Thursday, July 3, 2014

Spring Camp 14 - Part 1

The last week of May was dedicated to review and final exams.  I was glad that I had prepared my English and Social Studies exams the week before because there was no time during the May 23-25th weekend and the few days I spent reviewing all the necessary materials with my students.  My guitar students had a final performance test instead of a written exam, where they were required to perform a chosen piece in front of the class.  They were allowed to read the notes and would receive extra marks if they played the piece from memory.  I spent the last weekend of May marking exams & class work, and writing final comments on report cards.  I breathed a sigh of relief when all the paper work was completed.
The first week of June was the last week of school and it was set aside for the annual spring camp.  Every year, the teachers and students of Inuujaq School head out on the land to experience the traditional Inuit way of life.  Elders teach life skills such as seal hunting, sewing, fishing, preparing country food, and setting up camp.  Originally, it was to be held during the second week of May, but the school couldn't hire enough drivers because of the annual fishing derby that weekend.  Rather than cancel the event, the Spring Camp Committee decided to move it to the last week of school.  There was some concern that by then, the weather would be too warm and the ice would turn to slush, but the elders assured everyone that that wouldn't be the case.  Unfortunately, it would be too warm to build igloos. 
High school students and teachers were tasked to go out first, set up camp, and spend a night at the camp site.  Students could stay longer if the elders required assistance with the other classes during the week and if they got permission from school administrators.  I and another teacher would overnight with the students. 

It was a cloudy, overcast Monday morning (June 2), as I walked to Inuujaq School, carrying a backpack and duffle bag packed with clothing and other camping items.  Looking out towards the frozen bay, I noticed that visibility was poor behind the local airport.  Since the camping area was in that location, I assumed we would be dealing with cold winds and even snow.  I was surprised by this sudden change of weather because the skies had been clear for the last several days.  Old Man Winter had come back for a final sendoff.  To prevent cold & sickness, I wore my thick Canada Goose parka with lighter clothing underneath so that I wouldn't sweat.  I knew I would get many surprised looks from the students and staff because wearing Canada Goose clothing in June is practically unheard of.
Minutes before we were to head out, a meeting was called in the science classroom.  The elders had deemed the ice and weather conditions unsatisfactory, forcing them to postpone the trip until the afternoon.  Everyone was disappointed by the announcement.  High school students were dismissed for the rest of the morning and were instructed to be back at school right after lunch.
At 1:30pm, high school teachers & students, and elders made their way down to the ice where a convoy of skidoos and qamutiks were waiting.  Once everyone's belongings were loaded into the qamutiks, the students went back to school to get the food.  The convoy left at 2pm.  The weather was still overcast and it looked like there would be snow.  We arrived at the camp site thirty minutes later.  
We have arrived.
As we were unloading the tents and camp supplies, a few Inuit boys spotted a flock of snow geese congregating many metres inland, just to the right of the camping area.  They immediately gathered rifles, ammunition, and a white sheet on a wooden frame.  The sheet would be used as camouflage.  The boys went off to hunt geese, leaving the girls to help the elders pitch the tents.  The girls didn't mind because traditionally, the Inuit men did the hunting.  A Canadian Ranger, who was one of the drivers, spotted a smaller flock to the left of the camp, near the road to Nanisivik.  He headed off in that direction with his rifle, hoping to shoot at least one goose. 

I was surprised to see two dome-like camping tents, the ones you see down south, being pitched.  The Inuit prefer the large white Fort McPherson tents but I guess they were in short supply.  The silver and orange dome tents were for the male students, teacher (me), and skidoo drivers.  A women's washroom tent, that only contained a bucket inside, was set up at the rear of the camp.  I didn't want to know how or where the bucket would be emptied.  I also felt sorry for the person who would get stuck with that job.  As for the males . . . just make sure you're far enough from the camp.

Once the tents were up, the Coleman stoves were moved inside and turned on to heat the tents.  In the distance, a rifle shot was heard, echoing off the mountains.  The geese fled into the sky but landed in a clearing to the left of the camp, near the road to Nanisivik.  Another shot was heard several minutes later, but it came from where the geese landed.  The Ranger was the first to return with a snow goose in his hands.  The Inuit boys returned later, also with a snow goose.  Everyone congratulated them for successfully shooting the geese and took pictures of the fallen prey.
We feasted on hot dogs, chicken soup, granola bars, crackers, arctic char, and bannock to keep our stomachs full.  There were also juice, water, and hot chocolate to drink.
Snow began to fall in the late afternoon, leading to the cancellation of the seal hunt.  The low visibility would make it difficult to spot the creatures lying on the ice.  I was hoping to see the successful capture of at least one seal because last year, we only shot a hare.  To pass the time, the high school students went tobogganing and I went hill climbing.  I only hiked up the two small hills behind the camp; I would wait until Friday to climb the tall & large mountain for the second time (the first time was during last year's spring camp).  Despite the falling snow, I was able to get some decent pictures of the camp and landscape below.  Upon returning to camp, I passed the time doing whatever before retiring to my assigned tent for the night.     

Middle school students.
I was woken by a student the following morning, having enjoyed sleeping in for an extra hour.  I had breakfast in a nearby elder's tent, eating scrambled eggs on bread, with a side order of bacon.  The elders and students wanted to know if I was having fun, to which I replied yes.  After breakfast, I hung out in the tent reading Saqiyuq and sharpening my knives.  At 10am, I was interrupted by the sounds of approaching skidoos and loud voices.  The middle school students had arrived.  It was still snowing outside and a mild wind was blowing through the camp.  The students asked me how I enjoyed my overnight stay and I replied that it was quite good.  

An hour or two before lunch, several high school students took a few middle school students geese hunting near the road to Nanisivik.  Unfortunately, they were unable to shoot any snow geese.  The remaining middle school students played soccer baseball out on the ice.     

The high school students & I were driven back to Arctic Bay at lunch time.  A few students were allowed to stay behind to help the elders.  The ride was interesting because the falling snow made it appear that we were travelling in the middle of a serious whiteout.  Upon arrival, I headed home to unpack, shower, and change into cleaner clothes.  I had the afternoon off from school.

To Be Continued . . .

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