Monday Morning Musings

Posted on November 11, 2019 under Monday Morning Musings with 2 comments

Inukshuk on the outskirts of Kangiqsujuaq

 

“Who is the teacher and who is the student?”

Good question.

This quote can’t be traced to anyone famous so I’ll claim it as my own. I have always been a fan of lifelong learning. Some people think that this entails taking more courses, reading volumes of books or watching Fox News. Two out of three ain’t bad! I would like to suggest that travel might be the best teacher for those of us a little longer in the tooth. We learn about new countries, new people, and new cultures. We experience firsthand the wonders that the world has to offer. We broaden our horizons and hopefully gain understanding and empathy for those who may experience a much different existence than we do.

I have been in Kangiqsujuaq less than a week and my education is in full swing. Yes, I’m in the classroom teaching a beautiful group of grade 5 and 6 children. Let’s just say they’ve kept me occupied! It will take me a bit of time to adjust to the rigours of teaching, after a long hiatus. I have quickly discovered that being flexible, adaptable and patient will be the keys to my survival. I played my guitar on day one and I know from a lifetime of music that this will be a major lifeline. My class will perform Feliz Navidad at the Christmas concert in Spanish, English and Inuktitut!

One of the blessings of being so far north is that there is no cell service. The one exception is IPhone to IPhone.It is simply joyous to see young people playing and learning without an electronic device controlling their every waking moment. When the students are not in class, they are outdoors playing even on the coldest days of the winter. One of the teachers told me that the temperature dipped to a balmy -57 last winter. I am eagerly (?) anticipating recess duty on days like that. These temperatures will require a serious winter wardrobe upgrade and I hope to engage the services of a local Inuk woman to make me a new coat…. and a warm hat for by bald head!!!

The leadership of the school is strong and I am getting to know the staff, who have been very welcoming and helpful as I get my feet under me. I was invited to a staff potluck last Friday evening. Like the Camino, the reasons for many of the non-indigenous staff coming north, is varied and interesting to hear about. This was a going away party for Audrey, whom I mentioned in last Thursday’s post. https://www.week45.com/thursday-tidbits-200/ She’s heading south to have her first baby. I had my first taste of caribou stew and it was fantastic. I already feel at home with this group.

A special thank you to E and L who work in my class with me. They’ve held my hand (!) and have been incredibly supportive.

On the weekends, some of the staff go hiking. On Saturdays, they walk with students who are preparing for an outdoor survival exercise later in the winter where they will be in the elements for four days. Sundays are staff walking days. They generally go out for a four hour jaunt. I will be an active participant in both hikes. I am told that being in the outdoors is a survival mechanism. This is true regardless of where you live.

Speaking of food, I received my first lesson in sustainability. Beluga whales appear in Wakem Bay in Kangiqsujuaq twice a year and are hunted by the Inuit people. Nothing goes to waste. When the whales are brought to shore, they are immediately processed. Fresh meat is distributed on the spot and whatever is remaining goes into a community freezer. The local people can go there any time for free meat. This is so sensible.

Amidst the cold, I already feel the warmth of the locals. I have been offered countless rides home on the back of their four wheelers.

You have already deduced the answer to the question posited at the beginning of this piece.

I am the student. The people of Kangiqsukujuaq are my teachers.

Have a great week.

P.S. Lest we forget. My heart will be at the cenotaph in Antigonish this morning.

 

 

 

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Monday Morning Musings

Posted on November 4, 2019 under Monday Morning Musings with 4 comments

Kangiqsujuaq, Quebec

 

“Go west, young man.” Horace Greeley.

Been there. Done that.

“Go north, old man.” Len MacDonald

Northern reflections.

No. I’m not about to open a women’s apparel store in the north but I am heading north in a few days- Kangiqsujuaq in Northern Quebec to be exact. The region is called Nunavik, not to be confused with Nunavut which is the newest, largest and most northerly territory in Canada. I have accepted a teaching position in this small, Inuit community. It would take far too long to explain how this all came about. I’ll include this in a book I’m certain that I’ll write about the experience.

I can tell you that the inspiration for this came from award winning teacher, Maggie MacDonnell who demonstrated that one person truly can make a difference in the lives of others. I do not expect to be able to fill her impossibly large shoes but I will do my best.

I can just hear some of you wondering “Why does he do these crazy things?” I ask myself the same thing. I guess it’s because I can. I am young (!) and in good health and there’s so much to see and learn about this wonderful world in which we live. I plan to go and listen and learn and immerse myself in a completely different culture. With such a rich, oral tradition, I am very excited and looking forward to hearing the stories of the elders, and with their permission, sharing them with you.

I know this is not going to be easy. It’s easy to do easy things. Doing hard things takes a certain amount of courage but the rewards are often great. The only worse thing than trying and failing, is not trying. The problems in the north are well documented. In case you missed it, I wrote a piece a week ago about the plight of indigenous people. https://www.week45.com/monday-morning-musings-320/

Of course, my loyal readers will get to experience a new place vicariously through my writing and pictures.

Some of my friends are puzzled because I have stated openly on more than one occasion my dislike for winter. There is a lot of truth to this but I guess I don’t like what our winters have become. Not everyone believes in climate change but back in the dark ages (the 50s and 60s), winter was winter. The snow would come in November and stay until spring. Days were sunny and it was cold. I don’t ever recall it raining in the winter back then. The last number of winters have brought frequent freezes and thaws making it dangerous for walking for old geezers like me. I expect the north to have real winters and I plan to enjoy what this has to offer. At least that’s what I’m saying today!

I will travel home for Christmas and hope to do a book signing at the 5 to $1.00 before the arrival of Santa. Anyone who desperately wants a signed book now will have to get in touch with me today. I only have 13 books remaining from the first run. There are still some left at the 5 to $1.00 and I have placed an order for a second shipment.

Don’t panic if Thursday Tidbits doesn’t show up on your FB feed, e-mail, Twitter or other platforms on Thursday. I haven’t been eaten by a polar bear! That is supposed to be my first day in the classroom and I will be traveling the day before.

While there is a certain level of anxiety heading into the unknown, I will be accompanied by my lifelong friend, my guitar. Music has bailed me out of many difficult situations in the past and I expect it to deliver the goods again as I embark on this journey of discovery.

Are you ready to travel with me again?

Have a great week.

 

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Monday Morning Musings

Posted on October 28, 2019 under Monday Morning Musings with 3 comments

 

Oh Canada (Part 2).

I am filled with anger and despair.

In 2016, a young Cree man by the name of Colten Boushie was shot and killed on a farm in rural Saskatchewan. Colten Boushie was shot in the back of the head. An all-white jury acquitted the perpetrator of the shooting. Several indigenous people were called as potential jurors. None were chosen. At  a town hall meeting after the incident, hosted by the RCMP, members of the community, including many farmers, participated in a discussion about the events leading up to the tragedy. One farmer said that 80% of the people in the room would have done the same thing if their property (not their lives) were being threatened.

So, let me get this straight. It is somehow acceptable to shoot an unarmed First Nations person in the back of the head if he or she is perpetrating a property crime.

Last Friday, I sat with a few hundred other people at the Antigonish International Film Festivals screening of the disturbing film “We Will Stand Up “. The film is about Colten Boushie but it is much more than this. It speaks of overt racism in our country and the pathetic treatment of our founding people.

Three local First Nations young women opened up the evening with their own accounts of how their people have been treated for generations and the lasting stigma that continues to persist. They wept openly as they tried to explain how racism continues to affect them, their families, and the children. Many people in the crowd were moved to tears.

Sometimes Canadians can be pretty sanctimonious and smug. We are prone to looking at our neighbours to the south, pointing fingers at the treatment of blacks in that country. We have much to answer for in our own back yards.

It is hard to believe that in a country blessed with incredible resources and riches that many of our own people live in abject poverty, in sub-standard housing and in many cases,with terrible water quality. The racists amongst us will lay the blame at the feet of our indigenous community about their inability to manage the financial resources passed to them by various governments over the decades.

How did we get to this tragic state of affairs?

I have been doing a lot of reading lately including Tanya Telaga’s excellent book “All Our Relations”. If you want a brief history lesson about the history of First Nations people in Canada, this is an informative read. There is also an excellent YouTube series entitled “Eighth Fire”. If you want to better understand how we have arrived at a time when the lives of indigenous women and girls are rendered almost meaningless as they go missing and die with shocking regularity, get educated.

The plight of our First Nations people can be traced to colonialism, residential schools, broken promises and treaties that were signed in good faith but never honored. It can be traced to these people being placed on reserves. It can be traced to the loss of their way of life with the slaughter of thousands of sled dogs. The list goes on. It is appalling.

Robert Burns wrote a poem in 1785 called “From Man Was Made to Mourn: A Dirge”. In the poem, he speaks of “man’s inhumanity to man.” It means man’s ability to do horrible things to fellow humans. It speaks of oppression and cruelty that mankind causes and mankind suffers.

Understanding how we have gotten to this situation in our country is one thing but how to move forward and try to improve the situation is very complex.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (http://www.trc.ca/) issued its report in 2015 with 94 recommendations. In it, is a detailed account of what happened to indigenous children who were physically and sexually abused in government boarding schools, where an estimated 3,200 children died from tuberculosis, malnutrition and other diseases resulting from poor living conditions. Estimates of the death toll are much higher because burial records were so poor, according to the Commission.

Stop for a moment. Imagine that your children are ripped from your arms and taken far away to get an education by strangers? And then imagine your children suffering sexual and physical violence at the hands of those entrusted to their care. No wonder our indigenous people are so scarred. We have much to answer for.

I don’t expect everyone reading this to agree with me. All I ask is that you educate yourself so that you might have some understanding and empathy.

Have a great weekend.

P.S. To my new friends in Cheticamp, Pleasant Bay, Cape North, Bay St.Lawrence, Dingwall, Neils’ Harbour and beyond. My friends at the Highlands Hostel in Cape North (https://www.facebook.com/highlandshostel/?epa=SEARCH_BOX) are raising money for Yvonne Daisley who suffered a stroke a few months ago. I have donated several copies of one of my books. Please contact Bricin or Patricia and support Yvonne’s recovery. Thanks.

 

 

 

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