In Memoriam: The Honourable Flora MacDonald

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In 1999 I had the honour of working with the Honourable Flora MacDonald who was then the Co-Chair of the United Nations International Year of Older Persons initiative in Canada. I’m not impressed by too many politicians, but her intellect, integrity, knowledge and passion soon won me over. As a senior herself then, she often skated down the Rideau Canal into downtown Ottawa. Ms. MacDonald was the first female Secretary of State for External Affairs in Canadian history and almost became our first ever female Prime Minister. She had a great love for Canada and a commitment for social justice and human rights in Canada around the world. May she rest in peace.
FMI, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flora_MacDonald_(politician)

First Computer in Any Canadian Arctic Classroom Was Mine! -1982 (then) Eskimo Point, NWT

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I graduated from the Concurrent Teacher Education Program at Queen’s University in 1981. One of my professors had recently returned from working with Dr. Papert at M.I.T. and subsequently got me excited about the potential of putting computers in the hands of kids, something Dr. Papert advocated for in his modest, yet revolutionary book called “Mindstorms”

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I taught my Inuit students how to code using the LOGO programming that was developed by Dr. Seymour Papert and his team at the M.I.T. Media Centre.

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Linda Pemik: “Northern Educator Extraordinaire!”

I was shocked and saddened to learn of the passing of my friend Linda Pemik recently.

Linda was many things to many people, so I will leave it to others to share their stories, when and if they are able, but I wanted to take some time to reflect upon the ways that her life touched mine.

I first came to know Linda when my wife Hélène and I began our teaching careers in (then) Eskimo Point, Northwest Territories in 1982.

As Linda had done before us, we left the familiar confines of southern Canada and journeyed North to live and learn in this predominantly Inuit community of less than a thousand souls whose homes seemed to fervently cling to the Western shores of Hudson Bay.

 

This time in our lives was both exciting and daunting. We wanted to fit into this traditional, dry community. We desperately wanted to make a difference in the lives of the children we had come to serve, but with so much to learn, we needed a someone to help us find our way, to be that bridge between the world we knew and a world we wanted to know better. Thankfully for us, Linda Pemik was just such a person.

Linda had begun her northern learning journey years before us. She fell in love and married Paul. She and Paul would raise four children; Kathleen, Pauline, Paul Jr. and Evan, who, along with future grandchildren, were the loves of her life. But I will let others tell those tales.

Hélène and I taught her daughter Kathleen at Kreterklerk School and I became “Uncle Beelo” away from school.

We shared stories and laughed so many times that often our sides hurt. During one meal together I remember Linda recounting the time when her daughter Kathleen innocently wandered into a local church and soon thereafter found herself being immersed in a tub of water as she was unwittingly being baptised. Kathleen eventually came home, soaked to the skin, still wondering what had just happened to her! I can still hear Linda’s heartfelt laughter ringing in my ears as she regaled us with this tale.

Linda loved to sing, which was lucky for us, as she had a beautiful, resplendent voice that interpreted a song’s lyrics with a joyous clarion call.

Linda, Hélène and I all shared the proud academic roots of being graduates of Queen’s University. I’m pretty sure that we did a few “Oil Thighs” in sealskin and caribou kamiks (boots), much to the amusement of local Inuit friends and neighbours.

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Linda advised Hélène about sewing parkas so they would be Arctic winter-ready while remaining stylish. She invited us to her home for caribou stew and fresh Arctic Char. She loved to cook and bake on her large, warm black wood burning cook stove. The wonderful aromas that wafted from her home welcomed all and sundry.

Linda was far more than a domestic goddess.  She was a thoughtful, strong-willed woman who knew her own mind and didn’t suffer fools gladly.

As a new teacher in 1982, I had brought a computer into my grade four classroom and was teaching my students how to code using a programming language call LOGO that was created for children by Dr. Seymour Papert and his colleagues at the world-renowned M.I.T. Media Lab. While my own Superintendent was questioning the use of a computer with my young students, which I have been often told was the first computer in the North, Linda’s natural curiosity and sharp intellect had her regularly asking me questions as to the pedagogical validity of using this tool with her daughter and the other children. She kept me on my toes and I’m so glad she did. By thinking through my responses to her thoughtful questions, I was able to clarify why I had brought a computer to my classroom and what benefits it brought in support of teaching and learning.

 

 

 

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After her children were older, Linda began to work for Arctic College. This same sharp mind and ability to professionally seek important answers through critical thinking and analytical questioning skills, laid a strong foundation for her journey as a lifelong learner. In time, Linda became Senior Academic Officer at Nunavut Arctic College.

In 2000, Linda completed a Master’s degree in Adult and Continuing Education and Teaching from the University of Calgary.

She took the EC&I 831: Social Media & Open Education course from Alec Couros at the University of Regina. In no small part due to this course, Linda became active on social media and started her own professional blog, “Learning Out in the Open”  to which I contributed from time to time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Linda_PemikIn 2013 she completed a Professional Certificate in Online Teaching, Higher Education/Higher Education Administration from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

I was deeply honoured and humbled when Linda once told me that I was one of Canada’s “Ed-Tech” pioneers and that I was one of her “Ed-Tech” heroes going back to our early days in (then) Eskimo Point.

Linda walked-the-walk of a true, lifelong learner. Her curiosity about the world kept her always looking to the future, her passion for life ensured she was always present with those in her company, her love for family and community kept her grounded with a moral compass that pointed straight and true. Truth be told, Linda was a hero of MINE!

 

 

 

 

To Paul, Kathleen, Pauline and Paul Jr., Evan and the rest of Linda’s family; no words can heal the deep sense of loss you are feeling, but perhaps it may help a little to know that you are NOT alone in your sorrow. Your mom deeply touched SO many other lives. If it’s true that, “Teachers plant seeds for trees whose shade they will never see“, there are entire forests providing shade because of your mother!

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(left to right) Pauline, Linda and Kathleen Pemik

When you are confronted with one of life’s many challenges, take a moment to reflect on the question, “What would mom do?” The answer will guide you well as you go forward on your own journeys. Please know that she will never be truly gone as long as you hold her in your heart.

TAIMA,

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Eric Anoee, A Friend Remembered by Bill Belsey

The Inuit Writer and cultural activist was a man capable of great wisdom and generosity to friends – whatever their heritage.

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Eric Anoee, Padleirmiut with fiddle. Ledyard collection Mark Kallauk Collection,Nunavut Department of Education, Curriculum and School Services.

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Eric Anoee portrait

His face was deeply tanned, wrinkled and familiar, like a fine old leather jacket. The eyes, hidden by ever-present sunglasses, were tired, yet not without a sense of possibility. There was a gentle, measured cadence and tone to his voice that implied wisdom without ego, thoughtfulness based on hard-earned experience, knowledge without prejudice. This was Eric Anoee, a man I knew for all too short a time. Anoee was born in the Kazan River region in about 1924. His mind was always full of wonder, and he understood the power of knowledge early in life. He learned the old ways by watching his father and relatives in the land, and he studied the ways and language of the Qabloonat through the missionaries and their books. This love of learning stayed with him throughout his life. Others came to regard him highly because of his increasingly rare understanding of traditional Inuit practices, and the richness of Inuktitut.

Eric Anoee with painting

Anoee became a catechist for the Anglican Church in 1962, and was asked to be an official interpreter for two bishops. In 1965 he started to publish an Anglican magazine. He became a Justice of the Peace and lived in Pangnirtung for several years, where his stature was recognized by his election to the local council. Soon after the formation of the Inuit Cultural Institute in Arviat in 1974, Anoee became a researcher for the Inuit Tradition Project, and in 1975 was appointed its director. He oversaw the the recording, transcription and editing of the cultural heritage and traditions of his people.

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Martina Anoee Family Quilt

 

The Eric Anoee Readers, written and illustrated by Anoee himself, are used by teachers and classroom assistants to teach Inuktitut throughout the Eastern Arctic. His writing has appeared in Up Here (October / November 1989) among other magazines, and in Northern Voices, an anthology edited by Penny Petrone and published by the University of Toronto Press.

 

 

 

Eric Anoee with pipe

When I first met Eric Anoee in 1982, I was embarking on my first full-time teaching job, joining a staff that would be trying to teach over 200 students in a building without interior walls. Eric Anoee would teach Inuktitut to my grade four class. As we shook hands, I was immediately warmed by his tranquil, pipe-filled smile. During that first year of teaching, Anoee was away for a number of days I feared he was sick, but didn’t ask anyone. After he returned he politely mentioned something about “meetings in Ottawa”. It wasn’t until over a month later that I learned he had actually been south to receive the Order of Canada from the Governor General for his contributions to education and Inuit culture.

 

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Eric Anoee Order of Canada

 

In subsequent years, Anoee would lead Prime Minister Trudeau and the other first ministers into the National Conference Centre in Ottawa to give the opening prayer in Inuktitut for the first conference on Aboriginal issues. During the 1986 Inuit Circumpolar Conference in Kotzebue, Alaska, Eric Anoee was one of the most respected elders who were invited to address the meetings. On October 16th, 1991, then Northwest Territories’ Education Minister Steven Kakfwi posthumously recognized Anoee with an award for his contributions to literacy in the Northwest Territories.While honours and accolades often cane his way, Anoee took his greatest pleasures from his family, his time on the land, his art and his omnipresent pipe. Due to a progressive illness, it became more difficult for Anoee to spend time on the land in his later years. However, it has been said that in his prime, Anoee could build a finished iglu in 45 minutes and completely butcher a bull caribou in less time. Needless to say, Anoee had the respect of his fellow hunters.In subsequent years, Anoee would lead Prime Minister Trudeau and the other First Ministers into the National Conference Centre in Ottawa to give the opening prayer in Inuktitut for the first conference on Aboriginal issues.

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Eric Anoee in Denmark

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anoee Family
(l to r) Martha, Obed and Martina Anoee

 

Whenever I visited Anoee, I felt overwhelmed by his family’s hospitality. On my first visit, I knocked at the door (a formal habit that I later unlearned), brushed the snow off my sealskin kamiks and edged inside. The porch contained an unfinished wooden shelf unit that looked like a shop project from school, loaded down with the kinds of odds and ends that are essential to Northern settlement life: a litre of 10W 30 oil, two recycled NGK9BR spark plugs, a drive belt for a Yamaha 340 snowmobile, snow knife, a well-used Coleman stove, a can of Naptha, a greasy toolbox, and a handful of .22 calibre bullets.

 

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The living room was spartan, yet welcoming, with a large grey chesterfield that showed signs of child-erosion. Across form the couch was a crucifix and beside it, a painting of the Virgin Mary. A broad, lime green wooden table was surrounded by three chairs that could have come from a 1950s diner. In the corner of the living room was the ubiquitous 30? television, tuned to Hockey Night in Canada. Anoee’s wife Martina, brought us a huge pot of tea made from Wolf Creek ice, guaranteed to yield a better-tasting brew than you could make with trucked-in, chlorinated water. A steaming plate of bannock fresh from the frying pan followed, and a pot of caribou stew (uujuq).

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Anoee Family

 

During other visits, I would be ushered to his bedroom, where I often found Anoee reclining upon a single, well-worn mattress, no box-spring thank you, upon the floor. His CB radio would be squawking out messages from settlements and camps across the North. The aroma that wafted from his old corncob pipe permeated his room. Anoee carefully blended a mix of store-bought pipe tobacco and a crop of low bush cranberry leaves in his closet which had been harvested at a precise time each fall, so that even in darkest January, the effect upon the senses was like walking on the autumn tundra.

 

Martina Anoee Kissing Anoee Belsey
Martina Anoee Kissing Anoee Belsey

It was in this setting that I passed many a warm, memorable evening. Anoee might show me a painting or carving he was working on, or ask me probing questions about how to best use his new camera. Another evening he might tell me a story or teach me a string game. Before knowing him, I had always felt awkward with silence during a conversation; Anoee reminded me that silence gives you time to listen and time to think. He often sang, and laughed readily. This is how I remember Eric Anoee before he died on September 24, 1989 in Arviat. On March 19th, 1991, five days after the birthday of Eric Anoee, my wife Helene and I were blessed with a son. We asked our friend, Elisapee Karetak if she would take a message to Martina Anoee, who did not have a phone. We wanted to ask her if we could name our son after her late husband.

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Anoee Belsey baptized by Rev. Armand Tagoona
Anoee Belsey baptized by Rev. Armand Tagoona Rankin Inlet, Nunavut 1991

Elisapee phoned to tell us that Martina’s answer was an enthusiastic “Yes!” Our son was baptized by the Reverend Armand Tagoona in Rankin Inlet. The relationship between Tagoona and Anoee had been a long and close one. As he poured the holy water gently over the baby’s head, Armand smiled and whispered, “Welcome back my friend.”

 

To this day, I cannot begin to tell you how good it feels to look at my son and say, “I love you Anoee!”

Beginnings…

Each new school year I reflect on the significance of beginnings and what the concept of “New Year” means.

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When we lived in the Arctic, my family and I had the good fortune to meet and learn from an Inuit elder and religious leader, Armand Tagoona.

Tagoona once said that the idea of a “New Year” often made him think about what it looks like in the Arctic just after a blizzard. He described the pristine whiteness of the new snow, aput, that not only lay on the ground, but had been spread over everything in sight like frosting on a frozen cake.

He said, “A new year gives you the chance to leave your mark on the fresh new snow that no one has yet walked on. You can choose the direction you wish to travel. Your footprints will leave a trail that will be unique to you, although others may choose to follow you. What will you do when you go outside and face that new snow? What route will you take? Will you be able to help others who face that same challenge and may choose to follow your path?”

Teachers and students are quite lucky in that we have a number of formal beginnings, one being the start of the new school year and the other being the “New Year” in January. For me, these points in the year represent opportunities to challenge myself to do begin anew, to try and do better for my students and to recommit to Springbank Middle School’s mission, that “We care our self, others, teaching, learning and the Earth!“.

As we begin this new school year, it is my hope to challenge my students to join me on this learning journey so that together we can make good decisions about the directions that we will take. With some thought, passion and hard work we can both blaze our own path and also leave trails that may help others find their way as well as we step onto this fresh “new snow”.

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Taima (Inuktitut for, “That’s all for now”),

Bill Belsey -Inuktitut

Before My Very Eyes -A Love Letter from Dad to Daughter On Her Graduation

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I have loved my daughter Julia from the moment she was born in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories during the Montreal Canadiens Stanley Cup win in 1993.

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I remember that early on, my sister Sandy made the very astute observation, “That girl really knows her own mind and has her own style!”

 

 

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That statement couldn’t have been more prophetic.

This past weekend, I participated as a father in that annual spring rite of passage, the high school graduation.

I expected to be a proud parent to be sure, yet I had no idea how far these feelings would grow.

I not only watched my daughter receive her diploma like so many of her friends and classmates, I also watched her grow up right before my very eyes.

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Her growth into a beautiful, confident, intelligent, passionate and compassionate young woman was in fact, always happening. It just took this weekend’s events to give me time to focus, reflect and appreciate the changes she was going through.

This past year has been one of tremendous growth and maturity for our daughter.

Last summer during a YMCA leadership program in the Rocky Mountains, Julia had some time for reflection about her values, her future and what she truly wanted in life.

As a result, when the school year started, she decided to step away from the High School volleyball team in her senior year, a year during which her team was almost assured of yet another championship. She did this in order to strengthen her marks with the goal of attending university next year. This mature, difficult decision paid off handsomely when she was accepted in her first program of choice at Acadia University with an early letter of acceptance.

During this year, she also put her name forward and was chosen as the Chairperson for the 2011 Graduation Committee. This meant that she took up the challenge of leadership with respect to a very personal event that almost everyone seemed to have strong opinions about. She had to learn how to collaborate, compromise, delegate, encourage, castigate and ultimately make decisions on issues that she knew would be challenged and second-guessed no matter what choice was made. She learned that leadership can be a very lonely burden at times, one that weighs especially heavily upon the shoulders of a teenage girl.

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During the past 48 hours, I saw her overcome frustration and anxiety as her beautiful, new prom dress was stepped on and torn, just minutes prior to taking the stage. I watched her crack jokes and give thoughtful speeches before a huge auditorium filled with parents, teachers and peers. I have seen her partner as Master of Ceremonies with confidence, charm, grace, wit, and style. I saw her reaching out to make the event as inclusive to all factions of her school community as possible, something that can be very difficult to do given how rigid and exclusive high school cliques can become.

Julia was emerging from the chrysalis of her teenage years. I saw my “baby” daughter, carry herself as a poised, graceful and strong young woman.

As a parent, you try your best to be a good role model, to not only say the right things at the right time, but to embody the attitudes and values you hope your children may perhaps adopt as their own. If you’re fortunate, you don’t go on this journey of parenthood alone. I am so thankful that my wonderful wife Hélène and I walk this walk together. There are many times, especially when your child reaches their teenager years, you feel that you can do nothing right. And then…

And then there are those times, those incredibly special times, like this past weekend, when things all seem to come together and you realize that maybe, you may have done a few things right after all. Or perhaps your kids just made more good decisions than bad ones on their own, for their own reasons, despite your sage advice.

Whatever the case may be, I want my daughter to know that I am so completely and utterly proud of the young woman that she is becoming, despite all of my many mistakes as your dad. (Thank goodness for your amazing mom!) I do know that I have always tried to be here for you when you needed me. I feel so lucky enough to have had a front row seat for the best show that life has to offer, no, not at the Stampeder’s games, but as your father.

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If the past forty-eight hours is any indication of what the future holds, I can’t wait to see what comes next!

All my love,

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xoxoxo