Our Homeward Bound journey

img_1513Last night I returned home to Canada, after the most extraordinary adventure of my entire life – the Homeward Bound Women In Science Leadership Expedition to Antarctica.

I was one of 76 women on the expedition. Homeward Bound was created by Australian business woman, leadership expert, and visionary, Fabian Dattner. Fabian had a dream. A dream of what could be accomplished if women had an equal voice at the leadership table, especially tables where decisions are made about creating a more sustainable future for our planet and its people. She shared her dream with Jess Melbourne-Thomas of the Australian Antarctic Division and with that, a dream became reality. Homeward Bound was born. A leadership development program for women in science, with the goal of having 1,000 women participate over 10 years.


Fabian Dattner, contemplating the Antarctic landscape

After 2 years of immense work, planning and dedication by the Homeward Bound Team as well as a year of very busy pre-expedition preparation by the 76 women participants – juggling family life, work, and preparing for leaving it all behind for a month – Homeward Bound launched in Ushuaia, Argentina – known as the ‘end of the world’ and the gateway to Antarctica – on December 2, 2016.


Our Homeward Bound adventure kits – our expedition jackets, a notebook/diary, touque, water bottle, pendant, and backpack – from our incredible sponsors


Trying on our Homeward Bound expedition jackets. Thank you Kathmandu for your sponsorship.


Boarding the MV Ushuaia, headed for the Antarctic Peninsula

We boarded our ship, the MV Ushuaia, our floating home for the next 20 days. The Ushuaia would take us across the Drake Passage – some of the roughest seas in the world – and then up and down the Antarctic Peninsula, going ashore daily to explore the magical landscapes of the frozen continent. While exploring Antarctica and learning about its polar ecosystems, the species that live there, the Antarctic climate and the history of humans on the continent, we were also learning about how to become strong leaders, influencers and change makers. Each day, the Homeward Bound faculty (consisting of leadership, strategy and visibility coaches and Antarctic science experts) led us through a program to bolster our leadership abilities. To receive this world-class instruction from experts in the field and with Antarctica as our backdrop, was an incredible experience in so many ways.


Our first sighting of land in Antarctica

We ‘worked’ on ourselves, through analyzing diagnostic test such as the Lifestyles Inventory, 4MAT and MSCEIT. These tests helped us understand ourselves, how we operate – the good and the bad – and how we can take these qualities to bolster or change them to enhance our leadership abilities. We built personal strategy maps to pave the way for the lives we want to live, to carve out the path forward. After all, it’s hard to know how to get there when you don’t know where you are going. Kit Jackson’s strategy mapping really helped us figure out our priorities and how to achieve the things that are important to us. We learned, from Julia May, how to increase our visibility – a critical component of getting people’s ear on the issues we are so passionate about and affecting the change we want to see in the world. We watched short interviews full of inspiration and wisdom, filmed specifically for Homeward Bound, by notable women leaders such as Jane Goodall, Sylvia Earle, and Christiana Figueres, and others. We had small group discussions and one on one conversations about what leadership means to us. We formed triads as a way to help each other through the process of personal change, often sharing stories and experiences as encouragement.


Receiving instruction in the LSI (Lifestyles Inventory) from Fabian

All of this happened on a ship in Antarctica. Our days were filled with a combination of leadership development work, excursions to the Antarctic landscape, and in the evenings, a bit of time to work on other things we were busy with, such as the Adopt A Scientist Program I am part of, which is a piece of my involvement in the Homeward Bound Education Project. But there was also time for drinks and conversation and a lot of fun.

While we were busy doing and exploring, we had our own film crew on board, filming for a documentary that will be made about Homeward Bound. Although we were supposed to ‘pretend they weren’t there’ so that the footage was authentic, like the crew of the ship, the film crew became just as important to us all as each of the 76 women participants. It really did become one big family for 20 days.


Dale and Gary, two of the wonderful members of the 5 person film team

Spending 20 days on a small ship with about 90 people in close quarters. Sometimes that can lead to friction, especially when battling tiredness, sea sickness or the cold and flu that swept through our ship like wildfire. But considering our close quarters for many days, the difficulties were few. And where they did happen, open and respectful conversations were used to try to resolve differences.  I was so impressed by how everyone not only got along, but in many cases, took on the role as each other’s caregivers during times of stress, difficult news coming from home via our limited internet connection, colds, flu, sea sickness and other challenges. I witnessed some of the most incredible examples of caring, compassion and support amongst people who mostly began our journey as strangers, united by a common purpose and passion. If we could only see communities and nations come together in the way we all did on that ship, our world would be a far, far gentler, more compassionate place.


The stunning landscape of Antarctica


Duelling Chinstrap penguins


Penguins hitching a ride on an iceberg

Our Homeward Bound Antarctic Expedition is over. But our Homeward Bound journey together has only just begun. Most of us are back home and some, such as me, are beginning to struggle with reintegration into day to day life. I have always been adverse to habit and normalcy. I need change. I get bored. I need to be challenged. I have a restless soul. Don’t get me wrong, I love my life in so many ways! I have the most incredible friends and family who constantly support me and cheer me on. I live in a beautiful little house in the woods in a place I dreamed of living. But to go from spending days zooming in zodiac boats to  visit penguin colonies, explore volcanic islands, and soak in the dramatic Antarctic landscape, well, for me this will be a challenge. There is a part of me that is still in Antarctica. And I think it always will be. I left a part of my heart there. I don’t know when or how, but I will get back to Antarctica. I have to. I feel it tugging at my heart. In the meantime, I will find ways to leverage my Homeward Bound experience to enhance my work in environmental education and conservation. My passion in life is connecting people to nature and inspiring them to care enough to protect it. After Homeward Bound, I’m more determined than ever to execute my life’s mission. It does mean things will need to change – how I earn my living and pay my bills, and possibly even where I live. But I’m more determined than ever to realize my dreams and fulfill my life’s mission, to feed my passion. A big part of that dream, passion and mission is taking people, especially youth, around the world on environmental learning expeditions. I will find a way to make this a reality. And I know I have 76 incredible women and the entire Homeward Bound Team, cheering me on.


Here I am soaking up Antarctica. Photo by Sarah Connelly

Trapped In A Human Zoo – an interview with France Rivet (part 1)

I hope you were able to watch, “Trapped In A Human Zoo” on this week’s Nature of Things. What a story! It’s hard not to feel emotional about it. It’s a tragic tale, but sadly, not an uncommon one back in those days.

France is a very good friend of mine and it’s been fascinating to watch her on her journey, researching this story and getting to this point of telling the story very publicly, in a wonderful and fascinating documentary. And with the remains of Abraham, his family and the other Inuit likely to be repatriated back to Labrador, France is ensuring that the last chapter of this story is finally being written. Over a number of dinners over the past 4 years, France has shared with me, the things she was uncovering as she did her research.

France’s research (visit her Polar Horizon’s website for more information) for this project was self-funded. Funds raised through a crowd funding campaign as well as her own personal money, were what she used to uncover this mystery. Clearly she was driven by curiously, passion, and a desire to provide the Inuit of Labrador with a concluding chapter to this terrible story. She made a promise to two people, including an Inuit woman from Labrador, to find the answers about what happened to Abraham and the seven other Inuit. Finally, she is able to tell the story of their fate.

I interviewed France last week to ask her about her experience in uncovering the mystery of the fate of Abraham and the other Inuit. What follows is a multi-part blog post interview of France and her journey to write this final chapter.

I asked France, “How did you get involved in this project and what was the path that led you to the point where you are now?”

France: “I got involved in this research in 2009 following a promise I made to two people I met on a cruise along the Labrador Coast. The first person, Hans Blohm, is an Ottawa photographer of German origin. In 2005, Hans and his friend, German professor Hartmut Lutz, published a book entitled “The Diary of Abraham Ulrikab: Text and Context”, the English translation of the diary of a Labrador Inuit who had been taken to Europe in 1880, with his family and three other countrymen, to be exhibited in zoos. Since the ship was heading in the communities where these eight people came from, Hans highly recommended that I go to the ship’s library to read the book. That’s what I did.


Hans Blohm and Zippie Nochasak on board the Lyubov Orlova, July 2009. They are the two people France made the promise to, to find out what happened to Abraham and the other Inuit that had been exhibited in the human zoo.

The story fascinated me, but there was a piece missing. The book said nothing about what happened to the Inuit when they were in Paris. Five of the Inuit died in Paris. On the ship with us was an Inuk lady whose family originates from Hebron, Abraham’s place of origin, and she has the same name as Nuggasak, the first of the eight Inuit to die in Europe. This lady had just learned about Abraham’s story and she was very upset by what had happened to her people. In the fall of 2009, the three of us met in Ottawa and Abraham came on the subject. By that time I had reread the diary and I had many unanswered questions, so I promised both Zippie and Hans, that since my mother tongue is French, whenever time allowed, I would try to see if I can find any information about what happened in Paris. One thing I was hoping to find out was where the Inuit had been buried.

It took me about a year to finally find a lead to a wealth of articles about the Inuit’s presence, and death, in Paris. But never had it crossed my mind that I would actually find the Inuit’s remains. Being told that they were still in Paris, patiently waiting in the reserves of a museum was a total shock to me. This discovery was THE turning point. I knew from reading Abraham’s diary how much he wanted to come home to Labrador. All of a sudden, my research was no longer a simply matter of finding facts, but a new dimension was being added: could the remains be brought home?

Within a few weeks, I was sitting in the office of Mr. Philippe Mennecier, the person in charge of the anthropological collections at the Natural History Museum in Paris. He’s the one who had taken the initiative to reveal to me that the skeletons were part of their collection. Mr. Philippe Mennecier confirmed that the Museum’s policy is not to oppose a repatriation request for remains that are identified. That is definitely the case of the Labrador Inuit. Knowing that, it became obvious to me, that life was giving me a mission. I would not have been able to simply walk away and ignore the fact that Abraham’s skeleton was there, and that he wanted to come home. The people in Labrador had to be told. They had to know the truth. The little voice inside me told me that I had to see this mission through. Life had picked me. Life must have known that I could do something about it. I had no clue how I was going to cross that mountain, but hey, I started walking! Slow but steady! Slow but steady!


Trapped In A Human Zoo – a documentary airing on February 11th at 8 pm EST on CBC

The nature of Things - front page

On Thursday, February 11th at 8 pm EST, CBC’s, The Nature of Things, will be airing a documentary about a troubling, yet fascinating story, a part of our history.

In 1880, two Inuit families from Hebron, in Labrador, Canada agreed to go to Europe to be exhibited in one of the many ‘human zoos’ or ethnographic shows, as they were called back then. The concept of a human zoo is an appalling one, but 130 years ago, a visit to a human zoo in Europe was an extremely popular thing. The idea was that Aboriginal people or ‘savages’, as they were horrendously referred to then, were brought from far off lands and put on display to provide so-called entertainment to the general public.

The eight Inuit who were brought from Labrador to Germany to be part of the exhibit met a tragic ending not long after arriving in Germany. Contrary to the law at the time, when these Inuit families arrived in Germany they were not vaccinated for smallpox. And having never been exposed to the disease, the Inuit succumbed, one by one. Less than four months after their arrival in Europe, both Inuit families had died from smallpox.


Labrador, Canada

It was thought that this was the end of the story. Until my good friend, France Rivet, became intrigued and wanted to find out the fate of these Inuit who sadly lost their lives in Germany. Thought self-funded research trips and a passion for investigation, France is writing the final chapter on this story. She discovered the whereabouts of the skeletal remains of the Inuit families who died in Germany. It is this story – her story of fascination and discovery – that is being told on this week’s episode of The Nature Of Things.

Despite being a tragic tale, it is a part of our history. To me, history is not just a record of the past, but also an opportunity to learn from experience. There is a saying that history repeats itself. But I hope that by learning from the tragedies of the past, our job is to ensure that history never repeats itself.

I hope you will tune in to watch this incredible documentary about France and her discoveries about this little known story. The story is about this final chapter being written, one which will likely come to close with the repatriation of the skeletal remains of these Labrador Inuit from the 1880’s. After 136 years, it’s finally time for them to come home.

This blog post is the first in a series about the story, In the Footsteps of Abraham  Ulrikab. I hope you’ll come back to read more, including my interview with France, telling her own story of discovery.


France’s book about Abrham’s story and the writing of the final chapter of this piece of history