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Reflecting on Travelling to Remote Northern Labrador, Canada

Ashley Kroyer, AVC 2020, traveled to Nain and Natuashish in 2019 as one of the student participants on the Chinook Project. As part of the experience, the students craft various pieces of reflective writing.

August 16, 2019

In these early years of the adventure that is “my life in veterinary medicine”, I’ve been blessed with opportunities to explore. Four things have motivated my travels: new languages, new foods, new cultures and vet med.

A 10 pm Labrador sunset. It may have been the middle of June, but there was still snow in Nain!

I traveled to Belize in 2017 to learn about wildlife conservation and rehabilitation. During my time on this trip I also got to practice speaking in Spanish, eating giant avocados, and hiking Mayan temples. I lived in Kenya for the summer of 2018, working with dairy farmers while learning Swahili, drinking hot milky chai, and watching African women sing and dance. This year, I knocked on another door that opened to explore somewhere new, Northern Labrador. While Northern Labrador is arguably less “exotic” than my trips outside of North America, my experience in our remote Canadian North was equally as special and meaningful.

In Nain, the people are predominantly Inuit and the language is Inuttitut. While seeing my first patient for a wellness exam, I learned her name “Tumik” means footprint. Her owner was inspired by the mark left by her paw in the fog on his truck window when he was bringing her home as a pup. I learned that “Kammik” means boots; a name well suited to a black husky who had four white legs. I also met a white husky pup with sky blue eyes named “Aputik” meaning snow.

The students at the Mushuau Innu Natuashish school had so many questions about how veterinarians care of animals!

Natuashish is an Innu community, and the language is Innu-aimun. When I visited the school to talk about the Chinook Project two small girls giggled over trying to teach me the Innu-aimun words for “dog” and “bear”. The walls of the classroom were decorated with posters in both languages and I learned that the Innu-aimun language is still widely spoken by children as well as adults. This is in contrast to Inuktitut, a language being lost by the younger generation.

As a Newfoundlander, part of the appeal of travelling to Labrador was to see a different part of my home province. What I didn’t realize is how at home I was going to feel on my new adventure. Listening to every “m’ love”, “oh best kind”, and “yis b’y” and other fun, quirky “newfie-isms” made my heart happy. All I could do was laugh when after only a couple of days the veterinarians commented on how my accent grew stronger and stronger with every client I saw. The food was familiar and comforting as well. With so many meals generously cooked and delivered to us by people wishing to say “thank you”, I felt right at home. We indulged in homemade turkey soup, homemade bread and jam, and some Newfoundland specials such as: toutons, soup and dumplings, smoked char, birch beer (a soft drink), and pineapple crush! No one went hungry on this trip

Our Labrador treasures! Serpentine and labradorite, beautifully carved by a local artisan, Conrad Atsatata.

During our brief stay in these communities, I, and the rest of the team were so lucky to get a glimpse into some First Nations culture and traditions. In Nain, we were visited by local craftsmen, and awed by their skills and the intricacy of their carvings. No one left Labrador empty-handed; as we each found a piece we fell in love with. My treasure was a small forest-green Inukshuk, hand carved from serpentine and mounted on a smoothed slab of glittery labradorite. In Natuashish, our stay overlapped with the Aboriginal Days celebrations, and we did our rounds one evening sitting cross-legged and cozy inside of a traditional Innu tent.

Capitalizing on the abundance of dog snuggles! Ghost and I share a goodbye hug before the team departs for the airport

Who could have imagined that a senior clinical rotation could have given us so much more than just medical and surgical experience? Our team travelled to Labrador to offer care and consult to two communities, each of these giving us back a unique and memorable look into parts of life in Canada’s north. I travelled to Labrador as I’ve travelled elsewhere, searching for the “new” and the “different”, and I returned same as I have before, with a new perspective and a sense of what is the “same” and “universal” no matter where you go in the world. I went to Labrador with a focus on learning surgical and medical skills and I returned a more competent and confident veterinarian-to-be.

But, that’s another story…

Stay tuned!

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