Wednesday’s Words of Wisdom (And Whimsy)

Posted on November 23, 2022 under Wednesday’s Words of Wisdom with 2 comments

A Ray of hope


Who is the teacher and who is the student?

I ask myself this question frequently, especially when I am living in the north.

Like many of you in my age group, lifelong learning is very important to us. Even though our runway is shorter now, we still have a thirst for knowledge. We would like to believe that if we can keep our minds sharp, that we may postpone and maybe even avoid memory loss, the scourge of so many older people. There are not many days that I don’t discover something new in the north.

Living a life with purpose is also very important, especially after retirement.

This past week provided an abundance of riches. My students had the opportunity to learn from several distinguished educators and motivators. So did I!

A few years ago, a small group of teachers and students from our school went on a class trip to New Zealand. From all accounts it was an amazing trip and the students met other indigenous people, the Maori, who have a rich history, but not without many struggles including racism. I think racism is one of the ugliest words in any language. They met Ray, a Maori, who was one of their guides. It turns out that Ray is a pretty amazing guy. He travels all over the world speaking with indigenous groups who have suffered trauma, oppression, family violence among other topics. He is a soft spoken, but his words are powerful and filled with passion. Last week, Ray spent a whole week in the village talking with students, elders, and community leaders. He is also very musical, and it didn’t take long for Ray and I to connect. Last Thursday after school, we had a little jam session at the Family House. He played some songs from New Zealand. His songs are often about hope and resilience. Thanks to The Beatles and John Denver we were able to sing a few songs together… in two-part harmony.

When Ray came to speak to the students, he was joined by my good friend Mary Arngak. She did a presentation on grief. Sadly, grief is far too common in the north. Before the school year even got started, a high school student took her own life and as many of you know, the reason that I’m back in the north is because a dear friend and mentor, Maureen, died suddenly a month ago. Most of Mary’s talk was in Inuktitut but she also translated as she went along. She started by lighting the Quilliq (pronounced hoo lick). The qulliq is a vessel often carved from soapstone which the Inuit have used for centuries. It was used as a source of light and heat in their igloos. It was used to cook food and to dry wet clothing. Mary often says that the qulliq was the first television when people would sit in the igloo and watch the flames! The fire in the qulliq is fueled by moss. In past times, beluga blubber was used as the oil to light the fire. The moss was gathered in the summer months. From time to time, when moss or beluga ran out, the Inuit had no way to stay warm and many people perished in the brutal cold of winter. Often, the men went out for weeks and even months in search of food and sometimes never returned.

Lighting a qulliq takes time as the moss and flames are slowly moved around the perimeter. Over the course of her presentation, Mary had the qulliq nearly completely lit and then gradually and slowly, she extinguished the flame until there was just a flicker. The flicker represented hope and as long as there’s a flame, there is hope.

I continue to marvel at the Inuit and their resilience.

Late in the week, my class had a chance to meet with a retired educator who has lived in the north for 40 years. He married an Inuk woman long ago and they are both inspirational figures in the village. He also happens to have a Ph.D. in Geography. Even though he isn’t a teacher anymore, make no mistake, Pierre is still an educator. He is the president of a Board who is looking at alternate energy sources for Nunavik. I asked Pierre to come to my class because we have been doing a unit of renewable energy in social studies. Interestingly, his Board is comprised of 4 Inuit and 4 Qallanaq (He has the deciding vote in a tie. Luckily, he is a consensus builder and has never been put in that position). He told the students that plans are in the work for wind power and solar power in many of the 14 communities that comprise Nunavik (Not to be confused with Nunavut). There are even a few villages that have rivers with enough flow to generate hydroelectric energy. This is pretty heady stuff for 12-13 year olds, but my students seem very interested in the topic.

And last but surely not least, there is Andy. She is a woman of Mexican descent. She is a recent university graduate, and her specialty is film making. She is part of a program called Youth Fusion. She will spend the school year with the students of Arsaniq school, sharing her talents. The Inuit are very artistic, and this is a form of art that many of the children find fascinating.

“When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” Buddha.

There are worse things than being a lifelong student!

Have a great weekend.


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