During California field trip, Nunavut students reveal their skills
“Once we got started, I thought, this isn’t so bad”
The mapping was difficult and some of the terminology was way over their heads but Patricia Peyton and Candice Sudlovenick couldn’t complain.
After all, they were in California.
Peyton and Sudlovenick, two summer field assistants with the Canada-Nunavut Geoscience Office in Iqaluit, spent a couple of weeks this past May in the Inyo-White Mountains of eastern California learning about rocks, faults and minerals with a group of fourth-year Earth Sciences students from Dalhousie University in Halifax.
“It was kind of intimidating at first,” says Peyton, 27, a graduate of Nunavut Arctic College’s two-year Environmental Technology Program. “I felt like we didn’t have a lot of understanding but the students were very helpful and the instructors were amazing.”
Among the many discoveries they made, the biggest one might have been about themselves: even though they may require more technical instruction, their observational skills on the land and their ability to judge distances, contours, height and depth are often superior to the southern students.
Those skills come from spending time on the land and getting familiar with the earth, something that comes naturally to most Nunavummiut.
“It’s easier for us because we have no trees up here and there were no trees where we were in California either,” says Sudlovenick, 20, who’s seriously considering the Earth Sciences program at Dalhousie once she finishes her second year at the Environmental Technology Program.
“I was really intimidated, but once we got started, I thought, this isn’t so bad.”
The intensive field school for the Dalhousie students lasted four weeks but Peyton and Sudlovenick were only there from May 19 to May 29.
During that time, the two women camped in tents with the other students where temperatures soared to sweltering heights during the day and then dipped below zero at night because of the elevation.
Dalhousie instructor Mike Young, who worked in partnership with CNGO chief geologist David Mate to include the Nunavut students in this pilot project, was blown away by their dedication and natural skill.
“They know how to walk without tripping and the rigours of being out on the land. That, plus a natural curiosity of how the earth looks, smells and acts. It makes them naturally good at this,” Young said.
For example, he had the two women sketch a map of a particular area showing cliffs, rock layers, colours and so forth. “They had it in perfect scale in 45 minutes,” he says. “Even I have difficulty doing that without measurements.”
Inclusion in the California field school was part of a larger pilot project that Young and Mate are formulating in an effort to draw more young Inuit into earth sciences like geology and palaeontology.
The project, which is still being refined, includes several components, including field assistant work on the Hall Peninsula Geoscience Project last summer and again this summer, as well as a basic geology unit taught after hours at the CNGO offices by Holly Steenkamp, a bedrock geologist.
The last part involves writing a report of their work at Hall Peninsula for the CNGO’s official Report of Activities, which is widely read by government and industry officials.
It’s clear that mining and mineral exploration will figure prominently in Nunavut’s future and this kind of experience might help young people get meaningful work in that sector, Young said.
But even if they don’t go on to become geologists, they will still benefit from a broad understanding of the earth, its history and its resources. That knowledge can be useful in many careers in the North.
“If someone tries to snow them, they can say ‘no, I know better,’” says Young. “They can become knowledgeable advocates and champions for the environment.”
For Mate, who got two exceptional staff out of the deal, he couldn’t be more pleased.
“We’ve just been so lucky to have tripped over both Patricia and Candice,” he said. “They have been great employees and they are growing into being great field assistants for us. I have nothing but praise for them.”
In the past, the CNGO has sponsored scholarships to southern universities in an effort to lure young graduates into geosciences. But throwing them into a difficult program, thousands of kilometres from home, didn’t work well.
With this program, they are trying to introduce students to the fun parts—the hands-on field work, traverse walking, rock-hounding and camping—and to mentor them throughout so they don’t get discouraged when the work, and the terminology, get complicated.
It’s paying off. Young, who is in Iqaluit this summer for the Hall Peninsula mapping project, spent a day last week traversing an area with Peyton as his assistant. Hall Peninsula is currently the CNGO’s major mapping project.
The 30,000-square-kilometre area has never been mapped to modern standards and crews are discovering many things, including 11 potential carving stone sites.
Geologists and their assistants get dropped off in areas to be mapped and spend the day traversing about 10 km and recording their observations.
“At the end of the day, we finished just before the helicopter came to pick us up and Patricia was running around, pointing out minerals on boulders,” Young said. “I had shivers down my spine, just having that interaction. It was so much more meaningful than in the past. It was way above my expectations.”
Peyton, originally from Pangnirtung, says her experiences have really changed her. “I’m very excited for the years to come and I’m very grateful to all the people I met who have encouraged me in this field.”
Candice, 20, also seems destined for this kind of work. But she’s known that since she was a child.
“I used to camp a lot and I would look at all the rocks and find the prettiest and the coolest ones. I’d find fossils. You would always find me walking around with rocks in my pockets,” she says laughing.
Even today, she still has bowls of her favourite minerals and fossils at home. “I want to learn. I found all this stuff interesting.”
You can read more about Peyton and Sudlovenick’s adventures at this web page.