Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Iqiana

Sometimes, I am almost brought to tears in my class. Thursday morning was one of those times. Sophie and I team-teach a split class, and lately, the attendance has become abysmal, especially in the morning. On this particular day, I had 3 students out of seven in my half of the class. They were all late. Sophie had one, who had been on time, but hadn't slept a wink the night before, and thus collapsed on his desk at the stroke of nine.

My students were groggy too. Too groggy to learn about linear relations and proportions. As two of the students slept, the third was hard at work, trying to differentiate between a partial variation and proportional relation. It is a simple matter of finding patterns and analyzing them. For instance, we had a table that looked like this:

x y
1 2
2 4
3 6
4 a
5 10

The student had to figure out 1) what a is, and 2) if the ratio of variations was proportional.
I asked her to complete the table.

"I can't," she said.

"Think about it this way," I replied, "Just tell me what comes next. 2, 4, 6..."

"Seven!"

"No."

"Nine!" She was just guessing. She may as well have said 1000.

"No."

She began to laugh. I wanted to cry. "At least she's got a sense of humour about it," I thought to myself. I looked at the other kids who had made it to class and realised that they were completely disinterested. More than half of them hadn't even bothered to show up.

It began to sink in. I was teaching to the weakest student in the class. It's not her fault at all. She has bounced around from school to school, some in much worse shape than ours, and so she has big holes in her education. However, I began to realise that perhaps my unwillingness to leave this student behind may have been one reason the other kids were completely not engaged in the class. Were they all thinking, "Can we please get on with this shit?"

One of the Inuttitut words that every teacher in Nunavik (I assume) has heard a multitude of times is iqiana. It means, for lack of a better explanation, boring. I think it can be literally translated as "it makes me sleep", but I could be wrong. Students use it for myriad reasons. It means "too hard" or "too easy" or "I'm tired" or "help" and occasionally, it even means "boring". Although you could have heard a pin drop in my class, the word rang clearly in my head. My students were all saying "iqiana".

It seems to me to be a catch 22. This is the only student who comes everyday and tries to do all of her work. Others sort of traipse in when they want to and leave at their leisure, gracing us ever so often with their presence and, here's the problem, still passing! Because I was moving so slowly, they could get by, some of them with really decent grades, by showing up a couple of times a week.

It leaves me in somewhat of a conundrum. I can continue as is, and risk losing the students who are capable of doing well in the class, while concentrating my efforts on a student who is as unlikely to pass the class as she is hard-working and well-intentioned. Or, I could push the others in hopes that they respond well to the challenge.

I think under most circumstances, this is a slam-dunk. Go after the rest of the class, and differentiate for the one who is slow. Here, however, differentiating a class is sure to obliterate what is left of students' already depressingly low levels of self-esteem. Moreover, I don't know if I have just become jaded, but I harbour some doubt as to whether the rest of the kids will be up to the challenge.

That's one thing about teachers. For all of our supposed altruism, we're often very self-centred. Chances are, I'm probably not that big of a factor in my students' attendance. Indeed, several of these students are repeating this class precisely because they didn't attend when another teacher taught the class. Although this may allow me to escape some of the blame for my students' boredom, it raises much larger questions about what teachers and Faculties and Ministries of Education are doing more generally. After all, it's not just my class that is half-full of sleeping students. Then again, my class is half-full of sleeping students. I digress.

After Christmas, I'm going to try to push them. Maybe the students will surprise me and start to come back. Perhaps the one who comes will find herself capable of keeping up. I hope so.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Making up for the past few weeks





Sorry about the sound quality.



This has been his favourite thing to do for more than a month. He'll drag a chair from the dining room, and sometimes even bring a preferred dish or two to wash. We've been letting him do it, and basically everything else he wants, except play with the oven and stove. Normally, we let him play with the microwave after unplugging it. Last week, I was doing dishes, and Noah began dragging a chair over to the kitchen. I thought little of it. He stopped at the microwave. I didn't really give it a second thought. I heard him playing with the buttons, and slowly but surely, the wheels began to turn in my head. Before I was able to make it over to the microwave, Noah had indeed figured out precisely how to use it. I got there one second too late; one second after the light and familiar hum of the fan had come on; one second after he microwaved the telephone.

In case you were wondering, it only takes one second to cook a cordless phone.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

A Little Harsh?

When you come from another province and start teaching in Quebec, you have to do a few things to earn your full citizenship (just as a teacher, for now). One of these things is to complete a probationary period overseen by your school principal. This includes a few meetings, creating a portfolio, and two observations. A probationary teacher is assessed on 120 different criteria which fall under 12 competencies. Just as Quebec moves towards a more holistic philosophy towards teaching students, the education ministry has made evaluation a more convoluted and confusing process, even for teachers.

Last year, I finished my probation, and passed my evaluations, basically with flying colours. My principal had very few criticisms of my teaching, and, having never taught in a primary class, I'm sure she felt a little under-qualified to do so (this is speculation). However, she mentioned that sometimes, I can be "a little harsh" with my students. I prefer to say that I treat them like adults, and am very direct with them. Nevertheless, I'm a sensitive guy, so I've spent a lot of time reflecting on her comment (I've of course ignored all of the good things she had to say).

This past week, we had parent-teacher interviews. The parents of one of my students came into my classroom. The father shot a look at his wife when they entered and she let him pass, then turned, and shut the door. The student is not the strongest in the school, so I thought that perhaps they were anticipating hearing bad comments from me and didn't want anyone to hear. This was not the case.

They sat down, and I broke down their daughter's grades for them. When I was finished, I said that she was, for the most part, a polite and enjoyable student to teach, to which the father responded, "Look, James, I know my daughter can be a smart mouth, and that she's very sensitive. But one time this fall, she came home during school hours and just shut her door. That wasn't like her to be missing school (very true), so I went in and asked her what happened. She told me that there was this time when you thought she swore at you, when she didn't (also true), and ever since then you've been treating her differently. I asked her to give me an example, and she told me that once she was in your class when you were watching a video and you told her that she was talking to much and that if she didn't be quiet you were going to kick her out of school."

"Now, I support everyone who comes up here, nurses, construction workers, teachers, and police, but I can't support someone who says they can kick my daughter out of school."

"Let me tell you what I remember," I replied. "Your daughter was speaking in my class. I warned her, and she continued, so I said 'You have a choice, you can be quiet, or leave.' She left. I followed her into the hall and told her that leaving was just like skipping, and that she would have a detention if she walked out. She kept going."

"I'm not here to kick anyone out of school. That's not part of my job, and I'm also not here to make students feel bad. But, they're not allowed to talk out of turn in my class."

That night, after the parents left, I began thinking to myself. I had been completely caught off guard by the father's concerns. I thought that the student and I had a pretty enjoyable relationship. The principal's remarks began to resonate in my head. Perhaps I had been "a little harsh" with her.

What really got to me was the last thing he said. "Look, I support everyone who comes up here but..." This was really a slap in the face. It was as if he said "I like everyone who comes her, but not you, qalunaat." I thought about it increasingly throughout the evening, and brought my concerns up to Sophie.

She basically laughed it off and said that the student had arrived home in the middle of the day when she was supposed to be at school, only to find her dad there asking her tough questions. She made up the best story she could.

My mind was not at ease. A few weeks ago, we had a guest who happened to have been in the school when there had been a very loud and embarrassing misunderstanding between the principal and a parent. He is married to an Inuk, and has been around the schools in Nunavik a long time, and he cautioned that we have to constantly remember that the Inuit speak English as their second or third language. "They speak less English than we think they do," he had warned me.

Perhaps the message had been lost in translation. Maybe she thought I had threatened to kick her out of school. Maybe I was being "a little harsh" with her. Despite Sophie's always sound advice, I went to school the next morning intent on being a little more sensitive to this girl's situation.

She gets one-on-one help during one of the classes, and I noticed that she had forgotten her workbook. So, after getting the rest of the class in motion, I brought her book down to her. At recess, she came into class as I was speaking to another teacher and handed me her workbook. I smiled, and she opened her mouth. I thought she was going to say "thank you". Instead, she burped in my face. I could tell that she hadn't really meant to, and she looked a little embarrassed. Yet, she didn't turn away, or try to stop her extended belch. I laughed.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

A Visitor


Because there is not very much room at the overpriced hotels in town, we tend to get visitors every year. What normally happens is the principal of the school will get a call from some company, government agency, or from the school board asking if any of the teachers will house someone for a couple of days. The principal then either takes the visitor in, or farms him/her out to one of the teachers. The teachers are compensated more than adequately for their troubles.

We have housed engineers, surveyors, nutritionists, other teachers, psychologists, students, and so on. We enjoy doing so not only for the money, but because we basically lack unfamiliar stimulation, and it's nice to have someone new to talk to. We've certainly had some interesting guests in our house. Some of them we've contacted after going South, and will continue to do so even after we've left for good. This September, we had a remarkable visit from a wonderful man.

A few days after the MSO concert in Kangiqsujuaq, we received a telephone call from a man in Kuujjuaq. Sophie spoke briefly with him, and then hung up the phone. She asked me if we wanted to have a visitor in our house. My eyes turned into those reels from slot machines, and both stopped on the $$ sign. A bell went off.

"Uhh, yeah."

She then explained what she meant. There was an artist in Kuujjuaq who was doing portraits of Inuit in Nunavik, and wanted to visit a smaller village than Kuujjuaq. He could not afford to stay at the hotel (at $260/night), and he had run into one of our friends who happened to be in Kuujjuaq working as the photographer on the OSM Nunavik tour.

Sophie had asked him if he had encountered any suspicion from the people in Kuujjuaq.

"No," he replied. "I am very lucky. When people see my portraits, they think I'm a magician."

At first, to tell you the truth, I thought he was being a bit pretentious, but after I met him, I knew that he was genuine.

The next day, he arrived on the plane and hitched a ride into the village. That's when we met Pierre Lussier. A bearded man in his early sixties, Pierre greeted us with a smile as we helped him bring his gear into the house.

The day after he arrived, Sophie began to introduce him to the people at the school. He made a couple of portraits of people who worked there and spoke to the staff. One of the teachers asked him, "How long do you plan to stay?"

"Oh, not long," he replied. "Only about ten days."

"TEN DAYS?" I thought to myself when I heard about this. "Wow, that's a long time to have someone in your house. I think I'll tell him that he can't stay ten days."

But I didn't. Pierre was nothing but a pleasant guest. He did the dishes, babysat Noah, and even washed the f*&#ing floor! In the evenings, we had dinner amongst stimulating conversation, mostly about Pierre. He's a modest man; it was difficult to get stories out of him, but we insisted. He told us about when he moved with his wife and four daughters to Italy, when he met Emilda Marcos, and when he went to Vietnam as a tourist during the Vietnam War.

During the day, he drew portraits of elders, adults, and children in town. He also found the time to draw a couple of landscapes. Sophie worked tirelessly as his agent, finding people for him to draw, and taking photographs of his portraits to give to the models. He did encounter some suspicion from elders and others, but for the most part, people were very receptive. Indeed, when even one of the most cautious saw the finished product, her suspicions melted away, and she let Pierre work his magic. Here is a sample:


The second night that Pierre was here, I looked at one of his drawings, and my own suspicions melted away as well. I spoke with Pierre, and he said that he didn't know how he could repay us for our hospitality. I said I had an idea.

A little over a week later, we brought Pierre to the airport, and as he left, we all had tears in our eyes.

James.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Hallowe'en


I remember going around from house to house as a child on October 31st in Northern Alberta. More than a few times, the first real snow of the year came down that night, and it was often bitterly cold. Memory however, is a funny thing, and now it seems that it was the same every year. We would dress up in our costumes and either try to put our winter clothes over top of our disguise and hope for the neighbourhood's sympathy, or comically stretch our costumes to fit over our ski pants and coats.

Of all of the places we visited year after year, the dentist, Dr. Cysz's house, was easily the most memorable. We would often go there first to make sure we got a full-size Oh Henry! bar each. Even then, we knew what he was doing was pretty evil and crazy, but we didn't care.

Just as memorable was going home with my sister, taking our pillowcases and emptying our booty out onto the floor. I would meticulously divide it up into different categories, then plan to ration it until Christmas, shortly before eating a quarter of my ration and making myself nauseous. Amongst all of the caramels, Twizzlers, chocolate and rockets, without fail there would be something that would stand out: a lonely apple. I could never place who gave us the apple; after all an apple is no Oh Henry!. "Assholes," I remember thinking.

This year, I became that asshole. We gave out apples to each of the hundred or so kids who came to our door. So far, no one has thrown one back at our house (knock on wood). It's not that I'm against the tradition of giving sweets to kids once a year. I don't want to rob any child of her special night where she can gorge herself on chocolate and sugar that she collected herself. The problem is sadly, that apples are much more special here than candy. Kids' diet here, by and large, is horrible. And they have the teeth to show it. Not a week goes by that at least a few of my students has to leave my class because of a toothache.

"James, can I go, and take my test tomorrow?"
"Why?"
"I have a toothache. How would you like to take a test with a toothache?"
Touché.

I have many students who have already lost some of their teeth. It is absolutely and completely depressing. Imagine how losing two or three of your front teeth would affect your self-esteem?

When I came back this year, I ran into one of my local friends. A guy of about forty years, he is a real Inuk. Hunts, fishes, races dog sleds, the whole deal. He stopped me on the side of the road the day after I arrived, and offered me his hand, welcoming me back to Kangiqsujuaq.

"Hi, How was your summer?" I asked.
"Good, but I lost a tooth." He replied, hiding his smile with his lips. This normally confident man's smile was one of his defining features, and now he struggled to hide his shame.

Now, imagine a thirteen-year-old.

So, we decided to give apples. Next year, if we are here again, we'll make something home made, like cookies or muffins, and dole them out at Hallowe'en. Although the situation with the diet and teeth of the kids is pretty depressing, it is possible to give out home-made treats at Hallowe'en. In the South, you would be hard-pressed to find one parent (I could be wrong) would let his kids eat something made by someone else. Sadly, I think most people would rather give their kids the guaranteed poison that comes in nice, commercial wrappers than expose their kids to the infinitesimal risk that that urban myth of a razor blade in an apple or poisoned cookies might actually come true. Sometimes city life can be depressing too.



Anyway, the trick-or-treating was over promptly at seven o'clock (It's dark at four). Sophie and I got Noah into his costume, and we headed to the Hallowe'en concert, a fundraiser for the Secondary V trip to Scotland, or Italy and Greece (we're not exactly sure yet). We walked up to the Qaggiq (the local gym) and entered to hear someone screaming "DIE!!! DIE!!!"

It was just the band. We took off our shoes and added them to the huge pile of sneakers and boots that accompanies any function at the Qaggiq. Everyone who enters must take off their shoes and leave them in a very small, not very well-lit entrance. It makes for some interesting chaos at the end of every event.

The band who played, named Samati (I don't know what that means) is comprised of some of the Secondary V students who are raising money for the trip. It was their first show, they have no drummer, and the whole ensemble doesn't yet know all of the songs, but they had the courage to get up in front of basically everyone they know, and play Rage Against the Machine and Metallica songs in their second or third language.



The secondary five kids have been surprisingly motivated about this trip. I was originally very hesitant about helping them with their project. Sayard, one of the other secondary teachers at the school, approached me in late-August or early-September and asked me if I wanted to be part of the project. I was skeptical. In the South, such a trip would involve a lot of organisation by the teachers (right mom?), some fundraising, and a large payment offered up by the parents.

Here, the parents are not expected to pay for their kids' travel (although we did get one fifteen hundred dollar donation). There are government organisations and companies who often come to the aid of the students. I wanted to make sure that she and I would not be the ones doing all of the work organising and fundraising while the students did nothing.

We tested them with a bake sale. After one minor slip, the kids pulled it off. Then they pulled off another. Next, the residence director offered to do a couple of take-out meals, at which the students worked very hard. The two nights pulled in about $1400 (there is no restaurant here, so people jump at the chance to eat someone else's cooking). Finally, the kids organised and executed the concert which involved the music, games, an iPod raffle, and a snack bar. It was impressive. All told, the concert brought in another $1400. They were all on fire, and they are full of other ideas. I've decided that it's time I hold up my end of the bargain and write some letters asking the government agencies and companies to kick in some coin.

As Sophie, Noah and I were leaving, one of the students was confronting her drunk ex-boyfriend at the door. She wants to be a cop. She showed her skills in dealing with a drunken idiot. I stood there and supported her while she took whatever he was dishing out in Inuttitut. It did not sound pleasant.

He then looked over at me and asked, "What the fuck are you staring at?"
"Excuse me?"
"What's your fucking problem?"
"Well, you're drunk and you should leave."
" I was just talking to her."
"Yeah, but this is her fundraiser and she wants you to leave."
"Okay, why don't you fucking come outside then?!"

Yeah, right, just let me look for my shoes.
He left without further incident.

James.

Noah's Video Picks



Saturday, October 25, 2008

Quartaq for the weekend

On Thanksgiving weekend, Sophie and I went to Quartaq to visit some friends who used to live here. J-F was a teacher in Wakeham Bay last year and has become the principal in Quartaq. I had won the Arsaniq School hockey pool last year, and, along with $300, I received a free flight anywhere in Nunavik. Quaqtaq is the village closest to Wakeham, some 200km away. The flight takes about 20 minutes; and costs $470.00. We thought it would be a steep price to pay, but I had told J-F that we were going to come if I won the free ticket; and I had. I like to be a man of my word. And besides, whenever would we get another chance to travel to another village for the weekend?

I had been having a really rough week. Something unspeakable happened at the school, and I was having such a hard time with it that I was thinking about leaving. For good. Thus, the chance to get away for the weekend was just what we needed to reflect on our future up here.

We arrived at the airport one hour before our flight, as we were supposed to, to check in. Of course, we were the only ones there. The Air Inuit agent had not yet arrived. Shortly after, she did arrive, and we took our place at the front of the line.

"James, where are you going?"
"Quartaq."
"Are you going to the men's Bible conference?"
"No. You remember J-F? We're going to visit him." (I am not a religious man.)
"There's a thirty percent discount if you go to the conference."
"I am going to the men's conference." (I am Dutch.)
So, Sophie's ticket cost $270. Excellent, I thought. Just then, the mayor of our village came up to me.

"Are you going to Quartaq too?"
"Yes."
"Is it for personal travel?"
"Yes."
"Well the KRG (Kativik Regional Government) has a program to reimburse any residents for their personal travel around Nunavik. 50 % off any flight. You can get the forms from my office next week."

Already, this weekend was shaping up to be fantastic. A $470 flight had turned into a potential $135 dollar getaway weekend. "Thanks," I replied.

So, we boarded the plane and flew to Quartaq. Quartaq is, even compared to Kangirsujuaq, a wild place. They routinely have polar bears wander through the village (this year there were nine near the airport at once!). The village has a bear horn to warn people to stay inside. It's just Southeast of Cape Hopes Advance (an aptly named place) which is the corner of the Hudson Strait and the Ungava Bay (click here for a map). Icebergs dot the shoreline.
It is a village of 330 people; and even the view from the dump is beautiful.
J-F and Josianne were excellent hosts. They fed us excellent food, even though the local Co-op store has less than zero to offer. There had been no eggs for two months, no milk, and no cheese, unless you include Velveeta. It sure made the P'tit Quebec crap that I routinely ingest sound mighty appetizing. I can't believe that I should have actually brought them food from here!
Their house sits right on the Hudson Strait. Looking out the window, you can see the marina, and an island in the distance which is home to muskoxen.
As you step out their front door, you can hear the bubbling of a small waterfall.


They took us out on the land. First, we went to Cape Hopes Advance, where the remnants of a Cold War outpost mixed in with people's hunting cabins. I saw an iceberg and began running towards it like a fool. I didn't really take stock of the situation, I just felt compelled to go as close to the iceberg as I could, without thinking.
J-F and Josianne's two boys were getting hungry, and they politely told me that they wanted to go up to the cabins and feed them. "Excellent idea!" I replied," I'll be there in a few minutes." I turned and ran towards the iceberg. Only after Sophie and I had descended about a hundred metres did I realise that I was the one carrying the food. I stopped.
We fed the kids. I thought I had calmed down; until this happened.


I felt like a ten year old boy.

Shortly after, when my energy level had come down to that of an adult, something J-F had said to me began to sink in. He had suggested that some droppings next to us were those of a polar bear. I replied that I thought they were from a caribou. However, as I started to walk back up to the cabins, I saw some droppings that were far too big to be those of a caribou. We quickly ate, packed up, and headed for home.

Anyway, the Cape was amazing. The next day, we went to Inuksalik.

Although the landscape itself was less impressive, it too had its charms, including a city of camps and walrus fermenting houses.
The most impressive thing was a strange cave.

I remember in my first year of teaching up here; I had several extremely difficult students in my class, very little patience, and exactly zero savoir-faire which I could employ to deal with the problems. Two things saved me at the time. Sophie, and the outdoors. Sophie taught me how to teach, and supported me all the time, even when she had an equally difficult position. I suppose it didn't hurt that we also fell in love with each other and had a baby.

Going outside a lot also helped. Whether it was going for a hike or run to blow off some steam, walking the dog in the dark and cold, or just taking a few minutes to enjoy the view out of my class, it gave me a chance to think and reflect on what I was doing right, wrong, or not doing at all. This weekend, the outdoors gave me a chance to reflect on not only what I am doing, but what I am doing here. I don't know how long we'll stay, but I'll tell you this. Before Thanksgiving weekend, this year was most certainly our last. Now we're talking about going to other villages, or replacing so and so.

So it goes.

I'll leave you with Noah playing in the tub with his friend Benédict. He clearly says "encore!" (again).


Taima.

Just when you think you are getting to know a place

For the past few weeks, I had been thinking that Kangirsujuaq was losing its northern edge. After all, there's a lot of money here (although horribly unevenly distributed), and a great deal of "progress" and developing infrastructure. Because of the profit-sharing program that Raglan mine has with the village, there is a great deal of construction going on. The pipeline linking our water source to the treatment plant has finally been repaired, the marina is being expanded so it will be accessible at both high and low tide, and the airport runway is being redone to accommodate more traffic. Next year the village may even get paved for crying out loud!

These projects, and all of the added activity that goes along with them: the gravel pits, the extra equipment on the road, the road updates to deal with the equipment, has got this sleepy village buzzing; and losing its romantic charm. It seems that I can't walk down any road without running into a construction project.

Sophie and I mentioned these phenomena to our new neighbour, a man who had lived here twenty-odd years ago and has returned this year. He began to recount what Kangirsujuaq was like when he first arrived. He told us that the airstrip was in different places in the summer and the winter. In the winter, the people in the village would get on their snowmobiles and head up to the lake just above the village to meet the plane. They would drive back and forth to create somewhere for the plane to land, and then park their skidoos perpendicular to the runway to illuminate it.

In the summer, the planes would land at the end of the bay (called Wakeham Beach), some eight kilometres away by boat. He recalled that a new teacher had been dropped at Wakeham Beach by the Air Inuit (or its equivalent) pilot and no one was there to pick her up. "Don't worry," the pilot assured her. "Someone will come and get you." She spent three hours waiting. Bienvenue à Nouveau-Quebec!

It occurred to me that the man recounting this history and I are not cut from the same cloth. I then began to think about the people who had come up here, let's say, before, or just when TV arrived, and the difference between them and the people who come up North today, in the age of the internet.

Today, people who come up here are largely urbanites (myself included I guess, it's been a long time since I live in High Prairie). We are modern and sometimes even stylish. Even a couple of the Inuit kids sport labels like Chanel. We order things online from JCrew and American Apparel and then complain when they don't arrive within two weeks. Twenty years ago, the qallunaat in town wore wool and local parkas. The smart ones brought their Canada Goose with them. The unprepared ones either adapted or froze.

We are appalled at the lack of available produce. Just today, I called the airport to see if my cargo was coming in because I wanted that real parmesan cheese to make risotto. Twenty years ago, the plane came once a week to deliver the mail. You either ate country food, out of a can, o not at all.

Last year, the water and sewage trucks started delivering seven days a week. Before that, they didn't move on Sunday. Now, if the low water light goes on in our house, I go outside, find the driver, and ask him to come to our house. I did it yesterday. Twenty-two years ago, there was no sewage truck. People shat in bags.

So, after our conversation, I began to feel that living up here was not so different than living in the South. As I was running yesterday, I was listening to a Big Ideas podcast lecture given by Salman Aktar. He argued that being an immigrant was inherently traumatic. He had moved to the United States 34 years ago. Before that, he lived in India, but he didn't feel like he was "living in India"; he was just living. After moving, he became immediately aware that he was living in the United States, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The cultural differences were too great not to notice. With time, his consciousness of these differences began to fade. Now, it is only once in a while when he is reminded that he is living in the United States.

I think I had begun to forget too. Then, a couple of days ago, I experienced a couple of those moments when you realise that you aren't chez vous. I was out in the early morning, before the sun came up, walking Iggaak. I had Noah in the stroller.

There are a couple of loose dogs who often join us on our daily promenade. We've endearlingly named one "Black Head" (he's white with a black head) and, the long-haired nuisance with whom he rolls we call "Shitlock" (think dreadlock). They chose to tag along.

Just as we rounded a corner, I heard what I thought was a dog screaming. We walk Iggaak without a leash, so I immediately turned towards the shriek, expecting to see Iggaak caught in a trap (it has happened before). That's not what I saw. I saw a red fox in a trap, facing Shitlock and Black Head. All three of them had their teeth bared. Then it was a as if the fox had realised that it was no match for the dogs which are at least twice its size. It submitted and laid down on its back, whimpering for mercy. There would be no mercy. The carnage began.

I called Iggaak, who had been hanging around a few metres away, and to my surprise she came. As I saw the fox squeal and jump to its feet, trying to get away and tugging on the chain, I realised that Noah, who was in the stroller, was probably watching this too. I turned back to the road and walked away, leaving the fox to his fate. After I reached my destination, I turned around and walked back. The dogs had finished their business, and the fox lay there in a heap. As we approached it, Black Head went back overto the fox and bit it again. Its legs twitched. I realised that this is still a pretty different place.

Later that day, I spoke to the culture teacher about the fox, and how its fur had probably been ruined. He himself was skinning a fox so he could dry the fur. He was teaching the Secondary 2/3 students. He complained that trappers should use a box instead of a leg trap, not out of sympathy for the foxes who have their legs broken by traps, but because nothing can get to it, and destroy the fur.

I went upstairs, somewhat reassured that there were responsible trappers out there. I sat down and planned until the next bell rang. My next class was Secondary 2/3 Math. One of the students came up the stairs and walked into my class wearing a bloody glove and holding a skinned fox leg (He wouldn't tell me what he was going to do with it. As far as I know, Inuit do not eat fox). He deliberately looked around for somewhere to put it. He did not want to sully his desk. So, laughing out loud, I walked over to the counter, took off a few sheets of paper towel, folded it up, set it on the windowsill, and simply said, "Here."

And to think, a few hours before I was thinking that things were not that different here. Excuse me, I have to go clean a goose.

Taima.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Mussels

We picked a couple hundred mussels on Friday. It took about 15 minutes.



Noah loves them, and so do we.

Picking Berries

I'm just making up for not having put up videos for the first two months.

Marcela, if you're reading this, get a Mac and use iMovie to publish your videos.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Noah in the Tundra

This was a couple of months ago, but since I've found a new way to upload videos, I can put up longer ones.

Yogurt and Berries

Friday, October 17, 2008

The OSM in Nunavik

A few weeks ago, Kent Nagano and the world-renowned Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal (OSM) came to Kangirsujuaq. It was excellent.

Avataq (named after the sealskin balloon Inuit used to attach to harpoons so as not to lose them), the cultural arm of the Kativik Regional Government, had invited Nagano to come up North this spring. In fact, when I was leaving in May last year, the head of Avataq who is from Wakeham flew down to Montreal on the same flight as me. He was very excited at the prospect of meeting with Nagano and having him come to Kangirsujuaq. Nagano, for his part, expressed his wish to end the OSM's cross-Canada tour with a tour of three Nunavik villages.

In preparation for the tour, the OSM engaged Alexina Louie, a first nations composer who had spent a great deal of time in the North West Territories, and was familiar with the sights and the sounds of the North. She wrote music that reflected her knowledge and connection to the land. Each piece was drawn from one aspect or another about the land. One was named "Snowy Owl," another "The Dog Sled Race," and so on. Louie had written parts for each of the seven musicians who took part in the chamber ensemble, as well as two throat singers from Pouvugnituk, a villae on the Hudson Coast. It was fantastic. Between each piece, the audience held silent, until my colleauge Forbes, who was standing next to me, was moved enough by the
"Snowy Owl" piece, that he remarked softly "that was marvelous" when the room fell silent. The audience agreed, and continued to applaud each short piece of music. A highlight of Louie's part of the music was "The Mosquito" when the musicians indeed made annoying sounds and Nagano clapped his hands to finish the piece.

Also on the programme was Mozart's "Eine Kleine Nacht Musik" and an adaptation of Stravinsky's A Soldier's Tale, in which all of the spoken parts had been translated into Inuttitut. The best part however, for many of my students, and probably myself, was when the students who had been practicing drumming performed for the OSM musicians. "I've been all over the world and played many many concerts, and that was the first time anyone has welcomed us with a concert," said Nagano when the students finished.

It seems to me that it's probably one of the only places on the planet where that could be possible. I can't imagine 12-14 year-old adolescents putting on a show for a world-famous orchestra conductor in Montreal. The people here sometimes surprise me. I don't know whether to call it innocence or whether just to say that sometimes people here find themselves unencumbered by the bullshit fear that their boldness might be interpreted as childish or insignificant by someone as "important" as Nagano. Well, they had nothing to fear. They performed better than I had ever heard them play, and I think he truly appreciated the welcome.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Mixing

He was so cute this week, I had to put up two videos.

Dance

Saturday, October 04, 2008

A New Job

This year, I have a new job. I now teach Secondary Math and English. I have followed the six best of my students from last year and have become their secondary 1 homeroom teacher. I no longer have to go outside with my students to supervise them throwing snowballs at each other. I no longer have to line them up and struggle to keep them form bothering other students when they go from class to class. Lining students up just to get them to and from class drained me. It easily soaked up more than half of my energy. I've learned over the past two years that primary teachers work way too hard.

Secondary teachers work plenty hard too. But we can also get interesting intellectual stimulation from interacting with the students. Sometimes, adolescent minds can surprise you with their insight and/or imagination. Take for example a short writing project I just completed with my students. We studied the effects of a local mine's profit-sharing program with the villagers.

This summer, the people in Kangirsujuaq and in Salluit received their share of the profits from Xstrata's Raglan nickel mine that is raping the land between the villages. The landholding corporations of each respective village decide what to do with the money. In Wakeham, it decided to pay off the new ice-making plant at the arena, the new gym ($4 million), fix the pool, extend the marina and runway, and build a fancy new hotel. The beneficiaries of the JBNQA (James Bay and Northern Quebec Hydroelectric Agreement) who live in Kangirsujuaq divided up the rest of the money amongst themselves. Each Kangiqsujuaq beneficiary, man woman, and child, received a cheque for a $4 700.

In Salluit, the landholding corporation decided to ask the people what to do with the money. A majority of the beneficiaries said "Screw infrastructure! Show me the money!" Thus, each adult in Salluit received $15 000, and each child a cool $3 500.

In both villages, it was as if everyone had won the lottery at the same time. Pandemonium.

In Wakeham, people went without water and sewage delivery for six days (our duplex, in which four adults and a toddler live, would run out of water and have a full sewage tank sometime on the third day. Some houses have up to twelve people living in them). Both the Co-op and Northern stores had empty shelves, and no one to restock them. Who wants to work after winning the lottery? At once, I'm sorry I missed the frenzy, but I'm also glad I wasn't here to experience it.

In Salluit, things were/are even crazier. The rehabilitation centre closed due to a lack of employees at the very time it was needed most. Problems with drugs and alcohol were rampant. After speaking with a member of the school team there, it appears that the day care was closed at the start of the school year, and many of the Inuktitut teachers were not going to work. The school was a mess because teachers couldn't bring their kids to day care.

The effects of the profit-sharing payout will only fully be realised after the next sealift ship arrives. In Salluit, 50+ new vehicles will arrive on the boat. Imagine what a kind of a difference
50 vehicles will make in a village of 1,100 people which has roads that lead nowhere. Already in Wakeham Bay, there are more Hondas, scooters and two-wheelers than ever before, and we await many more which will arrive in October. I could go on and on about this. If you want to read a really shitty article about the payouts, you can access it here. The Nunatsiaq News is a rag at its best, but it's the only news you can get coming out of Nunavik.

In my Secondary 4/5 class, we read this article and a letter to the editor responding to it (scroll down to "Free money doesn't build better society" . It's worth reading.). I had been teaching my students about the different "angles" one finds in a newspaper, and after reading and discussing these things, asked them to write an opinion piece about the profit-sharing payouts.

I got some interesting arguments. Some were happy that the landholding corporation used some of the money for infrastructure in Wakeham. Some wished that they got to spend the money like the people in Salluit. One young lady from another village, whose family received very little money compared to either Kangirsujuaq or Salluit was thankful because they "got to spend the money on clothes and food. [They] were poor."

The most interesting of the opinion pieces was little more than a list of questions, including: "What kind of a question is that? Why should we tell you if we liked the money or not? Did Raglan told (sic) you to ask us these questions?"

My comments: "I can't believe someone actually figured it out. I work for Raglan. Just kidding. I like how you are trying to get to the root of my thinking. It shows that you are being critical. Good job. "

I don't why she's so skeptical about my intentions. However, I find her skepticism to be a healthy refresher. It shows a high level of critical thinking. And dealing with critical thought is much more stimulating than lining up.

James.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Lantic Sugar

This summer, speaking to Sophie, I said, "you know, I'm tired of telling people I meet casually about my job. I think I may start telling them I'm a janitor or something just to avoid having the same conversation in which they ask probing questions and expect me to have all of the answers to the ills in Inuit society."

Sophie responded, "yeah, why don't I just start saying 'You know Lantic Sugar? Yeah, well, I push a broom there.'?"

Upon further review, we thought that that might be condescending to janitors to say that we did their shitty job. I've had a job or two which I was somewhat ashamed to do, but I worked alongside guys who did it for their primary income, and reasonably happily too. So, we opted for accountant instead. It's a reasonably respected position, and, more importantly, nobody talks to accountants about their jobs, right? We would be free from the typical Northern depressing discussion that revolves around social problems and isolation.

Of course, I never actually worked up the courage to tell someone that I was an an accountant or a janitor. Sophie, for her part, was offered a gig cleaning toilets and chalkboards at the school, but couldn't bring herself to do it. It's really a tough job.

However, I have found it very difficult to write about my experience this year thus far. I will try not to be pessimistic and discouraged like I became last year. I want to write about the good and exciting things happening up here. Of course, painting an idyllic village picture would not be fair either. However, so far, there have been some notably pleasant things happening.

I hope I will overcome my writer's funk and be able to... well, write. Even that was hard.

James.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Brushes

Sorry I haven't been posting. Things are going well. Noah is, well, doing this:

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Noah Walks

I wanted to make a bunch of videos this summer showing Noah's progression to his first birthday, but I left my camera in the pocket of my Parka. Sorry, no Nicaragua, Alberta, or Montreal. We do, however, have this:


I'll write something soon.

Monday, May 26, 2008

South

I arrived in Montreal on Saturday.

Since moving to the North, I have considered going South to be one of the hardest parts. After a few months in the same village, I get accustomed to seeing the same 572 people everyday. It's not often that I see someone I haven't seen before, and when I do he/she is easily recognizable as such.

When I arrived at Trudeau airport, I stood around with the Inuit from Wakeham with whom I had traveled, and waited for my luggage. After saying goodbye to them, I began the long, awkward walk to to cab stand. The stimulation was more than a little overwhelming. I saw many nameless faces, and began to look for people whom I recognized.

I thought to myself, "Montreal has three million people, idiot. You don't know anyone here." Nevertheless, I searched and searched for something familiar, and began to realise that all of us, the thousands of us there, were basically alone in a crowd.

The cab ride to Pointe Ste. Charles was equally unsettling. My taxi driver spoke not to me, but to someone on his cell, only pausing to ask me for directions and to inquire whether I wanted the flat rate or to go with the meter. I am usually loathe to have the conversation that everyone has with him, the one about his business, and about how many crazy drivers there are in this city. Nevertheless, not having this interaction alienated me further, forcing me to stare out the window at all of the passing advertisements.

It's the consumerism that really gets me. Last year, when we came down for the union congress (which was a waste of my time, but more on that another day) Sophie and I walked up and down Boulevard St. Laurent and wondered at the plethora of stores selling stuff that people don't really need. How is it possible that these places stay open. Can we really buy that much stuff? I can only imagine how overwhelming coming South would be for an Inuk.

When I arrived at our friends' house (we're subletting our apartment) I had been thoroughly shell-shocked. I was supposed to go to Parc Mont Royal to a good-bye barbeque for a friend who is moving to New Delhi on Wednesday. I called his cell. He didn't answer. I left a message, saying that we wouldn't be coming because Noah had not napped and would probably not be in good spirits by the time we got there. This was true; it would certainly have been a difficult outing. But it wasn't all. After arriving somewhere familiar, where friends were waiting to catch up, I couldn't bring myself to leave the cozy environment. It just takes some time to adjust.

Today, The adjustment period abruptly ended. We went shopping and I spent a thousand dollars.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Final Exams

I'm leaving to take my paternity leave on Saturday. Sophie and Noah left today on the first plane which has left here for Kuujjuaq, from where we can fly down South, in six days.

Last Friday, a blanket of fog rolled into Wakeham bay and has sat there, stagnant, for almost a week. Through rising and falling barometric pressure, through 40 km/h winds, it has sat there.
Once or twice, it has opened up enough for the plane to land en route to Salluit, which has hardly helped everyone who is wishing to go to Montreal. Anyway, this post is supposed to be about my students' final exams. You will be able to read enough about the fog some other time.

Last week, I made my students' final exams. It was a humbling experience. I was going through our review materials, and I couldn't help but think to myself, "is that really it? Is that all we accomplished?" This year, I had a critical mass of students advanced enough to make me feel that we progressed. Indeed, we plowed through a lot more Math and Lanuage than I did with my students last year. Howver, we still completed surprisingly little. Disparagingly little.

Last year, a couple of French teachers who had been teaching many years in the South spent a year in Wakeham. These two ladies never assimilated into the limited social scene offered by the teachers, but I had one or two close moments with them. At the end of the first term, I was making my report cards when Josée, to whom I had barely said two words, walked in. She could see disappointed look of humility (or humiliation) on my face and comforted me.

"I've been teaching a long time," she said, "and the end of the term feels the same every time. I get sick to my stomach wondering what I'm doing right and wrong, and if I'm choosing to teach the right things. Just relax."

She was right. Every time it comes to summative assessments, I feel as if I'm much harder on myself than on my students. This time, as I was being humbled once again by my own examinations, I guess I subconsciously made it my mission to push the students harder during the exams.

Yesterday, during the Math examination, they pushed back. They were less than receptive. One student in particular refused to do anything, even things that she and I both knew she was capable of doing. I tried to encourage her. It didn't work. I tried just letting her do her thing. That didn't work either. At one point, she began making some noise, and she wouldn't stop. I had to ask her to leave. On the way out, I tried to get her to work on the test outside the class. No dice. Infuriated, but trying to hold some sense of calm, I said, "You're doing this to yourself." She looked down, turned, and walked away.

When I went home for lunch, Sophie knew something was wrong as I walked in the door. I explained how I had been more furious with my students than I had been all year, especially with the one who refused to do her exam at all.

"It's her only power," Sophie responded. "She wasn't going to pass it anyway, right? It's the only thing she can choose to do in that situation. Maybe you just can't make her do something she doesn't want to do. And why do you care so much? You have to try to encourage them, but it's not worth getting stressed out."

I hadn't really thought about it like that before. Why did I care so much? I know that this girl is not going to pass the year, even if she passed the test. I realised that it wasn't her who I was caring about at all (although I do care a great deal for her) but rather I was too preoccupied with how the students' performance on the exams reflected on my abilities as a teacher to really care about her. Once again, my frustrations were stirring, just the same as every time my students (and thus I) are assessed.

I went back to school in the afternoon and calmly administered the second part of the test. The girl didn't do that part either, but at least I didn't inadvertently make her feel worse by telling her it was her choice not to pass. Or maybe it made her feel better. Agency is a weird thing.

If I don't write for a while, it's because I'm in Costa Rica.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A new member

I would like to congratulate a couple of my closest friends, Philip and Renée Giammarioli. Renée gave birth to 6 lb. 12 oz. Dante yesterday at 2:30 p.m.

I have a few friends with whom I can say things like "that's a nice way to bond with him" and "don't you just love the way he smells?" without sounding completely gay.

Welcome to the club Phil. We actually get to raise these little things.

James.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Noah's Video Pick of the Week

I am 30




A couple weeks ago, I turned thirty. We had a party at my house. Sophie really outdid herself. She made me two cakes: one in the shape of a 3, the other a 0. We ate sushi, drank some beer, and had a wonderful time.

The day before my birthday, my students and I went fishing. It was the perfect May day.
+5, sunny, and no wind. We headed out from the village at around 10:00, and arrived at our destination by 11:15. Almost immediately, we all began to remark how warm it was. The day before, I had promised my students that if they did not come fully prepared, with winter boots, parka, hat, and mitts, they would not get to go. These kids know I'm a man of my word, so even though it was ridiculously warm, they were ready to go to Antarctica.

The sky was beautiful. The sun was strong. It had been so warm for the past week that when we arrived at our destination, called ippikutaaq (I have no idea what that means), we did not need to drill holes through the eight-foot-thick ice (thank God). All we needed to do was to shovel the snow off of the surface of holes that our guide had drilled the week before.

It only took me a few minutes to realise how strong the sun was, and only a few minutes more to remember that I had forgotten something extremely important: sunblock. "I'm fucked," I thought to myself. "Oh well," I reasoned, "I've been to tropical countries and gone without sunblock. I don't really burn other than my nose anyway."

So, after we shoveled off a few holes, the kids began to fish. Some of my students were very successful.

Others just stood around and smoked.

After a little while, my lips began to burn a little, and the Inuit guides began to remark about how warm it was for May 1st.

"Oockoo! (hot)"
"Illai. (a few words in Inuttitut)... global warming... (more Inuttitut)."

After the initial wonder about the weather, we began to make the most of it. One of our guides even used the unusual combination of snow, meltwater, and ice, to make an aquarium/swimming pool.

It was an amazingly beautiful day, and other than the intermittent tingling of my dried-out lips, I completely forgot about the power of the sun. I began to ride my ski-doo with no hat, no gloves, and for a time, in just a t-shirt.

After fishing all morning, the guides took my students hunting for ptarmigan. I spotted a few, wishing I had a gun, or that I was Inuk, so I could shoot a couple and provide for my family (I didn't catch any fish). One of the guides, Papikatuk, even showed a couple of the kids how to shoot, and they shot their first birds.
One of them was his daughter. He was so proud of her, who shot and killed her first ptarmigan with one shot.
I love hunting birds. I haven't done it in years and years, but on May 1st, I was a little jealous of the kids and guides who were providing for their families. But what the guides were doing for these kids was worth my infinitesimal sacrifice, so I didn't ask to kill one. Besides, it was a beautiful day, and I was out on the land, somewhere I hadn't been before.


Then, I got home. As soon as I walked in the door, I knew. The cool air was no longer blowing on my face. My skin became tight and hot. I had a nasty burn. I went to school the next day, expecting to be ridiculed. It was embarrassing. However, the Inuit, who wear a tan (which means they were out on the land) like a badge of honour, were more than sympathetic. Indeed, the sun was so strong that day that even some of my students, who don't even know what sunscreen is, had their first sunburns.

Although my pride was saved, my face really hurt. I was in constant pain for a couple of days. I couldn't sleep. The only relief I could find came out of a tube of lanolin, which Sophie used for the few weeks of breastfeeding. I awoke at night with the thought, "there's nothing more sensitive than a cracked nipple."

A couple of days later, I peeled. It was disgusting.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Half-mast




In 1988 (I think), I remember opening our Christmas gifts when the telephone rang. My mother answered, and spent a few minutes on the telephone as we played with our booty. I don't remember what I got that year, but I do remember the look on my mom's face when she got off of the phone. She was distraught, and in tears. "My brother David died," she said, and fell apart. As a ten year old, I didn't really understand. I didn't know David that well, and frankly, I didn't care. I just went back to playing with the newest transformer or whatever it was that Santa had brought me for being nice.

It was only when, a week later, the undertakers were lowering David's and his three-year-old son Tyler's bodies into their final resting places, that I began to understand. I found myself standing on the precipice of David's grave, transfixed by the system of cranks and pulleys that lowered them six feet deep while people threw dirt on their coffins. Everyone was crying. I wasn't really sad. Just interested.

Then I turned around. My mom was a mess, my sister was in tears, people were wailing. I looked at my dad. His face was red, his bottom lip quivering. A single tear rolled down his face. At that precise moment, I knew something was horribly wrong.

My uncle had been driving to his father's house in Creston, British Columbia, when someone dangerously pulled up beside them. He didn't pass; just lingered beside them. If you've ever driven a winding, mountain road, you can imagine how unsettling this was for my uncle and his family. Suddenly, a big transport truck came around the bend in front of them, and saw someone in his lane. He swerved to miss the oncoming car, and plowed head-on into my uncle's station wagon, killing the my uncle and his three year old son, depriving his wife of a husband and son, his nine-month-old son of a father and brother. Merry Fucking Christmas.

The guy who caused the accident by crossing a solid yellow line and lingering in the middle of the road, was drunk. He got into some trouble, but the 1980s were a different time. I think he spent some months in prison and came out. He probably has a drivers' license. Statistically speaking, he has probably driven drunk many more times.

This past weekend, a twenty-three year-old girl was walking across an intersection with a stop sign at each of the four corners. She was struck by a Honda (ATV) and killed. A friend of mine is one of the first responders here (an EMT), and he was there to try to recuscitate her and ultimately to give up.

No one is really sure of the circumstances leading up to the accident. Rumour has it that another twenty-something woman was drunk and stole a truck. She failed to stop at the four-way stop and killed the poor girl who was crossing the street. Then she kept going. Both women have kids. The one who died was pregnant.

The accident has shaken this community of 600. It has damaged so many people, from the ones involved directly, to their kids, to the kids who happened upon the scene of the accident, and saw the horrifying aftermath.

Oddly, I find myself grieving not for the dead woman, nor for her unborn child. I feel sorry for the woman who did this. I tried to explain it to my students. I asked them, "Have you ever done anything bad and then just run away?" I explained to them that I hit a cat once in the middle of the night on a country road, and never went back to tell the people whose cat it was.

The girl who allegedly committed the hit-and-run, if guilty, did something really stupid. She got into a truck, drunk, and drove too fast. However, it was hardly surprising. That's what the kids do here for fun: drive around too fast on their Hondas and ATVs. The younger ones go as fast as they can on their scooters. No one stops them. Not the police nor the parents.

I've heard from several people that the girl's death may have had to happen to shake the kids up here and teach them a lesson. Especially if the girl who allegedly did it goes to jail for a long time. As I write however, I hear them going around and around, zipping past my house, and hitting the jump in my driveway. It has taught them nothing. Call me cynical, but I don't think a jail sentence will teach the kids anything either.

Punishment doesn't work as a deterrent. We've been punishing criminals for a long time, and yet, crime exists in great numbers. In Freakonomics, Steven Levitt convincingly argues that legalising abortion in the 1970s did a great deal more to lower the crime rate than anything the justice system has ever done. Crime, alcoholism, and recklessness are social problems, and they stem from the same things: poverty, abuse, boredom, and a lack of self-respect. So, if we punish not for the sake of deterrence, but rather vengeance, you can count me out. Putting the poor girl who made this horrible mistake in a prison where she will likely face the brunt of racism and violence is hardly what she needs. It will most likely not rehabilitate her. Ripping her away from her family and out of her village might even turn her into a monster.

And, it certainly won't deter drunk, directionless youth from getting on a Honda or in a truck. They cannot exactly go dancing or hit a theme park or do much else when they get drunk.

I have a deep sense of empathy for those people who lost their daughter, mother, or sister in this accident and the many others which have probably happened since Sunday night. If they are angry and want vengeance, I can empathise with that too. There was a time I imagined myself going out and perpetrating violent vigilante justice against the man who not only killed my uncle and cousin, but took my dad's invincibility too.

In the end however, I just feel bad for everyone involved. I hope everyone in the village can grieve and make their peace.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Monday, May 05, 2008

Noah's Video Pick of the Week



Sorry it took so long. I hope you think it was worth the wait. I do.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Culture Day


"Hey, can I go inside?" I asked.

"You want to sleep here tonight? Go ahead."

The school's centre director, shop teacher, and maintenance man had built two snowhouses for Culture Day, which took place a couple of weeks ago.

I went in, and it was beautiful. It was the first time I had been in an igloo.


For me, the morning began when I woke to find that a blizzard had rolled in. It wasn't one of those bitterly cold February windfests which keep you inside, but the wind was strong and the snow was not falling so much as going somewhere else.

The first part of Culture Day took place in the gym, where students performed traditional Inuit drum dancing and throat singing, and something which they named "Cuba Dance".

A couple of teachers had gone to Varadero a few years ago to a Club Med and learned some dance moves, which 1) are not Cuban, and 2) are not suitable for young girls to do in front of elders. One song, which had some pretty cute steps was from Pakistan, I'm sure, but everyone had neglected to tell the students that they don't speak Urdu in Cuba. The other song, entitled "Movimientos sexy" well, you can imagine how that went. I wish I had brought my camera. I thought it was fantastic that students had led this project to learn these steps by themselves, but it wouldn't have hurt for the girls to have a little tasteful guidance.

The afternoon turned out to be fantastic. The wind had let up a little, but the snow hadn't. Now, it came down in huge, wet flakes at a 45-degree angle. It was beautiful.

We walked over to where the igloos had been built the day before, and there were already dozens of people there. Almost immediately, I went inside one f the igloos for tea, which was made on a qulik, a stone stove fueled by seal fat.

The qulik was tended by one of the village elders. The igloo was packed with people, and I began asking her questions about herself, through one of my former students as an interpreter. and she was eager to answer.

"Were you born in an igloo?"
"Me?"
"Yes."
"No, a tent."
"In the summer?"
"Yes."
"How old were you when you moved from an igloo into a house?"
"I don't know."
"How old are you now?"
"I don't know."
Sophie and Noah joined me in the igloo. Noah was safely snug inside his favourite place: his amautik. You should see how happy he is when I put him in his pouch on his mom's back. Seconds later, he does this:

Out cold.

After tea and bannock, I went outside and checked out some of the other things. Unfortunately, the dog teams didn't make it, but the Inuit teachers who organised the day were making up for it by having their own fun. We had an Inuit wrestling tournament (I lost to the phys. ed. teacher), and the kids slid down the mountain.

Then out came the fish and the misirak, the stuff I taped Jean Charest eating when he visited Wakeham for the Pingualuit Park opening.


This is a big bowl of misirak, which is fermented beluga fat, the Inuit equivalent of blue cheese. Every other time I've had it, I've had to hold my breath and choke it down, saying some banality like, "It's different," or "I could get used to that." Maybe I have, because I took scoop after scoop, using pieces of frozen char as a spoon and stuffed it into my mouth.

Mamartuk. Sophie and I walked away, satiated.

"Why is there only one Culture Day? Why does the school only pay lip service to Inuit culture?"
I asked Sophie.

"I think schools have to ask themselves what their purpose is. Should it really be the school's job to pass on the culture, or should it be to teach arithmetic and literature? I think schools everywhere are trying to do too much. Shouldn't parents show their kids how to build igloos?"
She answered.

That's why I made a baby with this woman.

In airports and schools all over Nunavik, there are pictures of elders with texts that pass on some wisdom. One features a stoic looking picture of Johnny Annanack from Kangiqsuallujjuaq (not here; George River) riding in his boat. He argues that today's Inuit leave too many things to the qalunaat and their schools, including raising Inuit children. Sophie and Johnny are right. If it is left to the schools, the bastion of imperialism, to perpetuate Inuit culture, then perhaps in a generation or two, no one will be able to make igloos. That would be a shame.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Noah's Video Pick of the Week



Just making up for last time.



Just to let you know he's back to life.