experience a little bit of life on the land, of how it was," Flanagan added.

The outing was organized by staffers Saila Nowdluk and Lena Ishulutak, and led by elder Pauloosie Kilabuk.

About 47 people, Flanagan said, including staff and family members, loaded up on 20 snow machines and qamutiks for the 10-hour outing.

"It was our biggest turnout ever, and there were lots of family members too. We had almost every division represented." Some invitees from the RCMP and Justice Canada also came along for the ride.

For those who work in government departments in Iqaluit, shuttling back and forth between a comfortable house or apartment and a comfortable office building, maybe even in a pre-warmed car, it's almost possible to forget that just over the hill lies a vast, wild landscape, stretching for thousands of kms and virtually empty of human amenities – except for 25 small communities and a few research or mine sites.

That is the beautiful, challenging, and unique reality of Nunavut – a reality that IQ trips help keep in the forefront of consciousness.

In three hours of what seemed hard travelling to neophytes, but was actually a relatively easy spring outing, the panorama appeared never ending and never changing.

The elements are simple and minimalist – snow, rocks, sky – but each bend in the river, each crested rise, reveals a subtly different and unique vista.

It was sobering to realize that although the distances travelled seemed vast and hard, in reality they would barely make a finger's span on a Nunavut map.

Oh yes, and the fishing. The first planned stop had to be abandoned when the six-foot, gasoline-powered ice-augur proved too short to get through the thick ice.

A couple of kilometres back down the channel, the guides found a spot where the river was only frozen for five feet.

Volunteers quickly drilled a dozen fishing holes, and eager fishermen and women got down to business jigging for char.

Four hours later, the final count was about eight or nine fish, most large enough to make a nice meal.

Then it was time to pack up for the long trip home – with, thankfully, the strengthening wind and blowing snow in our backs.

"We all feel a little closer to one another, and like we know a little more about one another's family lives," said Flanagan.

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