Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Fjords of Pangnirtung

Yesterday I returned from a visit to Pangnirtung, a small town on the eastern shores of Baffin Island. Like many northern settlements, the smaller places in Nunuvat usually have a nursing station, and are only visited occasionally by a doctor. Iqaluit, and Baffin Regional Hospital, provide medical support to many different small communities in the eastern half of Nunavut. The nurses in these communities all work at an extended spectrum of practice, assessing illness and injury, perscribing basic medications and antibiotics, taking X-rays and consulting with the doctors in Iqaluit by phone. In Pangnirtung a doctor drops in for a few days each month to see difficult cases that cannot be easily handled by the nurses.

It was going to be a busy trip, so one of the Family Medicine Residents here in Iqaluit came up the coast with me, to help me see all of the patients. We saw a lot of interesting cases while we were there, including a couple of cases of Tuburculosis which is still quite common in the north of Canada.

We also met many interesting people while we were there. The history of the Inuit people is very interesting, and it was not until the 1950's when the post World War II arctic became of strategic military importance that the majority of Inuit were forced to abandon a traditional nomadic way of life in favour of permenant settlements. Many of the elders I met in Pangnirtung had grown up living a traditional nomadic lifestyle, and I had the opportunity to talk with a few of them about their traditions over the few days I was there. Most of the elders only spoke Inuktitut, and translators helped us to speak with them. Interestingly, many of the younger people also use Inuktitut as a first language, and their traditional language is also widely used in the school system. It was fascinating to learn about the Inuit culture in a place where that culture is still very much alive.

Pangnirtung itself is located in a deep fjord on eastern Baffin island. The landscape here is incredible, with deep water channels and high cliffs side by side. The town is nestled into a small flat area between mountain and water.

While I was at the Health Centre, they gave me a great office to use. The view made me feel like I was CEO of the north pole.

We also spent some time walking about the town, and I took some shots towards the ocean, and the Pangnirtung pass.

This picture shows a typical sled that a skidoo would pull out on a hunting expedition. Blow up the picture to check out some of the interesting things from the hunt!

While in Pangnirtung we also visited the local art studio. On much of Baffin Island, carving is the main art-form, but in Pang there is a lot of tapastery and textile work, and well as print making. A local artist named Jolly, showed us around the art studio, and showed us how the local prints are made with stencils. We met a couple of the artists, and even saw them working on some of their prints, sketches, and etchings. The most famous local artist is Andrew Qappik, who designed the Nunavut flag and coat of arms. While I was in town his wife came by the health centre, and I bought one of his prints. A similar version can be seen here as well as lots of his other work. Art is really one of the main industries in Pangnirtung, and it was great to get to meet some of the artists and see how they work.

Here is a picture of the artists studio and print shop. Below that is a picture of the large tapastry that hangs in the local airport.

Finally, after 3 days in Pangnirtung, it was time to go home. Below are pictures of the Pangnirtung airport, our plane, and our arrival back in Iqaluit. The airport in Iqaluit is really bright yellow. It's an interesting airport, because it has a very long runway, and due to the extreme cold here is a good place to do aircraft testing. Since I have been here they have tested an Airbus A380 as well as some sort of military helicoptor!

The trip to Pangnirtung was definetely a highlight of my experience in the north so far. It was great to be alble to see how Inuit culture is still alive, and speak to people about their firsthand experiences of living on the land, before there were permenant settlements here. So far all of the people I have met, in the hospital and in the community have been very welcoming, and interesting to talk to. I leave for home in Vancouver in less than 2 weeks, but based on my experiences so far, I think I would like to come back.

1 comment:

Dr. H. said...

Awesome pictures! What a neat place. I'm glad you are having such a great time...but I can't wait til you come home.