Churchill Dene Treasure – Caroline Bjorklund

Caroline Bjorklund

Caroline speaks about the Dene culture in the region. Kim Clune photo.

Natural Habitat Adventures client/traveler Kim Clune captured this wonderful perspective of Dene Elder Caroline Bjorklund last fall in Churchill.

One night, after scouting polar bears on the tundra, our group huddled around a table filled with items from native cultural history. Caroline Bjorklund opened her talk with a profound statement slid in-between some caribou facts.
“I finally started learning who I am. It’s hard. Especially when you’ve lost your language, your culture and your elders.”
Caroline’s story was like listening to two intertwined narratives, one a hunting documentary and the other a memoir of personal trauma. Both were woven into a found poetry that took some reflection to decipher.
Caroline and her two young brothers were ripped from their parents at a tender age. Terrified and screaming, she was forced into a helicopter and then a school where she was separated from her brothers and punished for speaking her own language. She never saw her family and was never taught the Dene (said Den-neh) culture, Dene being the tribe from which she came.
I had read about such things before, but here was a survivor, clearly marred by such horrific events, telling me her personal account.
Caroline’s parents, like many Dene, were likely moved to uninhabitable land after being told to abandon their means for survival, including canoes, tools, dogs and sleds. Many native tribes were told that these items would be later returned. They never were.
“Then alcohol was introduced and the people forgot who they were,” she said.
After burying so much of her own painful disconnect in alcohol for years, Caroline embraced sobriety and finally began to heal her heart and recapture her identity by learning tribal ways.
She told us about the Caribou once used by her family for food, clothing, sinewy fishing nets, and how no portion of the animal was wasted. She even learned to make a child’s game from boiling a caribou foot and stringing together the knuckles.These acts are not second nature and the ingredients not readily available, as they were for her parents. It took investigative work to unearth a way of Dene life that has been intentionally stripped from her and decimated.
Caroline’s mother and sister persuaded her to learn traditional beading, which she resisted taking up until recently. You’d never know it. To see her first work on a pair of mitts shows the attention she pays to detail and the care with which she makes each stitch. It’s as if she’s making up for lost time with precise intent.

Beadwork and leatherwork of Caroline’s coveted mitts. Kim Clune photo.

She has also learned about tribal medicine, spruce tree gum for disinfection and dwarf Labrador tea for flu-like symptoms. Her brother tricked her into drinking it once. It tasted terrible. The expression on her face as she told the story led to a genuine chuckle at this prank. Sibling shenanigans must be cherished after so much disconnect. But who am I to guess? I can’t even comprehend how lonely her life must have been.
One on one, after her talk, I asked Caroline when she was reunited with her brother, the one who convinced her to drink the tea.
She and her young brother were never reunited. Nor was she with her biological mother. She speaks of other tribe members as sister and brother. Elders are mother and granny. She calls them all teachers and family and cherishes each one, but none are the people she was born to.
Caroline Bjorklund

Nat Hab guide Kurt Johnson and Caroline presiding over another amazing Dene cultural talk.Kim Clune photo.

What Caroline made so evident to me, somebody who knows only the textbook history is that this history is still very much alive and the story continues. Caroline is my sister, my mother, my granny, showing me that we can and must do better as human beings.
Sharing her most precious vulnerability, Caroline’s story is riddled with tangents. Speaking of these torments, again and again, causes her pain. Some talks are quite emotional, others more detached due to the fatigue of reliving her history. Regardless of the personal cost, she continues to educate on the very personal impact of inhumane policy and practice so that such atrocities never happen again.
Caroline is a true hero, spinning her suffering into harsh but necessary education. THIS is what I celebrate this Thanksgiving, as our own Native Americans continue to fight for their land and rights. Standing Rock was a battle zone this time last year. When will we ever learn?

Churchill Aurora Borealis Photo

Northern lights in th Arctic

Northern lights in an Arctic landscape. CBC North photo.

This open landscape vista of northern lights and a lone snowmobiler exudes the vastness of the barren north. Tantalizing northern lights can portray even the most inauspicious scene as incredibly wondrous and mystical. Aurora borealis in Churchill and the surrounding Arctic have been off the charts lately and we continue to discover the most beautiful images from all across the region. Enjoy!

Churchill Weekly Photo – Caroline

Caroline Bjorklund

Caroline Bjorklund (far right) and her sister Nancy with a couple of old Nat Hab guys. Brendan O’Neill photo.

Churchill and the world lost an amazing Dene elder this weekend. Caroline Bjorklund was a friend and quite an inspiration to the whole community and everyone that was lucky to meet her and hear her story. More will be posted in the coming days regarding her and her life in Churchill.

Northern Lights Time-lapse – Churchill

This time-lapse is from Natural Habitat Adventures guide Brad Josephs from this northern lights season in Churchill! Here is his synopsis of the clip and you can also peruse his blog site; Bears & Beyond to read about all Brad’s excursions in the wild.

“I finished my season guiding aurora borealis expeditions for Natural Habitat Adventures a few weeks ago. The weather was thrillingly brutal, with one of the longest cold snaps in recent history, with wind chills as low as -61 Fahrenheit! I did get good aurora shows on all three of my trips. The following is a time-lapse sequence from one of the best nights of the season.”

“I will admit that this isn’t a great quality time-lapse. I manually took continuous images during a few of the more active periods of the night. I should have kept the camera in the same place the entire night to achieve a smoother, more complete sequence. To create this I simply bulk processed a few series of images in lightroom, and imported the JPEGS into iMovie, saved the file as a 9-minute clip, then started a new project, imported the clip, compressed the time, and saved it as a new video.”

Inuvik Satellite Stations Await Federal Approval

When one thinks Arctic landscape, one usually visualizes serene endless tundra or boreal forest with snow covered trees! There’s a section of that austere boreal forest in Inuvik that has five dormant satellite receivers that look alien to the habitat and have been ready for use since 2016.

The satellite receivers were built by Norway’s Kongsberg Satellite Services and American satellite company Planet Lab. Over 18 months ago the application process for federal licensing commenced and since has been caught up in government red tape. The anticipated turnaround was six months.

Going into the application process, both companies expected a turnaround of about 180 days. Word surfaced last week that the licenses were finally approved though no formal announcement has been made. Global Affairs Canada, needs to approve an auxiliary license under Canada’s Remote Sensing Space Systems Act. Until this happens the dishes cannot be activated. Since these installations are integral to a remote sensing space system they need approval from the two agencies.

Inuvik Satellite

Inoperable Invuk Satellite receivers constructed two years ago are unused due to one federal license still needing approval. Rolf Skatteboe photo.

President and CEO of Kongsberg Satellite Services, Rolf Skatteboe, stated the license delays are costing his business money since he is unable to fulfill a contract with the European Space Agency.

“I’ve got the message … hey you’ve gotten the approvals now you can get started, which unfortunately isn’t true,” he said.

Global Affairs Canada apparently has cleared the department to “proceed in evaluating our application” according to Skatteboe.

“We still don’t know … when we will potentially get a license or not,” Skatteboe said. “That’s the most frustrating part.”

Planet Lab and Kongsberg have spent millions to build the installations at Inuvik  Skatteboe values the single large antenna installation at around $6 million, and four of the smaller Planet Lab installations at roughly $8 million. The sixth antenna has received the licensing it needs since its use under the Remote Sensing Space Systems Act did not require review.

Kongsberg constructed its satellite installations in Inuvik prior to being issued a license since the building season in the North is so short and doesn’t allow for flexibility. The company didn’t anticipate delays of the magnitude that has occurred.

Skatteboe added Kongsberg contracted with the European Space Agency to utilize the Inuvik ground station in conjunction with the European Space Agency (ESA) environmental Earth monitoring project named the Copernicus program.

A Kongsberg Satellite Services satellite station in Svalbard, Norway is one of 21 stations around the world and had very little resistance for permitting unlike what he has encountered in Canada according to company president and CEO Rolf Skatteboe. Rolf Skatteboe photo.

“[Kongsberg Satellite] has 21 ground stations around the world and they have all been licensed without any problems,” he said.

“So [Kongsberg] did not expect any problems related to approval to receive … data from an ESA satellite, an organization where Canada also is an associated member.”

“[Kongsberg Satellite] applied more than a year before the system was planned to be operational,” said Skatteboe.

The uncertainty surrounding when, or if, Kongsberg’s installations will ever be approved for use is the main concern.

“If Canada decided what we’re doing is a threat to national security, fine, I accept that,” he said.

“The frustrating part is that we haven’t gotten any feedback on the timescale for them to rule on this one.”

Global Affairs Canada, department spokesperson Brittany Venhola-Fletcher said in an email statement that, “Global Affairs Canada continues to work closely” with Kongsberg and Planet Labs to finalize and hopefully approve their licensing application.

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