A cold-water survival course culturally and geographically adapted for Inuvialuit communities is visibly improving water safety, those involved say.
Tyrone Raddi, Tuktoyaktuk’s marine coordinator, “noticed a huge difference” after being trained to offer the adapted course across the Beaufort Delta.
“Every single person that has taken this course, guaranteed they’re using a lifejacket or some kind of PFD [personal floatation device],” he said.
“We have a program here that I run – we have a bunch of lifejackets and floater suits people can sign out free of charge … we’e seen a definite increase in the usage of this equipment.”
Funding to adapt the Beyond Cold Water Boot Camp, a program that existed in the south but hadn’t been tailored to a northern audience, came from Transport Canada.
University of Ottawa professor and researcher Audrey Giles was one of the project’s leads. Giles and Raddi worked with Nia Contini, an undergraduate student who was the lead author of a paper on the project, and Gordon Giesbrecht, a professor who worked on the original course.
The first step was taking the boot camp course and making it more accessible, said Giles.
“As someone who’s taken the course as a participant and has university degrees, I found it quite intimidating at times. And so we realized that we needed to make it just more accessible to the general public,” she said.
“We went beyond plain language where we really tried to culturally adapt it as well. So we made sure that we had images of Indigenous people in it, and with northern themes in it as well,” she said, adding that included references to equipment specific to the Arctic, like harpoons.
“It’s really important for us to adapt resources so that they reflect people’s lived reality,” Giles said.
The team pared down the course to what was “absolutely necessary” and ran a draft version past an advisory committee of experts across Canada and the North.
After incorporating their feedback, they ran the first course in Tuktoyaktuk, took in more feedback, then had Raddi lead the next iteration of the course.
Raddi said it’s important that locals are involved in course development because they understand the area best.
“It’s great that researchers and people put this stuff together but most of them have never lived the experience and gone through the ice up here,” he said. “I feel that community members’ input should definitely be put into any project like this for any future courses.”
Through the Transport Canada funding, the research team was able to give participating Inuvialuit communities $5,000 for safety equipment.
Giles said in Tuktoyaktuk, every boat now has a reboarding device. One community has purchased InReach location devices.
“When we see that potentially life-saving safety equipment is being signed out, and is on people when they’re out on the water, then the best result we can have is we don’t have future fatalities,” she said.
Raddi says having the course delivered by someone participants know and trust, and who has lived experience, makes the content more meaningful and the participants more engaged.
He says he has been able to address misconceptions people had, such as how long you can survive in cold water and what to do if you go through the ice.
“We’re always asking participants to share their experience, and continually learning. So every time we hear something new or learn something new we add it to the course, look into it, and go from there,” he said.
For example, he said, the original course didn’t deal with falling through the ice – but in the Beaufort Delta, that’s often how people end up in cold water in the spring and fall, when the ice is weak.
“Education is a powerful tool,” he said. “The more we let people know, the better off they’re going to be, and the better chance they’ll have to survive in any incident that happens.”