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.  

Friday, January 13, 2017

A New Year, A New Semester

Happy New Year Everyone!
Source: The Indian Express
My Christmas trip down south immediately began with an adventure.  The First Air plane lifted off the gravel runway on the morning of Saturday, December 17 and flew towards Pond Inlet.  I was travelling with four other teachers.  The plane was not in the much used combi configuration, (half cargo, half passenger), but full of passenger seats.  Upon landing in Pond Inlet, we learned that the flight would be delayed by an hour because of strong winds in Iqaluit.  What was also unfortunate was neither the local Northern Store and Co-op were open that early on Saturday morning.  We all hoped that the one hour wait would be the last and we would still be able to catch our connecting flights.
The one hour wait would later grow to four hours.  When the local Co-op heard about the delay, they came to the airport with a box of apples & bottled water for us to consume, free of charge.  Later in the delay, the flight crew had the ground crew remove the snacks onboard the aircraft and distribute them to all the passengers in the terminal.  A few of the teachers and I bought some snacks at the Northern store before we finally boarded the plane in the afternoon.
The plane landed safely in Iqaluit but the weather forced all flights to be delayed and/or cancelled.  We had no choice but to overnight in Iqaluit.  We were glad that there were rooms available in the big city.  When travelling in Canada's Arctic, you don't pack for your final destination.  You pack for where you may get stranded due to bad weather or there is a problem with the plane.  My four colleagues and I made it safely to our southern destinations the next day but on different flights.
I keep wanting to stay in Arctic Bay for Christmas & New Year's Eve but there are always things I have to take care of down south during that time.  I end up missing all the cultural activities that take place at the local community hall.  There were evening Inuit games and dances held every night from December 19 - January 4.  Maybe I will have time this coming Christmas to check out the games.
I spent my Christmas break with family and friends.  I also visited many stores to shop for school & cadet supplies.  I began packing for the return trip almost immediately after I arrived home.  I don't think I got carried away with my shopping spree but I did buy a lot of things.  In the end, I brought back five boxes, two of which had to be shipped via First Air Cargo.  I felt ready.
There are several things that I always notice when I travel south: more sun exposure, people everywhere, and the low prices.  It's always a surprise/shock to walk into a large grocery store and buy the same items I can get up north but at much reduced price.  I took a picture of a shelf stocked with 2L Coca-Cola bottles and selling for $5 for 4 bottles.  Four 2L bottles would probably cost $80 or more in Arctic Bay.  My students are going to be shocked when I show them this photo, I thought to myself.
I made sure not to repeat a very big mistake I made last Christmas (2015).  That mistake was not seeing Star Wars: The Force Awakens in theatres.  This time, I made sure to go see the latest chapter in the epic space opera, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story before returning to Nunavut.  I saw the movie with my dad and we liked it a lot.
The southern teachers flew to Arctic Bay on January 2.  We only had to put up with a brief delay in Iqaluit.  January 3 was a staff day for teachers.  We all greeted each other before getting to work on preparing for the first day of school of 2017.  I would be teaching four classes: Grade 10 English, Grades 10 & 11 Social Studies, and Grade 10 Guitar.  By the end of the day, I had all my course outlines printed and the first few lessons ready.
The first day of school was more of an orientation day than a teaching day.  Even though my students already know me and the way my classroom works, I still went over the rules and routines.  (If you don't do it from the start, there will be problems down the snow path).  We also played several ice breaker games for fun.
Paulette introduces Candace & Leetia.
Two high school graduates came back to Inuujaq School on January 5 to give a presentation on the Nunavut Sivuniksavut program in Ottawa.  The two ladies have been attending the program since September 2016 and are former students of mine.  The Grade 9 - 12 classes assembled in the high school science classroom for the afternoon presentation.  When everyone was seated, the two graduates were introduced and the presentation began.
Leetia & Candace speak about NS.
Nunavut Sivuniksavut, or NS, as it's more commonly known in the north, is a two-year college program run under the guidance of Algonquin College.  The main focus of the program is Inuit studies.  Students learn "Inuit history, land claims, Inuit organizations and issues, and Inuit culture and language."  The program also prepares students for further post-secondary studies, and job opportunities in Nunavut.  The NS guest speakers also talked about life in Ottawa, their involvement in the Clyde River protests against seismic testing, and the cultural performances they participate in.
The teachers, and I'm certain the students as well, were glad to see two former Inuujaq School students attending NS and encouraging current students to do the same.  It sends the message that it is possible to pursue post-secondary education.  The NS guest speakers answered several questions before everyone was dismissed for recess.  They would stay in town for the next several days and then return to Ottawa to continue their studies.
I was having trouble turning my skidoo and assumed the carbide runners on the skis were flat.  I asked a former student of mine to replace them, but upon closer inspection, he told me that both skis needed to be replaced.  They were too flat & worn.  I was glad I bought replacement skis before the Christmas break.  Truth be told, the old skis were on the skidoo when I bought it two & a half years ago.  Replacing the skis & carbides only cost me $40.  In an isolated community such as Arctic Bay, it's always a good idea to buy spare parts in advance.

My old skidoo skis.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Christmas Festivities (2016)

Hard work and dedication is what got me through the remaining days of the semester.  I administered and corrected all the Social Studies exams without difficulty.  Answer keys were my "secret weapons."  I spent the weekend of December 10 & 11 writing all my report card comments.  I breathed a sigh of relief when all was done.  But I didn't have time to relax because the annual Christmas Concert was just around the snow bank.  The date had been set for December 15.  The community was made aware of the upcoming event through local radio announcements and posters that were placed in the Northern & Co-op stores.
This year's Christmas Concert had a longer program, with a total of 15 acts.  Each class was asked to prepare a short performance for parents and community members.  Classes began planning, practicing, and perfecting their routines weeks in advance.  They also worked on Christmas decorations that would be taped all over the community hall.  My drummers & I were hard at work, reviewing the selected pieces and perfecting our drum solos.  The concert committee recruited two high school students to act as Inuktitut & English emcees. 
An afternoon dress rehearsal was held at the community hall the day before the concert.  My drummers helped me move all our instruments and equipment to the community hall.  I also thanked Frank for letting me borrow his pickup truck.  Every class practiced their routines on stage to the delight of the student body and the high school emcees got comfortable speaking in front of a large crowd.  My drummers were nervous playing on stage for the first time but they survived the first challenge.  The biggest challenge would be performing at the actual concert. 
I was glad the dress rehearsal was the day before the concert.  A good night's rest would lead to better performances.
The high school students helped me decorate the community hall on the morning of December 15.  We went through several rolls of masking tape putting up all the decorations.  The hall was ready.  Ryan printed and folded the bilingual concert programs.
The concert began at 6:30pm.  The students and teachers were formally dressed for the occasion.  I gave the two emcees one last pep talk backstage before sending them out to introduce themselves & the program to the excited audience.  The curtain rose and the first act began.                 
Since it will take too long to explain each act in detail, I'm going to give you the Coles Notes version.
Grade 5
Grade 6
Preschool started the festivities with a Christmas Dance.  They danced to prerecorded music.  Kindergarten sang two Christmas songs, a cappella.  The Grade 1 class sang Silent Night in Inuktitut and English.  Grade 2 did a Christmas prayer and sang Jingle Bells in Inuktitut & English.  Grade 3 reenacted the Nativity scene and wished everyone a Merry Christmas.  The Grade 4 class performed Robert Munsch's Mortimer in Inuktitut.  The student who played Mortimer was a really good actor.  Grade 5s presented a skit titled, "Santa at Taqqut Co-op" where he gives out gifts to the people of Arctic Bay.  Grade 6 followed with a skit of their own called, "Arctic Bay Committee".  The Grade 7 class performed a comedic skit where Santa is confused and doesn't know what presents to give to the people of Arctic Bay.
Grade 8
The concert took on a brief political tone when the Grade 8s came on stage to perform their skit titled, "Nunavut's Got 'Santa' Talent".  Arctic Bay holds a talent contest and the contestants are Barack Obama, Justin Trudeau, Hillary Clinton, and Donald Trump.  The skit ended with Donald Trump being left behind because there was not enough seats on the First Air plane.  He had to travel back to the USA on a dogsled.
Middle school French Club.
JF's middle school French Club sang "Vive le vent," the French version of "Jingle Bells".  The Grade 9 class sang a rendition of Hedley's "Anything" but with Christmas themed lyrics.
Grade 9
The moment had finally arrived.  It was time for the high school drumline to perform for the audience.  When the children saw my drummers going backstage with their instruments, they immediately sat as close as they could in front of the stage.  We quickly set everything up and did one final check to make sure we had all our music.  I signaled for the curtains to be drawn.  I raised my sticks and clicked them 4 times.  Our performance began. 
High school drumline
My female students and I played three pieces: Beat Cafe, Sub-Sonic, and Bacon & Eggs.  All three pieces were composed by Cassidy Byars.  I continued our act with my solo.  I was glad I didn't mess up the stick tricks.  Several of my students followed suit by playing their own solos.  My quad player added a visual effect to her solo by pouring baby powder on the toms.  The powder shot up into the air every time she hit the four toms.  Our performance was well received by everyone.  We breathed a collective sigh of relief after the curtains were drawn together. 
The high school Inuit culture class continued the concert by singing & performing an Inuit western dance.  The students & teacher wore specially made purple vests.  The teacher led the students by singing and playing a large Inuit drum.

The Inuujaq School staff were the last act of the concert.  They played a game of Christmas Charades.  A teacher picked a piece of paper from a bag and had to act the Christmas song without using any words.  The audience liked watching the staff act out several well-known Christmas songs.     

My drummers helped me load all the drums & equipment into Frank's truck after the concert.  Several went with me to the school and place everything back in my classroom.  Another Christmas Concert was done.    
Friday, December 16 was the last day of school for the fall semester.  The student body assembled in the gym before lunch to sing Christmas carols in English & Inuktitut.  Elders and parents attended the event.
Santa in Kindergarten

Santa & a Grade 1 student.
Santa visited Inuujaq School after lunch to hand out gifts to the K-8 students.  He also had his picture taken with them.  (Students in the higher grades received gift certificates from the Co-op store).  High school students picked up their report cards at the main office.  When the dismissal bell rang, I wished my students a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Staff in the staff room.
The staff of Inuujaq School assembled in the staff room for one final meeting.  The meeting was more of a social gathering, with a variety of snacks & desserts laid out on two coffee tables.  The principal congratulated everyone for their hard work throughout the semester and wished everyone the best during the holiday season.
I cleaned my classroom before heading home to pack for my trip down south.  My flight was leaving the following morning and I needed to be ready.  It was hard to believe that another semester had come and gone.  Time certainly flies fast.          

See you all in the new year!

*All photos provided by Ryan. Thank you.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Early December (2016)

The arrival of December marked the beginning of the last two weeks of school.  The hallways were covered with Christmas decorations.  In the elementary wing, a large decorated tree stood in a corner.  The wall behind the tree was converted into a display: green stockings, each labeled with a staff member's name, were pasted around a brown fireplace.  A brief message from the staff in Inuktitut & English occupied the top half of the wall.  Two small Santa dolls stood on a nearby window ledge.
The last Attendance Awards Assembly of 2016 was held on December 6th.  Everyone gathered in the gym to applaud the winners for the month of November.  However, the first part of the assembly focused on last year's high school graduates.  For the last several years, high school graduates receive free laptops from the Baffinland mining company.  Unfortunately, the laptops were unavailable at the time of the graduation ceremony in June.  They finally arrived and would be presented to the grads in front of the entire student body.  Better late than never.
Each high school graduate was called up individually to receive their Lenovo laptop and external DVD drive.  The laptops don't have internal disc drives.  (I'm not sure why, but for some time now, computer companies have been selling laptops without internal disc drives.  Personally, the removal of these drives is a terrible decision.  Customers should not be forced to buy external disc drives.  Hopefully, the companies will reverse this bad trend in the very near future).
All the high school teachers were called up to the front of the gym to pose for photos with the grads.
Kindergarten Perfect Attenders.
Me with the HS perfect attenders.
The assembly continued with the awarding of certificates to the students who achieved perfect attendance for the previous month.  I think Grade 5 had the most perfect attenders.  The lucky winners posed with their respective teachers.  I had the honour of calling out, awarding, and posing for a photograph with the four high school students.  I was glad I wore my sealskin tie that day.       
With only two weeks left in the fall semester, the high school teachers, and hopefully students, knew that final exams were right around the corner.  We got to work on preparing our exams and reviewing all the relevant material with our students.  Exam schedules were posted in all high school classrooms, hallway, and washroom doors.  I only had two final exams to prepare because my drummers had a final performance test.  We were also preparing for the upcoming Christmas concert. (More on that in a future post).
The final exam for my Grade 10 Social Studies class would mainly focus on the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement, but also briefly touch upon the three other agreements in northern Quebec, Northwest Territories, and Labrador.  The final exam for Grade 11 Social Studies would focus on Women's Suffrage and the First World War.
The last week of school will be quite challenging because: all exams & class work need to be marked, final marks & comments have to be inputted into the school's computer database, and I am in charge of directing the Christmas concert this year.

The first full week of December ended on a humourous tone for me and JF.  He was cleaning out the storage room in the high school science classroom and found a very old binder.  The binder was an educational resource from the Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium, dated February 15, 1981.  The binder included a large, 5.25-inch floppy disk, containing information about aestheometry.  At least, that's what we could gather from reading the stickers.  None of us had a computer with a 5.25-inch floppy drive to verify the information.  In fact, I don't think anyone uses 5.25-inch floppy disks nowadays.  They are beyond obsolete. 
JF & the floppy disk.
I asked JF what he was going to do with the floppy disk and binder.  He said he would dispose it because there was no need to keep it.  We wondered if the resource was ever used at the school.

The year-end Christmas Pot Luck Dinner for Inuujaq School staff was held on the evening of December 9th.  Staff were encouraged to write what they would bring on a large paper in the main office, thus avoiding two of the same dishes.  Staff were allowed to bring two guests.  JF's classroom was converted into a dining hall, with long tables, chairs, and Christmas decorations.  The Christmas tree in the elementary wing was brought in to serve as the centrepiece.  Kraft paper was used as table cloth, enabling everyone to write & draw on them with crayons.  (Just like in family restaurants!) 

My contributions to the pot luck were different this year.  I brought two large blocks of mild & smoked Gouda cheeses, Polish Kielbasa, and crackers.  (I was the "Shrimp Man" for 2015 & 2014).  The rest of the menu consisted of: turkey, arctic char, bannock, salads, stuffing, mashed potatoes, desserts, juice, tea, coffee, and other foods that I can't name.  JF made a large chocolate log cake. 
Cooked arctic char.
The pot luck began at 6:30pm.  An elder blessed the food before we all lined up to fill our plates.  I was glad to see people sampling the Gouda cheeses I brought.  Such cheeses aren't readily available in Arctic Bay.  I brought them from down south.  I was able to taste most of the foods that were brought.  Unfortunately, the arctic char was gone by the time I got through the line.


The principal congratulated everyone for a successful fall semester.  He wished everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.  Secret Santa gifts were exchanged between staff members.  We all went home with satisfied appetites.


Monday, November 28, 2016

Soccer Camp/Workshop

The Nunavut Soccer Association (NSA) organized a three-day soccer camp in Arctic Bay at the end of November.  The school's liaisons were Sarah & Ryan.  The camp was mostly geared towards the students but there would be certain times when community members could get involved.  The aims of the soccer camp were to promote: interest in soccer, physical fitness, teamwork, and skills development.
The NSA sent Bruce, a student from the University of New Brunswick (UNB).  (He has a previous working relationship with the NSA).  He plays goalie on the UNB's soccer team and has a brother who teaches in Nunavut.  He has travelled to other northern communities and held similar workshops, but this would be his first time in Arctic Bay.
The gym was decorated with soccer-themed decorations made by students.  One of them was a streamer with the words, "Welcome Bruce".

The soccer camp began on Thursday, November 24.  Bruce stayed at Inuujaq School for the entire day, helping teachers with their gym classes, and teaching them soccer drills.  A high school soccer practice was held after school until 5pm.  Bruce introduced the students to a warm up routine that included laps, ladders, and stretches.  The students also learned dribbling and took practice shots at the nets.  The afternoon concluded with a soccer game and group photo.

High School group photo.
But the day was not over.  A Coaching Session was held from 6 - 7pm for anyone in the community.  Several high school students stayed and assisted Bruce.  The final event of the day was Community Soccer, which ran from 7 - 9pm. 

The schedule for Friday, November 25th was mostly the same.  Bruce worked with all Phys. Ed classes during the school day, and another afterschool soccer session was held.  Except this time, the afterschool session was for Grades 4 - 6.  The young students learned the same warm up routines, how to dribble & pass, and finished with a soccer game & group photo. 
Grades 4 - 6 group photo.
Saturday, November 26th was the territory's first "Soccer Day in Nunavut".  The event was promoted by the NSA.  Participating communities were encouraged to upload pictures & videos on the NSA's Facebook page.  They also sent t-shirts and prizes to the communities who held mini-soccer tournaments.  The NSA hopes "Soccer Day in Nunavut" will become an annual event.

A full day of activities were planned at Inuujaq School, starting at 9am and concluding in the evening.  Grades 7 - 9 spent the most time in the gym: three hours in the morning & three hours after lunch.  The Hamlet Office assisted in organizing a skills competition and mini-soccer tournament after 6pm.  The skills competition saw players compete in soccer-themed obstacle courses and a juggling contest.  Participants formed teams and competed in the mini-soccer tournament.  A group photo was taken at the end of the night.  Bruce departed on the morning of November 27th.

I wish I had the time to observe and/or participate in the festivities, but unfortunately, I had other commitments.  From what I gathered, everyone had fun and learned a lot from Bruce.  Bruce enjoyed his time in Arctic Bay and looked forward to returning in the future.  Sarah & Ryan were pleased that the NSA organized the event because such opportunities rarely come to remote northern communities.
Expensive air travel and location are the main reasons why sports camps/workshops/tournaments/events are usually limited to larger communities such as Iqaluit, Rankin Inlet, Cambridge Bay, and Arviat.  They also have enough people to sustain many sports programs.  The more remote communities in Nunavut struggle because they either don't have the necessary facilities or trained personnel.  You could fly participants down to the larger communities, but you end up spending a lot of money.  It's better to bring the programs to the communities because you can do more.  The northern airlines really need to lower their prices. 

Photos & information were provided by Sarah. Thank you.