Friday, February 20, 2015

Pilimmaksarniq 2015 – Part 1

The third week of February is Professional Improvement (PI) week for Nunavut teachers.  We are given five school days to complete professional development training of some kind that will upgrade our teaching abilities and benefit our students academically.  The training can be done individually or in a group.  The location can be in the town you teach, in another northern community, or down south.  (There's more paperwork to complete if you choose to travel outside of the territory).
This year, a learning conference was held in Iqaluit for all the teachers in the Qikiqtaaluk Region, aka, the Baffin Region.  (The Inuktitut word for Baffin Island is Qikiqtaaluk).  Around 300 educators from thirteen Nunavut communities converged in Nunavut’s capital to partake in a variety of workshops.  Teachers and administrators in the other regions held PI activities in their respective communities.
All but a few teachers from Inuujaq School flew down for the conference on February 15th.  Those who chose to stay behind completed their PI activities at the school.  It was an uneventful flight but it was my first time seeing a passenger plane full of teachers.
Shawarma beef plate.
Upon arrival, everyone picked up their luggage and proceeded to their assigned hotels.  I was told that all the hotels in town were booked for the conference.  Not all 300 teachers had hotel rooms; many opted to stay with family & friends.  I was assigned a room at the Discovery Lodge.  I had stayed there before without any complaints.  After checking in and dropping off my belongings, I proceeded to Yummy Shawarma for lunch.  It would be the first of many visits during the week.

February 16th was registration day.  All teachers had to report to Inuksuk High School to sign in and pick up their welcome bags & timetables.  The bags contained pens, brochures, information about the upcoming workshops, and other goodies.  It was great to see the high school where my Arctic adventure began three years ago.  The outside structure was the same but the interior appeared to have undergone more renovations.  The most noticeable renovations were done in the gym: fresh coats of paint, newly installed sound proofing panels, and murals of inuksuks and huskies painted everywhere.  The high school adopted a new name for all its sports teams a year or two ago: the Inuksuk Huskies.

The Frobisher Inn was hired by the Nunavut Teachers Association (NTA) to look after all the catering needs of the conference.  Breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks in between.  The people of Iqaluit would have to make do without access to The Gallery for the duration of the conference.  I walked around the high school greeting familiar faces while eating freshly prepared fruits & muffins.  After some time, I decided to leave the school and explore the city.  We weren’t required to be back until 7pm for the opening ceremony.

My first place of visit was NorthMart (aka Northern Store in the communities).  I didn’t have anything in mind to buy; I just wanted to see if the layout had changed since my last visit.  Once I walked into the large store, I was immediately overwhelmed by the sheer amount of products on sale.  Anything & everything I could think of was on the shelves.  This was a far cry from the lesser amount of goods that are sold at the Northern Store in Arctic Bay.  Though, the prices were still expensive.  I think a good ten to fifteen minutes went by before I realized that I had been walking aimlessly for a good ten to fifteen minutes.  I had been  just staring at the stocked shelves the whole time. 

I felt like Igor Gouzenko, who had written in his book, This Was My Choice, that one of the main reasons for his defection to Canada was to have access to plenty of food and other products without having to worry about constant shortages & long lines.  Igor would spend a lot of time just window shopping at Canadian grocery stores, seeing them as symbols of true freedom.

Now I know why so many people in Nunavut want to move to Iqaluit, I thought.  The grocery stores & Co-ops in the communities are smaller and don’t have as much variety as the large city centres, like Iqaluit and Rankin Inlet.  For example, Iqaluit’s NorthMart has a bakery, a section dedicated to sushi, and a small area that sells ready-to-eat meats.  I didn’t end up buying anything but left with a better understanding as to why the Inuit, who live in the communities, fly down to Iqaluit (or Rankin Inlet), and come back carrying bags of groceries . . . and Tim Hortons donuts.

The next store I visited was The Marketplace, aka, Arctic Ventures.  The days when the store played loud music to keep loiterers away from the main entrance are long gone.   The store is smaller than NorthMart but still maintains large stocks of food, clothes, and appliances.  The Source and a gift store are also located in the same building.  The only items I bought were two printer ink cartridges from The Source.

Behind The Marketplace sits a video rental/confectionary store that used to occupy a space in The Marketplace.  Renting movies is still popular in the north due to high Internet costs and slow streaming speeds.  One of my former Inuksuk High School students was working when I entered the store.  We chatted for some time before I bought a few movies for a couple of bucks.  I proceeded to the Arctic Survival Store, located just across the video store.  Here one can find Canada Goose products, firearms, hunting knives, camping supplies, binoculars, and ammunition for sale.  There were a few products that interested me but the prices felt a little steep.  However, I did enjoy looking at all the firearms that were hanging on the walls behind the front desk.

The last store I visited was Tittaq, an office supply store near the post office.  I had a list of office products I needed to buy for my classroom.  Once I bought everything on my shopping list, I dropped it all off at my hotel room and walked back to the high school for the opening ceremony.

Lighting of the qulliq.
NTA President Terry Young.
The ceremony began several minutes after 7pm with the lighting of a qulliq (kudlik).  The qulliq is a traditional Inuit oil lamp.  The lighting was followed by a welcome speech from NTA President Terry Young.  Before being elected president, Young was the principal of Inuksuk High School.  I had the honour of working under his leadership when I first came up north.

Nunavut Minster of Education, Paul Quassa
Nunavut’s Minister of Education, Paul Quassa, followed with a speech welcoming all the teachers to Iqaluit, and highlighting his government’s commitment to improving & expanding Nunavut’s education system.

Nakasuk School Choir
The Nakasuk School Choir took to the stage to welcome everyone by singing a few songs in English and Inuktitut.  I stood at the back of the gym so that I could take pictures of the performance.  The children wore traditional Inuit clothing.  The choir received a standing ovation after singing their last song.

The Inuksuk High School Choir continued the ceremony with a 30-minute set that included songs, drum dancing, & throat singing.  I filmed the entire performance.  The all-girl choir was led by the music teacher Mary Piercey.  When she went on maternity leave in 2012, I looked after the high school music program in her absence.  The choir’s performance was very well done.  I particularly liked the drum dancing and throat singing.  The girls also received a standing ovation from the audience.  I would give a copy of the recorded performance to Mary the following day.
Everyone was dismissed for the rest of the evening.  We were instructed by the conference planners to be ready to go at 8:45 the following morning.  Before calling it a night, I bought a shawarma beef sandwich for dinner and to celebrate the beginning of the conference.


To Be Continued . . .

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