With winter weather fast approaching, keeping safe while travelling and hunting on the land is top of mind for many Nunavummiut.

There are challenges to running effective search and rescue (SAR) operations in the territory, according to search and rescue volunteers in the Kitikmeot.

These include an increasing SAR case load caused due to climate change; the loss of land safety knowledge; training gaps; equipment shortages; volunteer burnout; lack of mental and physical health supports for responders; difficulty coordinating, co-operating and communicating across the community, territorial/provincial, and federal levels; and slow response times from southern-based SAR assets.

Despite all that, plenty of work is being done to train interested residents in search and rescue procedures across the territory.

The Canadian Coast Guard’s inshore rescue boat station wrapped up its fourth successful season in Rankin Inlet Sept. 7.

The program encourages Indigenous students from across Canada to get experience working for the Coast Guard, with a total of eight students able to participate in the Kivalliq this past year.

Six of this year’s crew are Indigenous, including two Inuit students who not only learned the ropes, but helped teach crewmates some Inuktitut along the way, something Emma Moore, senior officer with the Coast Guard’s Search and Rescue program, said was very important.

Moore also noted that the crews engaged in electronic navigational training, medical training, courses on traditional knowledge and charting local waters.

“A lot of the areas are uncharted, so they’ll go in there and mark them themselves,” said Moore.

The Coast Guard has a partnership with Canadian Hydrographic Services, which tracks all of the data on the Coast Guard vessel then uses that data to update charts for the area.

This is important in furthering safety not only for personal travel, but commercial vessels as well.

Almost three years after a cruise ship ran aground near Kugaaruk in 2018, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada filed an investigative report that found a lack of surveying of Canada’s Arctic Ocean poses significant hazards to ships navigating Northern waters.

Covid restrictions have made it more difficult to work with the communities, but the Coast Guard crew carried out a total of four training exercises, one of which was a joint exercise with the Rankin Inlet Fire Department, as well as three search and rescue scenarios this summer.

Moore said the Coast Guard is hoping it can recruit some more students from the Kivalliq for next summer.

The Kitikmeot SAR Project, which examines Nunavut’s community-based search and rescue system to identify strengths, challenges and approaches to improve responses, held a roundtable discussion in Cambridge Bay in 2020. That event brought together more than 60 search and rescue members from the five Kitikmeot communities as well as academics and representatives of federal and territorial departments and agencies.

Meanwhile, in Gjoa Haven the Search and Rescue Committee continues to build momentum, with much credit going to Amber Eleehetook, who proves that it really only takes one dedicated individual to get the ball rolling on any initiative.

The committee now has nearly a dozen volunteers and the community has raised $21,000 through bingos since March, allowing the group to purchase a new snowmobile in late September. The team is still raising funds for other needed equipment and supplies.

Eleehetook also posts tips for residents on Facebook, for example, to be aware of poor weather conditions approaching and reminding them to inform family members of important details about any trips they’re taking on the land.

These are steps anyone who wants to help their community members stay safe while travelling and hunting can take.

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