Downtown I run into Steve, one of the guys I first met in Watson Lake…what seems like eons ago. His riding partner Neil is doing the airflight tour into Tuktoyaktuk that I want to try to get on but that one left at 8 AM. I’ll have breakfast with Steve and phone for the air tour later. We small talk about our trips so far, his notes on the Dempster are much like mine. I let him know that the restaurant we’re in is a gathering place for the local bikers on Saturday afternoons for coffee so I am going to try to be here for that. He tells me of a barbeque in the park that is free at 1PM, there is some celebration in town. I figure after I organize my Tuk tour, I’ll check the other stuff. I need to take a picture in front of the circular church (yup –tourist thing) and I’d like to check out Canada’s most northerly commercial greenhouse (can’t get away from agriculture).
The Tuk tour doesn’t work out. We play telephone tag all day but I guess these things book up quickly. I’m out of luck but don’t spend about $400. I head over to the visitors centre and discover a few important things. First of all, I have a great discussion about road2blue with the visitor centre coordinator. While we share stories of tribulation and success, she prints off a certificate of merit for my journey to Inuvik. I’m now an “honourable member of the exclusive Arctic Circle Chapter, Order of Arctic Adventurers.” (yup, another tourist thing).
The next thing she tells me is absolutely stuns me. The free barbeque in town is a celebration of something that I learn is incredibly significant. Steve had told me about the barbeque but the young lady who took my campground registration this morning hinted at other happenings as well. Sheila was the one to fill me on these other details and as the day progresses, the significance and relationship with my road2blue project becomes more significant.
Over the past year or two I have been hearing about the Canadian Government working with the First Nations People to reconcile the events and impacts associated with the Residential Schools initiatives. I believe it was about a year ago that the government announced five regional meetings in addition to a number of smaller local meetings were to be held and these meetings were designated as “Truth and Reconciliation Meetings.” I confess that I did not pay much attention to this news item as I did not see how it related to me. What I learn from Sheila is that the community celebration is the preparation for the “Truth and Reconciliation” meeting that is being held in Inuvik in the coming week. This is the second of the five regional meetings and about 4,000 people are expected to converge in Inuvik in the next day or two for participation in these meetings. The community (both Inuvik and the broader northern community) is very excited about the coming meetings.
At the barbeque (arctic char and caribou ribs – who would miss an opportunity like that?), I have discussions with a number of people to learn more about these meetings. Essentially, we have heard the governments reporting of the residential schools program, we have heard the reports from the Churches involved….this is a time for us to hear from the First Nations. They finally have a chance for the public to hear their voice, until now they have been silenced. They are celebrating because they can now speak and out of this, they hope, will begin the process of reconciliation. I felt so fortunate to be here at the beginning of the process to see how people were feeling and wished I could have stayed to listen to the proceedings.
I talked to one lady at the barbeque who shared her struggles with depression and mental illness. She is a very accomplished person about my own age and told how she learned to understand what her mind was doing. She has done a lot of reading and research to learn how to manage her illnesses. With the help of low dose drug therapy, psychological therapy, counselling, naturopathy and spirituality, she lives a full, active and very productive life – a model in the community. One of the theories she learned about that was thought to contribute to depression is where “attachment” between parents and offspring is diminished, there is an increase in illness. Obviously, in the case of residential schooling, this would have huge implications.
I missed coffee with the motorcyclist community of Inuvik but manage to get to the greenhouse before they close. One of the board members is working on a plot and takes time to talk to me. Essentially, this is a volunteer run community garden under a roof. In the last few years they have propagated plants and preseeded on a small commercial basis to supply northern communities with garden ready plants. The sale of plants helps to cover operating costs for the community garden component.
I also talked about road2blue at the community garden and my search to physically replicate isolation. The board member I was talking to shared the challenges of her brother and told me of a time when she felt that isolation in a physical way. She was on the tundra involved with a scientific exploration and she hiked away from the tents a short distance. The tents were just out of site and while she was gazing at the landscape, the wind dropped….and she heard absolutely nothing. Insects were not making a sound…there was no indication of humanity in any direction she looked….and there was total silence. She felt the hair on the back of her neck prickling and thought there might be a wild animal near…but there was absolutely nothing. It is something she has never talked about before but it was such an eerie experience that she has not forgotten it. Perhaps there is insight through experiences like that to help us understand how people with depression feel. All alone.
I will cherish my Inuvik experience. It is a very vibrant, caring and open community. The are fantastically hospitable and seem to be very cohesive.
Tomorrow, unfortunately, my travels will take be back to the south. There is a degree of dread, thinking about the road ahead but this is a turning point in the journey. I have ridden to the end of the road (which is just a little way beyond Inuvik) and have experienced isolation and mental exhaustion but I don’t believe my experience is even close to those who struggle with any mental illness.
Those people. Those whose minds tell them something that others know is not true or right. Those who struggle, strive and succeed. They are the true heros, the true adventurers and I admire their strength and their spirit. Their experiences are a beacon we should hold up to the world to share, not a secret we should hide under a bush.