A learn­ing ex­pe­di­tion

Stephenvil­le stu­dent ex­plores his op­tions.

The Western Star - - FRONT PAGE - GARY KEAN [email protected]­ern­star.com Twit­ter: WS_GaryKean

COR­NER BROOK, N.L. — Jesse Byrne has a vi­sion of be­com­ing a med­i­cal doc­tor who will be­gin his ca­reer serv­ing In­dige­nous peo­ple in re­mote north­ern com­mu­ni­ties.

When he learned of an op­por­tu­nity to take part in this year’s Stu­dents on Ice pro­gram, he jumped at the op­por­tu­nity to visit some of these places to help con­firm that’s what he re­ally wants to do.

Byrne, who turns 21 in Sep­tem­ber, is about to en­ter his fi­nal year of bio­chem­istry at Me­mo­rial Uni­ver­sity. He plans to then pur­sue grad­u­ate stud­ies in medicine.

He heard about the Stu­dents on Ice pro­gram in high school, but never felt the time was right to ap­ply. Ear­lier this year, he re­ceived an email out­lin­ing how the pro­gram was try­ing to re­cruit more stu­dents with First Na­tion an­ces­try to take part.

In late July, he was part of a group of 131 high school and uni­ver­sity stu­dents who went on a two-week Arc­tic ex­cur­sion with stops in Green­land and North­ern Cana­dian des­ti­na­tions within the Arc­tic Circle.

With his fam­ily among the found­ing mem­bers of the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Na­tion Band, Byrne saw the pro­gram as an ideal way for him to visit the north­ern com­mu­ni­ties he wants to help and fur­ther explore the mean­ing of his own In­dige­nous cul­ture.

The al­lure of the north was deeply in­stilled in Byrne as a young child lis­ten­ing to the sto­ries of his par­ents, both of whom worked in North­ern On­tario in their younger years.

“Ever since I was lit­tle, this idea of be­ing up north and be­ing in this wild un­touched kind of spot was some­thing that ap­pealed to me,” he said. “This op­por­tu­nity was a huge mo­ti­va­tor for me to push harder to­wards what I want. I want to pur­sue my in­ter­est in medicine and to start off work­ing with those smaller In­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties that most of the times get for­got­ten about or pushed aside.”

Dur­ing the ex­pe­di­tion, Byrne tried to put him­self in sit­u­a­tions that forced him into un­fa­mil­iar ex­pe­ri­ences.

He took part in a song­writ­ing work­shop and per­formed a song he wrote dur­ing those ses­sions in front of the others on the voy­age. He had played in bands in high school but said he was not usu­ally one to pick up a gui­tar and play for a crowd.

“It was well-re­ceived and some­thing I will take with me the rest of my life,” he said.

Vis­it­ing var­i­ous Inuit com­mu­ni­ties, Byrne got to try lo­cal del­i­ca­cies such as raw nar­whal and Arc­tic char.

He re­ally found him­self out­side of his com­fort zone when they vis­ited Pond In­let and he took part in a seal-skin­ning work­shop with some Inuit elders. He was quickly put in

his place when one of the elders scolded him for throw­ing away a layer of rub­bery skin be­tween the furry pelt and the seal blub­ber.

She told him it was tra­di­tion to eat that por­tion of the an­i­mal raw.

The next piece Byrne cut off was a rel­a­tively large chunk he humbly chewed.

“I didn’t find it that bad,” he said. “It was a lit­tle rub­bery, but you just chew on it once or twice and then it’s down the hatch. “I’d do it again.”

He even met a fel­low stu­dent on the trip who taught him some ba­sics of the Inuk­ti­tut lan­guage spo­ken by the Inuit peo­ple of North­ern Canada.

“All these ex­pe­ri­ences were things you nor­mally wouldn’t be do­ing at home,” he said. “It was amaz­ing. I was blown away every day and the peo­ple we were around made it so much bet­ter.”

In fact, Byrne said he found him­self apol­o­giz­ing to ev­ery­one to­ward the end of the ad­ven­ture be­cause he could not find any new words to de­scribe how in­cred­i­ble each new ex­pe­ri­ence was as the days went on.

“I started using the same words every day and it was not do­ing it jus­tice any­more,” he said. “Even now, look­ing at the pic­tures and the dif­fer­ent things I wrote in my journal, it was all so sur­real. It was like some­thing you’d see in a doc­u­men­tary and not with your own eyes.”

The ex­pe­di­tion cer­tainly achieved its pur­pose for Byrne. He has a new re­solve to pur­sue his medicine as­pi­ra­tions and a deeper ap­pre­ci­a­tion of his own In­dige­nous cul­ture.

“See­ing how proud the Inuit were and how well versed they were with their cul­ture made me see how far be­hind we are with our own cul­ture,” he said. “A lot of things (about the Mi’kmaq cul­ture) were lost along the way. It’s good peo­ple are start­ing to take it back and I want to be a part of that move­ment.”

He urged any young per­son who has the op­por­tu­nity to ap­ply for the Stu­dents on Ice pro­gram to go for it.

“Just do it, with­out any hes­i­ta­tion,” he said. “There is no such thing as not get­ting any­thing out of it. You could do that trip 100 times and get some­thing dif­fer­ent out of it every time.”


Jesse Byrne of Stephenvil­le sur­veys the rugged north­ern land­scape around Il­lulisat, a coastal town in west­ern Green­land, in the early days of the Stu­dents on Ice ex­pe­di­tion he par­tic­i­pated in this sum­mer.


Jesse Byrne of Stephenvil­le, pic­tured with Ian Tam­blyn, took part in a song­writ­ing work­shop as a way to fur­ther ex­pand his horizons dur­ing the re­cent Stu­dents on Ice ex­pe­di­tion.

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