Notes From the Field: Go Home to a Starship

By Marie-Pierre Renaud

From October 12th to November 22nd 2014, I had the pleasure and the great opportunity to spend time in Nunavik, the northern area of the province of Quebec. I visited six communities, Kuujjuaraapik, Ivujivik, Salluit, Kangiqsujuaq, Quaqtaaq and Puvirnituq in the context of a research project I was hired for.

Map of Nunavik by Kativik School Board. Most of it is above the tree line.

Map of Nunavik by Kativik School Board. Most of it is above the tree line.

While every day brought new experiences and encounters with wonderful people, it also brought difficulties and, most importantly, lots of hard work. Anyone who has conducted fieldwork knows how much one’s physical, mental and emotional energy, creativity, skills, capacity to learn and knowledge are constantly active in this context. Each field brings its own set of obstacles to overcome, and each anthropologist faces their own challenges: a change in the weather, lack of sunlight, missing one’s family or friends, lack of free time, and an Internet connection too slow to watch the latest Doctor Who episode, are only some of the problems one might face.

As I found myself, at times, a little lost and tired, I took several steps to ensure that my mental health and well-being would remain at good levels. I drank plenty of water, ate food I liked, communicated with friends and family whenever possible, took time to meditate and relax and the end of the day and stretched in the morning. Yet one of the most helpful things I did was visit a familiar place…The starship Voyager.

Having recently rewatched all Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (DS9) episodes, I chose to rewatch Star Trek: Voyager (VOY), which turned 20 years old on January 16th. During my high school years, I would get home in time at the end of the day to watch DS9 and VOY on the Space Channel. Like all Star Trek series, it provides me with a clear sense of familiarity, safety and comfort. As I watched VOY in a hotel room thousands of kilometres from home, I saw faces and places I knew. I know this starship. I know these people who inhabit it. I identify with their problems, know their personalities.

I feel at home on this starship.

Of course, when you are tired after 10 hours of work, I suppose it is easier to get absorbed into a TV show and forget reality for a moment. Yet the setting of the show itself was interestingly related to my own situation: the crew is lost in an unknown corner of the universe and they miss home, wherever it is. Each day bring new crises and alien cultures to discover, new friends and enemies.

Around Quaqtaq in Nunavik

Around Quaqtaq in Nunavik

Alright, so I was away from home for a little less than two months. I had some useful knowledge and personal and professional experiences to help me prepare for fieldwork and deal with daily situations. I did not make mortal enemies or meet someone who became the cook and moral officer on my starship.

But every day, I met new people I had to interact with. I had to make sure I communicated clearly in my second language (English), and that I was respectful, caring and supportive towards the people I interacted with. Unforeseen situations had to be dealt with. Even though I knew a little about Inuit communities and culture before starting fieldwork, this was my first stay in Northern communities. Each day, I worked a lot, learned a lot and felt several emotions. It was wonderful, tiring, motivating, exhausting, intense and incredible. I loved it even if it was very draining.

I was able to talk to my husband every day and communicate with friends and family regularly. Having travelled to several corners of the world, sometimes for months at a time, I do not miss home easily. Yet on those nights when I watched Star Trek VOY while in Nunavik, I felt surprisingly safe and much better.

With each episode, I went home to a starship.

Did you have similar experiences during your own fieldwork or while travelling to an unknown place? Please share them in the comments section below!

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About Marie-Pierre Renaud

I am an anthropologist living in Quebec city, Canada. I specialize in native studies and anthropology of health. I am a geek. I founded and now co-manage The Geek Anthropologist blog. I am working on transforming my memoir into a book and journal articles. I like to knit while watching Star Trek. Reach out to me for collaborations! https://mariepierrerenaud.co/

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