Teaching and Learning in the North: Summer fieldwork at Arctic Watch Lodge

I was 24 the first time I went to the Arctic, and at the time I remember thinking how lucky I was, embarking on a museum expedition to the Arctic at such a young age. On that same trip I met Gary Okheena, who is around the same age as me, and who grew up in the village of Uluhaktok in the Northwest Territories.

Paul Sokoloff in truck.

Paul Sokoloff rests in pick-up truck in Kimmirut, Baffin Island, at the end of a field expedition along the Soper River. Image Jeff Saarela © Canadian Museum of Nature.

While I was busy collecting and pressing plants, and learning their Latin names from my museum colleagues, Gary was keeping watch out for wolves and bears that might otherwise ruin a good day on the tundra. But he would still find the time to come over and tell us the Inuvialuktun name of some of the plants he knew well, and tell us about his own trips out on the land. It was a great cross-cultural experience.

Museum curator Jennifer Doubt and guide Gary Okheena standing on the tundra.

Museum curator Jennifer Doubt and local guide Gary Okheena on Victoria Island, Nunavut in 2010. Image: Paul Sokoloff © Canadian Museum of Nature.

This year, from July 4 to 11, I will get to relive the excitement of someone’s first Arctic encounter, and the ability to see the Arctic through the eyes of people who grew up there, as I accompany youth from Canada’s South and North on an expedition with Arctic Watch Lodge on Somerset Island.

Arctic Watch Lodge on the shores of Cunningham Inlet.

Arctic Watch Lodge on the shores of Cunningham Inlet. During the summer the lodge is the largest (and often the only) human settlement on Somerset Island. Image © Arctic Watch Lodge

For one week, I will be working with the lodge as a “scientist-in-residence”. I will teach the assembled participants about the biodiversity of Arctic plants, how to collect and identify them in the field, and what being a scientist in the North means. At the same time I will get to learn from the northern students about what the arctic – their home – and the wildlife found there, means to them.

Map of Canada highlighting Somerset Island in the High Arctic.

Arctic Watch and Somerset Island are right in the middle of the Canadian Arctic archipelago. From a botanical perspective, this is the southernmost part of the High Arctic, where hardy plants, mosses, and lichens dominate the landscape. © Canadian Museum of Nature.

During the trip, I will also be collecting botanical specimens to support the museum’s Arctic Flora of Canada and Alaska project. This will be the first comprehensive survey of the northern coast of the island by the Canadian Museum of Nature, and will help us get a good baseline record of the plant diversity at Somerset Island’s only inhabited site. These specimens, collected by myself and the students on the trip, will last permanently in the museum’s collection as a scientific resource. It’s amazing what bringing people together in the spirit of education can do!

Paul will be tweeting this trip live from the field—you can follow him through @Paul_Sokoloff; hashtag: #NatureArctic.You can also follow his progress on a live map.

This entry was posted in Arctic, Fieldwork, Plants and Algae and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Teaching and Learning in the North: Summer fieldwork at Arctic Watch Lodge

  1. Pingback: 6 Days, 9 Youth, 145 collections, 1 Lodge: Wrapping up the Arctic Watch 2013 Expedition. | Canadian Museum of Nature – Blog

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