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A happier life thanks to environmental tech program

Steven Lonsdale had a plan – graduate high school at age 17, attend Nunavut Sivuniksavut for a year, and jump over to Nunavut Arctic College's Environmental Technology Program (ETP).

photo courtesy of Steven Lonsdale
Environmental Technology Program Class of 2014 graduate Steven Lonsdale, right, now an environmental and regulatory affairs advisor with the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, is out on the land with Ross Elgin, left, Brian Kasarnak and Don Innualuk as part of a pilot community-based wildlife monitoring program in Pond Inlet.

Then life happened, and it wasn't until he turned 36 that, as a mature student, he entered the program he always believed would lead to a job he'd love.

"I was just really unfulfilled in my job, any job, really that I had over the last number of years. I would look at job ads and I would look at these things … Well, this eliminates me, this qualification eliminates me, this bit of experience eliminates me. I was very limited in my options," said Lonsdale.

"I wanted to be able to do something that I love, something I'm drawn towards."

He's always been drawn to wildlife and environment.

"Even on my own as my interest. I would always look into things like nature documentaries. I would read up on environmental studies. I knew the Environmental Technology program has all those aspects to it," he said.

When Lonsdale brought up the idea of going back to school, his wife Sonja Lonsdale was fully supportive.

"She just wanted me to be happy. When I brought up the worry of money, she said, 'We'll get through it. It's two years of your life. We'll just tighten the purse strings,'" he said, adding he still parented and paid some bills.

"I went from a well-paying government job to $1100 to $1200 a month. No more Amazon shopping."

Financially, the experience meshed with one of his courses, environmental studies. Lonsdale found he became more aware of the consumerist habit.

"We spoke of some of the biggest environmental issues that are directly related to this want, want, want attitude, which drives the economy. Our biggest contributor to climate change is industry, factories, oil refineries. We separate ourselves from it, but we feed into industry. We buy the products. So it's this circular motion," he said.

"When I finished school, I was more cognizant of that, and it made me not want to buy as much."

photo courtesy of Steven Lonsdale
Steven Lonsdale, environmental and regulatory affairs advisor with the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, checks out a seal's breathing hole.

And now Lonsdale is doing what he loves. The Qikiqtani Inuit Association hired him right out of school.

"I had to leave my class to go to a job interview. I was very grateful they actually did hire me. It was the first week of June I started at QIA four years ago," said Lonsdale, who is an environmental and regulatory affairs advisor.

He has a few different files on the go. The most exciting one for Lonsdale is the pilot community-based wildlife monitoring program in Pond Inlet which recently wrapped up.

"This came about a few years ago with community concerns over the possibility of seismic testing, concerns over increased shipping, with climate change and having less ice there, just more ship traffic, also even just concerns over invasive species due to climate change. All this, of course, leading to affecting people's ability to feed themselves," he said.

Lonsdale is also working with the Nunavut Impact Review Board's strategic environmental assessment (SEA) in Baffin Bay and Davis Strait, which is examining the risks and benefits of the full life-cycle of oil and gas activities, as well as the draft Nunavut-wide land-use plan.

All these projects amount to Inuit making their own decisions in relation to conservation and development.

"So long as Inuit are at the table deciding, that's a good step forward," he said.

About his new career, he says he no longer feels like an observer.

"It seemed like in my previous jobs I was always watching, listening and just doing what I was told to do. Now I'm in a position of influence, where people listen when I speak. I'm an active planner. I'm a decision-maker," he said.