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School opened doors for man with his eye on the land

People, place, and the environment – these are a few of Joshua Komangapik's career passions, and for this 25-year-old leaving the territory led him to develop his goals and find his passion.

Earlier this year, he graduated from Bishop's University in Sherbrooke, Quebec, earning a Bachelor of Arts in Geography, with a focus on resource management and Northern geographies.

Joshua Komangapik, with his mother Rosemary Ipeelie by his side, graduates with a Bachelor of Arts in Geography from Bishop'sUniversity in June.
photo courtesy Joshua Komangapik

"A lot of the subjects that I wrote about had to do with the Arctic,” Komangapik said. “So an example would be the Clyde River seismic testing case. Others would be about the influence of climate change on traditional Inuit food security, about the history of the sealskin ban. It really helped me within my career and where I am right now. I was able to research things that were really relevant to what I'm doing."

Komangapik's dedication to his post-secondary schooling means he put himself through school on loans. Along the way he earned nine scholarships – the most recent being the 2018-2019 John Amagoalik Scholarship, worth $5,000.

Komangapik now works full-time with Parks Canada as a park planner, a natural evolution from summer student jobs he held with the Government of Nunavut's Department of Environment.

"Last summer, I worked with Nunavut parks. They were doing the Tallurutiup Imanga conservation area consultations. I got to see all the consultations process. That really helped for my job now doing management plans and consulting with the communities on how they want the parks to be managed."

He has family in several of the communities he visited with the GN consultations.

"It was cool to be there in that aspect, too," he said.

Joshua Komangapik at Kangiqtualuk Uqquti, Sam Ford Fjord, near Clyde River, a stop on last summer's Students on Ice expedition.
photo courtesy Joshua Komangapik

That same summer, Komangapik took part in Students on Ice.

"I really enjoyed the trip because I kind of was an older mentor to a lot of the younger students who were shy, students from communities. I'm a very big personality and I'm very personable. So it was nice to be able to have the time with them, get them out of their shell," he said, adding he also made a lot of professional connections.

But before leaving Nunavut for school, then returning, Komangapik, as a teen, had to navigate through a very difficult period of time, which included seeking help for mental health issues. This is not unknown to many Inuit youth who must find a way to grapple with a harsh colonial history and inter-generational trauma before coming out on the other side, active and engaged.


Evolution of a leader

He almost quit high school. Therapy helped.

But so did his time at Bishop's, which followed a college degree in social science from Cegep de la Gaspesie et des Îles in Gaspe, Quebec.

"While I was there at Bishop's I held different club leader positions. I was the president of the Pride Alliance for a year. I co-led the Indigenous Cultural Alliance on campus with my really good friend, who is Mi'kmaq," said Komangapik.

"Our mandate was to try and get an Indigenous face in this school because at the time there wasn't. There is now. Our other goal was to do community building kind of things for the Indigenous students that were on campus."

Komangapik says he and his friend did public talks on campus.

"My talks surrounded like the history of colonization within the Arctic, as well as the potential water crisis in the face of climate change and food security."

Bishop's is also where Komangapik met his partner, Daniel Haney-Hiscocks.

Asked what motivates and drives him, Komangapik had this to say.

"When I first started education, I was 17 or 18 and I was living on my own. I was working minimum wage service jobs and I just couldn't do it anymore. Once I started going to school I really found my footing because I actually really like learning, especially when it's things that I have an interest in. I didn't realize how much I would get involved."

He takes pride in the evolution of his journey, "just because I decided to go to school.

"It’s really different for everybody. I can say it from my perspective as a queer Inuit youth … Not everybody is going to agree with how you are. But it's up to you to find the people that do accept you and love you because not everybody is going to and you have to really come to terms with that," Komangapik said.

"Sometimes it's better to just find your own family if your own family doesn't accept you, or to give them time. At the moment I have a really, really good relationship with my mom. I'm surrounded by friends and family that really love me.

"And in all the other aspects of being an Indigenous person you have to deal with all this inter-generational trauma. It's up to us to really know how to deal with it, not to perpetuate it. Actually, in my opinion, I feel like a lot of people of my age are really good at that. It's an interesting cohort. I feel there's a lot of young Inuit today who are really making an effort to make a difference in their community in all their own special way."

Komangapik plans on doing a master's degree in Northern studies at Carleton University in Ottawa, and a distance graduate diploma in Indigenous governance.

"With the hopes of being able to be a leader within the territory politically, especially from an environmental focus. I want to be somewhere high level doing environmental policy. I want to be just as educated as any other person that comes up here," he said.

He figures policy envisioned by a visitor to the North is different from policy envisioned by someone who is from the North.

"I truly care about the people and the environment here to the deepest of my heart. I'm not here for the money. I'm here because my family and friends live here. It's my home."