Saturday, February 17, 2007

Who can afford the cake?

I walk my dog a lot. At least a couple of hours a day. That means spending a lot of time in the tundra. Just the three of us. Igaak, myself, and my podcasts. Sophie often walks with us, but the best of her body's energies are occupied with growing a little me inside her belly. So, without the podcasts I would get a little lonely.

While I was living Ontario, I became addicted to TVO. TVO is (or at least was, it has since changed its programming) what the CBC should be. More specifically, I religiously watched the current affairs program Studio 2, while cooking supper at 8:00 p.m. every night during teachers' college.

Last summer, Studio 2 changed its format and became known as "The Agenda", and began podcasting. It's host, Steve Paikin is a true journalist. For those of you who live outside of Ontario, you may know Steve Paikin as the guy who moderated the English language debates during the last federal election (yeah, like anyone watched that!). He asks people difficult questions and does not let them get away with avoiding the point in their answers.

One of last week's podcasts featured a debate about Native poverty in Canada. The situation seems difficult and untenable. The whole show was about how economic development with consultation was the answer for Canada's native communities. Mining, forestry, hydro, and so on. The question inevitably led to the loss of the "traditional" native lifestyle. Patrick Brazeau, six nations, represented off-reserve natives, and argued that natives "could not have their cake and eat it too", as if economic development and tradition are mutually exclusive. In light of a conversation I had with a colleague who has been in the North for more than twenty years, Brazeau seems to be a little misguided. Up here, it appears that people can only eat cake if they can afford to have it too.

The Inuit of Nunavik have what the panelists accepted as a good thing: economic development tied to a long-standing, lucrative agreement between an aboriginal people and the government. Nunavik is governed by the James Bay and Northern Quebec agreement (JBNQA), which was signed in the 70's. In essence, the Inuit of Nunavik agreed to sell a great deal of their traditional lands so Hydro Quebec could dam some rivers and power the province, and sell the excess to New York City. The agreement was indeed lucrative, and funds much of the modern infrastructure in Nunavik's villages. Here, we have a new ice-making plant at the arena, a new municipal gymnasium, a multi-million dollar water plant (which is broken) and tonnes of programs for the people to enjoy.

Kangirsujuaq has an added economic boost. A mine. Not far from town is the Raglan nickel and copper mine. Many Inuit from the two closest villages have taken advantage of their proximity to the mine and work there. People are paid reasonably well to work there. So, it seems that Kangirsujuaq is doing well economically.

Does that mean that their traditional lifestyle is eroding quicker than somewhere without the opportunity? I don't know. The "traditional" lifestyle was all but destroyed when the federal government shot the dogs and forced everyone to live in houses. What is considered "traditional" today, the hunting and fishing, is being kept alive by the same people profiting from the economic development. It costs a great deal of money to buy and maintain a skidoo, pay for a rifle, seal nets, fishing gear, an auger, etc. It costs a great deal more to feed 10 or so 80 lb. dogs, unless of course you do a lot of hunting (it is a vicious cycle). The only people who can afford to do these things have jobs. Good ones.

The unemployed, just like those in the South, eke out a paltry existence on their $500 or so dollars of welfare a month. Here, however, it's not like unemployed people can just go find a job, there is a finite amount of employment to be had. On top of that, food costs a great deal more. Sure, Inuit can go down to the community freezer and help themselves to some of the hard-won meat. The Inuit have a great communal spirit; they will share the spoils of their hunt. However, the communal spirit doesn't go as far as the communal ownership of the means to hunt.

The mine also presents other problems. It takes parents out of homes. Children often live here with their grandparents, some of whom are those elders who collect welfare, and in turn have to support a house full of grandkids. Sometimes the parents contribute, sometimes they don't. All of this to say that economic development is no panacea.

I recall that what was perhaps my most embarrassing moment as a graduate student came during a seminar in a course on the history of the Mass Media in Canada. I remember it vividly. We had done some readings on CBC North and mass communication among the Inuit. My esteemed colleague Kerry Martin was trying to make a point of suggesting an elite control information in the North, just as in the South. He likened it to Marx's idea that the means of production were in the hands of a very few. I took it the wrong way and blurted out something like "what, the means to hunt?"

It was pretty funny. Not so funny anymore.

Friday, February 02, 2007

It Comes in Waves.

Last year, I went to my first university art show. I had been to museums and had seen some impressive exhibitions, but had never gone to a show where university students presented their projects. At this art show, my friend Melissa introduced me to one of the artists. She had made a textured paper sculpture that she called "It Comes in Waves". This woman had recently gone through a great deal, and I'll spare you the details of her sad story. However, I will say the sculpture touched me. The sculpture looked like turbulent water and a roaring fire at the same time. The "waves" looked very similar, yet a closer look showed that each had its own unique texture and design. At the time I wasn't sure what I was looking at, but lately, I've been experiencing my own "waves".

In August, thirty-odd first year Nunavik teachers were assured by their pedagogical counsellors that things would be very tough at first, but would get better after Christmas. Christmas has come an gone in Kangiqsujuaq, but my students' problems remain. One of my students missed 23 out of 48 days in the second semester. He has a great deal of difficulty concentrating, and lately, it appears that he has given up trying. I hadn't really realised how much time he had missed. Part of the porblem is that he is such a nuisance to the other students and I that I have found myself enjoying every minute that passes without him in the school. I am not the only one. This negect from the school cannot last. The boy is on a terrible trajectory, and is in need of help. His mother did not show up to parent-teacher interviews, even after we called her personally.

More generally, the students are loath to work on anything that lasts more than a few minutes, and thus doing any project-based learning with them requires a great deal more effort on my part than I have to give, and indeed, seemingly more than it is worth. It truly is survival mode in my classroom. I have realised that I have been simply coping with the problems in my class, and not actively trying to solve them. Coping was what forced one teacher who taught half of them to take eighteen sick days, and sent the teacher who taught the other half South, for good. I feel it getting to me as well. I find myself becoming loud and almost agressive in the classroom. My negative energy just feeds the fire, and the kids get a kick out of frustrating their teacher. It excites them.

So passed the first wave after Christmas. I wrote the preceeding paragraphs more than a week ago, but decided not to publish such a dire and bleak perspective on my situation. I've tried a few things in the class since then, and we've had some small successes. As I told the principal in a one-on-one meeting last week, I have a completely different definition of success since moving up here. Oh well, at least I don't feel so bad about it anymore.

The forces driving this new wave of optimism are diverse. Sophie and I just spent a wonderful weekend doing little but enjoying the outdoors. Yesterday was the first truly beautiful day of winter. We went cross-country skiing and hiked up a mountain. The sunset brought with it a strong relentless North wind that carried all of the fluffy accumulated snow far away, and I awoke this morning with no chance of getting a pre-school ski in.

A couple of weeks ago, Sophie went to Kuujjuaq for a sonogram. The baby has two arms, two legs, and a strong heartbeat. I promise to scan and publish these photos in the coming days. Unfortunately, the nurses in Kuujjuaq are under strict instructions to not divulge the sex of the baby to the mother. Apparently, this knowledge influences a signinfcant number of women into deciding to give their babies up for adoption. So, we will have to wait and find out the old-fashioned way. Oh well, it is perhaps more exciting this way.

There have been some exciting things happening here in town. I've started to play broomball on Saturdays, which has turned out to be a great deal of fun. We are thinking about hosting a tournament for us and a few other villages. We had our first real blizzard the weekend before last. I now believe in (although I have yet to see) weather so bad that we cannot see the neighbours' house.

Last Friday, three polar bears roamed into town and were promptly shot. Unlike the bears in Churchill, Manitoba, the bears rarely come to Kangiqsujuaq. Thus, the people have no facilities, other than rifles, with which to deal with them. I can check polar bear off of the list of animals that I want to eat. Mamaktuk!

Finally, my parents have decided to come up to Wakeham Bay at Easter. That should be a fun time. I'm sure my father will be right in his element with the skidoos and the ice fishing. Although hosting family can be a stressful situation, my parents are pretty relaxed, and it will be nice to have some familiar faces around. Moreover, it will be exciting for Sophie and my parents to meet each other, and get to know each other a little better before the baby comes.

With all of the excitement, I have not been able to catch a good night's sleep. Last night, I wandered downstairs, got fully dressed in skiing gear, went to reach for my boots, and thought, "It sure is dark outside for seven o'clock." Sure enough, when I looked at the clock in the kitchen, I gained full consciousness, and realised that it was 2:45. Anyone who has lived with me knows all too well that I walk in my sleep. It's too bad I didn't actually get outside before I woke up. Now that would have been blogworthy.