Researchers Maxim Larrivée and Alain Cuerrier describe their journeys north of the 55th parallel. Each of them is doing his research project up there, while at the same time forming invaluable bonds with the Inuit peoples.
Discovering Nunavik through entomology
By Maxim Larrivée
Every summer for four years, Maxim Larrivée has been taking part in butterfly and moth inventories in Nunavik parks accompanied by young Inuit. He talks about his experience and his discovery of a warm-hearted people with a wealth of culture and traditions, and a deep love for its territory.
I’ll always remember the sense of wonder I felt on that first expedition in Kuururjuaq National Park, in 2015. Disoriented by that strange language and surprised to still be in Québec, I knew nothing of a people that has been here long before European settlers.
Surrounded by young Inuit 12 to 17 years old, I discovered that they share many similarities with young people from southern Québec: most of them armed with iPods and computers. Comfortable with a camera, they have a sense of the esthetic, and of highly detailed observation. Their ability to accurately identify butterflies at a single glance is remarkable. Since then, on each expedition, I’ve found the same qualities in the young participants: they’re industrious and resourceful, curious about beauty and about the diversity of insects and spiders on their land.
An experience rich in teachings
These expeditions in Nunavik make me slow down and put things in perspective. Light years away from the frantic activity down south obsessing with an inflexible schedule, communications are simpler here, less frequent, but every bit as effective. When challenges arise, people accept them and adapt to them. Up there I have the feeling of using my body for what it’s always been meant to do: carry out physical work and not sit in a car somewhere or behind a computer...
This immense part of the territory, so beautiful and wild, remains unknown to so many of us.
A changing territory
Through chats with some elders (Inutujaq in Inuktitut, which means “old human being, but still valuable”), including Lukassi Etok, I learned that their territory is changing quickly: the sun is hotter, many peaks on the Ungava Peninsula are no longer snow-covered in summertime, the ponds are evaporating, nature is being transformed… I’ve become aware that the Inuit unfortunately have a ringside seat for changes directly affecting their way of living without being responsible for them whatsoever.
Hand and foot in Inuit territory
By Alain Cuerrier
For close to 20 years, botanist Alain Cuerrier has been hiking across Nunavik and Nunatsiavut land. He crisscrosses the tundra and gathers plants that the Inuit use for food or for healing. This rich knowledge is the result of the Inuit’s long contact with their territory, or nunangat. Beyond plant use, Alain has taken advantage of his visits to these lands of cold to record the presence of butterflies, the Inuit relationship with marine organisms and their perception of climate change striking their territory.
Listening to the communities
How do you work with another culture? A fascinating cheerful people, the Inuit are welcoming but at the same time you have to listen to them and pay their culture great respect. It takes patience and a dose of humility in the face of these human beings who have lived in difficult conditions. You have to accept food that’s different from ours: dried fish, raw seal meat, slow-boiled polar bear, or caribou served on a piece of cardboard. You also have to learn the basics of their language to be able to say hello or how’s it going? Or name a simple plant in Inuktitut, Mamaittuqutik, meaning Labrador tea.
The memory of the Arctic
What a memory the Inuit have of their environment. I feel young again – a student once more, because the Inuit become my teachers! I learn by seizing the great good fortune of being able to receive this learning. Sometimes a male or female elder will come see me to show me a plant or else photos relating to climate change.
The Nunavik tundra is an area of great beauty. It falls to the Inuit, however, to lend it its breath and its grandeur. And it’s always with a twinge of sadness that I say goodbye to the Inuit and return to Montréal.