Saturday, March 31, 2018

AWG 2018 & Spring Break

The sporting festivities continued after the Olympics because another major sporting event occurred from March 18 – 24.  The 2018 South Slave Arctic Winter Games were co-hosted by the towns of Hay River & Fort Smith, Canada.  This was the first time the games were hosted in the South Slave Region.

The AWG began in 1970 and is considered the Olympics of the circumpolar world.  Athletes from nine contingents participate in the games held every two years.  These contingents are: Alaska, Greenland, Northern Alberta, Northwest Territories, Nunavik, NunavutSapmi People, Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, and Yukon.  The games feature competitions in 18 sporting disciplines, such as: Alpine Skiing, Dene Games, Badminton, Dog Mushing, Snowboarding, and Volleyball.

This year’s mascot was the snowy owl, named Kechi, meaning ‘The Messenger’.  The theme song for the games was “Be The Ones”, co-written and recorded by Canadian musician Serena Ryder.  The games’ slogan this year was “Find Your Power”.  And the bronze, silver, and gold medals were designed as small ulus.
Team Nunavut: Arctic Bay contingent.

Arctic Bay sent 16 athletes plus a coach to the AWG.  They competed in a variety of sporting disciplines.  Quite a few of them are current & former students of mine, as well as members of the cadet corps.  Naturally, they were all very excited to be competing in the games and representing their community & territory.  The official Nunavut team jackets were yellow, complemented by red, blue, & white hats & scarves that strangely resembled the Union Jack.

JF kept everyone up to date by creating a large wall display in the high school section of Inuujaq School.  He posted schedules, pictures, newspaper articles, and the medal count for the Nunavut team.  At the conclusion of the games, Nunavut’s medal count stood at: 15 gold, 17 Silver, and 23 Bronze.  One of the gold medals was won by a student of mine, Crystal.  She competed in the junior women’s snow snake competition and set a new throwing record at 335 feet! 

Team Nunavut placed 7th overall.  The winner of this year’s games was Alberta North with a total medal count of 133.

The Arctic Bay athletes returned to a hero’s welcome on March 28.

C-17 Globemaster
C-17 Globemaster
Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the Welcome Back ceremony at the community hall because I was down south in Winnipeg, MB, attending a commanding officers meeting.  I flew the “scenic route” to Winnipeg, stopping in Iqaluit & Ottawa first.  When I was passing through Iqaluit, I saw a C-17 Globemaster parked outside on the tarmac.  The C-17 most likely came from CFB Trenton, Ontario.  I was travelling in my CADPAT uniform and wondered whether I could sneak onboard and convince the pilots to give me a lift to Winnipeg?  Ultimately, I decided against it and boarded my First Air flight to Ottawa.
Winnipeg Airport runway lights.
Officers representing various corps in the Northwest Region attended the planning sessions & workshops.  I happened to be the officer who travelled the furthest.  Topics of learning & discussion included: recruiting staff & cadets, dispute resolution, and the Defence Ethics Program.

Flying back to Arctic Bay proved to be an adventure of its own.  The original flight plan had me flying north to Churchill, Manitoba, then onwards to Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, followed by flying east to Iqaluit.  Everything seemed normal when the First Air plane took off into the clear blue sky.  However, about halfway into the flight, the captain announced that Rankin Inlet was experiencing blizzard-like conditions.  The plane still landed in Churchill but passengers travelling onwards would have to wait.  The airline was hoping the weather would clear up.

This was my first time in Churchill, Manitoba.  The weather was fine & sunny.  I went inside the terminal and took pictures.  The town is in the heart of polar bear country.  A large polar bear skin on display emphasized this point.  Unfortunately, the weather in Rankin Inlet did not improve and the flight was cancelled.  Passengers were given the option to wait until tomorrow or board the return flight to Winnipeg.  I chose the return flight.  My visit to the Churchill Airport lasted 3 hours.  Blizzards in Rankin Inlet tend to last a couple of days, so I didn’t want to get stranded there.  Even if I did choose to continue, I wouldn’t miss any teaching days because spring break had just started.    

I stayed an extra day in Winnipeg before being booked on a flight to Ottawa.  From there, I flew up to Iqaluit and stayed there for three days.  I spent time with my older brother and parents, who happened to be visiting the territorial capital for a week.  I made sure to have a shawarma before flying back to Arctic Bay.  My suitcase was filled with school supplies.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Drop The Pop & Certificates

March 19 – 23 was Drop The Pop Week.  The educational campaign encourages students & their families to lower their consumption of sugary drinks and make healthier food choices.  Some of these choices include: drinking more water, eating healthier foods including country food, and maintain consistency with a healthy food plan.

The school held a community breakfast on the morning of Thursday, March 22.  The staff arrived just before 8am to prepare the food and get the gym ready.  Much of the food was provided by the local Co-op store but the Breakfast Coordinator also made loaves of bread & pancakes.  I helped out in the Home Ec Room, cutting apples and slices of cheese.  I then walked over to the gym to set up chairs and arrange many rows of juice boxes.  When the food was ready, it was brought over to the gym in bowls and trays.  We quickly prepared many plates of food to distribute during the assembly.  We didn’t want to keep the students & parents waiting.

Everyone was called down to the gym at 9:15am.  Classes brought their Drop The Pop posters and taped them at the front of the gym.  Once everyone was gathered, the assembly began with a welcome statement from the principal and a prayer made by an elder.  The staff then distributed the many plates of food to everyone.  Everyone enjoyed the breakfast.
The Grade 7 teacher receiving her certificate.
Piuyuq receives her certificate
for 35 years of service.
Our superintendent happened to be in town, visiting our school during Drop The Pop Week.  I didn’t know that he was here to hand out Certificates of Appreciation to the staff until he began speaking into the microphone.  The certificates, presented in a formal blue folder, recognize the many years of service given by teachers.  Most of us were called up, one by one, to receive our certificate and have our picture taken with the superintendent.  We were publicly recognized for putting in 5, 10, 15, 20, and 35 years of teaching!  I received a 5-year certificate.  Piuyuq, the Grade 1 teacher, received an extended applause for her 35 years of service.

Two middle school students were also called up to the front to receive prizes for having their fire prevention drawings selected to be featured in a calendar.  Fire Prevention Week happened in late February. 

A middle school student receives a Northern Store gift card.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Pancakes, Coins, & Big Brother

Several military personnel arrived in Arctic Bay to participate in an Arctic Operations Advisor Course (AOAC).  The course is based in Resolute but participants travel to several places in the high arctic to complete the training.  I haven’t attended the course myself but based on research, the course teaches soldiers how to survive & operate in extreme cold environments.  The Rangers play a key role in delivering the training because their ranks are filled by Inuit, and Inuit have survived in the high arctic for millennia.  I believe the course lasts for several weeks.
One of the soldiers was a Sergeant (Sgt) from the Royal Regiment of Canada.  3045 Army Cadet Corps is affiliated with the Royal Regiment.  We communicated through electronic correspondence and organized a meet & greet with the cadets.  He also stated that the military wanted to prepare breakfast for the school.  I spoke with the Breakfast Coordinator and Principal, and got their approvals for March 8.
I woke up really, really early on Thursday, March 8 and drove to Inuujaq School to let the soldiers in at 6am.  They drove in a convoy of 4 Arctic Cat skidoos and sleds.  I helped them carry everything down to the Home Ec room.  The Sgt said they had brought enough food to feed the school twice.  He added that anything that wasn’t used would be donated to the school.

The four soldiers immediately went to work preparing a large pancake breakfast for 235 students.  They also prepared orange juice and set out bottles of 100% Pure Maple Syrup.  They had one large box full of wrapped butter.  The blocks of butter looked like gold.  By the time the bell rang at 8:40am, breakfast was ready.  The students were surprised to see soldiers in the Home Ec Room but were excited to see pancakes for breakfast.  The soldiers were thanked for their hospitality during morning announcements.  The Breakfast Coordinator personally thanked them for the leftover pancake supplies.

The Sgt and a captain from the AOAC visited the cadet corps on the afternoon of Saturday, March 10.  We were in the school’s gym playing sports.  The cadets were called to the centre of the gym and instructed to take a seat and listen to the Sgt and Captain explain why they were in Arctic Bay.  The Sgt & Captain gave a brief overview of the AOAC and answered questions from the cadets.  After the short presentation the cadets convinced the two visitors to play some sports with them.
The Sgt gave out Royal Regiment coins to all the cadets.  We all posed for a group photograph.  There is a game associated with the coins.  The game works as a challenge.  You show your coin and then demand that the person you’re challenging show you their coin.  If they can’t produce it, they owe you a can of pop (soft drink).  If they do show you their coin, you owe them a can of pop.  I should point out that you can only challenge those who possess the same coins.

And finally, Big Brother has come to Inuujaq School!  I walked into the school’s library one afternoon and saw 38 new security cameras spread across three tables.  There were also six loudspeakers and two large coils of white wires nearby.  The school’s security system was getting a major upgrade.  I assumed this was brought on by the recent losses of schools in Cape Dorset & Kugaaruk due to arson.  Once the cameras are up and running, the school will feel safer and more secure.   

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Cannabis & The Winter Olympics

One issue that’s been generating a lot of buzz in Canada for the last little while is the impending legalization of marijuana in 2018.  Rumour has it that marijuana will become legal on July 1, 2018, but many are speculating that that date will not be met.  Instead, people are looking towards the fall of 2018.
I’ve never smoked or consumed marijuana.  You don’t have to believe me, but I can say that with my head held high.  I’m aware of the “Everyone has done it at least once!” mentality in mainstream society, but I’m not part of that person.  I’m in the minority.  I don’t fancy the stuff that smells like dog poop when it’s burned and I have no intention of trying it when it becomes legal.  I have hung out with people who use recreational marijuana but only to eat their snacks when they’re not looking. 
Representatives from the Government of Nunavut came to Arctic Bay from Iqaluit to hold a community meeting about marijuana legalization on February 21.  I decided to attend the meeting and see what legalization would mean for the community.  Marijuana use is already happening in Arctic Bay but behind closed doors.  Some of my students are users.
The meeting took place at the community hall in the evening.  The representatives sat at the front behind a line of tables and a large white screen hung behind them.  Rows of chairs had been set up for community members.  The meeting would be held in Inuktitut & English.  Free coffee & tea was available.  I jokingly asked one of the representatives if the coffee & tea was spiked with marijuana.  He said no.
The representatives did a brief overview of the marijuana legislation brought in by the federal government and explained what will happen when marijuana becomes legal.  They explained that nothing big should happen except people will now be able to smoke & consume it freely and out in the open.  Each person will be allowed to carry up to 30 grams of marijuana with them.  A 30-gram bag of oregano was passed around to show the amount.  I have to say that 30 grams is a lot.  The representatives also said that rules regarding ordering & delivery in Nunavut are still being written.  I heard rumours that the Northern Store does not want to be a dispensary.
The second half of the meeting was devoted to questions and answers.  A microphone was passed around and people were given the opportunity to ask questions to the panel and/or share their thoughts & opinions about marijuana.  I chose to chill and listen.  The concerns I heard were: increase in use, increase in crime, less money for food, less time spent in school, and more discussions are needed.  Unfortunately for the detractors, legalization is inevitable and happening this year, so everyone will have to adapt once the big day comes.         

The 2018 Winter Olympics took place in PyeongChang, South Korea, from February 9 – 25.  The first week of the international sports extravaganza occurred during PD Week in Nunavut.  While I was attending the PD Conference in Iqaluit, I did manage to catch some Olympic highlights on TV, but mostly used the Internet to keep up to date with Canada’s medal count.  Olympic fever continued with the resumption of classes the following week.

JF, the high school science & math teacher, set up a large Olympic display in the high school section.  The main board displayed the competition schedule, a medals counter, and pictures of the Canadian athletes who won medals.  Around the main board were posters of the Canadian athletes and the Olympic flag.

JF encouraged all classes to visit the Olympic display and kept everyone up to date on Canada’s progress.  It was great to see the medal counter steadily increasing with each passing day.  JF was able to stream the Olympics in his classroom using the Internet.  I took my entire class over to watch the Men’s Hockey match between Canada & Germany on February 23.  The game would decide if Canada would advance to the finals.  The atmosphere in JF’s class was energetic as everyone cheered for Canada to win.  Unfortunately, we all watched as Canada lost the game.  We were all greatly disappointed.  In the end, Canada faced off against the Czech Republic for the Bronze and won.

Speaking of bronze, Canada ended the games in third place, with 11 golds, 8 silvers, and 10 bronze.  Norway came in first place and Germany came second.  Hopefully, Canada will do better in 2022, in Beijing.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

The Sun Returns & The Qanirraqtit Conference

The day was February 5th and the very special moment had finally arrived.  I briefly stopped teaching my second period class and quickly drew open the red curtains.  Several students from other classes came into mine as I was pulling out my digital camera from my backpack.  We all watched through the windows and waited in silence.  My camera was at the ready.
This is exactly like All Summer In A Day without the constant rain, I thought to myself.
If the surrounding mountains were not in the way, this important event would be happening in late January.  After waiting a minute or two, the sun appeared from behind a mountain.  Not all of it; just the “top” part, if you can call it that.  That’s all everyone needed.  “The sun’s back!” someone said.  I clicked several pictures.  Dark season was done for another year.
As I’ve written on many previous accounts, the sun disappears from view in mid-November and doesn’t come back until early February.  Arctic Bay still receives some sunlight in the middle of the day but we don’t see the actual sun.  The departure of the sun is a somber moment but its return is a celebration.  The sun only stayed up for about 20 minutes before sinking behind a mountain.  From now on, the sun will stay above the mountains for an additional 20 minutes with every passing day.  By the time May arrives, the entire area will be enveloped by 24-hour daylight.

Inuujaq School held its annual Return of the Sun Assembly on February 6th.  Everyone gathered in the gym for the celebration.  Posters depicting the return of the sun were pasted along the gym walls.  Quite a few teachers & students were wearing bright colours.  The assembly began with the lights being turned off and an elder lighting a qulliq (oil lamp).  She briefly explained the history of the qulliq and how the lamp kept Inuit warm during the harsh dark season. 
The lights were turned on and the high school Inuit culture teacher continued the festivities by playing guitar and singing two songs in Inuktitut.  This was followed by the Grades 9 & 8 teachers playing African drums.  The assembly concluded with the Grade 3 teacher playing “You Are My Sunshine” on the accordion.

My workload as the school’s Professional Development (PD) Coordinator increased with the arrival of February.  Professional Development (PD) Week was scheduled for February 12 – 16, and this year, a conference was taking place in Iqaluit.  The Qanirraqtit Conference would only be attended by teachers in the Northern Qikiqtani Region because there are not enough hotel rooms to accommodate everyone in the entire Qikiqtani Region.  Iqaluit recently lost 87 hotel rooms because the Hotel Arctic was bought by the Arctic College and turned into a student residence.  The Southern Qikiqtani Region will have their PD conference in 2019.  (The last time the Nunavut Teachers Association (NTA) held a territorial wide conference was in 2012).
Planning for the conference had begun as early as last year.  Teachers who were interested in presenting at the conference had to make their intentions known by the end of October (2017).  For me, I had to regularly check my email and download any documents that needed to be passed on to the staff.  I also relayed any questions the staff had about the upcoming conference.  I spent late January helping teachers with online registration.  Flight information, hotel accommodations, conference programs, bus schedules, and blizzard plans were distributed in early February.  Everyone received an envelope containing these documents.  I stored copies of all conference related documents in a large binder, thus making my life easier.
Everyone, minus one, flew down to Iqaluit on February 12 on two separate flights.  I & five other teachers were on the late flight.  We flew up to Resolute, then down to Iqaluit, arriving at 10:30pm.  Originally, I thought the conference committee was going to charter an aircraft, but they instead chose on two First Air flights.  I didn’t know why until I got to Inuksuk High School the following day.  First Air was one of the major sponsors of the conference.  Everyone from Inuujaq School, except me, stayed in a hotel.  I stayed with my older brother. 

Translator booths.
The “main base of operations” for the conference was Inuksuk High School.  Memories of my time teaching there in 2012 & 2013 flooded my mind as I walked through the main doors.  The registration area was in the cafeteria.  I found the table labelled “Arctic Bay” and was given a name tag & a welcome bag, happily supplied by First Air.  Everyone was shuffled into the gym for the opening ceremony.  The gym had been converted into a makeshift auditorium.  Chairs arranged in a large semicircle occupied the middle of the gym.  At the back were tables containing listening devices and booths for the Inuktitut, English, and French translators.  The ceremony began at 9am.
Listening devices.
NTA President: John Fanjoy.
Deputy Minister of Education:
Pujjuut Kusugak.
The two emcees welcomed everyone to Iqaluit and the conference.  They called up NTA President John Fanjoy to deliver his welcome address.  At the end of his address, Fanjoy invited the Deputy Minister of Education, Pujjuut Kusugak, to say a few words.  In Inuktitut, he spoke about the importance of education and having qualified teachers to teach & inspire Nunavut’s youth.  The next presenter was David Serkoak who spoke about his life & his work as a teacher.  He ended his presentation by playing the Inuit drum.  Craig MacGregor, the person in charge of the entire conference, took the podium to welcome everyone to the conference and to thank his staff for helping him put everything together.  The week-long conference was officially declared “opened” by Hannah Stoney & Peepeelee Pijamini, two Inuit teachers who ceremonially lighted a qulliq at the front of the gym.  Everyone was dismissed for a 15-minute break.
David Serkoak.
The Frobisher Inn was the caterer, providing all the food & beverages for the snack breaks and the banquet.  (More on that later).  We were responsible for lunch & dinner.
Hannah Stoney & Peepeelee Pijamini.
Christine Jenkins
Everyone returned to the gym for the first Keynote Address.  There would be a Keynote Address at the beginning of each day of the conference.  Christine Jenkins was the first presenter, speaking about effective literacy instruction and reading strategies.  Her informative presentation lasted 90 minutes.  Everyone was then dismissed for lunch.  I immediately headed over to Yummy Shawarma.  I had gone without shawarma for about 2 months and I needed my fix.    
Prior to attending the conference, teachers were required to sign up for 8 periods of workshops, spread across three days.  Some workshops took up two or more periods.  There were plenty of choices to make.  I could spend several blog posts listing all the choices, so I’ll just focus on the workshops I attended.
The first workshop I attended was Youth Self-Injury, organized by the Embrace Life Council.  The presented was one of my former co-workers, Kim Masson.  The workshop focused on recognizing certain patterns of behaviour that youth exhibit when they self-injure, and what to do if the behaviour becomes severe.
Craft Sale.
A craft sale was held at the high school on the evening of February 13th.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t as large as the one in 2015.  There were some interesting items but not many selections.
The following day, I attended three workshops on reading, archaeology education, and Attention Deficit Hyper Activity Disorder.  All three workshops were very informative and provided good lists of resources for teachers to use.
Dr. Kris Wells.
Dr. Kris Wells from the University of Alberta gave a very good keynote address on Thursday, February 15th.  His topics included: homophobia, transphobia, bullying, harassment, life for LGTBQ youths in schools, and school safety.  He was also promoting the website:  I was glad to see a presentation like this happening in Nunavut because these topics are still taboo outside Iqaluit and need to be addressed.  The homophobic & transphobic behaviours of the north & the world need to be eradicated.  We’re human after all.  Dr. Wells concluded his presentation by sharing 4 ways teachers can make their schools more inclusive.

The last three workshops I had were about incorporating land skills in social studies, psychological first aid, and an introduction to autism spectrum disorders.

The evening banquet was held at the Frobisher Inn.  The NTA booked both conference rooms and had them turned into large dining halls.  Everyone dressed up for the occasion.  I also wore a sealskin tie & vest.  The catered food was excellent.  The main courses were prime rib & Asian flavoured chicken.  There were plenty of side orders & desserts to choose from.

Qaapik Attagutsiak & Natsiq Kango.
The banquet continued with musical performances from two high school students.  Alassua Hanson & Mary Itorcheak sang songs they personally wrote and throat sang to the delight of the audience.  To officially close the conference, a ceremonial qulliq lamp was lighted by Qaapik Attagutsiak from Arctic Bay She is Arctic Bay’s eldest elder.  (I didn’t know about this arrangement).  She briefly talked about her life and how she was taught to use a qulliq.  Natsiq Kango translated in English.
Me posing with coworkers and two teachers I met in Iqaluit.
The festivities continued with speeches from Craig MacGregor & John Fanjoy, and a local band performing for two hours. 
Nellie Kusugak.
There was one more Keynote Address on the morning of Friday, February 16th.  The speaker was the Commissioner of Nunavut, Nellie Kusugak.  Kusugak has been involved in education since 1986 and was a teacher for many years.  She spoke about the importance of education, the role of teachers, and which teachers inspired her to have a career in education.
The Inuujaq School teachers flew back to Arctic Bay in the afternoon.  I made sure to have one more shawarma before leaving Iqaluit.  We brought back gifts, school supplies, and many memories.  The only thing left for me to do as PD Coordinator was help the teachers with their substantiation documents.
Arctic College constructed a new
addition to their main campus.
Overall, PD Week was a success.  We all learned a lot and networked with teachers in the North Qikiqtani Region.  I also successfully handed out all the custom made NTA fidget spinners I ordered from China.  I hope they’ll catch on and the association will ask me to order more.  I want to keep this craze going for a little longer.

NTA fidget spinner.