Dominic Pelland - Head nurse
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
social worker, clinical advisor, DYP, Inuulitsivik Health Centre
My name is Dominic Pelland. I’m the head nurse at the Ungava Tulattavik Health Centre here in Kuujjuaq. I came to Kuujjuaq with my partner in November 2003, so it’s been a little over nine years that I’ve been working in Northern Québec.
Obviously, my partner and I have a taste for adventure. We originally thought about going to work in the U.S., Texas maybe. Then at one point we heard about Northern Québec. We said to ourselves, when it comes to travelling, why not travel in our own province? Yes, we are in Québec, but we are going to a corner of the country that is totally different; we are going to Inuit territory. We wanted to get to know the culture, how it worked. When you’re in the south, you have only a vague idea. People can often have prejudices about Inuit people. We wanted to come see for ourselves, and we were right in doing so. We saw that they are a really incredible people that have great values and an amazing culture. We don’t regret coming here at all.
By working at the health centre, we don’t have to pay for accommodations, they’re provided as a taxable benefit. They tax us on the value of lodging as part of our annual salary, but there are very advantageous tax credits that make it so that in the end, it doesn’t cost us anything to live here. It’s a benefit that they offer us for coming to work in a northern region; acccommodations are provided, we don’t pay anything in that regard.
What I really like about my job is the contact I have with the Inuit population. It’s something that I really enjoy. I also believe that the contact I have with the nurses I hire is different than what a head nurse in the south would experience. It’s me who calls them, who meets them at the airport and who really tries to integrate them into the nursing team. I often hosted afternoon and evening information sessions in the south when I went to recruit staff. And I defy anyone to give me a location anywhere in the world that offers working and living conditions like those in Nunavik. Whether referring to holidays that we can take, quality of life, stress that we don’t experience, I believe we offer fantastic working conditions.
I would tell people don’t hesitate to come to the North. Yes, it’s a big challenge. Yes, leaving your friends and family is not easy. But when you get here, you realize that you’re not simply working with colleagues. You become a family at the hospital, or wherever you’re working. We are such a small organization, a small village, that we end up knowing everyone, and it becomes hard to leave.
My name is Ashley Sudbury. I’m working at Youth Protection. I’ve been up north for three and a half years. My main motivation for coming up north was to seek out a new adventure. At the same time, being up north is not that far from home when you take the plane. So it’s like, coming here, but you still feel like you are in your own country. Also I wanted to work with the Inuit people. I didn’t really know about them that much, so it was sort of like a sense of adventure and being open to work with a culture that is different than my own.
So, my job consists mainly of being, like, I’m the reviser for Youth Protection, so at the end of a mesure, either volunteer or court-ordered, I sit down with the social workers who are working directly with the family, and the family’s also present, and we discuss the evolution of what has happened over the last few months and then what decisions need to be made in the future. So I mainly work with the social workers in Kuujjuaq and in the other communities around the Hudson coast.
To be able to work up north, I would say that the person who’s considering it would have to have an open mind to be working in an obviously northern context, to work with a smaller team than what they might be used to, wanting absolutely to work with people who don’t necessarily speak the same language or share the same culture as you do. So, if you’re interested in coming up north and working already in the social service and health sector, our new collective agreement permits workers to leave their job but still keep their job down south, maintain their seniority and come up and work up north for a year to four years. I would tell other workers who are interested in working for Youth Protection before coming that they’ll have an amazing experience here. It’ll be good for them, their own personal experience, as well as professionnally speaking. There are so many things you can do here, activities, outdoor activities. And you can make some really good links with the community and live in a smaller community too,which is a good experience as well, especially for people who are coming from a big city.
My name is Elena Labranche. My work here at the Health Port is that I am the assistant to the Director of Public Health. So I do a lot of administration work, but also planning of different projects that are going to be put in place in the communities.
It is very important to have Inuit people to work in the health and social services because the Inuit know the culture, they know the language, they can communicate. They know how to deal with the population of Nunavik, since we are part of it, it’s our people. And it is very important for the communication aspect of it and for people to be able to deal with it, saying that it’s my peer who is able to work in these positions.
Some people may not have the qualifications to be working in the health field or they feel intimidated because you think that you need to be doctors or specialists to be able to work in here. But it’s not necessarily true, because what experience you have, and the work you want to do to help other people, it’s easy to do because you can always have mentors who are coming from the south to help you, guide the way.
I would say to the people that wanna move up here to work, the ones from the north, is that Kuujjuaq is like the city of the North, so it’s a lot busier than the smaller communities, so they would find it maybe a little bit more challenging because it’s more stuff to do in Kuujjuaq than in the smaller communities. But then for the other people that are coming from the south, it’s the total opposite. It’s probably gonna be a lot too quiet for them, but as I said, if you like the land, openness, clean air, that’s a place to be.
My name is Annie Payette. I’m a nurse consultant with Infectious Disease Prevention and Control.
Originally, I was coming for two or three years, and my partner was coming for three or four years. In the end though, we decided to stay. We got married and had two little girls, Anabelle and Émilie. They are now four and two years old.
Since I became a nurse, I have always wanted to go work in a remote region or another country. When I was younger, after I finished school, I thought about Africa. I often receive nursing magazines at home, and there are always offers to go work away from home, like in Nunavik. It was something that interested me.
Our bosses and Human Resources really took care of us. There was regular telephone communication once we were hired, and right up until we arrived. We were told what equipment and such we needed. We had the option to have fully furnished accommodations provided. We only needed to bring our personal effects and food, so it was easy. Once we arrived in the North, we had lots of support.
In reality, we don’t know much about Nunavik. We know that in general, Inuit live here and that we might see seals, polar bears, igloos. I think I knew what people generally are familiar with. But arriving here, I saw that it was very different. I wasn’t expecting there to be so many cars in Kuujjuaq. I wasn’t expecting there to be so many people either. When you look outside, or when you leave the house, it’s mountains, snow, nature. In two seconds, you’re beside the river. It’s always by coming that you realize what it is. That it’s really a beautiful corner of the country and that you are not that alone in the world, here in Nunavik.