Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Oh My God, I'm Going to Have a Nosebleed Here

I ran across an interesting editorial in News North this afternoon and decided to follow up on it. A teacher from BC is up working for a year in Baker Lake and has authored a number of articles for the Quesnel School District's newsletter. Apparently, according to the newspaper, these articles have generated some controversy. So, being the snoop that I am, I decided to pay a visit to the Quesnel Board's website and see what was written.

(I'm unsure how to set up a direct link to there from my blog. I just did a Google search for the school board and took it from there).

Yikes. I can't believe they printed that trash. To be fair, some of it started out okay. The teacher made some general observations about the community (size, services, food prices, housing etc.) but by the time I got to the second article I was almost pulling out my fine brown locks of hair. Setting aside the fact that she kept using the word Inuks (asking an Inuk would have lead her to use the correct word "Inuit"), she makes some pretty inflammatory, and in the end, unhelpful, remarks. There are 6 articles in total so I've decided to pull a few quotes that really shouldn't go unchallenged in any sort of publication, let alone one coming from a school board.

"I hope it (speaking of NTEP, the Nunavut Teacher Education Program) helps broaden the perspective of the many sincere but woefully undereducated NTEP teachers."

Ouch. Where do I even begin with this one? We have a number of NTEP students at our school and I find them to be well-informed, enthusiastic and hard-working people. I couldn't imagine our staff without them. We even have a recent grad of the NTEP program on staff who is just as capable and professional as anyone else on staff. She got her B.Ed., took courses at Concordia, comes into the school on weekends and gives freely of her time to coach girls soccer.

"....the Nunavut government rejected the well-developed education delivery system in the Northwest Territories and have decided to use the Alberta curriculum>"

HUH? Having also taught in the NWT, I can say that that territory also used, and continues to use, the Alberta curriculum. After division, the system was grandfathered over to the new Nunavut territory. I'm not really sure what rejection she is referring to here.

"....non-attenders...are an accepted part of the demographics of a school. Teachers and administrators count on them not coming to keep class sizes low."

Good grief, woman. As a teacher, I find this very offensive. That a teacher would even countenance this merely to keep class sizes at a convenient level is quite insulting. I am constantly encouraging my students to attend, and if they get a little frosty at me for harping on them, I know that at least they appreciate my concern for them. At our school, we have many ways of improving attendance that we have implemented this year. We certainly don't accept this as part of the demographics at our school.

"Once they figure out life in this century and this government thing and the changes wrought by global warming and requirements for a modern lifestyle, Nunavummiut will be a successful people."

I really can't believe I read this. Where do I even start? Statements like this simply reinforce a paternalistic attitude and bad stereotypes. Negotiations for the creation of Nunavut began in 1976, after a century of white colonialism. They had a foreign type of government thrust on them, not of their choosing. Southerners have had a huge head start on adjusting to the pace of change. Here, that same rate of change has been condensed into less than 50 years. They've done remarkably well. Ingenuity and adaptability are hallmarks of the Inuit character. I once had a colleague that gave a broken microwave to a local man to fix and the man returned it to her 20 minutes later, having used nothing more than a screw driver and a butter knife. Inuit also do not need to be educated as to the causes and effects wrought by global warming. They are already very much aware of it and indeed there are many Inuit lobby groups and organizations that are pushing for change.

"All adults in Nunavut receive a Northern Living allowance of $20 000 to offset...high prices."

Well, yes and no. Northern Allowances are payable to those in government positions, not every adult in the territory. These Northern Allowances depend on the community in which you work. The government's Northern Allowance for Baker Lake is, I believe $20 058/annum so she is more or less correct, but not very clear in her statement here."

"Teachers are the only profesional group who pay high prices for accomodation. $100 and up." (sic)

HUH? I'm not really sure what the writer is getting at here....the typing was a bit garbled. I don't know any teachers here, in the last community I worked in, nor anywhere else in the territory that pay $100 a month for rent.

"In other communities, especially smaller ones, you see overt drunkeness on the streets and way more evidence of problems."

Yeah, I think I may need a drink after reading this trash. Seriously though, I'm impressed the writer, in the span of a few months, has managed to make it to many other communities to witness what she implies she knows of through first-hand experience.

"The new jobs predicted for the road building contract...will bring a lot of grief with it. People will blow money on drugs and booze."

Gee, nothing like a little stereotyping now. Coming from someone from BC, with all the media buzz and public attention around Vancouver's drug problem, I find this excerpt a strange one.

"Sexual abuse is common. The ethic in an Inuit community is to grieve, as a community, when a sex offender is sent to jail."

Thank you for your misinformed stereotyping. Yes, I believe missionaries of certain Christian denominations first brought this problem here. Speaking as I have to elders and other long timers, sexual abuse was never part of traditional culture. We most certainly do not all grieve for the offender.

"I'm paying off debts and I am soooo happy that I got to come here."

Yep there's nothing like portraying Nunavummuit as bent on taking all the money they can while they can get it and then making a statement like that. So please, please go back where you came from. And with all due respect, read a little northern history while you're at it.

I could go on but I think I've made my point. Articles like this, however well-intentioned do nothing to educate and serve only to foster stereotypes. What I find most frustrating is that these articles were taken from a school board website and present opinions, hearsay and nonsense as fact.

Please don't insult my profession, my Inuit friends and the territory I have grown to love and appreciate.


Anonymous said...

Unfortunatly there are alot of artical like that, and yes it is frustrating but we got sick and tired of trying to speak out when no one was willing to listen. Maybe it would be a good idea if all of Nunavut teachers read that artical on the website and see what they think.


jennifer said...

I think for the part about rent...she MUST mean $1000. That extra zero really makes a difference. I'm pretty sure none of the teachers, or government employees in Igloolik (Qallunaat or Inuit) pay less than $1000 in rent per month. In fact, I think the average is probably about $1200.

Curt, Melissa & Christopher said...

It must be something about being in Baker. I know while I was there, I found a few instances of this type of generalization that just made me cringe when I saw the writers around the store. We must realize though that short sighted small minds are not the property of the south, and they frequently seem to migrate to Baker.
Take Care,

Kara and Matt said...

Reading her comments is very frustrating. Every community has its problems no matter where you live in this world! But you try to work together as a community to make the best of every situation, not to stereotype it.

Anonymous said...

It's hard not to sterotype it, it's people like her that make us our community look bad and us as inuit's. I don't think the sterotype people will never go away, we just have to fix the problems they creat for our communities because it brings the anger out. She makes the Qallunaaq's look really bad and there are alot of Qalunaaq's who are nice.


J Consortium said...

The part that bugged me the most was that she thinks that every community has the same Northern Allowance and that teachers are the only ones who have expensive rent. Maybe she should have a look at the rent for our 1-bedroom apartment before she thinks it's only teachers with expensive rent.

It sad that some potentially great teachers will be turned off moving here because of her misinformed remarks.