6. In the land of the pale blue snow… (2010)

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By Garry Enns, Manager of External Relations, Parks Canada, Nunavut Field Unit, Iqaluit
From EECOM News Issue 6 2010

The North. Even though I have worked in Canada’s eastern Arctic for over a year now, it is all still overwhelming. Before moving up here, I knew there was an active group of environmental educators, but really had no idea how active, and how much was being done. And the discovery continues.

It’s been a year of getting re-acquainted with long-time EECOM supporters and members. It’s been a year of discovering a dedicated and devoted network of environmental educators who are passionate about the north and about the importance of environmental education in the north. It’s been a year of learning how little I knew (know) about the Arctic and its abundance and its vulnerability.

Environmental Educators North (EE – North) is a network that has linked environmental education professionals in all three northern Territories. While the network may be experiencing the usual “stretched too thin” realities of EE in Canada, its members have ensured the development of environmental education resources for teachers across the North.

Working closely with departments of education, Parks Canada education outreach staff – coordinated by Elise Maltin out of Yellowknife – has produced environmental stewardship resources tailored to the curriculum and schools in each of the three territories. Each of the three programs reflects the environmental and education programming unique to that territory.

The Nunavut Environmental Stewardship Certificate program was just going to press when I arrived on the scene mid-summer 2009. This Junior High program was launched at the Qikiqtani Regional Teachers’ conference in Iqaluit in February. The success of this program illustrates the tremendous need for environmental education resources that are developed in the north, by northerners, and showcasing the issues and realities of Canada’s North.

Climate change is not an abstract concept in Canada’s Arctic. Elders and other Inuit who spend time on the land can describe the changes they have witnessed that are directly linked to climate change. Shifts in sea ice, retreating glaciers, and changing migration patterns in the sea and on the land mean people in Canada’s Arctic are talking about adaptation and change in their lives – not for future generations, but for our generation right now. (Check out CBC’s Arts Online for story on recent documentary release >> Inuit Knowledge and Climate Change).

Traditional Inuit Knowledge projects are gathering the wisdom of the elders and are searching for lessons we can apply to our changing climate. Summer camps and “Students on Ice” create opportunities for elders to share with young people from Nunavut and from the South.

Environmental educators in the North also are increasingly involved in sharing the stories of the north with educators south: for example in development of educational resources growing out of International Polar Year projects; with organizations highlighting the issues of the Arctic in their UN International Year of Biodiversity campaigns (check out the www.OurArctic.ca website hosted by CAZA – the Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums); and with active participation in support to teachers in communities such as Gjoe Haven or Pangnirtung who are actively seeking ways to ensure their students start developing an understanding of the rapidly changing world around them.

Almost as plentiful as the belugas are the researchers who come to the Arctic. They are observing glaciers melting, are identifying new species finding their way north, monitoring migratory and nesting birds, studying rocks and fossils to explore the impact of tectonic shift on Ellesmere Island, and interviewing people living here to see how they feel about the researchers in their communities…

All of this research is creating a wealth of information and science for environmental educators to explore and try to make sense of. The International Polar Year research just completed across the North is forming the basis for new lesson plans and curriculum resources soon to be introduced online to any teachers who are looking for fresh teaching resources.

And you can not forget the importance of music in all of this. This year’s Students on Ice 2010 benefited from the songwriting and singing talents of our very own Remy Rodden, and his music is a part of environmental education programs designed for students across the north.

Talent and dedication, such as this, is what has brought EE – North to where it is today. Struggling yes, but working steadfastly to ensure the students of the north can acquire the knowledge and the understanding that is becoming increasingly important to them as climate change becomes a daily part of their lives.

Garry Enns, Manager of External Relations,
Parks Canada, Nunavut Field Unit, Iqaluit.

There's a glass display case off to one corner of the Parks Canada Office Reception area at Pond Inlet - the Operations Centre for Sirmilik National Park. Inside the case - and on counters around the office - you'll find the expected Arctic Fox, Snow Geese, and Arctic Hare on display.

However, the weathered log that looks like driftwood caught my interest. Not driftwood, apparently, and not fossilized either. Left behind by melting glacier, this "log" has been estimated to be 1.8 million years old.

The mounted butterflies, bees, dragonflies, and other insects in their cases are as amazing as the ancient piece of wood. After spending a little bit of time inside the Parks Office and out on the tundra, you have to re-assess the term Arctic. There are over 360 identified plant species on Baffin Island, and life under the sea ice is as diverse. Environmental Educators - North (EE - North) has much to work with when telling their students about the diversity of life in their backyard!



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