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The Pond Inlet, Nunavut hockey team gets ready for the 24 hour journey across the tundra to arrive at their game. Photo by Eric Guth.

Getting to know the “un-Googleable Arctic”

By Jacquie Surges on February 27, 2017

When Jennifer Kingsley first travelled to Canada’s Arctic, she didn’t expect to become captivated by its people.

Jennifer Kingsley. Photo by Eric Guth.

Jennifer Kingsley. Photo by Eric Guth.

“Really, one of my main objectives of going North was to get away from people.”

Yet after two 50-day canoe trips across the country’s northern reaches, Kingsley felt she’d missed something important. While the landscapes were beautiful and sprawling, the Ottawa-based journalist realized she’d met barely anyone who lived there.

“I’ve just become totally fascinated by this question of ‘who is the Arctic?’”

So, Meet the North was born. Recently renewed for its third year, it’s what Kingsley describes as “a cultural reporting project.” Its mission is to show life in the Arctic, “one introduction at a time.”

“I’ve just become totally fascinated by this question of ‘who is the Arctic?’”

The project focuses on all Arctic regions, both Canadian and otherwise. Kingsley writes stories and runs an active Instagram feed that offers snapshots into moments from her journeys. As a radio reporter, she expects to expand the project to that medium soon.

Kingsley recognizes that most southerners’ knowledge of the North comes from negative news coverage – climate change, sovereignty and resource extraction dominate the narrative. For her, Meet the North is about getting “beyond the headlines about the Arctic.”

And her method for doing so has brought on some truly unique experiences for her and Eric Guth, the photographer with whom Kingsley works. Usually, when the pair embarks, they have only two things planned: a place to stay upon their arrival and one contact person. From there, she asks each person they meet who they should talk to next, allowing her sources to dictate the team’s course.

“It really is amazing what shows up when you just create space.”

Kingsley recalls a trip to Greenland in the fall of 2016. She was interviewing a family about sled dogs, and the animals’ barking had led them to relocate so she could record the conversation. During the interview, a whaling ship appeared and docked nearby. As they found out after being invited on board, it was only the third whale the crew had caught all year. No amount of planning could have landed them such a unique opportunity.

Though the practice of whaling is controversial to some southerners, it’s a regular part of life for many who live in the Arctic. For Kingsley, it was enlightening “to be able to witness that within its context.”

“The un-Googleable Arctic… That’s all I want to know.”

So far, Meet the North has travelled to Arctic regions in Canada, Iceland, Norway and Greenland, and recently returned from a trip to Antarctica. Kingsley is hoping to expand the project to Arctic Russia later this year. She recognizes that as a journalist, the opportunity to travel is becoming less common, especially without a story idea prepared ahead of departure. She’s very grateful to her sponsors, Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic.

As the project progresses, themes that have emerged for Kingsley are people, the unexpected and listening.

“I think that that real attentiveness to people and listening has a real power in it.”

Kingsley has been able to share the stories of many interesting characters, including the mind behind Iceland’s Arctic Henge, the experts working to bring the Inuktitut language online and the choir in Svalbard united by that region’s coal mining industry.

Her criterion for Meet the North’s stories: she has to be in the field to tell them properly, not behind a desk.

“The un-Googleable Arctic,” explains Kingsley. “That’s all I want to know.”


Learn more about Meet the North here and follow along with Kingsley on Instagram.