Twelve teenagers from Prince Edward Island got a special introduction to Nunavut culture last week as they connected with their Iqaluit exchange partners through traditional food, sports and music.
And while their igloo building, throat singing and land excursions have been steeped in Inuit traditions, Inuksuk High School student Teresa Qiatsuk says this trip is just as much about the present and the future of Canada's newest territory.
"It's very important for them to know that we do live a very modern lifestyle, like we don't live in igloos or anything," explained the 17-year-old student.
"They've been reacting quite well."
The connection between this group of Islanders and the teens from Baffin Island is Brian Gillis, a teacher at Morell Regional High School in P.E.I., who worked in Iqaluit for several years.
Todd Janes, who currently works at Inuksuk High School, says Gillis suggested the exchange, partly because he wanted to bring along his nine-year-old son, Kaden, an Inuk he adopted while living in Nunavut.
"He's kind of the trip's mascot," said Gillis.
'Taking everything in'
On Wednesday morning, the 12 students from P.E.I. and the 12 students from Nunavut faced off in some friendly traditional games, including the knuckle hop, the head pull, the muskox push and the one-foot high kick.
But the most memorable moment for many was building an igloo.
"They loved the fact that it was difficult to build it," said Max Natanine, a grade 12 student at Inuksuk High School. "And how you were supposed to manage living like that back in the day."
That part of the trip was also an important learning experience, according to Janes.
"Most of the groups had it almost completed. The top being the most difficult, it collapsed on a couple of them. But they were just relentless," said Janes.
"It's like the Inuit culture. They learn by trying and doing."
Bringing the north back with them
Shane Pendergast, a grade 11 student at Morell Regional High School, has been videotaping his experiences to share when he's back on the Island.
"I'm trying not to tell my family, so they'll get a surprise."
At the end of May, the Iqaluit students will head south to spend a week learning about the birthplace of Confederation.
"They're excited to swim in a pool again, they want to go on a zipline, probably a round of golf, we hope," said Janes. "They're going to do some tours and they're going to do some learning while they're there as well."
Students in both communities helped organize and fundraise for the exchange, which was formally set up by a non-profit called the Society for Educational Visits and Exchanges in Canada (SEVEC).
"The hope is that they'll forge lifelong friendships," said Janes. "It's off to a great start."