One year later – Reflections by Chris White

“Leg 10 had maintained a precious heaviness in my chest that I did not want to lose, and I was afraid that stepping off the ship would mean stepping back into my regular life, that everything I had seen, heard, learned, and felt would fade into memory as other trips do, and that nothing would change…”

Chris White, Banks Peninsula (c) Natta Summerky/SOI Foundation

I had just lived the best experience of my life so far – living at sea with two dozen amazing Canadians and making new lifelong friends; seeing the Arctic for the first time and marvelling in some of Canada’s most beautiful and pristine landscapes; witnessing the frightening effects that climate change is having on Arctic ecosystems; interacting with Inuit communities and sharing in their culture and traditions; hearing and feeling unspeakable stories from indigenous perspectives and sharing in painful but powerful group discussions about this concept called reconciliation – and now it was all over.

Leg 10 had maintained a precious heaviness in my chest that I did not want to lose, and I was afraid that stepping off the ship would mean stepping back into my regular life, that everything I had seen, heard, learned, and felt would fade into memory as other trips do, and that nothing would change. The previous night, I had expressed this fear to one of Leg 10’s inspiring indigenous teachers, Sarain Carson-Fox. She reassured me “this was just the beginning”, and while I knew deep down that she was right, I had no idea how all the empty pages ahead were supposed to fill themselves in and keep the journey alive. One year later, I am amazed to see what has unfolded for me after Canada C3. I really had no idea what I was doing when I first returned home to Halifax, but I am now able to look back and reflect on what has happened.

Chris White examines Amundsen’s ship, Maud, in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut during Leg 10 of the Canada C3 expedition. (c) Natta Summerky/SOI Foundation

Before Canada C3, my life had been focussed primarily on personal pursuits in academia, business, arts, and enjoying leisurely spare time. Although I had been learning a lot about the world throughout my 20s while developing a strong desire to help affect positive change, I had no idea how someone without any background in community involvement or experience in activism could become a changemaker. I had never so much as ran for student council, sat on any committees, or volunteered much in my community, let alone taken on a leadership role in any such capacity. Canada C3 changed everything.

While a wide variety of natural, cultural, and community experiences contributed to Leg 10’s success, I believe it was the collection of individuals I interacted with that affected me most. Some of those people were well-known Canadians who have impacted many lives, while others were humble local Inuit who had recognized serious problems in their communities, saw that no one was coming to save the day, and decided to do something about it. While I could recount many such examples from Leg 10, one that stands out in my memory is Millie Kuliktana from Kugluktuk, who amazed me with her story of combatting an unthinkable youth suicide epidemic in her community. I realized there was little difference between all these different leaders, and even the famous ones were just everyday human beings with a fire burning in their hearts. My interactions with these people filled me with a feeling of empowerment that I never knew I had been seeking, and made me understand that if you really want to make a difference, you just have to care enough. My Canada C3 experience definitely made me care enough.

(TRIGGER WARNING! The following video discusses suicide)

I have always longed to have profound experiences, to form meaningful connections with people, to learn new things, to adventure, and to grow as an individual. My time with Canada C3 had given me all of those things in abundance, and it felt fulfilling in a way I had never known before. After returning to busy city life, I was overpowered by this unquenchable need to be out in the community interacting with people, learning what issues people were struggling with, and figuring out how I could contribute. I am not sure how, but everything seemed to fall into place seamlessly. I continued educating myself on Indigenous Canadian history and current news, I kept informed about public events related to indigenous issues as well as environmental and social justice, I participated in as many of these events as I could, I learned who was who in the active community, I introduced myself to people, I gradually became a familiar face, I made connections with a number of volunteer organizations, and I eventually joined several groups and put myself to work on important projects and initiatives. I was also honoured to meet many local indigenous people, learn a great deal about identity, and begin rediscovering the Mi’kmaq culture that had been lost in my father’s family. All this took place within the first few months following my return, with Sarain’s words growing truer and truer all the time. C3 really was just the beginning – like a Big Bang that had given birth to a whole new universe for me.

(c) Natta Summerky/SOI Foundation

Since the beginning of 2018, I have settled into a number of new volunteer roles in my community. After participating in the KAIROS Blanket Exercise and recognizing it as an excellent tool for recreating what I refer to as “the C3 feeling”, I have become a facilitator of this powerful interactive workshop on Indigenous Canadian history. I have had the honour of sharing this experience with six different groups around Nova Scotia so far, including community volunteers, church congregations, government employees, and even my fellow engineers. It has been highly rewarding to lead these exercises, help the participants absorb the information in talking circles, and see people try to embrace the discomfort just as the C3 participants did. Through the Blanket Exercise I have also had the privilege to meet and work with a number of Mi’kmaq elders, which has helped me advance my own learnings as well.

I have also become an active member of the Solidarity Halifax Eco-Justice Committee, which has allowed me to step out of my comfort zone and cultivate my leadership abilities. Through the EJC I have been able to learn about a multitude of industrial issues throughout Nova Scotia that jeopardize environmental sustainability and indigenous rights – all of which I was totally unaware of prior to C3 – and also take action by working with other environmental organizations and indigenous groups to support their causes. After learning about the struggle of indigenous peoples in Labrador in the face of the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric mega-dam controversy, I researched the story extensively and took the lead on organizing a public demonstration in Halifax to raise awareness about this issue among Nova Scotians, who would unknowingly be buying much of the generated electricity upon project completion. This is the sort of thing I could never have imagined doing just one year ago.

National Day of Action to support Indigenous resistance to the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project

Shortly after returning from Leg 10 I was introduced to the Nova Scotia Environmental Network, which began as a strong influential organization in the 1990s along with other provincial environmental networks, but has faltered in recent years after core federal funding was cut. When NSEN was looking like it might have to shut down after 27 years, a small group of volunteers including myself stepped in to form an interim Board of Directors and work to rebuild the organization. After a very successful AGM in June 2018, a brand new Board was formed with myself as Chair. Since then, this role has become my primary community position, and I now spend much of my spare time outside my PhD studies working to draw connections between environmental organizations in Nova Scotia, spearhead initiatives that serve their needs, interface with government officials, organize educational public events on environmental subjects, and cultivate relationships between NSEN and indigenous-led environmental groups. I recently even got to meet Minister of Environment and Climate Change (and C3 alumnus) Catherine McKenna, and bring the concerns of Nova Scotians to her attention regarding British Petroleum’s offshore exploratory drilling operation.

Apart from these official roles, I still maintain somewhat of an ongoing storyline as an individual expanding my knowledge and connections within my community, which sometimes leads to special moments that bring back that “C3 feeling”. One of the indigenous stories I read about during the first few weeks after Leg 10 was the story of Annie Mae Aquash, a Mi’kmaw woman who got swept up in the American Indian Movement in the 1970s and met a tragic end. Just days later, I attended a vigil for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, where I met Annie Mae’s daughter Denise and Mi’kmaw filmmaker Catherine Martin, who had worked together to create the documentary, The Spirit of Annie Mae. I wanted to share this incredible indigenous story, so I worked with the Halifax Central Library to organize a public film screening and discussion period with Catherine. To my amazement, our Leg 10 local expert, Pam Gross (now Mayor of Cambridge Bay), just happened to be in Halifax on the day of the screening and accepted my invitation to attend. At the end of the event, Pam shared some very powerful words with the audience about MMIWG, and the evening was tied together beautifully. I had to tell the audience that the event was only happening in large part due to the effect that Pam had had on me eight months earlier.

Mi’kmaw filmmaker and Order of Canada recipient Catherine Martin and Cambridge Bay Mayor Pamela Gross

I feel as though I am doing now what I was always supposed to be doing, and I have Canada C3 to thank for giving me the spark of inspiration that I needed. I never could have predicted how this first year of blank pages has filled in, but I know most of the story still lies ahead. As a participant, I know part of the C3 legacy lies with me, and while every participant will have their own unique way of continuing the legacy, I could not be happier with the path I have found.