First Contact, Reconciliation and Responsibility

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Let me begin by saying I write this with the full understanding that I have much more to learn when it comes to reconciliation, and cannot speak for Indigenous peoples as a whole, their cultures or their experiences. What I can do is share what I have learned so far in my work and relationships with those most intimately and personally affected by colonialism, as I believe that is my responsibility in this journey called reconciliation. Not to speak for them, but to share what I have learned to teach others, so that this burden does not need to be taken up by them unless they wish it. When it comes to breaking down the system that oppressed/s so many, Canadians have a much bigger role to play than we are currently.

I want to talk about First Contact.

At first glance, without seeing the show, and without yet having heard the voices of those wiser than I, I saw this show as intriguing. I shared the advertisements, thinking wouldn’t this be a great way to start talking about issues we are ignoring as a country?

However, as I listened to the trailer for about the third time I thought, hmm. This is awkward and weird, putting ignorance and racism on a soap box yet again. It made me feel uncomfortable with the initial excitement I had. I started to have doubts. Yet, it was drawing a crowd, the posting continued on social media. And I still planned on watching.

People were talking about it, talking about how important it was to see peoples’ opinions be changed. My timeline and my Twitter feed were blowing up with anticipation for its release. One of my colleagues, an Inuk in Nunavik, stated “YES! This! I always wished people would see our lives, come be in our life and realize what it is like!” (shared with permission) For her, it was an opportunity to see and experience a validation of shaking up peoples’ misconceptions and falsehoods. An opportunity to clear the slate of all the negative and hateful beliefs she had heard in her life. I also saw posts from other Inuit expressing their desire to learn more about themselves too through this show. First Nation youth I had worked with over the years were talking about the show, how they had experienced things from people like those in the trailer, and how they were looking forward to seeing them ‘finally get it’.

And then, it aired. And then, the deeper, more complicated conversation began.

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@RMComedy Ryan McMahon, Makoons Media Group
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@apihtawikosisan âpihtawikosisân/Chelsea Vowel 

 

 

 

I have spent several evenings reading the reactions, tweets, blogs and commentary from leading advocates, knowledge keepers and story tellers from First Nation, Metis and Inuit communities after the airing of the first episode of First Contact. Interestingly, many Inuit friends who shared initial excitement still felt this way, but also felt conflicted and struggled with hearing the participants views and commentary. Some too expressed the exhaustion of always needing to be the voice of ‘education’ on issues of colonialism, where it feels like being a broken record, on repeat, for the well-being and understanding of someone who doesn’t bother to listen anyway. Some of my First Nation friends, on the other hand, were much more vocal about their feelings towards this program, and movements like it that continually put the pressure and burden of explaining and educating experience on Indigenous peoples, without first including the caveat that it is NOT up to them to educate and inform if they do not wish to, nor can we expect as a society that the responsibility for fixing the broken and harmful system of colonialism to be on the shoulders of Indigenous peoples. The onus, as I have seen shared many times now, is on the settlers/the colonizers, the creators of that system, and their offspring, to fix it.

I have also seen a few comments on some Indigenous friends’ posts that say “but we want to create a space for Indigenous voices to share their culture, and how can we do that if it’s only ever white people talking?”

To this I say, that’s an entirely other conversation. Yes, we need to invest in and support Indigenous authors, speakers, artists, media creators of films, podcasts, etc. Their stories and culture need more space in our society as a whole, and if the controversies of this show help create that space, that’s amazing. But do not mistake the sharing of culture and stories for reconciliation. Space for their voices is the least we can do as a society after years of repression and genocide. Yet if you think that’s all we must do, you are not paying attention. The work that must be done is learning, listening, sharing and actively working towards dismantling the systems that to this day leave our Indigenous communities in a worse state. Reconciliation is showing up in support at protests about under funding Indigenous children’s education, health care, and social services. It’s pressuring your government to act, on these issues, and the many more that affect reserves and Inuit communities like housing inequality, and access to clean drinking water. It’s about holding those in authority and with the power to change these policies accountable with your vote and/or wallet. It’s reaching out to local First Nations or Inuit communities to ask what you could be doing to help advocate, letter write, or promote/support their work. It’s recognizing that ‘Indigenous Issues’ like the environmental impacts of a pipeline or the passing of more lax environmental impact assessments are not ‘Indigenous issues’ but things that affect all of us, and should be a fight we all participate in. Reconciliation is having every day, difficult conversations with your non-Indigenous friends about the racist t-shirt they are wearing, the joke they told, or the meme they shared. It’s also about recognizing, sharing and celebrating the amazing contributions Indigenous people have had on our society, and continue to have every day. It’s about recognizing and acknowledging the deep hurts that continue to happen due to inequalities, but also supporting and acknowledging the hard advocacy and activism Indigenous folks have been doing since Canada ‘became’ a country. I would much rather have watched a show examining all the work Indigenous peoples do towards reconciliation, education, and advocacy, than hear yet again the prejudices of those that can’t bother to educate themselves.

So, First Contact. I am not saying you shouldn’t watch it. I am not saying you should. But I would like to encourage anyone who was excited or intrigued by this show to listen to the voices of those who are expressing to us why this ISN’T the way we should be working through reconciliation, that these are the wrong voices being given a platform (by this I mean specifically the participants, not those attempting to teach them), and that there are so many more amazing resources that share Indigenous perspectives on these issues without also putting the burden on them to educate a non-Indigenous participant in a bad reality show.

I would also like anyone who has resources, documentaries, books, podcasts to recommend that would help those who want to learn more begin their journey besides this show to please share!

Here are a few I would recommend that focus on current issues or experiences/events/policies that continue to deeply affect communities and nations today:

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Nunavik and Lateral Violence: Working and Living in communities affected by lateral violence

 

I have spoken quite openly so far about the positive and eye opening experiences the move to Nunavik has brought me, both professionally and personally. From a wild and eye catching landscape (I spent 2 hours collecting beautiful rocks with Acacia and Maya yesterday) to open and generous people who don’t laugh too much at my attempts to speak Inuktitut phrases, my life has been blessed by my time here, the relationships I continue to build, and the tough work I face around every corner.

But, I do a disservice to anyone wanting to learn more about Nunavik if I don’t talk about the hard parts too. I do a disservice to my own struggles to understand and overcome if I don’t share and reflect on what 9 months in Nunavik has taught me…and failed to teach me. (I promise to balance this out with a blog about adventures on the land and seeing a polar bear).

As I prepared to write this blog, I sat in my living room in Kuujjuaq, staring out my window after reading yet another academic article on the effects of lateral violence on minority and Indigenous communities across the world. I stared and watched a large pack of kids shrieking with joy as they ran up the street with various items in hand (hockey sticks, sleds, a baby doll) followed closely by a few loose dogs attracted by the excited voices and gleeful tones. I spent my day off (thanks colonialism and Queen Vicky) nursing a bad cold/flu and reflecting on the last 6 weeks of work I have endured (yes, endured). Despite the sounds of happy kids echoing down the street, I was filled with an unshakable sense of sadness and defeat after several hours of reading the heaviest of texts in my quest to understand life here a little bit more.

For those of you unfamiliar with the term, lateral violence, or horizontal violence, is the experience where an oppressed or colonized community/culture resorts to internal destructive behaviours, where they take up the mantel of oppression they’ve experienced at the hands of the majority that dictates their lives, and turn it inward, whether on themselves, or those around them. (For a better understanding in non-academic terms, see Creative Spirits article on Lateral Violence ). It is a term I have studied in courses, and integrated into curriculum and course content for several years, and heard the echos of experiences of lateral violence in my community work over the years. While I understood the implications of lateral violence, I do not think I truly understood what it can do to a community, to relationships, and to places of work until recently. I have been in Nunavik nearly 9 months now, and the colonial impacts and historic violence towards the communities here is as fresh as an open wound. I used the word historic, but the impacts of the legacy of colonialism is far reaching and very much current. From struggles to access proper and continuous health care to infrastructure delays to lack of proper education funding, the experiences of Nunavik Inuit in a modern context demonstrate the constant battle for the same rights that those in the south, and the rest of Canada, enjoy.

The communities here are also quite young. Only within the last 60 to 70 years were the towns and villages of Nunavik created. Before this, most lived in family groups in camps that moved depending on the abundance of food or time of year and animal migration patterns. They relied on each other, supported each other, but also were fiercely independent. These bonds and behaviours do not suddenly disappear because the government of Canada found it more convenient to have people in one place. When one combines the history of the people of Nunavik with the modern experiences of oppression enacted by the Canadian Federal Government, such as the Dog slaughter in the 1950-70, TB epidemic and removal of peoples to the south who never got to come home again, and the forced relocation of Nunavik Families to the far North it is not surprising that issues and broken relationships would arise from these combined and continued experiences.

Many in our communities experience over-crowding and deteriorating quality of housing, which can aggravate any number of issues, from the health of individuals in homes in poor condition, to anger and violence due to lack of proper sleep and personal space, or worse, issues with addiction.

There is also a constant struggle with violence, both towards the self and others. A week does not pass without a story from one community or another about self-harm or a violent act. Violence in all forms is also deeply implicated by addiction and struggles with mental health.

But beyond the extremes of physical violence and self-harm, lateral violence is present in everyday behaviours and interactions, poisonous to all it touches, and sometimes not visible at first glance. It is these inexplicable behaviours, sometimes subtle, sometimes not, that inflict the most damage. Thousands of tiny cuts bleed just as much as one big knife wound, so to speak. It could be something as simple as someone sharing that they have decided to quit smoking. Mixed in with the encouragement, there is someone there to say “you’ll never make it” or “do you think you’re better than me?” When someone achieves recognition in their field, or demonstrates strong leadership skills, the poison of lateral violence oozes into the conversation, saying things like “you’re power hungry” or “what makes you think you can speak for other people, or be the authority on that topic?” Lateral violence is toxic. It is bullying. It is name calling. It is malicious gossip. It is in the satisfaction some receive in pulling others down.

I have witnessed this happen to colleagues. I have seen it splashed across social media, in comments and posts meant to celebrate and uplift. I have heard it in gossip spread in the office, in the grocery store, at the local pub. I knew quite early on in my time here what lateral violence looked like in my community of Kuujjuaq and on social media. What I didn’t know was that a) my usual tactics for dealing with bullying wouldn’t work here and b) there would come a point where the toxicity of lateral violence would impact my own sense of self worth.

Growing up, my mother taught me never to be a bystander. Sometimes, that even meant pointing out when I was being a bully too. I can still picture myself at the dining table of our farm house in Newington, when I was in the first grade and my friend Natisha came for a sleep over. I don’t remember how the conversation began, but I do remember saying I hope when I got to heaven that I wasn’t going to be black, because the kids in our class bullied Natisha (who was black). When she also declared she didn’t want to be black in heaven in response to my comment, my mother shut it DOWN. She told her she should be proud to be who she is, and she was beautiful because she was different, and there was nothing wrong with being different. She turned to me and said I would be a better friend if I stood up to people instead of saying mean things about the colour of Natisha’s skin. Now, I recall this with the eyes of a 6 year old, so I’m not entirely reliable in the narration of this story. But the concept stuck with me for life (I even wrote an entire master’s paper on this incident for a course), and I have spent a good deal of my time stomping on gossip and standing up when something isn’t right. I have always despised the idea of being a bystander to someone else’s pain. Living in Nunavik, my long standing anti-bystander policy has been riddled with bullet holes thanks to lateral violence. Learning to pick ones battles, or when to step in or step aside has been extremely difficult. I give myself a failing grade on that lesson. I have watched friends be picked apart on Facebook, and not said anything. I have heard gossip about colleagues, and turned away. I have said nothing as any number of people have told me how much they dislike so and so, or won’t work with that one, or said how much they hate this family or that family. I have witnessed someone shouting at a colleague (her cousin) outside of work hours and chosen not to intervene…and I am extremely frustrated with myself for doing this. As a manager I have also had to negotiate bullying of each other between staff and teachers, watching as individuals are alienated or picked apart or talked about when they aren’t present. Often this is also done in a language I do not understand, and therefore can’t always immediately act on.

Now, I haven’t interfered directly in most of these cases, but did find subtle ways to support others experiencing these issues. I know better than to feed the internet troll, and have chosen to speak to friends in person to say ‘I really was unhappy to see someone say that to you, I think you’re doing a great job’ or posted a supportive message about being kind and uplifting whenever someone is trying to achieve something. I have told colleagues I don’t want to hear gossip about so and so…and checked in with the individual being shouted at by a cousin. It still doesn’t feel like enough though. I do not know how to best support my staff and colleagues when these moments occur, or how to create boundaries for staff when it comes to lateral violence, and its spill over behaviours and toxicity. And this is why I find myself reading text after text, searching for supportive strategies, wondering if there’s a workshop or a process or SOMETHING I can bring to the table to work through these issues. Because lateral violence is the number one reason why we struggle to achieve our goals in the region. It’s what destroys the confidence of the strongest and brightest people I work with. It creates roadblocks and destroys relationships and collaborations. It also trickles into the fear of each other we all experience as a result of lateral violence. Who will turn on you? Who will talk about you behind your back?

Lateral violence also has a deep effect on the relationships built with southern colleagues. I have witnessed how behaviours accepted as part of life here occur in the workplaces around me. I also finally felt the deep ramifications of bystander syndrome: becoming a target myself. I have been the subject of violent language and verbal attacks; on at least 4 occasions since I started in my role, I have sat/stood silently while individuals have ripped me apart, belittled my efforts, called me incompetent or useless or brainwashed or an oppressor or a money grubber or a white bitch. What I experienced is not lateral violence, but rather another symptom of the toxicity in creates in communities. Because people are in so much pain, so uncertain about their own experiences and histories, and so used to lashing out at each other, their targets are not necessarily always one of their own, but also sometimes an ally whom they usually work well with. I have so far chosen to not speak, and let go when these instances have occurred. However, I am only human too, and there must be a point where I decide my well being trumps the efforts of safe space and mantle of diplomacy I try to conduct myself with. I have battled with myself, wondering when is it that I stop and say, I can’t take that behaviour anymore? I also wonder, what can be done when someone so greatly crosses the line of professionalism? When they tear down your sense of self worth so completely that their words and actions leave you devastated and unsure where to go next? It is at this point in sharing and confessing that I must say, I don’t have an answer. I do know that I have saved a number of texts on restorative justice and communication to read next, to see if my answer is there. Until I know what to do next, how to move forward for myself, and how to best support my Inuit colleagues who negotiate this issue in a much more intense and life altering way than I do, I will continue to support those around me that I can, and learn to negotiate my conflict with bystander behaviour. I will also gladly receive suggestions on workshops and readings if anyone out there has them!

So as not to leave you with as bleak a picture, I also wanted to highlight a teacher’s amazingly uplifting essay about working in Kangiqsulujuaq about the important lessons he has learned in Nunavik:

“What do you do?”

 

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Bloom’s Taxonomy in Inuktitut for Classroom Based Evaluation

It’s been a long time since I have written about what I am doing with my life on the professional front. Since this is a question I get asked a lot, especially since my move to Kuujjuaq, I thought it was time to share a little more about what I do to make ends meet and thrive.

My profession is Educator.

I have been an educator in a variety of ways, from working in a museum, to barely controlling 7th graders, to being a university professor for teachers in training. For me, being an educator isn’t about being a teacher, it’s actually about being a learner, and wanting to get others as jazzed up about topics and ideas as I am. That desire to learn more led me to complete a PhD in digital learning and cultures, which I will soon be defending. While my research has thus far focused a great deal on digital identity and learning in digital spaces, I have also had a vast interest as a learner in Indigenous education. I have sought for some time a way to combine my skills and knowledge in the field of digital education with my heart for Indigenous education and issues. I started small, working as a research assistant on projects centred on supporting Indigenous schools, and creating Indigenous centred education resources for communities close to my university. I spent a lot of time sitting in rooms with elders and leaders discussing the futures of their young people, listening to their overwhelming desire to connect their children and grandchildren with their culture and the land. The more I listened, the more I realized I had to find a way to support their vision for the future.

Before taking on the role I now enjoy at Kativik Ilisarniliriniq, I tried to find that role of support with a company who, with some guidance from me, decided to work with First Nation, Metis and Inuit schools through creating educational resources. I was traveling the country, developing community partnerships and training teachers in First Nations’ schools on using these resources, as well as helping them to develop their own resources for their Nation and communities. It was hard work; it was rewarding and a great time of learning for me. I got to see first hand what many schools across Canada are doing to support their young people in a time where reconciliation is a buzzword but not a school of thought. I got to see first hand how many schools are struggling to stay open, whether due to poor funding or poor infrastructure. I saw the need in so many communities for advocacy and better funding. I saw a need for the rest of Canada to start giving a damn, quite frankly, about the education and welfare of Indigenous children.

It was hard work; it was exhausting work. And it was work that was only surface deep. It was far from enough, and much less contribution by me than my skill set could have allowed. I grew frustrated, and felt the settler was too present in all that we did.

So when I saw the role advertised for a school board in the eastern Arctic, I felt that if I was going to, as they say, put my money where my mouth is, this was a good place to start; an opportunity to work directly with an Indigenous group, to use all my skills and knowledge to support the great effort of teaching Indigenous children from an Indigenous point of view, with resources and teachers from their communities.

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Assistant Director of Teacher Training and Development

So here I am, nearly 6 months after stepping off the plane, still only learning, mostly listening and occasionally pulling my hair out. I am the assistant director of teacher training and development. Which means I oversee the education programs for 212 teachers, student counselors, and leadership who are registered in the education program that is a joint effort between Kativik Ilisarniliriniq and McGill’s Office of First Nation and Inuit Education. I also provide guidance to a separate teacher training program offered through l’Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue (UQAT) who work with two of our Hudson coast communities, Ivujivik and Puvirnituq.

In this role, I do a number of different things. I advocate for our students and our program; I listen a lot to principals, Centre Directors, teachers, Teacher Training counselors, complimentary services, and the curriculum departments to know what is going on in schools, what is going on with our curriculum development, and what teachers and support staff need to be successful in our mandate, which is to educate Inuit children so that they are not only academically competent to the standards of a provincial government, but to more importantly help ground them in their culture, language, and historical identity as the first peoples of Nunavik.

At the most basic level, I organize and help plan the instruction of courses for our teachers, leaders, and support staff in schools in Nunavik. I work with McGill to bring on the right consultant for a course, and support them and either one or two Inuit instructors as they plan a course delivery. Our department then signs teachers up for the courses they need, and delivers these courses (usually 8 to 9 a school year) in different communities in Nunavik. Teachers then travel (sometimes with their children in tow) to wherever the course is being hosted to attend a 7 day intensive, where their sole focus is that course and it’s topics. It’s a hard model on their families and on them. They are expected to take in all the knowledge of a course like Classroom based evaluation in a short period, and be able to return home and immediately integrate this into their teaching practice. Education in Nunavik is only in Inuktitut for the first several years of children’s education, so our teachers are in high demand. They begin teaching almost immediately in their training journey, and it’s our job as a department to find ways to support them and encourage them in their practice journey. We also host a 7 course summer Institute, with usually 3 cultural skill courses offered in the evenings, over an 8 day period in early summer. Here, between 70 and 80 teachers, student counselors and people in leadership positions take almost 2 weeks from their summer vacation to further their education. This is a pretty big sacrifice from time spent on the land with family, for a people who only 70 years ago enjoyed a much more nomadic lifestyle than today’s school structure will allow. Right now I am working on making sure all our students who attend summer courses will have activities and chances to learn and grow together outside of just their regular classwork, as well as offer camp activities for their children who accompany them to their training.

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Self Portraits from Classroom Based Evaluation

As an overall mandate, it is my goal to make sure our teachers are receiving the best Inuit-based education and training they could want. It is often a weird space to inhabit, finding the balance between the westernized teacher training content from a colonial institution and leading the courses in Inuktitut, with Inuit values and competencies interwoven. This is a big mandate; a complicated mandate, which means a lot of consulting and discussion and also making sure when ideas or approaches are suggested that we are paying attention to the needs and culture of our students, and not simply taking the lead. I check my motivations and ideas with staff and teachers often. I at times miss the mark. I at times am not listening to the best of my abilities. I sometimes need to take pause and make sure I am not just looking for easy, instead of best practice. But most importantly my work is to consult and advocate; and I do this fiercely, if I do say so. I am bringing in Indigenous education experts and workshops to empower and motivate the teachers and professionals who fall under my department. I want to take that westernized training content, and turn it over to elders and teachers who can weave in the Inuit knowledge and capacities that are taught every day from mother to daughter, grandfather to grandson, from ice on the bay to berries on the tundra. I am filled with hope and admiration because of the hard working Inuks I see doing this weaving in our various departments and classrooms. I have said it a number of times, but learning about Inuit culture has been an amazing opportunity for me because of it’s richness and the Inuit of Nunavik’s strong desire to not only maintain their culture and language, but to watch it thrive and grow. The storytellers and artists and hunters and carvers and teachers among them are the ones who will meet the mandate for Inuit-based education. It is my complete pleasure to offer what support and knowledge I have to them so they may continue to thrive and grow as a people.

When I think about the question “What is your mandate” or “what is your role” I wish I could spend more time asking it to my teachers. What do you want from your training? What support and help do you need in your classroom? I have put up chart paper all over my office walls so that they can come in and tell me these things themselves. I am bringing in a team who will help give the staff and teachers the opportunity to express what ways and knowledge they want shared in their training and learning. I am also organizing workshops and sharing opportunities with other Inuit teachers in Canada, so that our teachers can learn and grow and support others in their quest towards returning their education into their hands, and not the hands of bureaucrats, politicians and university deans. That, at the end of the day, is my mandate. To find a way to support and continue to listen.

Living in Kuujjuaq

Tomorrow marks 4 months of living and working in the northern metropolis (not a joke) of Kuujjuaq, Quebec. I had certainly hoped to blog more about my experiences and stories of my life living in Nunavik, but I was too busy living it to capture it.

I had planned for some time to capture some of the sites around town to give folks a better idea of what Kuujjuaq is like. It truly is our metropolis, our big town to the smaller villages. People are always coming and going, hopping on the next Air Inuit flight to their final destination. But people are also living and working and playing here. It may be the bigger town with lots of movement and changes, but it is also home to many. Right now, outside my living room window, two girls are sledding on a snow bank with their dog nearby, keeping a close eye on them. Across the street, people are packing up their snow mobile for a day on the land. On my morning walk with Tennyson, I passed by a number of construction workers taking advantage of the warmer weather (-28) to do some siding on another new build, while someone cross-country skied in the field beside them.

Living in Kuujjuaq has been, in many ways, like coming home. A very cold home, I’ll admit, but the community and lifestyle of this northern town has fit me like a glove. I like being outdoors and enjoying  the feast for my eyes that is the North. The big hills, the rocks of many colours, the apparently abundant bird life (I only ever see ravens…I’m working on my birding skills though)…this is a place for people who appreciate learning from the environment around them, that love watching kids play in the snow despite the wind chill and who are naturally curious and interested in learning about the people who have lived, loved and thrived on this land for lifetimes.

I want this post to be a little more pragmatic in sharing the every day important sites for those who live here, but I also do want to say that while I have been spending a lot of time learning about patience and growth in myself as a professional and in a role of responsibility, and while I have experienced a lot of frustrations while being here, I have also laughed…laughed till I can’t breathe, holding my sides, and with mirth abounding. I have made friendships I will carry forever, and I will continue to invest and care deeply about the people around me. The part of life here I have appreciated the most is how much laughter and joy my Inuit colleagues infuse into their everyday life, and actively encourage me to do the same. One friend in particular, who calls the frustrations ‘fluff you should (flapping hands) push away’ has helped me stay grounded. We all need this, someone to keep us from whining too much, a reminder to stop and appreciate the moss on the ground and the birds in the sky, and the kids playing on the snow bank outside your window.

We have so much here in Kuujjuaq, we are spoiled. Let me share with you just some of the places of interest here, photos I took with my Coordinator Eva one day in December, so you can paint a picture of life here with a little more paint:

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A month in Nunavik: What I’ve learned so far

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I sit at my desk in my living room as dusk shifts to night thinking about what my first month in Nunavik has taught me. I have a few decorations set up to make my place feel like home, and my legs are still tingling a bit from our second walk of the day. Tennyson is curled up in a little dog ball on a chair, snoring his head off, and I laugh a little at the total worry I had bringing my pets up here. Tennyson probably misses having another dog to play with, or a yard to bark at the neighbours from, but for the most part, he’s a spoiled rotten happy dog that gets at least three big walks a day, plays fetch in the woods, barks at ravens who I swear look big enough to eat him, and has access to all the living room furniture, if he kicks a cat off of them.

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I have learned that it isn’t easy to adapt to someone else’s culture when it comes to things like animals. I have had to discover what my limits are before I think I should interfere in the treatment of a dog in community.

I have learned that as a southern person, with access to an entire house of my own, and flights south to see my family, I am extremely privileged, and privileged in a way my Inuit colleagues are not in the benefits I receive. I struggle with that knowledge, and hope knowing I have this privilege will drive me to help dismantle divides between colleagues, no matter where they come from.

I have learned that my work is hard. That my team and I are all frustrated and unsure and feel daunted by the task at hand. I have also learned the deep, moving feeling of watching a teacher receive her degree after 15 plus years of hard work, and getting to share that moment with her children and grandchild.

I have learned that baking cookies for the office isn’t just a nice thing to do, it’s contributing to the culture of sharing and togetherness that many of my Inuit colleagues already nurture in our work place. My shortbread is welcomed alongside other offerings of fresh Bannock and fruit, to sit over and enjoy while working through deep seeded issues or lighthearted gossip.

I have learned many of the people around me have experienced more trauma in the last month than I have in my entire life. I have learned terms like ‘culture of trauma’. That violence, neglect, depression, addiction, abuse, and deeply felt dispossession echo through all of our work here.

I have learned I need to keep reading, and keep listening to, the stories of the Inuit of Nunavik. That, since the 1950s, Canada and Quebec have deeply scarred and altered the landscape and people of this region. That, in just two generations, life for people here has been scattered like snow on the wind; and that despite all that, they expect and want the world for their children; that it is part of my responsibility in my role to help build that world.

I have learned I need to be better at preparing for weather changes, and my own responses to them. I need to listen to my body when it’s exhausted (which is a lot) and find a way to better adapt to the moods of winter and darkness in my brain. I need to also listen more to those around me, and hear their wisdom about fur and mittens. I also need to learn to just embrace the wind and sleet and darkness.

I have learned I need to consume more vitamin D, and take time away from my computer screen, and share often about the beautiful landscape of the environment in which I make my home. I need to learn to paint with words the colours of moss and rocks, the feelings of northern lights dancing, the smell of wind blowing off the river.

I have learned that two glasses of wine while waiting for take out can fill you up totally, rejuvenating your heart for another week of hard experiences. Taking a moment to enjoy things you like, and with people whose friendships matter to you is very important.

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I have learned that building relationships with people around me helps to answer all the little worries like how do I pick up my cargo, and when does the post office close, and does the co-op have any goat cheese? Because getting stuck constantly on those types of questions means you aren’t stopping to get to know people, and that’s more important. Cheese can wait. (Well. not really, but they can help you find the cheese later.)

I have also learned is lonely here too. It’s important to acknowledge that. It’s hard to come home to just Netflix, or talking to a cat. It’s hard to check your mailbox and have no letters or notes from friends. It’s hard to maintain friendships over Facebook messenger or comments on your pictures when your internet goes out for hours at a time, and the content of those conversations feels so…empty. Actually, it makes you feel more disconnected. Like, a casual ‘how’s it going there?’ only warrants a brief paragraph of how you’re doing. There isn’t time spent thinking it through. There isn’t real sharing or understanding. And they are probably doing something while you’re talking to them anyway. It’s hard not to feel angry and hurt when you reach out to talk to people, and get only an emoji back in response. I have to remember that for people who are totally connected all the time, and surrounded by other people, the distance doesn’t feel that great. They feel connected by my pictures and Facebook posts. They don’t feel the distance like I do.

I’ve learned I have a lot more to learn.

The First Week (and 3 days) in Nunavik

Well, week one is in the bag.

It felt like a month, I’ll be honest.

However, I have learned a lot, and with the travel I have also had to do since arriving in Kuujjuaq, my new home now actually feels like home. I have a P.O. Box, have been in every grocery store in town, Tennyson has a Kuujjuaq dog license, and I’ve had a beer at the local sports pub Nuna Golf (for which you pay a yearly membership to enter, but with live music and a golf simulator, I think I can manage that).

I’ve settled into my lovely home, mostly unpacked all my boxes, and have begun to make lists of things I might want to make it truly home. I’m missing some photos and paintings, and wish I had thought to bring seeds to grow some house plants. I have big beautiful windows in which to do so.

my house

 

My animals all seem to have adjusted to their lives here, and I am very glad I brought them. I think I would have been incredibly lonely otherwise, always hoping for a trip south to see them. I think that has been the single most important decision I made in moving to Kuujjuaq, I brought the things I love with me, my animals, my pictures, my new dishes, my Harry Potter books…I have to deliberately make the choice of making this my home, or I’d be doomed. That said, I am not fully there yet, and will need to continue to make choices about my life to make this home.

I also had an awesome colleague who took Tennyson while I was away, and came to check on the cats each day. It was really tough to leave him after only being here 4 days. I think he found it tough too, but besides a disinterest in his dinner, got to go on lots of walks and snuggle with Karine. I will be paying her in my usual currency, cookies.

I have had to learn to negotiate the variety of ways I can access groceries and food living in Nunavik. I am very fortunate that my employer covers a certain amount of shipment from the south, so this week I made two orders to grocery stores to get items that are cheaper there than here. But, that involved a lot of thinking, planning, going through flyers, figuring out the best delivery day, worrying about food arrival and quality (thanks for the busted chocolate milk all over my vegetables, IGA). I had to ask a number of people how to order, where to order, when will my order come, how should I plan the arrival of my order, etc. etc. Despite some orientation guides I was given by HR, it was not the easiest thing to negotiate. It quickly made me realize, I’ll be spending a lot of time worrying over and planning around food. I also spent 5 days in Akulivik for a board meeting with our commissioners. Before I left, I put together some easily cooked or heated up meals to take with me, warned by a colleague that the prices in community would be much more than in Kuujjuaq. Again, concern and planning for food dictated my decision making. I did end up still going to the local Northern store, buying a 7 dollar Lunchable for the flight home and a 4 dollar Popsicle (because, irony) and almost took a photo of the 7.50$ can of iced tea I saw. Food is expensive in a majority of communities. I know I am lucky in Kuujjuaq, the first stop from Montreal for most goods, to enjoy relatively similar prices as the south on a number of food items. However, items like chips, for example, are insanely expensive. Mostly because they aren’t covered by Nutrition North so the cost to ship them here are not subsidized by the government. When you buy them and ship them north, apparently, they often are squished and broken. So, the reality is that some things you’re just going to have to pay for here.

While in Akulivik, we were treated to many lovely snacks and baked goods by the student culture class, a group favourite being the fried bannock bread we got served daily, and hot. We were also treated to a country food feast, my first, and while many enthusiastically tucked in, I took my time, and didn’t try too many things this time. Because, I wanted to enjoy the first experiences enjoying local food, and my nervousness around eating raw caribou or frozen char meant that I wouldn’t. I think it’s OK to ease into this, and no one seemed to mind that my plate was not full.

country food

I have also become very quickly thankful for my windproof, -60 down filled coat (thanks Nichole). While the temperatures haven’t been too cold, the wind has been tough to cope with on my walks to work and with the dog. It’s important, I think, to not cheap out on a good parka (I have a North Face down-filled coat with fake fur on the hood) and to have appropriate face protection in a decent balaclava or scarf.

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I’ve already been warned, however, that my fake fur may not cut it this year. According to several people I’ve spoken with, real fur will cut the wind in my face by 2/3. I realize this might be an unethical decision for some, and you of course must do you. However, I’ve already experienced some of the mild cold wind, and will gladly heed the advice of those born and raised here.

So far, I have been trying to spend my time listening. A lot. As prepared as I could have been by asking lots of questions before I arrived about items to buy for my house or my dog or my work, listening and watching others has taught me a months worth of information in just over a week’s time. Everyone I have encountered has been kind and happy to impart knowledge, sometimes contradictory. My friend Vanessa put it best by saying it’s important to listen and take it in, and then do what’s best for you. I think it will be hard to offer specific advice for anyone moving here…people are so individual. In the end, certain things and decisions will make you more comfortable than I, and we need to do things for ourselves.

My next post I will include a little more about my work, but not until I have had a chance to truly immerse myself

Moving to Kuujjuaq: Assistant Director of Teacher Training

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I have recently made a pretty big life decision, taking a new job with the Kativik School Board in Kuujjuaq, Quebec. As the new Assistant Director of Teacher Training, I will be working with teachers in all stages of their careers: from practicum students in their placements to experienced educators refreshing their skills. I will also have the opportunity to help support the Inuktitut language based Teacher Training Program, which is offered in Nunavik, in partnership with McGill University. (Read about their Teacher Training Program)

After spending the last two years working with a number of different Indigenous groups throughout Canada, and travelling to many remote places, I am really excited to experience living in the north while working with the Inuit people of Nunavik. I am also happy to be able to document a great deal of my experiences, both professionally and personally, while on this new adventure.

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Information

I have been trying to prepare for my move for the past few weeks, and one of the toughest barriers I’ve faced is lack of information. Usually, when I am about to take a trip somewhere, or try something new, I rely quite heavily on my digital know-how, and spend a good chunk of time researching online. I am lucky that I also already have a friend living in Kuujjuaq who also works for the board, and has been very helpful in navigating the big move. However, when faced with a question she has been unable to answer (like how my fur babies will fair), the Internet has been a little lacking in information. When visiting other locales, I’ve found a number of different blogs from people of different walks of life that have moved to the North. This time, I haven’t been as successful. So, I have decided that in addition to documenting experiences, I will also try to offer some advice on moving to and living in Kuujjuaq.

So far, many of my questions and concerns have been about access to pet supplies/food for my cats and dog. While friend was unable to answer my questions on this topic, she did add me to the local Facebook page Kuujjuamiut, where I have been able to message individuals and ask questions.

kuujjuaq

Conversations on this page vary quite a bit, to complaints about stray dogs, to parents looking for a child who visited a friend after school, to announcements about sushi for sale. So far, very friendly responses, and a lot of lurking has answered some of my questions. I have asked questions about the gym, about groceries, about the best place to walk Tennyson so we’re safe and comfortable…and I’m sure there are bound to be many more questions.

Packing

Most of my preparations for the next while will revolve around packing. I’m lucky that my new job offers me lodging that is furnished as part of my contract, but that also means figuring out all the other essentials I will need to bring with me. This process is complicated by the fact that the majority of my belongings have been stored already while I’ve lived with my parents. I now have the great fun of going through all I’ve owned to decide what I need in Kuujjuaq, what I will need in the future (as they pay to store my large furniture and belongings) and what university student belongings I can finally let go of. I must also pack staple, non-perishable food items, toiletries, cleaning supplies, pet food and cat litter, as well as hygiene products that are more expensive to ship. I’ve also discovered that Amazon Prime does NOT work to ship items to Kuujjuaq, something I was very disappointed to learn. I have since cancelled my subscription, and will need to make all major purchases here in the south to ship up.

Goodbyes

When I first began the interview process for this role, I did not imagine that the distance and time spent away from friends and family would play a big role in my life. I am fortunate to have a great vacation package. However, it does not kick into place till after June 30th. This means that besides Christmas break, my trips home will be few and far between.  This has already caused quite a bit of friction with friends and family. There are many things I will miss that are beyond my control (no baseball end of year party, sad-face, no gentlemens’ Christmas, no birthday trip to the south). There are other special events, like a visit from family from overseas who were supposed to visit at Christmas, that, due to a wedding happening, will no longer be here when I am home. I’ll admit to some bitter disappointment that I won’t get to visit with my nieces and nephew over the holidays.

There is resentment and lack of compassion about my absence from special events. My choices have been questioned, and the strength (or lack thereof) of some of my relationships has been shaken. I’m sad, and a bit angry, at some of the responses I’ve gotten about this career choice. Then again, those that have reacted poorly, or who aren’t concerned with accommodating my ability to attend special events have been folks that know very little about my life, my career, the stressful impact of the last year at my former position…and so, frankly, their opinions shouldn’t matter. Unfortunately, you still feel sadness when this happens.

I have been trying to cram in as many visits and board game evenings with my nearest and dearest, capturing happy moments of togetherness to get me through the months of being apart from them all. I am very good at making new friends and getting involved in a new community of people, but I’ll miss my people too. I am so thankful to everyone who has been supportive, offering to help pack, and planning time to see me before I go. I know that despite the few instances of poor responses, I am loved and supported by many others. Thank you!

Car-less in the North

Finally, one of the important details that I had trouble with as I prepared to move to the north was what I would do about a vehicle. It was recommended that I get a vehicle will AWD and ship it up there. However, trading in my car, adding to my monthly car payment by nearly double, and increasing my insurance seemed like a lot of work. This was resolved, however, by one simple roadblock: the ice breakers that carry cars up there were full, and I was too late to get a vehicle up for this season. So, now I face a year without a vehicle. I have been thinking of ways to resolve this, like buying a bike, or snowshoes, or renting an ATV in community once I arrive. For now, I will invest in good hiking boots and winter boots, as well as snow pants, and go from there.