Saturday, May 14, 2016

Inuujaq School Spring Camp 2016

This year’s spring camp occurred during the second week of May.  The last time the camp was in May was three years ago.  (Click on the links to Part 1, Part 2, & Part 3 if you wish to read about that camping trip).  The Spring Camp Committee (SCC) decided to have the camp early this year because the weather was getting warmer at a much faster rate than in previous years.  They were worried that by June, the ice would be too slushy and thin.  I was part of the SCC last year but chose to take a break this time. 

The week-long spring camp gives students & teachers the opportunity to experience life out on the land and participate in traditional Inuit activities (ex: hunting, sewing, igloo building).  Elders and local volunteers run the camp while teachers provide supervision.  The camp was at the same location: Holy Cross Point, 11 kilometres to the southeast of Arctic Bay.  The location is ideal for the school due to its close proximity to the community. 

High school students head out on the first day to set up the tents and stay overnight.  Several students would be staying at the camp all week to assist the elders.  Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the first day because I had just come back from the Silver Star Expedition in Manitoba and needed to rest.  I participated on the second day, May 10, with the Grades 7, 8, & 9 classes.  These classes would only go out for the day and come back in the late afternoon.      

Everyone headed down to the ice after 9am.  As always, I was dressed for adventure, wearing: a Canada Goose Resolute parka, snow pants, Baffin Impact boots, thick gloves, balaclava, and toque.  Underneath it all, I wore comfortable civilian clothing; I left my formal clothing at home.  I was more than ready to deal with a sudden change in weather.  GPS, SPOT, binoculars, multi-tool, and camera were also packed and readily available.  I was carrying a machete and a fillet knife for protection.  Only the elders and local hunters are allowed to bring firearms to spring camp.  I brought my niksik (fish/seal hook) for seal hunting.  (I paid one of my students to make me one).        

The students filled six qamutiks (sleds).  Some of the qamutiks were filled with food while others were carrying red jerry cans full of gas.  I would be travelling on my skidoo.  One of the local mechanics managed to clean the engine and get the skidoo started several days ago.  He advised me to wait next time instead of repeatedly turning the starter key.  That led to the flooding of the engine.  I took photos of the convoy leaving before hopping on my skidoo.  I would also be giving Ryan, the media teacher, a lift. 

I followed the convoy for a while but eventually passed them.  We drove over a crack or two, but, for the most part, the ice was solid.  I sped ahead, already familiar with the trail and where the camp was.  (This was my fourth spring camp).  I spotted the collection of tents in the distance and drove towards them.  As I got closer, I could make out several figures emerging from the tents.  They must have heard the approaching skidoos and wanted to see who was arriving.  I drove off the ice and stopped in the middle of the camp.  I immediately took out my camera and photographed the approaching convoy.

Students hopped off the qamutiks and greeted the people in camp.  Soup and bannock were being prepared in several tents.  There were fruit and juice boxes in other tents.  When word spread that the bannock and caribou soup were ready, a long line of kids formed outside the tent.  I waited until most of the students received their portion and then got in line.  The bannock and soup were good.

JF playing with a kid's toy skidoo.
A couple of activities began to take shape around the campsite.  A group of students went out to play soccer.  Some female students went inside an elder’s tent to learn about sewing.  JF, (high school math & science teacher), played with a toy skidoo, doing a great imitation of a skidoo engine.  (Many kids in Arctic Bay play with toy skidoos that are attached to a stick with rope).  And Joelie, an Inuk who is also a ranger, began teaching students how to build an igloo.

Snow blocks.

The blocks are quite big but not that heavy.
Joelie smooths out the blocks of snow.
Discussing how the igloo is made.
I & several other teachers joined the igloo building class.  We mostly took pictures while Joelie instructed the students.  The students used a saw to cut out large blocks of snow and Joelie used a knife to carve out the proper dimensions before placing the blocks on the emerging snow house.  The laying method of the blocks follows an upwards spiral pattern.  It’s impressive to see large blocks of snow staying in place near the top of the igloo because you’re always thinking they will fall in.  A good igloo builder can build these iconic snow houses in an hour or less.  In traditional Inuit culture, a man was not allowed to have a wife until he could build a stable igloo all by himself.  When the igloo was completed, we all took turns sitting inside.

Selfie inside the completed igloo!
Seal hunters.
Seal hunters.
The clouds lowered themselves closer to the ground by the time we were getting ready for seal hunting.  We were worried that the hunting areas would be enveloped by fog.  We headed out in a convoy of skidoos & qamutiks.  I drove my own skidoo and Ryan rode on the back.  I had my niksik with me in case I had the opportunity to hook a seal out of its breathing hole.  The convoy split up, going to various breathing holes spread across the vast arctic ice.  I followed the elders because my abilities at spotting holes were still not up to par.

Seal Hunter.
Get hooked on seal
hunting. Picture taken
by Ryan.
Seal hunting in the arctic is a stop-and-go affair.  You stop at a seal hole, check, and then go on to the next if no seals are discovered.  You can also leave someone at the hole to wait until the seal (hopefully) comes up when the skidoo(s) leave(s).  The sound(s) of the engine(s) tends to frighten seals away.  There were quite a few places where Inuit were standing over holes, waiting to harpoon a seal.  I stopped my skidoo and took pictures of the Inuit hunters.  Ryan did the same.

A wide shot of me photographing everyone seal hunting.  Picture taken by Ryan.
Despite everyone’s best efforts, no seals were caught.  Their evasion tactics proved superior.  Some days you get some, some days you don’t.  We drove back to the campsite and ate some of the food that was bought by the school.      

Looking for seals.
Getting ready to return to Arctic Bay.
We headed back to Arctic Bay at around 3:30pm.  The Grades 7, 8, & 9s jumped onto to the qamutiks and were driven back by locally hired drivers.  Ryan & I took a detour and drove over to the large iceberg next to the airport.  Several days before the Stanley Cup had arrived, an ice road was plowed from the shoreline to & around the iceberg.  I wanted to check out this road and follow it to the end.  The road was longer than I thought; it followed the coastline for a while until coming to an end near King George V Mountain.

Getting ready to return to Arctic Bay.
I stayed on the ice and drove towards the gas station.  I replenished my small 3 gallon jerry can before dropping Ryan off at the school.  There was still enough snow for me to drive up to my residence in the Uptown neighbourhood.  I noted that in a week or two, I would have to keep my skidoo down at the ice in front of the community hall.

Overall, the spring camp day trip was fun & enjoyable.  I think the students & teachers felt the same way.  It was unfortunate that the seal hunt didn’t produce any catches but that happens.  When the spring camp concluded, there were only three weeks of school left.   

Two of my fellow coworkers: Ryan (left) & John (centre).  I'm on the right.

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