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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Thursday Tidbits

Posted on January 14, 2021 under Thursday Tidbits with 2 comments

 

Eze earrings

 

After an extended Christmas vacation, we’re back at school. Despite the restrictions and lockdowns in the province of Quebec, our region of Nunavik is the one exception. Nunavik is the part of Quebec’s territory that is located north of the 55th parallel. It covers a territory of approximately 507,000 square kilometers and is inhabited by some 13,000 people called Nunavimmiut, who live in fourteen villages. The very large majority of Nunavimmiut are Inuit. The language of the Inuit is Inuktitut. In Inuktitut, different word endings are used to distinguish between something, two of something and more than two of something. Therefore 1=Inuk; 2= Inuuk; 3+ =Inuit.

Covid cases in the north have been few and far between. It’s hard to put a finger on why this is so but one might surmise that the Inuit have had experience before with other pandemics and take very seriously the threat of the coronavirus. Anyone returning from travel to the south has to quarantine for two weeks. Facilities have been arranged in the community to accommodate those travelers. Teachers returning from Christmas holidays are isolating in their own apartments. As Yogi Berra said, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

The earrings that you see above were crafted by a very talented Inuk. His name is Eze. He is 31 years old and tells me that he has been carving soapstone and making earrings since he was 14. I am told that he is very good at what he does. The earrings in the picture have an ulu as the base. As I wrote about in a previous piece, an ulu is a knife that is traditionally used by Inuit women for all kinds of things, like skinning and cleaning animals, cutting children’s hair and cutting food. I plan to meet with Eze one of these days to learn more about him and his excellent works of art. P.S. Despite the fact that I have a tattoo (a memento of my Camino walk), I’m not planning on starting to wear earrings any time soon… but one never knows! I have done crazier things and let’s face it, at this point in my life, I’m not overly concerned about what people might think about my fashion choices.

Envy is not a word that I use often. I’m pretty lucky. I am creeping up on 70 with an assortment of aches and pains (which seem to have gone viral lately) but no serious health issues. I am doing work that I find interesting and fulfilling. I have a nice apartment and plenty of food – too much if you look at my waistline these days.

I saw a post on Facebook yesterday that had me drooling. Next week at Pingualuit National Park, there is going to be an igloo building demonstration along with ice fishing and a number of other activities. The park is about 120 kilometers southwest of our village. Apparently one of the elders will be there to lead the demonstration. The park is the site of a meteoritic crater. https://www.nunavikparks.ca/en/parks/pingualuit/. I am envious. I would love to be there to listen, learn and document this four- day event.

However, not all is lost. A few days ago, I was up at the airport to pick up some cargo for teachers. I ran into a local man that has an Antigonish connection. Fifty or so years ago, he was a student of a retired Antigonish educator who, along with his wife, spent many years in the north. Last year when I arrived in Kangiqsujuaq, I brought him an old black and white picture of he and two fellow students when they were teenagers. We have bumped into each other a few times over the past 15 months. He asked me if I would like to go ice fishing with him. I am eagerly waiting for the phone to ring.

I remember when I first came up here. I asked an experienced teacher from back home for some advice. “Learn more than you teach.”

The learning continues.

Have a great weekend.

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Thursday Tidbits

Posted on January 7, 2021 under Thursday Tidbits with no comments yet

Wakem Bay at sunset – My first drawing . Be kind!

 

“Fools rush in, where wise men never go.”

I’m sure that on Monday, my first post of the New Year, you were breathlessly awaiting Len’s New Year’s Resolutions. I’m sorry to have disappointed you when there was nary a mention of such trivial matters in my 2300 -word post. Truth be told, I’m not a particularly big fan of making idle promises in January or any other month of the year for that matter. Yes. It’s a good time to hit the reset button and reflect on the past and the future. We all have hopes and dreams. I think we are unified in one thing in 2021 – the end of the pandemic.

Today’s post is about hope and despair… and possibly hopelessness. You see, I have decided in my 70th year on this planet to take up art.

Somewhere Sister St. Roderick is rolling her eyes. You see, this patient sister of the Congregation of Notre Dame tried to teach me art at Morrison School. She would have had as much success if she had tried to teach me Mandarin or Sanskrit. Most of you know of the game Pictionary where you have to draw something based on a clue. Anytime I played, my artistic renditions drew gales of laughter. There are only so many ways of drawing a stick man.

So why in god’s name am I thinking of learning how to draw at this ripe age?

Why not.

As with so many things in my life, I stumble upon something and decide on the spot that I want to give it a go. It’s in my DNA. My mom was like this so she can either take credit or blame.

I posted a picture the other day on Facebook (“Len, you post a picture almost everyday.”). I went on a skidoo ride across Wakem Bay with some colleagues. We stopped at one point as the sun was setting. The scenery was jaw dropping and the atmosphere was very serene. I received many comments about the photo and wondered if I could ever draw this image. The next thing you know, I was messaging our art teacher, Zina who agreed to try to do the impossible – teach me how to draw.

The combination of Zina and St. Jude just might give me a fighting chance. My first effort is shown above.

Speaking of drawing, I continue to draw inspiration from my late brother, Tom. He was like mom in many ways. He was tenacious with boundless energy and enthusiasm. There is NOTHING that he wouldn’t try. In the last few years of his cancer shortened life, he decided that he wanted to learn to play piano. He took weekly lessons, and I had the pleasure of hearing him play a few pieces at his home in Victoria. As the cancer progressed, playing with both hands became impossible so he played with one.

I do believe that learning something new in our senior years is good for the mind, the heart, and the soul. I do not expect to become a good artist. As a matter of fact, even if there is an anti-aging pill, I don’t expect to be competent ever. But who cares? Exactly. No one! But that’s not the point of this. I believe that our brain needs to be constantly challenged. Of course, I can hear many of you chuckling as you know that my brain has been challenged for a very long time!

So, here is my New Year’s challenge. Try something new. You might find a new passion. It is either that or continue drawing stick men.

And now, for something completely different.

I am trying to control my outrage and nausea. Democracy is under threat from all sides. I won’t dare touch the situation south of the border. A great empire is in a free fall.

My wrath is squarely directed at some politicians in our country who have created another pandemic, one rooted in mistrust and cynicism. Sadly, this is not a new virus. Entitlement has been around for a long time. One former politician famously stated, “I am entitled to my entitlements.” The unmitigated gall of some politicians to flagrantly abuse their power by opting out of all the health guidelines imposed on us ordinary Joes by travelling abroad while those of us at home can’t properly bury our dead or celebrate the birth of a new grandchild… or visit our ailing and despairing family member in a nursing home. The hubris of these individuals is gob smacking. They only apologize when they get caught which is as sickening as their transgressions.

Thank god we have the media to ferret out these rats.

Sorry. But I just had to get this off my chest.

Have a great weekend.

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