Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Inuujaq School Spring Camp 2017

When I came back from Operation Spring Fix on Sunday, there was no need to unpack because I would be heading out on the land on Monday, May 29 for Inuujaq School’s annual Spring Camp.  I used what little time I had to shower, launder my dirty clothes, and decide what equipment to bring.  The high school classes go out first to set up camp and the remaining classes visit the campsite on scheduled days throughout the week.  High school students are the only students who overnight at the camp site.
My duties as a commanding officer of the local cadet corps prevented me from being on the Spring Camp Committee this year.  The committee chose a different location, one that was closer to Arctic Bay, because everyone wanted a change of scenery.  A schedule was drawn up, elders & skidoo drivers were hired, and food & gas were purchased.  Everyone & everything were ready to go Monday morning.
I walked into the school that day dressed much differently than normal.  I wasn’t wearing my formal attire because they wouldn’t keep me warm.  Instead, I was wearing “regular clothes” as my students would say.  Think turtleneck, t-shirt, sweatpants, and warm socks.  I left my shotgun at home because the elders were only permitted to carry lethal protection.  However, I would be bringing my machete and niksik. 

The high school students carried camping equipment and boxes of food to the convoy out on the ice.  The weather was warm and the skies were clear.  I drove up to the convoy on my Skidoo Expedition 550F and waited for the signal to go.  A couple of students came over to check out my skidoo and asked me if I was selling it anytime soon.  I replied that I wasn’t.  My first vehicle is still going strong even after my recent tip over in April.  The three-year anniversary of its purchase will be in October of this year.

Which skidoo is mine?
The convoy left at 10am.  I wasn’t pulling a qamutik (sled), so I followed the elders at a slow pace.  I could have easily passed them but I didn’t know the location of the camp site.  We drove towards last year’s camp site but turned left and entered a small hidden bay.  The skidoos pulling the qamutiks stopped near the rocky landscape.  I parked my skidoo in the middle of the frozen bay and walked to where everyone was assembling.  I turned around and noticed four other skidoos parked next to my machine.  A makeshift skidoo parking lot had just been created.

Joeli explaining what needs to be done to set up camp.

Joeli, Inuujaq School’s shop teacher, was in charge.  Everyone gathered around him for a briefing.  He explained: the boundaries of the camp, where the tents needed to be pitched, where the food would be stored, and the schedule for the day.  The students were divided into groups led by elders.  Everyone was dismissed and the camp site began to take shape.

The qamutiks were emptied of tents, flattened cardboard boxes, mattresses, and food.  The tents were set up near the edge of the bay but not too close.  There was an unlimited amount of rocks to use as anchors for the tents.  The flattened cardboard boxes were placed inside the tents, creating a softer surface to walk on.  Mattresses & sleeping bags went on top of the cardboard.  The food supplies were moved into two designated tents.  I stood back and photographed everyone at work.  I wanted to help but I felt that sometimes, having too many people working on one task can be a hindrance.  The camp was “up-and-running” by noon.

For lunch we had fresh fruit, Chinese noodles, and hot dogs.  Most of the high school students sat at the two picnic tables that were brought over to the camp site last week.  They were constructed by the high school shop class.  Elders sat around the tents eating and drinking tea.  I mostly “hovered” around the area, snapping photos.

Pauloosie Enoogoo
Pauloosie Enoogoo instructing high
school students.
Everyone went seal hunting after lunch.  The skidoos & qamutiks, full of high school students and several Inuujaq School staff, left the hidden bay and moved southeast over a vast open area of thick ice.  The convoy came to a stop near some snowdrifts and assembled in a circle.  An elder & experienced hunter by the name of Pauloosie Enoogoo, gave a lesson on how to locate seal holes, lay traps, and how to catch seals once they surface for air.  He instructed in Inuktitut and I filmed his entire lesson.  I could sort of understand what he was saying just by interpreting his body language.  I would have to find someone to help me put in the correct English subtitles in the video.  His instructions may one day save my life if I ever become stranded out on the land and need to hunt seals for food. 

Pauloosie Enoogoo showing how to check & "prepare" a seal hole for catching a seal.
Looking for seals.
The students listened to Enoogoo’s instructions and even asked clarification questions.  He gave a niksik to one student and asked him to stay behind.  The rest of us went back to the skidoos & qamutiks.  The convoy split up, looking for more seal holes.  When a hole was found, one or two students were dropped off with a niksik or rifle and told to wait patiently.  If a seal came up to the surface, they were to kill it.  The area became populated with young seal hunters, patiently waiting for a catch.  Sadly, no seals were caught. 

A high school student waits for a seal to come up for air.
Two high school students waiting patiently.
If the stick gets pulled down, you know
you've hooked a seal.
We moved to a different area and repeated the same procedures.  During a break, I looked at my GPS and noticed it had been tracking my movements since the beginning.  There were many loops and circles in the two seal hunting areas.  Now I knew how my movements would look like from a bird’s eye perspective.  In the end, we didn’t catch any seals.  Sometimes you get them, sometimes you don’t. 

The elders who stayed behind had prepared another round of oriental noodle soup, and baked bannock.  I gladly took a warm cup that was offered to me.  The taste of warm soup felt good after a long afternoon of seal hunting.  After the warm snack, the high school students went into an elder’s tent to watch an elder dissect the head of a char and explain its many parts.  I stood at the back while the students sat in the middle of the tent.  A Coleman stove kept us all warm.  The elder used her hands to open up the char’s head and take out individual pieces of bone.  She sucked off the attached meat then wiped the bones with a paper towel.  She spoke in Inuktitut but the students translated what she was saying in English for me.  I let my students film the lesson with my camera.

Spring Camp
Spring Camp
The high school students were given some free time to relax in the tents and/or outside.  I decided to walk north towards Arctic Bay and reach the end of the rocky hill behind the camp.  All I could hear were my boots stepping on rocks.  When I got to the end, I could see the pumping station, airport, and the town of Arctic Bay in the distance.  I took a wide shot of the camp site and the far away landscape.

Sketch class
A skidoo gets sketched.
Paulette, the high school art teacher, held an evening sketching class.  Each student was given a sketchbook and several pencils.  They were instructed to draw whatever they saw.  The sketches ranged from skidoos to landscapes.

Clouds around KGVM
Clouds appeared on Tuesday, May 30.  King George V Mountain (KGVM) had a ring of clouds around it and there was fog on the way to the camp site.  Thankfully, there were still large pockets of open sky.  The high school students had a good night’s rest but slowly crawled out of the tents. 

The Grade 7s, 8s, & 9s are coming!
The 7s, 8s, & 9s are here!
The Grades 7, 8, & 9 classes arrived at the camp site at 10:40am.  I had just reached the top of a nearby hill to see them drive past.  I wanted to take photos of the approaching convoy but I was too late.  Instead, I took photos of their arrival.  From where I was standing, I could see & hear, many verbal greetings & handshakes were exchanged.

Greetings all around!
An elder prepares hot dogs wrapped in bannock.
Hot dogs wrapped in bannock.
The elders had prepared hot dogs wrapped in bannock for lunch.  A line up quickly formed outside of the tent when they were ready to be served.  I waited until the line got smaller.  Hot dogs wrapped in bannock are quite tasty.  They’re like Pogos but better.  I think I ate three of them.


The high school students & teachers returned to Arctic Bay after lunch.  Several students had permission to stay behind and help the elders.  I couldn’t stay because I had classes to teach.  We were given the afternoon off to rest & recuperate.  Overall, I had a great time at Spring Camp.  

Sarah & John, Grade 9 & 8 teachers, prepare ice cream for their students.

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