Thursday Tidbits

Posted on January 28, 2021 under Thursday Tidbits with no comments yet

Barren. Bountiful. Beautiful

If a picture is worth a thousand words then two videos must be worth a lot more. Today, I have decided to share two videos with you.

The first one is called “Young Inuk” (approximately 32 minutes). The video shows what life is like in Kangiqsujuaq where I am teaching. I have shared my own stories and photos from this amazing place. Now you can see it up close and personal. https://youtu.be/yXOqI1jFe0c

The second video is called “Angry Inuk”. It is a National Film Board documentary (approximately 1:25) about the anti-sealing campaigns which devastated Inuit communities in the north. It is one of the many travesties inflicted upon indigenous people. https://gem.cbc.ca/media/cbc-docs-pov/season-1/episode-9/38e815a-00d62667222

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Monday Morning Musings

Posted on January 25, 2021 under Monday Morning Musings with 4 comments

St. Joseph’s Lake

(Photo credit: Joe MacDonald)

A frozen lake.

A pair of skates.

A hockey stick.

A puck.

A moonlit evening.

Who were you when you swept and soared across pristine ice with a chill in the air turning your cheeks a rosy red? Were you Gordie Howe, Frank Mahovlich, Jean Belliveau or Bobby Orr? The only sounds you could hear were your skates cutting grooves into the ice and the clackety clack of sticks maneuvering a black disc among fast moving feet.

This was not the place to master your shooting skills. No wristers or slap shots, for those foolish enough to do this, often had to skate hundreds of yards beyond the goal posts (often a pair of winter boots) to retrieve the puck after an errant shot. With little or no friction on a glassy surface, the puck had no brakes and no intention of stopping.

Instead of shooting, young boys and girls learned first and foremost how to skate. After all, when there was little else to do in a distant time, you skated and skated and skated. Having to go home for supper was groan inducing as a spirited game had to be interrupted. Homework was an afterthought. After bolting down a meal, you were back on the ice, ready to go for another few hours. Lighting in the dark winter evenings was provided free of charge by the moon.

Hockey players learned how to stick handle and pass a puck. Many a pro hockey player of that era will tell you that these skills were honed on vast expanses of frozen water in the great outdoors.

The number of players varied but this was of little consequence. If only a handful showed up (a rarity), the size of your own personal rink was small. You simply moved the two pairs of boots closer together.

When a mob descended, which was more often the case, the dimensions of your personal outdoor rink were adjusted accordingly. Speaking of mobs, fights were virtually non-existent. Skill trumped brawn.

Work ethic was part of the experience. Often the conditions on the pond or lake weren’t pristine, especially after a dump of snow. This meant carrying shovels from home and spending the first hour clearing the ice before play could begin. If you refused to shovel, you weren’t allowed to play. Pond hockey justice.

There were no referees. Fair play wasn’t a slogan back then. It was expected.

Scores of 50-48 were common. Playing for hours on end produced these kinds of results. When scores got lopsided, teams were changed. No one cared much about routing the opponent, at least most of the time! Everyone relished good competition and keeping teams evenly matched was paramount.

From time to time, a small bonfire may have been lit on the banks of the lake to warm partially frost-bitten fingers and toes on bitterly cold days. No one complained. There were things far worse in life back then, like boredom.

Oddly enough, hockey reduced the incidence of hooky. We skated to the point of exhaustion and school provided a respite from this vigorous endeavor. Nobody was thrilled to go to school but skating all day and all night would eventually wear thin as surely as the ice did in the spring.

Climate change has rendered outdoor skating almost obsolete. It is almost impossible to get consistently favorable conditions.

This does not mean we cannot dream about of the days of our youth when things seemed so simple.

A frozen lake.

A pair of skates.

A hockey stick.

A puck.

A moonlit evening.

With our lives stretched out in front of us on the endless horizon.

Have a great week.

P.S. The photo for this story was provided by a lifelong friend, Joe MacDonald. We played junior hockey against each other over 50 years ago. He played for the Port Hawkesbury Pirates, the hated rivals of my hometown Antigonish Bulldogs. I’m certain that Joe learned how to play hockey on a pond in Judique. All of the niceties of pond hockey were long forgotten when these two teams squared off!

 

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Thursday Tidbits

Posted on January 21, 2021 under Thursday Tidbits with no comments yet

Another Eze creation – an inukshuk carved of soapstone

 

“Learn more than you teach.”

This piece of advice was given to me by a very experienced teacher before I decided to travel north in November of 2019. I have thought about this a lot over the past 14 months. It seems that a week rarely goes by without me discovering something new about the Inuit people, their land, and their culture. I have been assured by many wise local people that I have just scratched the surface and that my education is in its infancy. That’s the good news. The bad news is that I’m edging closer to the age of 70 and at my rate of learning, I reckon that I will need to live as long as Methuselah (969 years) if I have any chance at all of understanding the mysteries and wonders of the north.

Monday was a storm day which gave me an opportunity to wander over to the museum to have a chat with Mary who oversees the facility along with Pingualit National Park. Previously that day she had asked me to drop by to see her. When I arrived, two other employees of the park, Lydia and Noah were sitting around the large table in the meeting room. Mary and Lydia work with a group of young people from the community, teaching them Inuit songs, throat singing, and drumming. Over the years they have performed for tourists who come from far and wide to visit Kangiqsujuaq and the National Park. They invited me to join the group to accompany them on guitar and to sing with them in Inuktitut and English. I’m not so sure about the throat singing but I will certainly give it a try.

My answer was swift. Here was an ideal opportunity for me to experience more local culture and also to learn more Inuktitut. When I first came up here, I thought I might hire someone to give me private lessons in Inuktitut but I have been very busy trying to learn how to teach which hasn’t afforded me a lot of free time.

Before getting into the details, I had a chance to spend some time with Noah. In the meeting room, there is an excellent map of the area which shows the location of rivers, lakes and the numerous camps that dot the landscape. Noah is a local guide, so his knowledge of the land is vast. Looking out the window with visibility near zero, I asked Noah about traveling on the land in these conditions. GPS doesn’t work all that well but centuries of living on the land has given the Inuit all the information they need to get them from point A to Point B. When I asked Noah if hunters ever get lost, he looked and me and said, “We follow the sun.”

I met with Mary and Lydia in Mary’s office. We talked at length about music and storytelling. Apparently, there are some elders who are fine musicians. I hope to have the opportunity to sit down with them and listen to their stories and their music. Mary brought out a book of songs written in Inuktitut. She sang a few phrases from a handful of songs. I found it quite interesting that many of the melodies are based on well known English songs. This will make it infinitely easier for me to follow along and accompany the group. I feel quite honored to be asked to be a part of the group.

Nunavut has a new television station dedicated to preserving Inuit language and culture. Uvagut is a product of Nunavut Independent Television. It was officially launched earlier this week. Uvagut TV will offer children’s programming, movies, documentaries, live shows and archives supplied by independent Inuit producers. This is a very exciting initiative for people in the north and for all Canadians who care about preserving culture and language.

Have a great weekend.

P.S. Yesterday I got a surprise call from the local medical clinic. A doctor was in town and |I was given an appointment to have her look at my arthritic knee. While waiting to be seen, I had the loveliest chat with the mayor of Kangiqsujuaq. She is a very smart, able woman. Of course we talked about the weather with an impending blizzard today. I listened as she explained how the clouds revealed the weather forecast. She also talked about the importance of the moon and the stars in Inuit culture. Frankly, I was mesmerized and even more so when she told me that her late mother was a distinguished educator and recipient of the Order of Canada. The learning continues.

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