My North Pole Adventure: Unity of Hearts & Minds at the Top of the World

November 16, 2017 Special Guest Author

David Serkoak was in born in the northern part of Nueltin Lake, southwest of Arviat, Nunavut. He has worked as a primary and secondary school teacher, vice-principal, principal; an Instructor at Nunavut Arctic College, and a curator at the British Museum of Mankind in England. David helped to develop Inuktitut teaching materials at all levels local, regional and territorial, and works with Students on Ice. In his free time David makes Inuit drums, teaching youth about the art of drum dancing. Before he moved south in 2006, he also was a weekend trapper and hunter. After he retired from the Government of Nunavut in 2008, he was an Instructor with the Nunavut Sivuniksavut Training Program until 2012 in Ottawa, ON (Canada).

North Pole Summit speaker and Inuit Elder David Serkoak drums on the ice at the North Pole. Photo credit: Cristina Mittermeier

North Pole Summit speaker and Inuit Elder David Serkoak drums on the ice at the North Pole. Photo credit: Cristina Mittermeier

This past summer marked a major personal travel achievement, when I reached the North Pole. There, at 90° where all lines of longitude converge, we had a great confluence of like minds, as well.

I traveled there aboard the icebreaker 50 Years of Victory as a special guest speaker in The North Pole Summit, an enhanced sailing of Quark’s North Pole: The Ultimate Arctic Adventure expedition. As an Inuit Elder from Arviat, Nunavut, this opportunity to explore completely different aspects of the Arctic environment was life changing. The spellbinding pancake ice rolling toward us as we steadily churned on towards the horizon, the occasional hungry polar bear stalking the ice, or a seal cautiously hauling are incredible sights we don’t see on the Nunavut tundra.

My North Pole expedition was fulfilling in many unexpected personal ways, as well. The relationships I made onboard and the uniqueness of our shared experience out on the ice at the geographic North Pole will stay with me the rest of my days.

 

Exploring Arctic Ice & Global Cultures En Route to the North Pole

A colleague I travelled with from the Students on Ice foundation over several summer trips asked me to join him for this adventure and by the end of our trip, we’d each made many more close friends.

At first, I did quite a bit of observing, as the Inuit do. This gives us a better understanding of people and their habits (and I am sure they were observing me, too!). Each day offered fascinating new views of the Arctic Ocean icescape and fun onboard activities that helped us get to know one another as we made our way to explore Franz Josef Land, and then onward to the Pole.

The first presentation I gave was a brief social history of the Canadian Arctic, including what’s happened with Inuit groups in my region over the past 50 to 75 years. This was a real icebreaker, as it made people a lot more comfortable approaching me to ask questions about what it’s really like to be an Inuit person today, and to live in the Arctic.

 

Inuit Elder and North Pole Summit speaker David Serkoak demonstrates the art of drum dancing in a presentation onboard 50 Years of Victory. Photo credit: James Raffan

Inuit Elder and North Pole Summit speaker David Serkoak demonstrates the art of drum dancing in a presentation onboard 50 Years of Victory. Photo credit: James Raffan

We had a group of several dozen passengers from Asia on board, and they were especially interested in Inuit culture and history. I noticed that several smaller groups of people from the UK and Europe were intrigued by modern-day life in the Arctic, and how to help make a better future for Arctic people. Sometimes we were sharing a meal together, and other times we just had informal chats when we met up on deck or sat together to watch for wildlife out the lounge windows. It was a unique experience for me to be able to share so much of my own culture, and to learn about people from all over the world, too.

One of the passengers I really hit it off with was explorer and adventurer Alan Chambers, who led the first successful unsupported British expedition from Canada to the Geographic North Pole and has been there more than 10 times. Each day, he and I sat together briefly and chatted about his journeys to the North Pole. I had so many questions… how tiring was it? What was the weather like? We talked about polar exploration, climate change, and what it was like growing up in my nomadic Inuit family. It was surreal to explore these topics with someone else so passionate about the Arctic while we were sailing right through the heart of it.

 

Arctic explorer and motivational speaker Alan Chambers peers over the ice and melt at the North Pole. Photo credit: Tim Kohler

Arctic explorer and motivational speaker Alan Chambers peers over the ice and melt at the North Pole. Photo credit: Tim Kohler

In fact, so many of the people I met onboard had a strong interest in the circumpolar world. All the way to the top of the planet--when we weren’t in expert lectures or organized activities--us passengers were taking it all in together.

 

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Coming Together On Top of the World: Our Multicultural Celebration at the North Pole

I am so used to the Canadian Arctic, and not a huge part of it, either. I travel from A to B to C in my everyday life. When I look now at the map of our itinerary right from Ottawa, to Frankfurt and on to Helsinki overnight, then to Murmansk and on to the North Pole on one of the world’s most powerful icebreakers, it really is mind blowing. It’s a travel achievement worth celebrating, and we definitely did!

 

David Serkoak and a fellow North Pole expedition passenger “tow” 50 Years of Victory across the ice at 90° North. Photo credit: David Serkoak

David Serkoak and a fellow North Pole expedition passenger “tow” 50 Years of Victory across the ice at 90° North. Photo credit: David Serkoak

When we reached the pinnacle of our trip and stepped out onto the ice, I was honored to open the ceremony. To my knowledge, no one has ever held a drum circle at the North Pole, so once everyone had joined hands, I drummed a traditional Inuit song and danced around the entire circle. It was a privilege to share this tradition with my new friends.

Looking around that circle, I saw people from every walk of life, right from 12 years old on up to, well… folks like myself who have more experience, shall we say. There were people from many different countries, with a lot of languages represented, too. Standing there in this iconic place owned by no one and shared by us all, we experienced the ultimate unifying experience.

 

 

Hands joined, we observed a moment of silence to just be at peace and take it all in. After that brief ceremony, we had time to “play” and get out on the ice.

One gentleman had a lifelong dream of driving his motorcycle at the North Pole. Sure enough, the Expedition Team unloaded this BMW bike and he had a quick run around in a circle as other passengers cheered him on.

Those who had opted to take a hot air balloon ride were loaded in small groups into the basket, to watch the festivities from high overhead.

National Geographic photographer Paul Nicklen signed a copy of his book Polar Obsession while sitting on the ice at 90° North. It was surely a special gift for some lucky person, as it was sold at a charity auction later in the trip.

 

 

The ice was perfect for building an inukshuk. As I began to build one right beside the ship, others started to realize what I was building. Some parents and their children came over to give me a hand and together, we carved a traditional way-finding landmark out of the ice.

 

David Serkoak and a fellow passenger stand on the ice at 90° North beside an inukshuk they built while on expedition. Photo credit: David Serkoak

David Serkoak and a fellow passenger stand on the ice at 90° North beside an inukshuk they built while on expedition. Photo credit: David Serkoak

This was also an opportunity (for those who wanted to do something a little daring) to take a Polar Plunge. You weren’t going to catch me jumping into the Arctic Ocean, even with a safety net! For this who did, though, it was a bucket list experience I’m sure they’ll never forget.

The weather cooperated and we spent the rest of the day eating, barbequing, taking pictures, walking around on the ice and having a grand old time!

 

Inuit Elder David Serkoak, pictured here in front of 50 Years of Victory, celebrated reaching the geographic North Pole by leading a drum dance on the ice. Photo credit: David Serkoak

Inuit Elder David Serkoak, pictured here in front of 50 Years of Victory, celebrated reaching the geographic North Pole by leading a drum dance on the ice. Photo credit: David Serkoak

I knew that traveling to the North Pole would be the ultimate highlight of my Arctic travels. What I hadn’t expected was how much the other people onboard would add to the experience. I’m proud to call many of them my friends today, as we still keep in touch by email and on Facebook.

 

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