Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Change of Command Parade

February 15, 2017.  The day had finally arrived. 
I was feeling excited but also nervous.  I was entering a new phase in my career as a CIC officer. 
(CIC stands for Cadet Instructor Cadre and is a branch of the Canadian Armed Forces Reserves.  The primary duty of CIC officers is “the safety, supervision, administration, and training of Royal Canadian Sea, Army, and Air Cadets.”)
I joined the CIC in 2013, being officially sworn in as an officer cadet on November 11, in Arctic Bay.  The first cadet corps I worked for as a CIC officer is 3045 Army, Canada’s most northern cadet corps.  I worked in the capacities of second-in-command (2IC) and training officer.  I took courses online and completed basic officer training to obtain the necessary qualifications to be promoted to the rank of Second Lieutenant (2Lt).  But I was also being prepared, by the commanding officer (CO), Lt. May, to take command of the corps because he was nearing retirement.
In the months leading up to February 15, Lt. May taught me the ins & outs of running a cadet corps.  I always saw myself being in charge of a cadet corps, but at the rank of 2Lt.?  Never.  I was thinking much further in the future, because COs are usually Captains or Majors.  But, I was reassured by May & our superiors in Winnipeg, that there are cases where corps located in remote areas need to rely on what is available to them.  So, I guess, I was the officer to see 3045 stay afloat.  Canada has already lost quite a few cadet corps north of the 60th parallel, mostly due to there not being adults willing to take “the reins.”  I was and still am immensely grateful for the guidance and support of Lt. May & the Regional Cadet Support Unit (RCSU) in Winnipeg.
A Change of Command Parade was organized and the RCSU in Winnipeg sent Cpt. Aastrom with the proper documentation and to overseer the proceedings.  I met him last year during the Silver Star Training Expedition.  Lt. May & I picked him up at the airport and drove him to the former bed & breakfast building.  The bed & breakfast is used by the local Tangmaarvik Inn when its building is full.  Surprisingly, this was my first time inside the bed & breakfast and the interior is big.  The building is a mini-mansion with about six bedrooms.  We had a meeting with Cpt. Aastom the night before the parade to get all the necessary affairs in order so that the transition would go smoothly.
Unknown to Lt. May, the staff of 3045 and community members had planned a proper send off for his many years of service in the CIC & in the community.  Pictures, letters, videos, and gifts were collected from various sources.  We would also be celebrating his birthday.  We all remained tight-lipped on what was to come.
Free photos after the parade!
The cadets prepared for the parade by reviewing the necessary drill movements, cleaning & ironing their uniforms, and polishing their parade boots.  The cadet platoon commander reviewed the drill commands and led the cadets through several rehearsals.  I also made sure my dress uniform was ready for the big occasion. 

On the evening of February 15th, Inuujaq School’s gym was transformed into a parade square.  Chairs, tables, flags, sponsor banners, and photographs were set up along the gym walls.  I personally set up a projector in one of the corners, displaying past pictures of Lt. May working at the cadet corps.  People began to arrive a little after 6:15pm and by 6:30, there was a large audience.
March Past.
The parade began with the officers, Cpt. Aastrom, Lt. May, and I, marching into the gym.  Aastrom was the guest reviewing officer for the parade.  He, I, and Ranger Ejangiaq inspected the cadets on parade.  Clare Kines was hired by the corps to take pictures.  The cadets did a March Past after the inspections.

Cadets on Parade.
Captain Aastrom presents
a t-shirt to a Fall Biathlon winner.
Cpt. Aastrom was given the floor to say a few words.  He introduced himself and stated that this was his first time travelling to Nunavut.  He thanked the cadets & audience for coming to the first official change of command parade in the corps’s 25-year history.  He also encouraged members of the community to consider volunteering at the cadet corps and/or enlist in the CIC. 

Biathlon Team.
The parade moved on to the Awards section.  First, the Fall Biathlon winners were called to the front to receive their prizes. (The corps held a biathlon competition last October). Captain Aastrom presented t-shirts & army styled wallets to the lucky cadets.  Next, the Biathlon Team was called to the front to be acknowledged for their participation in the territorial competition that was held in Whitehorse in January.  The corps also acknowledged cadet Tilley, Dylan for being selected to participate in the upcoming National Biathlon Competition in Valcartier, Quebec at the end of February.  He is the first cadet from Arctic Bay to be selected for the national competition. 
Lt May speaking about the Marksmanship Team.
Captain Aastrom handing a
PT badge to a cadet.
Next came the awarding of marksmanship badges.  There are four levels to attain in the cadet program.  Level 1 is the lowest and Level 4 is the highest.  Civilian Instructor Reid presented the badges.  Lt. May called out the newly created Marksmanship Team to be acknowledged by the audience and to let everyone know that they would be getting ready for a marksmanship competition in two months.  I concluded the Awards section of the parade by handing out physical fitness (PT) badges.  PT tests are held once every month and depending on their results, cadets can earn Bronze, Silver, Gold, or Excellence badges. 
Me speaking to the audience.
Me signing the Change of Command
The moment was finally here.  Captain Aastrom produced three Change of Command Certificates that needed to be signed.  I held my breath and took out a pen.  Clare Kines took pictures of the three officers signing the documents.  I didn’t exhale until Aastrom lifted one of the certificates in the air and said, “Now it’s official.”  An applause followed.  I was now the commanding officer (CO) of 3045 Army Cadet Corps, Canada’s most northern cadet corps.
"Now it's official."
Lt. May has one last group photo
with the cadets.
The last part of the parade was devoted to saying thank you to Lt. May for his many years of service, and to wish him a safe & happy retirement.  I read a prepared letter from an officer in Iqaluit who worked with Lt. May on many occasions.  Next, we played two videos addressed to Lt. May.  The first video was from his daughter, playing the guitar and singing Happy Birthday to him.  The second video was from 3019 Army Cadet Corps in Rankin Inlet, wishing the former CO a well retirement & Happy Birthday.
I. Swoboda leads everyone in a standing ovation for Lt. May.
The local social worker, I. Swoboda, took over and gave a short speech about her many years of knowing & working with Lt. May.  She then presented two gifts: professionally done portraits of him.  She then concluded her presentation by leading everyone in a standing ovation. 
My first salute as the new CO of 3045.
The cadets were applauded by the audience at the end of parade.  Everyone headed over to the reception table for snacks.  I quickly took a photo of the large cake that was specially made for the occasion.  People personally thanked Lt. May for his time as CO, and congratulated me for being chosen to take over.  I also personally thanked Lt. May for his time as CO and for helping me prepare for the top job.  Deep down, I knew a lot of hard work and responsibilities were ahead of me.  But now was a time to celebrate. 
A new chapter in the corps’s history begins. 

Thank you Lt. May for your hard work & devotion to 3045 Army Cadet Corps.
 *Thank You Clare Kines for taking photos of the parade.          

Saturday, February 18, 2017

PI Week (2017)

Professional Improvement (PI) Week ran from February 13 to 17.  Students across Nunavut got a week off school.  The teachers used the time to acquire new skills and knowledge that would benefit their teaching practice.  This can be done by taking online courses, participating in workshops, being tutored, or reading professional materials.  You’re allowed to complete your PI outside of the community & territory where you teach; you just have to fill out the necessary paperwork and build a strong case as to why you should be allowed to travel to another community and/or outside the territory. 
This was my second year as Inuujaq School’s PI Coordinator.  Most of the staff was staying in town for the week.  Only a few would be travelling to other communities.  Starting as far back as November 2016, I worked with the staff in getting their applications completed and submitted on time.  We were excited that our individual PI amounts were increased.  Each Nunavut teacher receives a PI allotment of money they’re allowed to spend.  The amounts vary depending on the location of the communities.  The PI Handbook explains in detail what teachers can & cannot purchase.  Substantiation reports & receipts need to be submitted after the conclusion of PI Week.  Any extra money that isn’t spent needs to be returned to the PI Fund. 
I spent the first day completing an online course and doing professional reading.  The online course was WHMIS – Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System.  The system is used for: cautionary labelling of WHMIS controlled products, creating & maintaining material safety data sheets, and worker education.  All Government of Nunavut employees are required to be WHMIS trained.  The online course was straight forward and can be completed in a day.  I was glad I passed the final exam.  For professional reading, I read a book about helping students who struggle to learn.  (Learning is more than just regurgitating information). 
I spent the rest of the week getting recertified in First Aid & Level C CPR, and learning Wilderness First Aid.  JF, the high school math/science teacher, organized the two workshops with Boreal First Aid.  The company is based in Iqaluit, Nunavut, & St. John’s, Newfoundland, and offers first aid and outdoor education courses.  JF negotiated reasonable prices with Boreal and got enough people to sign up for the two courses.  A portion of our PI money would go to paying for the instructor’s expenses & fees.  Our instructor was René Ritter and he flew up from Iqaluit, bringing with him several large boxes of gear.  The workshops took place in JF’s classroom.
Tuesday & Wednesday were for Standard First Aid & Level C CPR.  Boreal is a Canadian Red Cross Training Partner, so we all knew that René was well-trained, certified, and experienced.  What was even more interesting was that he brought makeup, props, and fake blood for the simulated scenarios.  He explained that the best way to prepare and react is to add realism to the scenarios.  However, René did agree that some things may become too much for some, like the sight of blood, so we all agreed on a safe word that anyone can say when something becomes too much.
Ryan, media teacher, being
fitted with a neck brace.
Over the course of two days we covered many topics, such as: CPR, abdominal thrusts, how to operate an AED, cleaning & dressing wounds, making splints, the recovery position, improvised stretchers, and how to be a leader.  We practiced CPR and how to use an AED on dolls.  For everything else, we practiced on each other.    
The scenarios took place outside and focused on emergency situations that would happen in the community.  For example, adverse effects of not taking prescribed medication(s), slipping & falling on hard surface causing a broken bone, and working on a skidoo and inhaling noxious fumes.  René did contact the local RCMP about the outdoor scenarios because there was a possibility that someone walking by might misinterpret the scenario as a real life emergency.  The teachers all got a chance to be a leader, follower, and actor. 
Grade 3 teacher, Sarah A, shows
her left arm in a sling.
A debriefing was held after every scenario and everyone got a chance to talk about what they learned and what they could have done differently.  The scenarios showed us that the biggest challenges are: being a confident leader, keeping everyone busy, and following the proper procedures.  We also found out that some of us are really good actors.
A final written exam was held on Tuesday.  Unfortunately, the exams were only in English & French.  Inuktitut versions are still being worked on.  We would get the final results, and, if we passed, our certificates in the mail.
Rene shows everyone how to
to a patient's head steady.
The Wilderness First Aid class had fewer participants.  We breezed through the first few chapters because it’s a review of Standard First Aid.  The later chapters go into more detail on how to treat wounds, head & spin injuries, bone & joint injuries, poisons, environmental emergencies, extended care, and evacuation.  The scenarios we practiced indoors & outdoors dealt with situations that can arise when out on the land and you’re far from Arctic Bay.  René also taught us how to treat someone involved in a vehicle accident and how to carefully remove helmets.

I'm all wrapped up!
There are two moments that stand out for me.  The first one was when I volunteered to be a patient suffering from hypothermia.  René laid out several blankets and instructed me to lie down.  Then he and the other teachers proceeded to wrap me up in the blankets and tie them all together with rope so that I would “stay warm”.  Judging from the photograph JF took, I was wrapped like a burrito, or a bouquet of flowers, or a newborn baby.  If they had left me there on the classroom floor, I would have most likely fallen asleep.
The second moment was when René asked me to be a patient in one of the wilderness scenarios.  I played an atv enthusiast who overturned his vehicle but was wearing a helmet.  I just had to keep my eyes closed and breathe slowly.  The teachers did a good job treating me until “help arrived”.  I “regained consciousness” when René blew a whistle.  Apparently, my acting skills were quite good because some people who walked by thought I was really injured.
The wilderness scenarios used a lot more makeup and fake blood.  I was glad that no one fainted or had a serious freak out.  We became more confident and comfortable in handling emergency situations.  We all felt better prepared for the next time we would go out on the land.  The final written exam was held Friday afternoon.  Once again, they were only available in English & French.  I hope the Canadian Red Cross are looking into translating their course materials in Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun.
We all thanked René for coming to Arctic Bay.
Cadets practice making slings.
Just before René flew down to Iqaluit, he taught first aid to several second year cadets.  The three-hour crash-course lesson took place in my classroom on Friday evening.  The cadets practiced CPR on dolls, how to properly administer abdominal thrusts, wrapped bandages, and made slings.
Cadets practice making slings.
The teaching staff took the time to celebrate the birthday of a co-worker on Wednesday.  John, the Grade 8 teacher, was turning 19 . . . according to the birthday cake JF made for him.  When the candles were lit, everyone sang Happy Birthday.  John cut the cake into equal pieces and everyone enjoyed a slice.
I went to the Co-op store on the last day of PI Week and purchased snacks for the teaching staff.  I also brought two large blocks of mild Gouda cheese and a tray of smoked Norwegian salmon from home.  JF brought home-made bagels and we made smoked salmon sandwiches with them.  Everything was laid out in the staff room just in time for the last afternoon break.  The staff thanked me for the snacks and said the food was very tasty.  Judging from the conversations in the staff room, everyone had a successful PI Week.  We would all spend the next several weeks completing our activity & substantiation reports.                              

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Early February (2017)

A favourite hobby for the people of Arctic Bay is to guess and/or bet when the sun returns.  I always thought the return of the sun was on a fixed date, but many say there are three possibilities: February 4, 5, & 6.  The sun disappears from view from mid-November to early February, a period of time known as dark season.  Truth be told, there never is 24 hours of darkness.  There is a brief period of sunlight or twilight at lunch time but you do not see the sun.  No one celebrates or says "goodbye" to the sun in November, but everyone sets aside time to see the sun for the first time in the New Year.  The whole event reminds me of Ray Bradbury's short story, All Summer in A Day.  

My English students read the short story and watched the 1982 PBS adaptation I downloaded from YouTube.  The attitudes of the characters, who are children, are very similar to the people in Arctic Bay, and other high arctic communities, when the sun appears after a long absence.  Joy, happiness, and warmth.  The only thing we do that the story doesn’t depict is angrily closing our curtains several months later because the bright shining sun is preventing us from getting much needed sleep.
In the days leading up to the return of the sun, my students asked me which day I thought the sun would come back.  I placed my “bets” on February 6 only because that was when the sun reappeared last year.  Of course, one can see the sun much earlier if they go up to the summit of King George V Mountain (KGVM) or the old Nanisivik Airport.  The sun could be seen from the top of KGVM on January 30.

For me, the sun returned on Saturday, February 4, only because I “cheated”.  I was driving over to the school’s gym for afternoon cadet sports and arrived at the building earlier than planned.  I used the spare time to quickly drive up the rocky hill behind the Co-op store to photograph the sun.  The sun was just peaking over a mountain.  I took several pictures before returning to the gym.
The sun officially returned to Arctic Bay on February 5.  I was glad I didn’t bet real money because I was a day late.  I’m sure everyone in town paused for a moment to look at the bright shining star that hadn’t been seen since November of last year.  The sun only appeared for about 10 minutes but it was worth it.  From now on, an extra 20 minutes would be added every day to the amount of time the sun would stay up in the sky.  By late April, there will be 24-hour sunlight.

Inuujaq School held its annual Return of the Sun concert Monday, February 6.  Everyone gathered in the gym for the festivities.  My guitarists & I sat the front of the gym, nervous but excited for our first public concert.  We had prepared three songs for the occasion.  Several classes also prepared sketches to perform for the assembly.  Local elder B. Tatatuapik began the ceremony by lighting a traditional qulliq lamp.  The gym lights were turned off to symbolize dark season . . . and to make it easier to see the flames.  The gym lights were turned on after a short period time to symbolize the return of the sun.  Tatatuapik also told a traditional Inuit story & sang an Inuktitut song about the sun coming back.
Grade 1.
Grade 2.
Grade 5.
K-5 Classes were called individually to perform their songs about the return of the sun.  Most of the songs were sung a cappella.  The Grade 3 teacher provided musical accompaniment on her accordion for her students.  The Grade 6 class presented a poem they wrote for the assembly and the Grade 7 class performed a few Inuktitut songs.  Several male students from the Grade 7 class took turns playing an Inuit drum.
Grade 7.
The moment had finally arrived.  It was now time for my guitarists and I to perform.  We played three songs: Au Claire De La Lune, Ode To Joy, & You Are My Sunshine.  The audience liked the songs, but the performance would have been better if we had stage microphones. 
Me performing with my guitarists.
Grade 8 Teacher John & the
sun poster his students
I know some of you are wondering why these songs are always played at the sun celebration?  The main reason is that I teach beginner guitar and I receive new students every year.  Most of them have a very basic or no knowledge of guitar and they only have 5 weeks to prepare.  That’s not a lot of time.  I did look at other possible songs but more time was needed to learn & coordinate all the parts.
The Grade 8s presented a large sun poster they constructed for the occasion and shared their thoughts on why they look forward to the sun coming back.  The Grade 9 class presented a video of themselves hiking up a nearby hill to see the sun before everyone else.  Overall, the assembly was a success. 

Linda Ham & Ronnie Suluk from the Canada-Nunavut Geoscience Office (CNGO), visited Inuujaq School on February 7 to give a presentation on The Fury and Hecla Strait Geoscience Project.  Grades 9 – 12 students & teachers assembled in the high school science classroom for the presentation.  The presenters prepared a bilingual PowerPoint slideshow with very informative slides.  I’ll give you the Cole’s Notes version of their talk.
The CNGO will be mapping and doing aeromagnetic surveys of the Fury & Hecla Strait during the summers of 2017 & 2018.  The strait and the area around it “have not been mapped or studied recently by geologists.”  The work will be used to produce “maps of the bedrock, glacial deposits, and permafrost.”  These maps will be made available to the public.
The students were interested in the information being presented because the strait is not far from the main skidoo trail they use to travel to Igloolik.  There probably is a skidoo trail that leads directly to the strait but it’s “off the beaten path.”  Maybe one day I’ll visit the Fury & Hecla Strait and find out what really caused that loud 'ping' sound in November 2016.
Linda & Ronnie continued the presentation by explaining how the aeromagnetic survey will work.  A plane carrying a magnetometer will fly a grid-like pattern over the strait & the surrounding area, measuring “the magnetization of magnetic material in the Earth.”  The collected data will be given to a geophysicist who, using computer modelling, will produce maps where the various colours represent the magnetic content of different types of rock.
The presentation finished with a brief Q&A session and information on how to become a geologist and/or geophysicist.
I received a letter from the Department of National Defence bearing good news.  I was informed that I was being promoted to the rank of Second-Lieutenant in the Cadet Instructor Cadre (CIC).  The CIC is a corps of reserve officers that are involved in Canadian cadet program.  This would be great news to share at the upcoming change of command parade.  (More on that in a future post).
Even though the sun came back, the temperatures are still really cold and the nights are long.  If there is no wind, then the cold is bearable.  Temperatures have been in the low minus thirties without wind chill.  Wind chill pushes the temperature even lower to the minus forties.  I’m glad I have thick outer clothing to keep me warm.  However, starting my skidoo has become a challenge.  I have to set aside at least 15 minutes for my skidoo to warm up and even after that, the engine sometimes coughs when I drive.  Life in Canada’s far north.

*Return of the Sun Assembly photos provided by Ryan, media teacher.  Thank you.   

February 7, 2017

Friday, January 27, 2017

The Travelling Court

My students were indeed shocked when I showed them the photograph I took in an Ottawa grocery store during the Christmas Holidays.  Two-litre Coke bottles were being sold at 4 bottles for $5.  Such a deal does not exist in Arctic Bay.  A two-litre bottle of any kind of soft drink would cost between $15 - $25 if you factor in shipping costs by ship and air.  My students wished the pop prices were the same as down south, although, many also agreed that such prices could lead to an increase in diabetes. 
The routines of my classes were well-established by the end of the second week of the semester.  The days also began to go by at a faster pace.  I guess that usually happens when your body & mind become accustomed to routines. 

My Grade 10 English students focused their studies on literary elements and how they’re applied in short stories.  We read a variety of short stories written by Canadian, America, British, and New Zealand authors.  For Grades 10 & 11 Social Studies, my students examined globalization and how it affects Canada and the world.  What I like about the textbooks is that they contain case studies of people responding to the challenges of globalization.  I also included examples from Nunavut.  The students were surprised to learn that globalization reaches every corner of the globe, even isolated communities like Arctic Bay.  For the month of January, my guitarists focused their attention on learning how to read traditional notation, playing simple songs, counting, and playing as a group.
The cadets of 3045 Army Cadet Corps were ecstatic on January 14, because they received new blue toques that were adorned with the RCAC & NEAS logos.  NEAS, the sealift company & the corps latest sponsor, supplied the toques.  We took several photographs and emailed them to NEAS as a way of saying thank you.
January 14 was also a special day for Qaapik Attagutsiak, a prominent elder in Arctic Bay.  CBC News North wrote an article about her passion for traditional clothing, being a seamstress for 86 years (and counting), and teaching youth “the value of traditional Inuit clothing and sewing skills”.  I met and spoke with Qaapik two years ago when I went ice chiseling with one of her daughters.
My older brother made his first visit to Arctic Bay during the second week of January.  The Nunavut Court of Justice (NCJ) was in the community to hear & preside over various cases involving community members.  The court party included: judge, two crown prosecutors, one crown witness coordinator, three defence lawyers, and one sheriff.  My brother is Nunavut’s latest crown prosecutor based in Iqaluit.  I had fair warning that my brother would be visiting my “neck of the Arctic” and made the necessary arrangements prior to his arrival.  He would be staying at my place for the duration of his visit while saving the NCJ several hundreds of dollars on hotel accommodation.
Nunavut’s court system functions differently than the rest of Canada.  For starters, Iqaluit has the only dedicated court house in the territory.  When the judges & legal teams travel to the communities, the courts are held in buildings that provide the most space.  This can mean community centres, schools, or whatever is available.  Hotel accommodation is also a challenge because the hotels are small, and reservations only guarantee a bed, not the entire room.  Local elders sit in on court proceedings and their input is considered by the judge before a verdict is given. 
I still had to teach while my brother was in court.  He had a suitcase full of documents that needed to be reviewed before the proceedings.  Arctic Bay’s community hall was turned into a makeshift courthouse for the next several days.  It didn’t take long for the community to discover that my brother was in town.  My students periodically came into my classroom to tell me that they had met my brother.  They commented that he was following in my footsteps.  I replied that they were correct to some extent.  We both came to the north seeking employment and adventure, but in different professions.         

When my brother came to the school during lunchtime one day, I introduced him to the staff, and showed him my classroom.  Later that evening, I gave him a lift home on my skidoo.  He was nervous when I drove out onto the frozen bay but I reassured him that the ice was thick enough for a large airplane.  My brother flew back to Iqaluit on January 17.  He thanked me for my hospitality and said he would return in June for another round of court proceedings.  The judge and the rest of the staff continued on to Resolute Bay & Grise Fiord.
Amy S., from the Law Society of Nunavut, speaks to the students. 

Local elder Kigutikarjuk, S. speaks to
the students.
Three representatives from the Law Society of Nunavut spoke to the high school students on January 18.  They wanted to explain the role of the courts, how they work, and why do they exist.  Four elders were also in attendance because they sit in on the court proceedings and assist the travelling judge(s).  The elders spoke about the emotions that can surface when in court (as a suspect, or witness), how the stress can lead to suicidal thoughts, and how to overcome such stresses with resilience.  Snacks were provided to everyone in attendance.      

And finally, I’ve noticed that my collection of Inuit carvings is steadily getting bigger as the months go by.  I’m starting to run out of space to put them.  The centerpiece for my coffee table used to be a qulliq (traditional oil lamp).  Now it’s three carvings of a polar bear, inukshuk, and a standing narwhal.  The three carvings are made by the same local carver.  I still have the qulliq; it’s just been moved to another suitable location.