Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Recruitment, Dedication, & Bad Weather

Four Canadian military recruiters from Ottawa arrived in Arctic Bay to speak to the high school students about careers in the Canadian Armed Forces and summer training programs for Indigenous Peoples.  The presentation was in my classroom and occurred on November 27th.

Contact between the school and the Ottawa recruiting office was established in September.  I was the school’s liaison.  The recruiters mailed a box of posters, pamphlets, application sheets, and memorabilia prior to their arrival.  They would stay in the community for a week, helping interested students fill out applications, conduct interviews, and carry out medical & physical tests.  The recruiters would also speak to the community and find people interested in signing up.  I was glad that the school had just enough space available to accommodate the visit.

The presentation began with the recruiters introducing themselves to the students.  There was a lieutenant, warrant, sergeant, and corporal.  The sergeant conducted the presentation, using a PowerPoint slideshow as a visual aid.  He explained the 5Ws & 1H of the Canadian Armed Forces, and listed some of the careers you could pursue.  (There are over a 100 job types available in the military).  He mostly focused on the Indigenous summer training programs: Bold Eagle, Raven, Black Bear, Carcajou, and Grey Wolf.  The programs are 6 weeks long and introduce military training & routines to successful applicants.  The programs incorporate Indigenous culture (ie: First Nations, Inuit, Metis) into the curriculum.  The military provides everything and you get paid $4,200 for attending.  The programs are open to all Indigenous Peoples in Canada.

The sergeant fielded questions from the students & teachers after the presentation.

The recruiters returned to my classroom the following day to help interested students with the applications.  I was surprised and glad to see many students filling out the applications.  The recruiters told me they would focus on getting the applicants onto the Black Bear program.  Unfortunately, the program can only accept a certain number of candidates.  Since the program attracts applicants from all over the country, competition for spots is inevitable.  I hope at least four people from Arctic Bay get selected for Black Bear.

One of the superintendents from Qikiqtani School Operations visited Inuujaq School near the end of November.  He wanted to see how the new principal was handling the day-to-day operations and talk to the students.  He was also there to give out long service awards to several teachers.
Principal Morty receives her long-service certificate.
Grade 1 Teacher Piuyuq.
The principal organized a short assembly in the gym on November 29.  She introduced the superintendent who spoke for several minutes to the students.  He then called upon the high school art teacher, Paulette, and the former principal to receive their 10-year certificates.  He then awarded the current principal, Morty, a plaque for her twenty-plus years of service in the field of education.  And finally, he called Grade 1 teacher, Piuyuq, to the front of the gym to publicly recognize & congratulate her for devoting 40 years of her life to teaching Inuit kids.  She received a certificate and a letter from the Education Minister for her dedication & service.  Both documents were enclosed in a large frame.  She gave a brief thank you speech and received an extended applause.
Arctic Bay is relatively safe from extreme weather because of the surrounding mountains.  However, sometimes being surrounded by tall mountains & hills isn’t enough.  The people of Arctic Bay found that out on Monday, December 10.  A blizzard had rolled into the area, blanketing everything with snow.  Winds were roaring at 71km/h with gusts reaching up to 91km/h.  The temperature was -35˚C with windchill.  The entire town was shut down for the day until the blizzard was over.  I had enough supplies to last me several days.
I went outside at 3:30pm to record the blizzard with a camera.  It was very dark outside, but thankfully, the street lights were still on.  I was able to record snow blowing by the street lights and the sounds of the wind.  I later walked around the neighboured to see if the conditions listed on the Government of Canada website were correct.  To be honest, it didn’t feel like the winds were howling at 71km/h.  Maybe they were down by the bay.
The blizzard came to an end in the evening.  School continued on Tuesday.         

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Two Feasts

*Warning: This post contains images that some readers may find graphic.

The Qikiqtani Inuit Association (QIA) hosted a community meeting & feast on November 20.  The focus of the meeting was to present & discuss the findings of the progress report on the Tallurutiup Imanga Inuit Impact and Benefit Agreement (TIIIBA) negotiations.  QIA and the Government of Canada have been in talks since early 2018 to create a marine conservation area in the high arctic.  So far, both parties have reached an agreement in principle.  If the negotiations are a success, the Tallurutiup Imanga National Marine Conservation Area (TINMCA) will be created.  The feast would conclude the meeting.

I walked into the community hall at 6pm to find an impressive setup.  There were three tables at the front, draped with QIA banners.  There were also two separate standing banners on opposite sides of the stage.  A large project screen hung above the stage.  A large delicious cake sat on the table on the left.  The centre table contained a laptop, projector, two chairs, and a microphone for the presenters.  The table on the right featured QIA memorabilia (ie: water bottles, sweaters) and free TIIIBA documents for the public.  In front of this impressive display lay a large tarp with a dead seal & cut up seal meat.  Wow, QIA really went all out for this, I thought.  I later found out that QIA was touring all the northern communities that would be affected by TIIIBA & TINMCA.  They are: Clyde River, Pond Inlet, Arctic Bay, Resolute Bay, & Grise Fiord.

There was more country food at the back of the hall.  Pieces of raw arctic char lay on top of large RONA tarp.  There was also a line of tables with bowls of bread, bannock, fruits, cheese, sandwiches, and macaroni.
Levi Barnabas starts the meeting.
The meeting began at 6:15pm.  Local QIA representative, Levi Barnabas, introduced himself and the visiting QIA members.  An elder officially opened the meeting with a prayer.  The audience was shown a bilingual slideshow – (Inuktitut & English) - that explained TIIIBA, TINMCA, and what has been done up until now.  I was able to grab a free printed copy of the slideshow and follow along.  We also watched a short QIA-produced video that was shot in Arctic Bay.  I recognized many locals in the video.
Still frame of the QIA video that focused on Arctic Bay.
Pictured here are Arctic Bay's Roland Taqtu & Mishak Allurut.
Five men who were featured in the video posed in front of the large cake before the feast began.  They are Rangers and members of the Hunters & Trappers Organization (HTO).  They wore blue QIA hats.

Elders enjoying seal.
Everyone dove into the country food on the floor, armed with plastic bags.  The rule is “first come, first served.”  It’s the same for food on tables, but you have to line up.  I took two pieces of char and placed them in a plastic bag.  I then continued taking photographs.  Elders cut up the seal at the front of the hall and enjoyed fresh, raw seal meat.  I sat down when I was satisfied with the photographs I took.  I decided to eat some char.  I cut off pieces using my ulu (knife).  I saved the rest for a later time.

I left as names were being drawn for door prizes.  I declined to participate because I already have enough stuff at my place.  I hope the agreement is ratified by both parties and TINMCA becomes a reality. 

QIA mascot . . . I think.

HTO held its own community feast on November 26.  There was no meeting at this feast; just an organization sharing an abundance of country & southern foods with the people of Arctic Bay.  I think most of it was ordered, but some was caught by the HTO.  Events like these are always welcome, given the serious food insecurity problem that’s crippling the territory.  (The majority of Nunavut households are food insecure because of very high food prices.)  The menu consisted of: char, caribou, walrus, seal, lobster, bannock, vegetables, and fruits.  The country food lay in the middle of hall on a very large tarp.
Celery & lobsters.

An elder blessed the food and the feast began at 7:30pm.  Everyone charged into the centre with their plastic bags.  I was packing Ziplock freezer bags.  No one is rough; you just grab and go.  If someone beats you to it, too bad.  Just move on to the next best piece.  Otherwise, you’ll end up with nothing.  I filled two bags with char, caribou, and aged walrus.  You had to get the caribou meat at the front of the hall on stage.  In front of the stage were line of tables that had the bowls of vegetables, fruits, bannock, and lobster.  I took a paper plate and grabbed a lobster head, a piece of bannock, and some orange slices.  I consumed the bannock & oranges, but only ate small pieces of the country foods.  Raw walrus is an acquired taste.

Char, caribou, walrus, lobster, bannock,
& oranges.
I noticed several people glancing at me while I ate.  I think Inuit are always amused when they see a non-Inuk eating raw country food.  I just pretend I don’t notice.  Sometimes, people will come up and ask me if I like the country food to which I reply, “Yes.”  I know eating raw meat carries some risk, but I think the skill is necessary, especially in times of (arctic) survival.

I stayed a few more minutes before making my exit.  The week had just begun and tonight was a school night.  I had to be fully rested and ready to teach the following day.   

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Fundraising & Remembrance Day 2018

The army cadets of 3045 Corps held a fundraising dance at the local community hall on Friday, November 2.  Community dances are regularly held every Friday and the Hamlet Office lets local clubs & organizations run those dances to fundraise money for trips and other things.  In our case, the corps fundraises money for custom clothing, snacks for field exercises, and a future trip somewhere down south.  Competition to host Friday night dances is surprisingly high.  The Hamlet also allows movie nights on Saturdays.
The dance was split into two parts: 14 & under for the first two hours, and 15 & over for the last two hours.  The music was provided by “DJ iPod(s)”.  The cadets ran the dance; I was there to supervise the cadets supervising the kids, and collect & count the money.  Our main sources of income would be ticket sales and selling snacks.  I brought earplugs in case the music got too loud.
Crawling game.
Imitating cadets.
Near the end of the first two hours, the music was stopped, and the cadets played several group games with the children.  I don’t know the name of the games or what exactly the rules are.  All I know & saw was the kids having fun and competing against each other.  At one point, the cadets showed the kids how to do basic drill.  Prizes were given out to the winners of each game.
Prizes being given out.
Cleaning up the gym.
Teenagers and adults occupied the hall for the later half of the dance.  I was glad I had earplugs, because the music got louder.  The biggest challenge for me was to stay awake.  I normally don’t stay up late on a Friday night because I have cadets the following morning & afternoon.  This time, however, there would only be cadets Saturday afternoon because we needed the morning to sleep.  Not much happened for the rest of the night.  When the music stopped, the cadets & I helped the community hall staff clean up.  We also counted all the money we collected and placed them in several plastic bags.  I took the money home and would turn it over to the corps accountant the next day.  We made a good profit.

The corps took over the community hall again on the morning of November 11, 2018, to hold a Remembrance Day ceremony.  This year was extra special because we would also be observing the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War.  The program & preparation routines are already in place.  The only things that change are the people who present.  I had plenty of responsibilities to cover as the commanding officer.  I was the emcee, piano accompanist, and a DJ of sorts.  The cadets acted as the honour guard and show of support for the men & women who fought for freedom during times of conflict.  They cleaned their uniforms and practiced the drill movements well before the day to get everything right.  The hardest drill movement was standing at attention for six minutes. (More on this coming up). 

The parade began at 10:45am.  The cadet flag party entered first, followed by the honour guard and RCMP.  The audience remained standing for the opening prayer by Rev. Leah May.  I continued with the Welcome Address.  I kept of the first half of last year’s speech, but rewrote the second half, focusing on the 100th anniversary on the First World War.  Everyone then stood up for the playing of O Canada.

I sat at the piano while two members of the public did a bible reading.  When they were done, I cracked my fingers and turned on the piano.  I checked to see if the volume was correct and then I began playing “Abide With Me”.  The audience sang along.  (I did this last year).  I would play the piano again near the end of the ceremony, for the hymn, “O God Our Help In Ages Past”.

Last Post, Minute of Silence, Piper’s Lament, and Reveille, all follow after the first hymn.  It is these four parts where the cadets and everyone in attendance are required to stand as a show of respect.  Only the Minute of Silence doesn’t contain instrumental music.  This whole part lasts six minutes because I timed it.  To make sure the cadets were fully prepared, we practiced standing at attention for six minutes, with music & silence.  They all made it through.

The Act of Remembrance was read in English, French, & Inuktitut.  Two more community members did a bible reading.  Lt (ret.) Frank May, also mayor of Arctic Bay, continued the ceremony with his Thoughts On Remembrance Day.  Three chosen cadets then came to podium to recite the famous Canadian poem, “In Flander’s Field”, written by Lt. Col. John McCrae.

The second half of the ceremony consisted of wreath laying, another hymn, the playing of God Save The Queen, a closing prayer, and final remarks.  The RCMP & cadets marched off to the applause of the audience.  The cadets & RCMP posed for a group photograph, and then joined the reception line.  Everything was done and packed up by 12:30pm. 


Sunday, November 4, 2018

The Rough Cut & Halloween 2018

In May of this year, my Grade 10 English students and I embarked on a video project in the hopes of making a short film about life in Arctic Bay.  We were inspired by the 2007 YouTube series Don’t Call Me Eskimo.  The three-part series was made in Arctic Bay by a local video club.  Principal photography lasted two weeks and we accumulated 46 minutes of raw footage.  Finally, after many months, I had a rough cut to show the students.  The cut ran for fifteen & a half minutes.  Music and sound effects would be added to the final cut.
When the project began, we thought our short film would take place all over the community.  However, we mostly filmed within the school and my classroom.  It soon became apparent that our short film would be about a high school teacher and his students dealing with everyday struggles at Inuujaq School.  Some students chose to play themselves while others used stage names.  I decided to use one of my old student-given nicknames from 2013 as my character’s name, which became the title of the film: Mr. Putugu’s Classroom.  “Putugu” is Inuktitut for “big toe”.  To be honest, my toes are not big, but I guess that one student assumed they were, based on my shoe size.
I assembled all the students involved in the film in my classroom a few days before Halloween.  I briefly explained that I was a showing a rough cut of the film and thanked them again for their participation.  I also suggested that they watch themselves as if those were different students on screen.  (I said this to combat embarrassment).  The lights were turned off and I pressed play.  There was silence, laughter, and focus from the students watching the film.  When the credits began to roll, the students gave me their approvals and were excited to see the final cut.  I promised to have it cut ready before Christmas. 

My classroom door decorated for Halloween.
Halloween is a festive time of the year in Arctic Bay.  You know this quite well if you’re a frequent visitor to my blog (Thank you!).  The school had the usual activities planned for the day: door decorating contest, costume contest, drum performance, and afternoon games.  The community also kept the same routines by announcing that trick-or-treating would be from 5-7pm, immediately followed by the community costume contest. 

Me wearing my Ghoul Warrior mask.

I decided to dress up as a Ghoul Warrior this year.  I ordered the costume from Spirit Halloween and it arrived on time.  Unfortunately, the quality wasn’t as good as I thought it would be.  The armour & cape felt flimsy and I could only see through one hole in the mask.  I had to use scissors to enlarge the hole on the left side.  I was glad I only had to wear it for one day.  (I don’t recommend buying this product).  I’ve been buying costumes from Spirit Halloween since 2013 and the best one so far is the Grim Reaper.
Everyone gathered in the gym in the afternoon for the assembly.  The place was alive with people dressed in a variety of costumes.  I did my best to see & breathe through the mask I was wearing.  Judging from the reactions I was somewhat seeing, I looked intimidating.
My drummers & I arrived early after the extended lunch to set up the drums in the gym.  I made it easier by having all the equipment stored in the cadet office above the gym.  I gave my drummers some final words of encouragement before we were called to perform.  We walked in a line and took positions behind our drums.  I signalled a teacher at the back to turn off the lights.  I bought specially made drum sticks that light up when you play.  Unfortunately, light up bass drum mallets don’t exist so my bass drummers had to use regular mallets.  I raised my sticks in the air, clicked them four times and our performance began.
This was the first time we were using light sticks.  It was a good choice because the audience loved the visual effects.  I was later told that many people recorded our performance.  Unfortunately, I was so focused on getting everything set up that I forgot to ask someone to record everything on my camera.  I don’t have any pictures or videos of the concert.  Sorry.  We played three cadences as a group and a few solos.  It was a little challenging to see in the dark but we managed to put on a great 6-minute show.
The assembly continued with the costume contest.  Each class walked around the gym twice, showing off their costumes before sitting down.  Several high school students wore my old costumes.  The judges were members of the local District Education Authority (DEA).  The winners received gift certificates to the local CO-OP.  The winning high school student used my Grim Reaper mask.  The class that won the door decorating contest received a pizza party at a later date.  School was dismissed early at 3pm. 

I gave out free candy while dressed in costume.  Parents drove their kids around town to collect candy because the weather was dark and cold.  In some communities, trick-or-treating has to be done inside because of roaming polar bears.  I still had plenty of candy left over even though I was handing out 4 pieces to each person.  I changed out of my costume and walked down to the community hall for the annual Ugliest Costume Contest.

Contestants came dressed in whatever they could find in their houses.  Numbers were taped to their costumes and were instructed to sit in front of the stage.  It’s always fascinating to see the wild combinations that people come up with.  The contest got under way once the hall was packed with spectators.

The first group was the 12 & under contestants.  They walked around the hall while music played on loudspeakers.  A few kids didn’t wear masks.  It was difficult trying to guess the identities of the kids wearing masks.  The 13 & over group was next.  All the older contestants were wearing masks of some kind. (Part of the contest is to not to reveal your identity until the very end).  They walked around in a circle twice, except for the contestant who was inside a suitcase.  They had to be pushed around on a cart.

Cash prizes were given out for third, second, and first places.  Each winner was called up to the front by their number, shook hands with the judges, and then revealed their identity to the audience.  I was only able to correctly guess who was the person in the suitcase.  He was a former student of mine.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Fall Biathlon & Hoodies

October 27 was a busy day for 3045 Army Cadet Corps.  The cadets competed in the annual fall biathlon competition.  The timed race would see cadets shooting plinker targets with pellets and running a 1km course outside.  Everyone would shoot three relays, but the senior cadets would run a third lap.  The junior cadets only had to do two laps.  We have to run the competition in timed relays because the corps only has three white plinker target boxes.  And it’s easier on the timekeepers & scorekeepers.

The cadets set up the range in Inuujaq School’s gym.  Three white plinker targets were placed at one end of the gym with sandbags weighing them down.  Wooden backboards stood behind the targets to stop missing pellets from hitting the walls.  A line of tables and chairs were placed at the other end of the gym.  Air rifles, pellets, shooting mats, and stop watches were also brought out.  I created & printed score cards for each participating cadet, thus making the administration’s work easier.

The cadets formed up when all the preparations were complete.  I gave them a short briefing on how the competition would proceed and how their performances would be marked.  Basically, there would be time penalties for missed targets and whoever was caught taking shortcuts while running would have to clean the entire gym at the end of the day.  There would be an MRE lunch break and I was expecting the competition to proceed into the afternoon.  The winners of each section would receive prizes of some sort.  The cadets then got into a circle and did stretches.
Frank fixes a rifle.
I was the main scorekeeper & timekeeper.  There were enough stop watches to individually time each cadet.  I wanted to avoid having to do time calculations.  I was grateful that I had Frank to help me out with the competition.  He would keep the waiting cadets busy & distracted while I ran the range.  He also had a few senior cadets at his disposal.  He placed a senior cadet in charge of reviewing air rifle & range procedures with the junior cadets.  Another senior cadet instructed the junior cadets how to unpack and prepare their own MRE lunch.

Once the competition began, a pattern quickly developed.  Cadets were either shooting, running, waiting, learning about the Daisy air rifle, and/or waxing biathlon skiis.  (The rifle shoots .177 calibre pellets at 495 feet per second.  In Canada, an object that fires a projectile at 500 feet per second or more is classified as a firearm).  Several cadets helped me refill the pellet bowls and reminded me who was returning to the gym after an arduous run.  The weather was sunny but there was a lot of snow on the ground.  I did caution the cadets to be careful when running outside.
Cadets eating lunch.
Cadets who completed their relays early were treated to hot chocolate and any remaining MRE rations.  At lunch time, the MRE meals were cooked outside using Coleman stoves.  The competition was done by 2:30pm.  I double checked all the scorecards before declaring the competition officially done.  Everyone took part in the cleanup.  Once the everything had been put away, the cadets were brought together for the debriefing.
Frank & I congratulated the cadets for taking part in the competition.  They were told that the results would be posted soon.  The original plan was to announce the winners on Wednesday, October 31 but cadets would be cancelled that day because of Halloween.  We also explained to the new cadets that the Fall Biathlon is a local event designed to build confidence and to get an idea of what it feels like to compete in the cadet program.

The cadets were dismissed to play a variety of sports for two hours in the gym.  At the end, Frank & I handed out corps t-shirts & hoodies.  Several photographs were taken of the cadets in their hoodies for promotional purposes.