Throat-singing, carving and Arctic char: HWDSB students heading to Arctic Circle
A team of HWDSB staff has begun a journey with 16 students, 15 of whom are Indigenous, to the Arctic Circle on a once-in-a-lifetime adventure packed with hiking to the Arctic Circle marker, throat singing and learning traditional Inuit games.
Thanks to YMCA Canada’s Culture Exchange program, the students and staff are even taking an HWDSB flag all the way to the Arctic Circle. Then, May 6-11 will see Inuit students or their “twins” from the north visit Hamilton for a taste of city life in southern Ontario.
The opportunity arose after teachers Kleri Venizelos (Westdale) and Jennifer Petrossi Currie (Westmount) saw challenging data on Indigenous student success. They applied for YMCA Canada youth exchange funding, only to be asked if their group would be interested in a unique opportunity, and the costliest of all excursions.
“We were offered an opportunity to travel to the remote Inuit community of Pangnirtung, Baffin Island for an Indigenous exchange,” Venizelos said. They reached out to other HWDSB schools and now Delta, Sir John A. Macdonald, Westdale and Westmount are each sending four students.
The goal is to broaden opportunities for all Indigenous youth in HWDSB, and to build capacity among leaders by bringing a different principal on each trip. (This year, Westmount Principal Angela Ferguson is on the trip.) Venizelos sees it as fitting within the 94 Calls to Action in the Truth and Reconciliation Report.
It follows a trip with a larger group of students last year. A group of 21 Westdale and Westmount students visited the wild west coast of Vancouver Island to spend time with Nuu-chah-nulth elders and community members. It was also part of YMCA Canada’s Culture Exchange program.
This time, the HWDSB team headed north April 15 on a two-day journey to Pangnirtung. They will stay at the local Attagoyuk High School in the tiny Nunavut community of 1,500 residents; nearly everyone in the town is Inuit.
HWDSB students will participate in traditional sewing, Inuit throat singing, Inuktitut dancing, baking bannock, collecting water to be delivered to the homes of Elders, Arctic char fishing and a trip to the marker of the Arctic Circle.
“We are so exciting to be spending the week with Inuit Elders who will be facilitating most of the activities,” Venizelos said. “There is a rich artistic tradition in Pangnirtung of weaving and carving and we will have opportunities to meet the artists at the Uqqurmiut Art Centre.”
The trip will include curricular learning with each student taking the e-learning course Contemporary Indigenous Issues in Canada (NDA3M). They will learn about food security, the European Union seal ban and impact on the Inuit economy, Inuit residential school experiences, and the loss of hunting and fishing grounds.
Venizelos thanked community partners including YMCA Canada (which funded the $150,000 travel cost), Hamilton Regional Indigenous Centre, McMaster University Indigenous Studies Department, Mohawk College Aboriginal Student Services, Fort Erie Friendship Centre, Neighbour to Neighbour and more.
“We have been meeting with the families of the students regularly, so they get to know us, and feel safe having us take their children so far up north,” Venizelos said. “We have also been very clear: this is definitely a trip of a lifetime.”