Uka Wilhelm, a Greenlander and medical student from Denmark, recently spent five months in Canada studying physiology at McGill and improving her English. In May, she was invited by the Kativik School Board to speak to secondary school students in Puvimituq as part of their “Career Days.”

Uka (which means “white hare”) was born and raised in a village on the middle of the west coast of Greenland where her father was the Lutheran missionary and teacher. Because her mother became ill when she was a baby, she was raised by the family of the church catecist. A few years later, a local family gave her mother another baby girl, in the custom of the Greenlandic people, and then her mother also gave birth to another baby, Uka’s brother.

When Uka was about 10 her mother returned to Denmark with the two younger siblings, while she stayed in Greenland with her adopted family and her natural father. Uka moved to Denmark to complete senior high school and returned to the capital of Greenland with her adopted family and her natural father. After graduating from medical school, she plans to return to work in rural Greenland. Uka, 24, hunts caribou when she’s living in Greenland. She wrote this letter to her friend, Jill Torrie.

Dear Jill,

The days in Puvimituq have flown by and I am now sitting in the plane going to Montreal. A little baby in Puvimituq had jaundice and the small hospital plane evacuating her to Montreal had space for us, which means that instead of spending the entire day flying on the regular flight we will be in Montreal around noon.

My speech to the secondary school kids went well. I had written down everything I wanted to say so I wasn’t nervous. Well maybe a little. They enjoyed it when I spoke in Greenlandic because the melody and many of the words are the same, even though it doesn’t really make sense when you try to have a conversation. Each dialect is very strong. Bringing my slides of Greenland saved both me and the students because everything I said had to first be translated into English, and then Lisa Koperqualuk translated it into French. I was informed that the French translation was school policy, even if it did take forever. I soon stopped saying much and let the slides do the talking.

The program for “Career Days” was so organized that I did not really have the opportunity to spend more time with the kids in the secondary school. However, I was able to follow some of the classes around and get to meet some of the students.

The kids liked “Career Days” and it is nice when things are well-organized. But I was not impressed. The event was all done by outsiders from the south and none of the Inuit were involved in organizing or arranging anything. I mean, if they continue like that the situation will be the same in 50 years’ time. It is always difficult to involve other people if you know you can do it better on your own. But efficiency is not most important right now in these communities. I think it is necessary for the outsiders to have patience and to give some of the Inuit more responsibility, even if it isn’t going to be as effective and well-organized from the start. But maybe in 30 years’ time.

I spoke to some of the staff at the hospital about this and they—nurses, doctors and midwives (or “earth mothers” as we say in Greenlandic)—were confused about what they are doing in the North. We had a good discussion but I am not as worried and pessimistic as they are. Forty years ago, Greenland was in exactly this situation and at this stage. The difference though is that people in PUV have everything—snowmobiles, computers, telephones—but the development within the community, the mentality, the schooling and so forth is not at the same level as their physical surroundings and facilities.

In Greenland, the facilities, television and telephone, etc. emerged gradually during the development of the community. Even if changes continue to go rapidly in Greenland, these changes are going on even faster in the communities in Northern Quebec. Just like Greenland, these changes will result in a lot of problems. There is nothing strange about this. The changes happening cause social problems, and in turn, the social problems change the community; and the people want this change.

I really felt I was back in Greenland fora few days—the people, the smiles, the values and the problems are the same. But nature here is nothing compared to Greenland. Greenland is the most beautiful place in the world! And the town of PUV is boring. All the houses are the same and look like containers or boxes in a line. I stayed with a nice French-Canadian family from Montreal. I took a lot of pictures which I’m looking forward to showing you. On Saturday, I went hunting with a guy and he shot a caribou. We met a big group of around 15 to 20 and we followed them for 45 minutes. At the end he finally killed one. It was so great. I would like you to have such an experience. I felt like I was in heaven!!

There is still a lot of snow in PUV and it is probably spring in Montreal. I will try to keep studying about lungs, kidneys, brains and whatever they want me to learn, even though the weather is nice outside. Hope you are doing well.

With love from your Uka.