CamBay students learn survival on the land
Two-day trips part of school cultural program
CAMBRIDGE BAY — Round plants with sprays of tiny shoots dot the hillside near Mt. Pelly outside the western Nunavut community of Cambridge Bay.
If you’re a teenager like Gavin Greenley, you may not know that if you carefully pull the plant out of the ground, you’ll find a long root attached.
And this root is edible, tasting a bit like cauliflower he said.
That this plant is edible was among the many tips for survival on the land that Jorgan Aitaok, a long-time Canadian Ranger, shared with a group of students from Kiilinik High School who spent two days, Sept. 25 and Sept. 26, learning land skills with him and teachers Aaron Bellamy and Greg Hoosier, along with elders.
The two day-trips were part of the school’s Aulajaatut cultural program, a five-credit course that all high school students in Nunavut must take from Grade 10 to Grade 12.
The program generally takes place inside the classroom — but this fall Kiilinik decided to help students fulfill their Aulajaaqtut credits by bringing them out of the school and on to the land.
That’s a decision that the participants, teenagers dressed in the southern-inspired uniform of youth, hoodies, track pants and running shoes, all embraced.
They spend the first day learning first aid techniques, such as how to stabilize a broken leg with a fold-up yellow paper splint and duct tape, and the second day on GPS and survival skills.
This involves some classroom preparation on how the global positioning system works.
Then the kids, nearly 40 in all, hop on their school bus to travel the 20-kilometre-long bumpy road to Mt. Pelly, known as Ovayok in Inuinnaqtun.
There, two tents set up for their school program overlook a lake and a sandy hook of a beach on Kengmetkok Lake. Behind the site rises the soft treeless side of Ovayok.
In the distance, you can see two other hills, known as Baby Pelly, Inuuhuktuq, and Mama Pelly, Amatok, the legendary wife and son of the fallen giant Ovayok. There’s a brisk wind, but the temperature is nearly 7 C, way above average for this time of year.
After team building exercises between the students, divided into two groups, referred to as the Nanooks and Narwhals, they practice their new GPS skills.
On the Nanook walk with Aitaok, kids take turns navigating.
Among the advice that Aitaok gives them as they walk, which may someday save a life out on the land: don’t forget to bring extra batteries for your GPS.
The GPS jaunt also includes some discussion of the plants and berries they see as they walk.
A keen-eyed student spots the rusted tip of a spearhead by a rock, surrounded by other old debris. The others gather round to look, but don’t touch.
After finding their way down to the lake, some students decide to dip their heads in for a drink, then they’re off to chart their path back to the tents, passing by another pond.
There, Aitaok reminds them to try to find larger bodies of water if they’re thirsty because small ponds harbour lots of small debris and bacteria — at the very least, they should try to strain it or boil it, he says.
Back at the tents, a lunch of steaming hot bannock, meat soup and hot dogs awaits. Elder Mabel Etegik and a student have been working inside one tent to make and fry up rounds of cottony bannock.
While she cooks Etegik talks in Inuinnaqtun to herself, but she speaks English to the students.
If they speak Inuinnaqtun, it’s not spoken during lunch, but they say “koana” to Mabel, thanking her for the bannock, one of the few words of Inuinnaqtun spoken all day apart from “nuna,” when people talk about the land.
Lunch doesn’t last long: soon the students are down by the beach, to build a fire pit and a survival shelter.
For their fire pit and fire, they gather flat rocks, heather and bits of wood. The survival kit given to each group includes some matches: conserve matches, Aitaok counsels, so you don’t end up with none.
As some Nanooks tend their fire, others take two green tarps and fashion a low shelter over an indentation in the hillside.
The shelter doesn’t look like much but inside it’s warm and cozy.
The Narwhals are ambitiously building a large firepit with a stone wall to cut the wind and a larger shelter you can stand up in, with a swept floor and stone entrance.
After a bit of fishing and jigging (with no catches), the students pack everything up.
The next Aulajaaqtut camp will take place in October during the caribou run. Several students, used to hunting with their families, want to know if they’ll be able to practice shooting during the camp.
“When you have firearms and students together you have to have a very regulated hunt,” Hoosier tells them, not ruling out some participation by students.
The day prompts some to share stories their parents and grandparents have told them about surviving “on the land from the land,” such as using makeshift shelters spread over a broken-down boat.
For Grade 10 student Boid Klengenberg, the day is a success: he said he’s gotten to know students in the higher grades and he has reconnected with the land.
His granny always tells him not to forget where he’s from (Bay Chimo, “I call it home”) or this roots, he says.