Last night our guest speaker was Caroline, an elder Dene woman who talked about her experience being taken away to residential school when she was five. She talked about her traditions, reclaiming her identity, reconciliation, and then shared pictures of her family and the women's work (bead work, hide work, bone toys, etc.) that had once been such a common practice for her community. She talked about how, for generations, her people had followed the caribou. It was stunning. We were silent. It is one thing to read about Canada's actions of reconciliation in recent years. And to reflect on America's own troubled history with Native Americans including the recent conflicts over oil/water rights out west. But to hear someone who has lived the shame, then let it define her, and yet then has determined to reclaim herself in such a direct and powerful manner? Truly something I will need to process for some time to come. To calm myself during her talk, I drew her portrait. And that of the fox from yesterday's travels. And slept badly. There is so much more beneath the breathtaking scenery that defines this place. Troubled past. Troubled and troubling present - the struggles to balance tourism to generate revenue against tradition and environment and economic decline. Not to mention the ever present blanket of climate change. There's a tv series on, now, called Polar Bear Town. I couldn't help but feel the tension between such a show and the people who once lived here as a part of the environment. How far we've come. How far we have still to go.
Since I wasn't sleeping so well, I got up early and wandered about...checking out the Centre's library and lab spaces. Big excitement during the night!! A polar bear had explored right around the Centre in the early morning hours, leaving absolutely wonderful prints in the snow!
A stark reminder of how we are *not* supposed to be outside alone!
With that exposure rekindling my enthusiasm for more wildlife viewing, we jumped on the bus and headed to the shore. Saw one big male walking through the willows. Then lost him but saw a single female emerge from the willows and move out on the shoreline away from where he had been walking. A few minutes later..there he was again! And this time he walked across our sight lines, right in front of crazy photographers in the trucks in front of us (staying outside their vehicles while the bear walked right by them!), and then on into the rocks. Following a hunch Frank drove us closer to the beach and away from the photo frenzy groups. There he was again! The bear emerged from the rocks, wandered along the beach and then plopped down to enjoy some of the shell fish and kelp that speckle the shoreline.
Thank you so much, polar bear.
We left our bear as he walked off to explore other vehicles in the area. It really was similar to locations that have "Bear jams"...once a big bear is spotted, all the buggies and pickups and other rental vehicles come out of the woodwork to get close enough for pics. There are rumors of people baiting the bears so they'll come closer. We didn't see that but we did see folks letting the bear get so much closer than was really safe. For people or for the bear. Polar bears are incredibly inquisitive..but they are also wild. People have a false sense of security when they sit inside their vehicle. And all it really does is habituate the bear to more people. Without being able to explain the rules of engagement to the bear.
We left the area, had lunch, and then went out to Parks Canada's Cape Merry site. This is the point that guards the eastern mouth of the Churchill River. And we could look across to Prince of Wales Fort...a boat ride on a good day but that wasn't going to be this afternoon. (see
http://www.pc.gc.ca/eng/lhn-nhs/mb/prince/natcul/natcul2.aspx for more info on the history of the fort and Cape Merry).
Note that while our interpreter gave us an excellent historical feel for the Cape, we had our "bear guard" watching for us. Note also that that's ice beginning to form outside the mouth of the River.
The Inutsuk on the shore in Churchill. I learned, at the Assiniboine Zoo, that there are a number of different arrangements of the rocks. Some that give direction, or that indicate a store of food. This one represents people. Effectively, we're here. Yes, yes we are.
Our trip to Cape Merry was interrupted by the sound of helicopters. Since 'copters are frequently in the area running tours out to Cape Churchill it was easy to think nothing of it. Then someone pointed out that the 'copter was carrying something! A polar bear! We thought it might be headed north for release but then it circled back to town. A problem bear that wandered in too close, was darted with tranquilizer, and then picked up to be taken back to the holding facility. Sometime soon the ice will form and they can release it to get on to the Bay.
On our way back to the Centre, we went by Caribou Hall which is where Carolyn's talks have been in the past. I just love that totem pole art is here as well. I would have liked to have asked her about this last night. Perhaps another time?
Home, sweet home. Tonight is our last night at the Centre and the snow from the first few days is rapidly melting as the temps warm up. I went back up to the Aurora dome to get a pano one more time.