The End

October 20, 2008 at 9:13 am

It’s been a phenomenal success

Last Friday morning, the Amundsen sailed into historic Quebec City, bringing to an end 15 months at sea for scientific and human health research in the Arctic.

The Amundsen returns to port.

A crowd was on hand to greet the Amundsen and its crew.

Inuit Health Survey Project Leader Dr. Grace Egeland gave a short speech at a press conference on Friday at the Coast Guard base. Representatives of the federal government, Canadian Coast Guard, Circumpolar Flaw Lead, ArcticNet and several universities also gave speeches.

‘The Inuit Health Survey is about partnerships,’ Dr. Egeland said. ‘It’s been a phenomenal sucess.’

Hannah Angootealuk of Coral Harbour, Nunavut is interviewed by a member of the media about her experience as an interviewer with the Inuit Health Survey, after disembarking from the ship.

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We had a team

Modest though she may be about her contributions, there’s no denying that there would be no Inuit Health Survey without Helga Saudny-Unterberger. The assistant to Project Leader Dr. Grace Egeland and Project Manager of the survey, Saudny-Unterberger has been with the survey since its inception.

‘When Grace in 2006 decided to submit a grant proposal to the government of Canada’s International Polar Year program, I was given the task to help with writing the proposal,’ Saudny-Unterberger said. With funding granted, Saudny-Unterberger’s next task was organizing logistics for the project, hiring staff, ordering supplies, and completing any other large and small thing that needed to get done.

Logistics for such a huge project would appear as a nightmare to most, but Saudny-Unterberger calls it simple ‘common sense.’

‘The good thing was that we were forced to be ready at a certain time, because the ship wasn’t going to wait for us. We knew we had deadlines to meet, and once you have deadlines, you work backwards,’ she said.

‘I wasn’t the only one, we had a team,’ she said. ‘I’m just one little peg in this team that helped bring this about.’

‘I think people were a little bit skeptical at first if the deed could be accomplished, because the manpower required is enormous. In all the communities you have to have people in place who travel ahead of the ship, who get the communities excited and ready. And you can’t do this without local people helping,’ she said.

She is most appreciative of the Inuit interviewers. ‘It couldn’t have been easy for some. Last year they were away for two months from their families and communities. It’s just a great testament to their willingness to do something for their people. Hopefully something really positive will come out of it,’ she said. 

While for most the survey has come to an end, for Saudny-Unterberger the work continues. Upon returning to Montreal she will focus on the financials from the project and write activity reports. She is also hoping to do some analysis of the data collected. ‘I just do whatever needs to be done,’ she said.

How Helga stays healthy: ‘I like to run, I like to walk, I like to bike. I eat healthy.’

October 17, 2008 at 3:52 am

Nearing the end

The Amundsen is currently anchored outside of Quebec City, waiting for its predetermined entrance time tomorrow morning back to port. Following the ceremony, the Health Survey crew will depart for their respective homes.

Thank you to all participants and staff from the Inuvialuit Settlement Region, Nunavut and Nunatsiavut for your time and willingness to be involved in the Inuit Health Survey. You ensured it was a great success!

October 16, 2008 at 2:01 pm

Each survey, I feel like I got more than I gave

Michel Poulin is the most seasoned off all the Inuit Health Survey staff. He worked in the 2004 survey in Nunavik and during the 2007 and 2008 survey in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region, Nunavut and Nunatsiavut. In all, he visited 47 communities in the four regions.

Hailing from St-Victor Beauce, Quebec, Poulin first started working in the North as a nurse in Kuujuak in 1984. From there he went on to work as a relief nurse, doing replacement work for nurses in communities in the Ungava and Hudson’s Bay.

In 1992 a land based Inuit Health Survey was planned for Nunavik.

‘They were recruiting people who were interested in being part of the survey and they were looking for someone who knew the culture and environment. So I applied and I got the job,’ Poulin said. His name went onto the publication about the survey, which is why he received a phone call years later asking if he’d like to apply for a clinic job for the 2004 survey in the region, this time on board the Amundsen.

When the project moved to the other Inuit jurisdictions of Canada, Poulin naturally applied. He worked as a nurse and was given the added responsibility of collecting the heart monitor data in 2007 and 2008.

‘2004 to me meant a lot of things. A lot of things brought me feelings. For example, I met a lady who said, ‘Oh Michel, I recognize you because you were there when I delivered my first baby.’ It was a very good feeling,’ Poulin said. ‘For me, I did the survey for them. It meant a lot, that one. It was nice to see the people 15 to 20 years after.’ 

‘In 2007 I loved the scenery. In 2008 I learned a lot about the historical Northwest Passage,’ he said. ‘Each survey, I feel like I got more than I gave.’

The survey is finished and the Amundsen is sailing into Quebec City to deliver Poulin back to his permanent job as a nurse and health counselor with Hydro Quebec in the northern camp of Brisay, but his involvement may not yet be over. He received an e-mail yesterday morning, inviting him to return to Nunavik to do the follow-up from the 2004 survey. Approximately 900 people involved in that survey agreed to be included in the follow-up, which will take place in the coming months. ‘I had thought it was all over!’ he said with a laugh.

How Michel stays healthy? To be free, free of mind. To always have new goals and projects. And stop talking- do something.

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The Nunatsiavut Team

The Nunatsiavut Inuit Health Survey team.

Interviewers and Quality Control: (Top Row) Hannah Angootealuk, Laura Kaufer, Jutanie Arnaqug, Sue Bird, Sharon Edmunds, Fred Andersen, Jo Jo Aninqmiuq, (Front) Theresa Kakkianiun, Bernice Aggark, Edna Elias, Lauren Goodman, Mary Bender, Angus Andersen, Catherine Huet, Eena Alivaktuk, Pauloosie Onalik. Absent: Mike Palombi.


Lab: Evan Nitschmann, Jean-Francois Aublet, Patrick Narbonne, Dennis Miskie, Jen Jamieson.

Clinic: (Top row) Frederic Daigle (Ultrasound), Michel Poulin (Heart monitors), Dennis Miskie, Francois de Courval (RN), (Front) Evangeline Leclair (Bone density), Brenda Miskie (RN), Leanne Towgood (Clinic dispatch), Amy Harty (RN), Linda Van Pelt (RN), Francoise Picard (RN).

Administration: Leanne Towgood (Clinic dispatch), Evan Nitschmann (Lab coordinator), Anne Nicholson (Chief of Mission), Helga Saudny-Unterberger (Project Manager).

Blog writer/photographer: Stephanie McDonald.

October 15, 2008 at 4:04 pm

The people of Nunatsiavut ©

A song by Angus Andersen, originally of Nain, now of St.John’s, Newfoundland.


The people of Nunatsiavut will do anything they can
They’ll keep you warm,
They’ll keep you fed,
They’ll walk you hand in hand

They’ll make sure you’re ok
So that you’re not alone
They’ll keep you company
And make you feel at home


The people of Nunatsiavut
Will give you their last bread
They’ll help you first everyday
Cause that’s the Inuit way


The elders have the knowledge
And the language too
They’ll teach you all they can
They do what they can do


October 14, 2008 at 11:59 am

Thanksgiving feast

All on board the Amundsen enjoyed the bounty of the Nunatsiavut land and sea this afternoon for a Thanksgiving feast.

Hannah Angootealuk and Edna Elias make bannock.

Jumper blubber, frozen caribou, salmon and minke muktuk.

Bernice Aggark and Pauloosie Onalik share caribou.

Michel Poulin eats cooked seal meat.

October 13, 2008 at 4:03 pm

Rigolet, Nunatsiavut

Yesterday the Health Survey crew wrapped up fieldwork in Rigolet, Nunatsiavut. In all, 265 participants from five communities were seen on board the Amundsen in Nunatsiavut over six days.

The Amundsen has begun its journey to Quebec City where it will be welcomed home with a ceremony on Friday morning. For the next four days, the Health Survey staff will be packing up and then enjoying the scenery of the St. Lawrence Seaway.

To view more photos from Rigolet, click here.

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There is no better thing for me then to witness healing happening

Social worker Fred Andersen is a man who has found his calling. The former Makkovik resident did an undergraduate degree in Political Science after high school and went to work in the civil service for the provincial government.

Andersen listened to the ideas of his fellow Labradorians and attempted to relay their concerns to the government. At every turn he was told ‘there’s no policy for that’ and was refused the chance to write it. Disillusioned, he returned to school, this time to do a Masters in Anthropology.

As fate would have it, money ran dry and Andersen went to work in a residential setting.

‘I was working with people who were challenged- people who were survivors of child sexual abuse and all manner of trauma, and realized, that’s my calling, that’s who I am,’ Andersen said. ‘And so, I continued working in the field and realized I needed a social work background for this. So I did the Bachelor of Social Work and entered deeper into the world of mental health addictions, and now I’m doing my Masters of Social Work.’

Since entering the field 19 years ago, Andersen has chosen to work at home in Labrador and in communities in Newfoundland.

‘We have real issues with substance abuse,’ Andersen said of Nunatsiavut communities. ‘Alcohol and drugs go hand in hand with violence, particularly violence against women, and we’re not talking about this. We keep trying to cover it up. To say it happens, but it’s not that bad. No violence is acceptable in my opinion. When children are being abused then we have a real issue on our hands and that’s what’s happening in our communities.’

Andersen works as the mental health worker for the Inuit Health Survey and conducts interviews. He is available to counsel participants who struggle with the Community and Personal Wellness questionnaire component of the study. Questions include sensitive issues relating to sexual and physical abuse, substance use and suicide, which often trigger negative memories.

While the job is his calling, it hasn’t always been easy for him.

‘I despaired when I first started working in this field because I thought that I could fix things and worked harder and harder to fix them. There were small triumphs, but not enough was happening. I nearly fried to a crisp. But then I didn’t. I got out of the pan and got focused. Now I’m able to keep the work at a healthy distance and take care of myself. In social work, that’s a huge issue,’ Andersen said.

Traveling through communities in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region, Nunavut and Nunatsiavut this summer, Andersen saw first hand that there aren’t nearly enough resources available to deal with mental health issues.

‘Every community needs a team, a team that can provide time out for some while others are on the ground working, because it’s very demanding, very stressful and necessary,’ he said. More Inuit need to be trained as mental health workers and health care needs to be delivered in communities, rather than sending people south, he said.

It’s the rewards of his calling that keep Andersen going. ‘There is no better thing for me then to see someone healing in front of me, witnessing healing happening. So many people are damaged through no fault of their own, but with appropriate intervention they can make progress and move to healthier living and less stress,’ he said.

How Fred stays healthy: ‘Thirty years ago I cut sugar and salt out of my diet and I don’t miss it. I do lots of walking.’

October 12, 2008 at 5:04 am