Monday Morning Musings

Posted on January 27, 2020 under Monday Morning Musings with one comment

A splendid Saturday in Kangiqsujuaq


It seems like every week is eventful up in the north. No two weeks are remotely (!) similar except for consistently cold temperatures. There isn’t the fascination with weather here the way there is back home. Weather in not fodder for the media to spin every day. You never hear dire warnings about the “storm of the century” or weather bombs. It’s winter. Plain and simple. Cold, sunny days. So far, we haven’t had much snow. It looks like Mother Nature decided to give our share to St. John’s Newfoundland.

The focal point of last week was the visit of two accomplished athletes. Jordin Tootoo is the first Inuit to play hockey in the NHL. Clara Hughes is easily Canada’s greatest Olympian and the only athlete from any country to win multiple medals in both Summer (cycling) and Winter (speedskating) Olympic Games. There was a presentation (mainly by Jordin) at the school. Hundreds of people from the community came together with our students to hear about Jordin’s remarkable journey from Rankin Inlet, Nunavut to Nashville.

Jordin spoke at length about the challenges of growing up in the north – substance abuse (he is a recovering alcoholic) and suicide (his brother, Terrence committed suicide). He also spoke of resilience, something indigenous people are known to possess in abundance. He talked  about his strong attachment to the land, something that has helped him in his recovery.

Even though Jordin’s talk was quite heavy, there were moments of levity as well. He claims that he was the first Inuk to score a goal in an igloo. Actually, it was The Igloo, the former home of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Jordin scored a goal on none other than Marc- Andre Fleury.

I had a chance to have two brief chats with Clara Hughes, once at the presentation and the other at the opening of a new family wellness center later that day. She has been a strong voice for mental health in Canada. I asked her what she was up to these days. She spends a lot of time hiking in the mountains in Canmore, Alberta. She told me she hiked 6,000 kilometers last year. If my calculator is working properly, that’s an average of 16 kilometers a day… every day of the year. I guess if you’re one of the greatest Olympians of all time, pushing yourself is just normal.

In one of my first posts upon arriving in Kangiqsujuaq I mentioned that school is only closed when the furnace breaks or when there’s a polar bear sighting. Last week, we had both within a 24- hour time span. Last Thursday afternoon, a polar bear was spotted on Wakem Bay which is quite close to the school. A local hunter went out and killed the bear as it posed a threat to the community. The meat was shared. Apparently, it is quite fatty but delicious. I suspect that if I was eaten by a polar bear, he would say the same thing!

On Friday afternoon, as I was preparing for my last class of the week, an announcement came over the PA system that the school was being closed immediately because the furnace had conked out. A year ago, in Montreal, 35 students and 8 adults were hospitalized due to a faulty heating system. I have never seen a school empty so quickly. I wondered if it was the threat of carbon monoxide or the fact that it was Friday afternoon. I suspect it was a little bit of both.

In truth, school has been cancelled a few times because of weather when there were blizzard conditions and extremely cold temperatures (near -50).

Last week, I was interviewed for a podcast. Mise, a young man from Montreal working for Y4Y Quebec, a voice for youth in the province, was in the village working with a young Inuk man, Nigel Adams. Nigel is quickly gaining a reputation across Canada’s north as a new voice for indigenous youth. His brother, Robert, was murdered a few years ago and he has seen northern villages suffer the scourges of substance abuse, family violence and suicide. These two young men are trying to arrange a youth forum in Kangiqsujuaq in March. They were interested in getting some perspectives from local people and from individuals from the south. Nigel has strongly held views on colonialism and residential schools which is not surprising. It was a fascinating exchange of ideas. I agreed to work with them on the forum suggesting I could offer a music component to the event. (I am currently teaching three of my students how to play guitar).

Have a great week.

P.S. Some of you oldtimers will remember Tommy Hunter. He used to sign off his television show with the following – “We’ll see you next week, the good Lord willin.” Well, the “good Lord willin”, I have decided to tackle a second year of teaching in Kangiqsujuaq. Our principal has asked us for our intentions for the next school year. There are still many days when I have serious doubts about whether I can do this work. The mental toughness of people like Jordin Tootoo, Clara Hughes and Nigel Adams inspires me.

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