The first nutritionist at Ungava Tulattavik Health Centre November 2017

Four years ago, on a summer evening spent on a Montréal patio, a friend told me about a position for a nutritionist posted for the Ungava Tulattavik Health Centre.

My first reaction was “What? Move and work in the Far North? No, that’s too far away for me, my friend.”

I went home that evening and, out of curiosity, I looked up the posting online, for which the deadline for application had already come and gone.

I read and reread the job description and criteria and realized that the job corresponded exactly to my qualifications. Moreover, I realized that I would be the first nutritionist at the health centre and that my task, should I obtain the position, would be to set up the service, which would include both clinical and preventive components. This, I thought in spite of my remaining doubts, was a worthy challenge.

I discussed with my friend Carole, and she convinced me to apply and helped me draft a cover letter. Thus, and still somewhat hesitant, I applied for the position on a Sunday evening before going to bed.

And so, a few weeks later, I was hired. I have to admit, I was stressed and had not at all expected the hiring process to be so quick. In fact, I received a call from Kuujjuaq informing me of the moving details before I even received the letter announcing that I was hired. And that was how I learned I was to live and work in the Far North.

So, on the day of my departure, November 18, 2013, the agent at the First Air counter told me that there was a possibility of landing in Iqaluit rather than in Kuujjuaq due to bad weather. “What?” So what would I do? I thought maybe I would get to see a polar bear on my first day in the North. Alas, no. It would take three years before I would see one, an experience that few people have a chance of having. I also learned quickly enough that working in the Far North requires much patience and confidence given the almost omnipresent uncertainty, especially with regular travel between the villages.

From a professional point of view, when you work in the Far North, you constantly face psychosocial challenges such as the high suicide rate, consumption problems, the housing problem and certain medical problems, tuberculosis being one example. However, as nutritionist, I must admit that the challenge is just as daunting and even greater than I had expected. Covering all the aspects—clinical and preventive, health promotion, even food security—for the entire population of the Ungava subregion requires organization, discipline and creativity. But the most important thing is understanding Inuit culture and the challenges that the population must overcome to stay healthy. To succeed here, you need to be aware of the local needs and especially remain humble. And when the youths in the village start calling you Mr. Smoothie, you know your activities have had some degree of positive impact on them, and that is reassuring.
The Far North is this vast, beautiful territory with its hidden surprises and numerous challenges. I had the chance to discover it thanks to my work as nutritionist, which has enabled me not only to experience its grandiose landscapes but also to meet some wonderful people.

That was how I discovered the Far North. Now I invite you to discover it in your own way.

Alain Ishac, Nutritionist
Ungava Tulattavik Health Centre

An incomparable professional and personal experience October 2017

Since the beginning of my northern adventure, I have often been told: “You work for the DYP in the North? That can’t be easy…”
In effect, the work represents great challenges and exposure to human suffering, but it is not easy to find words to describe such an enriching experience. 

Working in supportive relations in a foreign language and culture requires constant thought about the actions to privilege. The experience and autonomy acquired here represent unequalled assets. When I see individuals come up with original solutions to their difficulties or develop their adaptation abilities, I am filled with joy that compensates for the difficult moments. The work here is filled with surprises: living according to the flight schedule, eating freshly killed caribou offered out of gratitude, being unable to meet the fathers in a certain village because it is beluga-hunting season and so on. Working in psychoeducation in an intercultural context was my motivation to work and live in the North; each day is a new professional challenge.

In northern Québec, your work colleagues become your friends. The solitude I had expected never really affected me. Nothing but wonderful moments spent appreciating the beauty of the climate, going for hikes in the tundra, snowshoeing, enjoying the warmth of a campfire, watching the Northern Lights and even spending rare days on the beach! The North pushes us to face our limits, surpass them and, by that very fact, get to know ourselves better. Being immersed in Inuit culture is also unforgettable: spending time with individuals who continue to share their ancestral know-how with arriving newcomers who become friends and then move on, and those who come after them and so on and on...

For me, the harshness of the North sometimes contrasts with its infinite beauty, but there is no doubt, my professional and personal experiences here are among the most enriching of my life.

Marilou Brière, Psychoeducator
Tulattavik department of youth protection

The adventure of my life September 2017

The adventure of my life began in June 2016 in the patient-care unit in Puvirnituq. With the aim of personal and professional development, I had been seeking information about the reality of Nunavik for some time. Based on what my friends told me, what I read in the media and my own vision of northern Québec, I finally took the plane for this remote village with only one thing in mind: learning!

And I have definitely learned! This experience took me out of my comfort zone from the very first moment I set foot on the permafrost. Through the breathtaking landscapes, the authenticity of the Inuit, and the strong family and community values, an inner voice told me that this very special place would profoundly affect me… and it still affects me to this day.

Nunavik is definitely a place for introspection, a place to take your time, something that is often neglected in the frenetic pace of life in the city. You take the time to contemplate the sky, the Northern Lights, the clouds… you take the time to appreciate your courage and your luck at having the chance to live such an enriching experience.

Before you know it, a wonderful year has gone by, a year of meeting friends, self-discovery and never-ending learning. Nunavik is like a form of therapy: through it, you discover your interests, broaden your horizons and gain maturity. Each situation you confront makes you a better person, day after day.

Even now, Nunavik continues to reveal itself to me. Its cultural diversity, welcoming communities, endless sky and moments of introspection are now part of me. Like it or not, this experience has changed me forever.

Now employed at the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services, I am fortunate at having developed my skills in several areas in order to work in the field that has intrigued me for a long time. In that sense, this magical experience enables any determined person to find his or her “true north” in the North.

In brief, I recommend this experience to anyone who wishes to surpass his or her limits and who seeks personal and professional development. Don’t place too much stock in what others say. Take flight; there is nothing more rewarding!

Simon Rioux, Nurse Advisor, Programs for Children, Youths and Families
Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services

My stay in Nunavik August 2016
Nakurmiik, Nunavik.

I waited until the last minute to start writing about Nunavik. And now, at the Kuujjuaq airport, minutes before my departure, I finally make an attempt.

I had this fear of clumsy wording, of being unable to convey adequately the moments lived and the discoveries shared, of writing in a way worthy of my grandiose learning experience of the past six weeks. Talk about an amazing experience.

There is a certain form of magic, of wisdom, of unfathomable history in this part of the world. A barely describable feeling, but those who have spent time here know it. It is not easy to convey in words.

Before I arrived, people spoke to me of a remote region. Quickly, they corrected themselves. No, no, not a remote region but an isolated one. No road or rail links. Accessible only by air, and by boat if the weather permits in summer. I then learned with a certain gladness that the Kuujjuaq airport is the third largest of the province, after Montréal and Québec City.

Definitely an isolated region, but so connected with its terrain, its waters, its winds, that here you feel fulfilled, accompanied, nurtured. You forget that the “South” is a mere two or three hours away by air, the feeling of distance being so pronounced. The nights are short, the sky remains blue until the wee hours, well into the night, but then a new dawn arises with each new day.

The region’s fierce beauty grounds you. Quite solidly. There is so much to feel. Gusty winds blow, so fresh you feel it in your bones. Water everywhere, fresh and drinkable. Trees, gnarled and twisted but they persevere. And open spaces. Infinite, and more. The beauty is endless.

It’s an opportunity to visit Nunavik, and my training gave me the chance. It is not easily accessible, but oh, how I would have prolonged my stay! I’m already dreaming of returning. My project went well, but personally, I want more. Nunavik has not yet shown me all its secrets. I’m leaving with even more questions than when I arrived, an even greater desire to understand this cultural heritage, this part of our history that we too often try to forget, trivialize or transform.

Northern Québec is often described as a difficult region, poor, violent, harsh, whipped by temperatures in the minus fifties in the dead of winter. But I wished to describe it in other terms. I’ll admit that my six weeks were but a mere instant, but I had the impression of living life here more fully than anywhere else. Of reconnecting with myself. With forgotten dreams.

There is frequent laughter, people who welcome you with arms wide open, unbelievable hunting stories. Here you have a notion of suspended time. The Internet connection is intermittent, at the mercy of the vagaries of weather. The “small” salmon of some forty centimetres but plump, the pleasure of swimming in glacial waters, the taste of freshly killed game. There is respect for elders and children, the honesty of smiles, the deepest of gazes.

There is the chief of police who worked for the UN’s blue helmets. The Air Inuit fleet that performs miracles on rough landing strips barely wider than my living room. The people who taught me to fish, hunt, enjoy life. Spontaneous suppers, frozen caribou, the multi-generation bar in Kuujjuaq where you might see patrons in their pyjamas.

There is fervour in work accomplished, a palpable desire to do something good and lasting. The knowledge of the changing environment, which is no longer what it once was. The glaring modernity mixing with ancient tradition. The way of relearning to ask questions, to juggle with predictable unpredictables. There is so much.

Finally, Nunavik showed me the earth’s serenity, the power of space, the will of time. I have much yet to share, from my growing passion for public health to my respect for these persons who warmly welcomed me and recounted parts of their past to my unique stay in Kuururjuaq National Park, one of the world’s best-kept secrets. In the meantime, and in all humility, I say thank you.

Claudel Petrin-Desrosiers
Medical student 
My Northern Adventure! April 2016

My northern adventure began on July 14, 2008, in Puvirnituq. After a two-year spell on the Basse-Côte-Nord, an experience I adored, I was hungry for more adventure, to work in a CLSC in a remote region and to get to know the Inuit in the true North of Québec.

An adventure that was initially supposed to last one year continues today… I was seduced by the tundra, the sunsets, the Northern Lights… but above all, the front-line work was a professional revelation. Unlike the other villages on the Hudson coast, here at the Puvirnituq CLSC, we have access to the laboratory and radiology department. That means that at night, after stabilizing the patient, we can transfer him directly by stretcher, as the hospital is attached to the CLSC. On the other hand, I’ve also spent nights awake, evaluating babies or stabilizing trauma cases! But when I leave the CLSC in the wee morning hours and see a magnificent display of the Northern Lights dancing in the sky, I quickly forget my fatigue.

I have learned so much during my six years working at the CLSC: learned not to judge, learned from Inuit culture, where people live in the present, unlike me, often wondering what I will be doing tomorrow or next week, learned to assume my place as CLSC nurse. Over the years, I have been lucky enough to have created bonds with my Inuit colleagues, and am no longer another “Qallunaq” who will leave one day but, rather, Kévin the nurse of Puvirnituq.
In 2014, I was offered the position of head of the hospital unit and the operating area. Thus, for a little more than two years now, I have traded my stethoscope for a keyboard! This new challenge enables me to make sure both Inuit and “qallunaq” patients receive care of good quality from competent professionals. Supported by the operating area’s team, my task is to coordinate 28 weeks of operations in Puvirnituq. Our services have grown to the point where it is not unusual to have five nurses, two sterilization workers and one administrative agent on the operating-area team.

In the Puvirnituq care unit, nurses and northern-institution attendants work in harmony, and Inuit workers sometimes teach some of the basics of Inuktitut to new nurses; you have to admit, Inuktitut is far from easy to learn!

I can unequivocally state that my adventure, which continues today and which I hope will continue for a long time yet, have made me a better person and changed me for the better. It is important to arrive at your own opinion of the North and not let the media influence you, as what is often repeated in the media is but the negative aspects of the North; the truth is that there are so many experiences that you should discover for yourself in the North.

Kévin Dulong, Unit Head, Sterilization and Specialized Services

Katatyak (throat singing) February 2016
I would like to talk about an aspect of our Inuit culture in Nunavik: throat singing. It is one of my talents, and I will talk about how proud I am to keep this amazing tradition alive, a tradition that goes back to my ancestors. I am 27 years old and I started to learn how to throat sing when I was 13. I was very amazed when I heard it for the first time when our elders started to teach young kids including me. Our elders, Mary Sivuarapik, Aullak Tullaugak, Leela Qalingo, Lucy Amarualik and Nellie Nungak, taught us and told stories about throat singing. It is still very much alive and it is passed on to younger generations.

Today, we are asked to throat sing at every local event and in other communities. At Christmas time, at the Snow Festival, organized by our recreation committee every two years, at opening ceremonies, people do not want to miss throat singing because they really love to hear it. Some travel around the world to show our culture; it is one of my dreams to go to another country. Good thing I have a passport, if ever I am asked to go sing. Our teachers told us about their trip to Paris when they were younger, which is an inspiration for me. They first started to sing when they were kids, when they still lived in igloos and tents.

Inuit were nomads, moving around with the seasons and following animals. There were no sounds other than nature and animals, and the only musical sound was throat singing along with the drums made with seal skins. So, by imitating the only sounds they heard—wind, birds, the sounds of their handiwork—the women would throat sing. It was also a lullaby to put a baby to sleep.

Throat singing is mostly performed by women. Two women face each other, sometimes watching each other’s mouths, sometimes the eyes, and alternate rhythmic humming through the throat. If the women keep eye contact, both may at one point burst out laughing. In the case of a competition, the one who laughs first loses. One type of song is called qimmiruluapik (“puppy” in Inuktitut), because that word is repeated, or hummed, by the two singers. There are many songs that imitate animals: one imitates the sound of geese, and it really does sound like geese. Another imitates the sound of sawing wood; this is a favorite of spectators. Some songs follow a tune.

We hope more youths learn and keep this beautiful tradition alive. It’s part of our culture we share proudly with the world. My desire is to teach our younger generation and make young girls proud of themselves by throat singing.

Lisa-Louie Ittukallak, Puvirnituq
Holidays in the North! December 2015

I often jokingly tell my godson and niece that I live right next to Santa Claus and that I make sure their wish lists get to him on time for Christmas. They love it and I have to admit their excitement and the look in their eyes makes me believe for a tiny bit that I do live in a winter wonderland where all is possible… even meeting Santa Claus!

Staying in Nunavik for the holidays is an option more and more non-Inuit workers decide to choose, and I must say I prefer this option, having done it myself for the past four years. There is an aura of magic that settles in the villages as the season to be merry approaches. Many activities are organized, such as craft fairs, schools hold concerts, houses get decorated to the hilt, all while everyone is jolly and there is a real sense of community as everyone shakes hands and wishes everyone else Merry Christmas.

Needless to say, one advantage of being up here is that you are sure to have a white Christmas! Year after year the amount differs but we always have snow; we look out the window in the morning of the 25th to see light snow blowing, truly a magical sight. The daylight is of course short, but we make the most of it, putting snow pants over our pyjamas and heading out for a snowshoe expedition or a skidoo ride. Time seems to stop and you get to enjoy life to its fullest. Even for those hard workers who go to the office, the hours are quiet, slow, making it possible to tackle so much, all while chatting with your colleagues over gingerbread-man cookies and a cup of hot cocoa.

During the evenings many villages organize games where the whole town is invited to participate. Games you most likely never heard of but which definitely result in much laughter and many good memories, and all in a friendly, holiday atmosphere.

I must mention our special treat in Kuujjuaq: the annual candy drop. Rumour has it that this will be the last year but we are crossing our fingers that the rumour is exactly that, a rumour. The candy drop takes place on the 25th in the morning: Johnny May, a renowned Inuk pilot, flies his plane at very low attitude (having the special aviation permit to do so) while Santa Claus throws candy and gifts through the open door to the crowds below. The gifts are small items or tickets that match a prize held for you at the Forum. The atmosphere is electric; there is much competition to catch something but the mood is always happy.

Some may worry that there is something sad about being away from your families and friends during this time of the year. I can understand that, but I must say that you make your own little family in the North and getting to celebrate those special days with them is quite an amazing feeling as well. There is nothing quite like gathering with all the people who stayed, close friends or not, and organizing a potluck where everyone contributes to the feast. You get to know each other even better and best of all, there are no traffic jams on any highway, or even a traffic light ! Just that makes it the perfect Christmas gift ever.

Happy Holidays to all! Be merry and be happy wherever you are.
Caroline D’Astous
Communications Officer, NRBHSS 

Summer in Kuujjuaq August 2015

During the summer, the offices are definitely emptier, and with reason: it’s nice out, time for summer vacation, and most organizations slow down with a minimum of human resources. Most employees hired from the South leave to visit their families, not seen for many months, and the Inuit head out to the land. On the other hand, some employees from the South (including me) take full advantage of this all-too-short season. There are so many landscapes to see, fishing trips to organize, tides to navigate, walks and hikes, sunsets and sunrises, fauna and flora to observe. Luckily, summer days in Kuujjuaq are much longer than in the South. On the summer solstice, the sun barely sets… the days are endless! What opportunities for those who wish to make the most of summer for outdoor activities. You almost get two days for one. You’ll pay later, in deepest winter, but for the moment, there isn’t a minute to lose.

The hardiest take advantage of these perfectly sunny days when the mercury rises above 25 degrees to dive headfirst into the river at the end of the day’s work or on the weekend on a camping trip. Happy hour on the beach? “Bring a pallet for the fire and we’ll have an impromptu supper…”

What to do on the weekend? Camping? Yes, definitely! Find a quiet little spot out on the vast territory and pitch a tent for the night. Don’t forget mosquito netting, a bucket of deet and a smouldering fire to keep away the bloodsucking hordes once the wind dies down. There won’t be a soul for kilometres around, except perhaps for a grey jay, curious to see what you’re up to, or maybe an otter, unhappy because that fish you caught was supposed to be its next meal. The sun dips down to the horizon, you drink a toast… this is the life.

Marc-André Lamontagne
Emergency Pre-hospital Services and Emergency Services
Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services

Medecine in Nunavik: a unique experience! May 2015

Family medicine in the Far North has no equal: transculturalism, versatility, teamwork. Some 12 years ago, when I was still a student, I arrived in the North for an internship and discovered a humane practice with broad horizons among a local and very welcoming population. I launched my practice here some years ago and I am still fascinated and stimulated daily by my work.

Aeromedical transfers, various emergencies, hospitalization, case management, house calls, support for other professionals… our field of practice seems to be boundless, like the tundra. There is always the impression of being something of a superhero when we climb into a small, twin-engined aircraft—the legendary Twin Otter for the initiated—to pick up an unstable patient in another village. We assume full management of each patient who consults, from newborns to village elders. All that enables us to maintain our skills in all the areas of medicine: pediatrics, internal medicine, psychiatry, traumatology, women’s health and so forth. There is no such thing as a typical work day in the Far North; we do not live with a routine. Our only certainty is that anything can happen! During the same work day, I can facilitate home support for a patient near the end of life over the telephone in a community that has no permanent physician as well as stabilize a multiple-trauma patient who was victim of a traffic accident. There is no day more gratifying than one when I spent the entire previous night stabilizing a patient in critical condition and then seeing him transferred aboard an air ambulance headed for a tertiary-care centre in the South. With limited resources and the possibility of multiple unpredictable events, we have to be able to question ourselves, adapt and be creative.

Over the years, I have developed close ties with patients and their families. What I find most heart-warming is when I return from leave “in the South,” as the local expression goes, and several community members greet me with “Welcome back home, doctor!” I enjoy privileged access to the daily lives, beliefs and values of the Inuit, thanks to my work. I have returned from a house call with an entire goose—beak and feathers and all—given by the patient’s family! As long as we have an open mind, cross-cultural work can teach us much about ourselves.

Besides the stimulating work, Nunavik offers an incomparable natural environment for adepts of outdoor activities. Cross-country skiing, ski kiting, kayaking, hiking, off-road cycling, camping, the possibilities are endless. The vagaries of the region’s weather, with its sometimes-violent winds and blizzards, will occasionally test our ability to roll with the punches. The skies of Nunavik present breath-taking displays year round: magnificent sunsets, a red moon during the endless summer dusk and the mythical Northern Lights. There is nothing more powerful and beautiful than nature…

Geneviève Auclair
Family Physician and Head of the Department of Medicine,
Inuulitsivik Health Centre, Acting Head of the Nunavik RDGP

Hiring process and orientation training March 2015

Under the Perspective Nunavik banner, you will find all the necessary information concerning work in the field of health and social services in Nunavik. Our network consists of two health centres and a regional board (the equivalent of a health and social services agency):

  • Ungava Tulattavik Health Centre (UTHC) located in Kuujjuaq and which manages the services on the Ungava coast;
  • Inuulitisivik Health Centre (IHC), located in Puvirnituq and which manages the services on the Hudson coast;
  • Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services (NRBHSS), based in Kuujjuaq.

Although the three organizations post their employment offers on Perspective Nunavik, each has its own recruitment department and its own hiring processes. An application not accepted at one health centre will not necessarily be rejected at the other; however, an applicant must apply at both centres. As each organization is an independent entity, the hiring process must be followed at each one and at all levels: interviews, references, health examination and so forth.

On the other hand, the working conditions at the three organizations are very similar, as the health centres’ northern benefits are based on the CSN and FIIQ collective agreement and those of the NRBHSS on the government’s working conditions for unionizable but non-unionized personnel. Northern benefits for management personnel are identical to those for other employees.

Besides salary, other very interesting benefits are offered, such as:

  • Isolation premium;
  • Cost-of-living allowance;
  • Retention premium according to the agreement.

For persons hired more than 50 kilometres from their place of residence, we also offer:

  • Four annual trips out (for those with dependants, three annual trips per person);
  • Furnished housing (possibility of being obliged to stay in a transit or shared housing at the start of employment);
  • Reimbursement of moving and storage (for personal effects in the South) expenses.

Moreover, a tax credit is available for new graduates working in a remote region.


You’ve applied, what next?

If your professional profile and qualifications correspond to the organization’s needs and you are contacted for an interview, the interview will be conducted in the South, in either Montréal or Québec City.

After your interview, if your application is accepted, the full hiring process takes about one month, the time to check your references and for you to undergo your medical examinations.

However, as with any other job, the need to fill the position may be urgent and the hiring process may be shorter than mentioned. In Nunavik, it is always necessary to be prepared for any eventuality. Regardless of the situation, the human-resources personnel will discuss your needs with you.


You’ve made the leap, you’ve accepted the job offer, now for the next step…

To facilitate integration and adaptation in a new job, new employees hired by one of the three organizations will receive two-day orientation training in Montréal before they assume their new positions in Nunavik. The training is provided by an Inuk and employees with experience in the North, who can answer any questions you might have.

Those two days follow the schedule below:

  • The first day deals with Inuit culture as well as learning a few words in Inuktitut essential before your arrival;
  • The second day deals with the organization of services in the network’s three organizations, preparations before leaving for the North and a brief presentation on cultural adaptation.

And now… safe flight! Nunavik is waiting for you!
If you wish to experience professional life in a northern region, we invite you to join one of our teams.

Mental health has many faces in Nunavik February 2015

It is the schizophrenic woman who succeeded in adopting a little girl who herself is intellectually impaired… It is that same little girl, 20 years later, who brings me a Kraft jam jar filled to the brim with pills and capsules that her mother has not taken for one month because she does not know what to do with them… It is the man in his forties, ravaged by a mental illness due to drug abuse, who wanders the village all day, going from the hospital to the school board to the regional board, wearing rubber boots and a coat insufficient against the weather, because his small apartment is often taken over by youths who go there to party and who bully him… It is the young woman, recently become a mother, also schizophrenic, in distress over the needs of her newborn and overcome with the challenge…


It is also the dynamic, innovative and devoted team of physicians, nurses, social workers, psychiatrists and community organizations working together and succeeding at supporting the mother and daughter by changing the medication from oral to injectable, as well as supporting the family at home until the mother’s death, thus enabling the daughter to maintain her autonomy. It is that team supporting new treatment and residential resources that provide the man with a room to himself, safety and an income, and enable him to eat sufficiently. And again, it is that team working jointly with the team of the referral centre to organize medical and social care as well as day-care services for the child so that the young mother can recover properly and is able to raise her young child appropriately.

Working in the North, whether in mental health or another field, is complex due to the lack of resources and the cross-cultural aspect that is an integral part of our reality. On the other hand, that work is enriching for those involved in terms of the cultural experience and supportive relations. When I think of some of my patients who succeed in living with their mental illness, who manage to work, who have their own lodging, who are no longer subject to the judicial system and who have not been hospitalized for years, I am proud that my contribution has had some part in their success.

Every person who works in the field of mental health in Nunavik has the chance to make a difference in the life of one or more Nunavimmiut. Are you up to the challenge of making a difference?

Nathalie Boulanger
Family physician at the Ungava Tulattavik Health Centre (UTHC),
Medical advisor for the mental-health team of the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services (NRBHSS)

Living in the North March 2014

The North, a vast and isolated territory that remains little known to outsiders, calls to the imagination… In fact, most people (including myself, before I took the big step and arrived here) imagine the North as an undefined extent that includes everything north of the 55th parallel. But go beyond the Arctic cold, the tundra and its wild expanses, and you will find a land of possibilities, an extraordinary environment and a warm people. Those are what motivate me today, after nearly three years working in youth protection in Nunavik.

My work with Inuit children and families is a constant source of learning and mutual exchange. For us workers from the South, as we are called, integration into this environment requires a very open mind and constitutes a test of our abilities to adapt. Although our work is governed by the Youth Protection Act, the same statute applied throughout the province of Québec, we must adapt that work to the cultural reality. Allow me to say that within this different and unique culture, that short clause in the YPA is subject to some very different nuances…

Working in the North means being open to questioning yourself, being confronted by your own ignorance through the absence of the usual personal and professional landmarks, opening yourself to the unknown… going beyond what you know, your “southern eyes,” your preconceived ideas, and taking the time to get to know and respect Inuit culture. In that sense, teamwork with our Inuit colleagues leads to an enriching exchange where each learns from everyone else. Even more, the collaboration with community members and resources and the involvement of the elderly are primordial in the spirit of community empowerment. Work in the North requires much humility and a sense of teamwork but also the creativity necessary to foster community mobilization through our actions. The experience is an excellent exercise in letting go; here we learn to make do… That may sound simplistic, but the philosophy is reflected in the most basic aspects of everyday living, aspects we take for granted in the South. Make do… with the quantity of potable water that remains in the reservoir (municipal trucks deliver potable water and remove sewage); make do… with what remains on the shelves at the grocery store; make do… with the weather conditions and the harsh climate that sometimes cause delays or cancellations in the flight schedules. Be aware that Nunavik is not linked to the rest of the province by any land route: the only way to travel there is by air, which is also the only way to get from one community to the next. Imagine my excitement the first time I took a flight to travel to another community for work: quite extraordinary indeed!

The North teaches us much about ourselves and provides many valuable life lessons… In my work, I am confronted with the limits to my intervention, a lack of resources, culture shock, conflicting values, the language barrier (the first language of the Inuit is Inuktitut, although the vast majority of them also speak English or French), but those are all things that make the overall experience so enriching and remarkable. It is also in dealing with such limitations that I am inspired by the great strength and resilience of the Inuit people, a legendary race that had to adapt and survive in an arid climate and which even today must adapt to change and the loss of its cultural landmarks. And still, the Inuit remain warm and welcoming, proud of their rich culture, quick to laugh and fun-loving. The population is a young one (60% under the age of 25 years), which constitutes a challenge but also much hope.

Living in the North goes well beyond holding a job there… Much more than a place of work, the North harkens to a different lifestyle. The all-surrounding natural beauty, the pure air, the proximity and the spirit of mutual aid combine to create an unequalled quality of life. The North invites us to return to what is essential, to simplicity and the richness of human encounter. It is a stimulating experience, an opportunity to grow, to evolve both personally and professionally.

Prepared to make the leap? :)
Leave the beaten path
Unfurl your sails

Jessica Boudreau 
social worker, clinical advisor
DYP, Inuulitsivik Health Centre