A brief description of Netsilik School and Taloyoak (pronounced "ta-low-ywak") . . .
Throughout the course of completing my M.Ed, I have focused my topics and assignments on the current state of affairs regarding Inuit dropout. My experience is based on my life and work at Netsilik School in Taloyoak, Nunavut.
Currently I am a teacher and a vice principal in a small, isolated Inuit community in the central Arctic. The population of Taloyoak is just under 700 people, one-third of which is school aged children. About 95% of the population is of Inuit descent. Non-Native members are primarily teachers, medical staff, government employees, and store management from other places in southern Canada.
The traditional inhabitants of the area were the Netsilik Inuit, called the Netsilingmiut - "people of the seal." The abundance of seal in the area provided these people with food and clothing. First European contact with the Inuit of this area was due to exploration by Sir John Ross and his crew when they combed the area in search of the Northwest Passage (1829 - 1833). Later British and American sailors visited the area in search of the lost Franklin expedition (1848 - 1860).
The modern community was first settled in the 1948 when the Hudson's Bay Co was forced to move their trading post from Fort Ross, 250 kilometers away, to Stanners Harbour and Taloyoak (called Spence Bay). The RCMP arrived shortly after and were followed by the Catholic and Anglican missionaries in the 1950's. Later the government encouraged the Inuit to settle in Spence Bay. Now traditional activities like hunting are balanced with other types of employment to sustain the people. The nomadic life of the Inuit is no longer; their life on the land exists only in short spring and summer trips.
.The word Taloyoak means "large caribou blind" in Inuktitut. The word refers to the traditional stone structures that were used to corral caribou for hunting. One of these stone structures are visible from the town site.
Apart from isolation, the lack of trees and seasonal changes in sunlight, Taloyoak is like any other small town. Cable television is found in most homes and Internet service is now provided. First Air serves Taloyoak six days a week and fresh fruit and vegetables can be bought in the local stores fairly regularly. Netsilik School is a modern building and the teachers are as qualified as any others across Canada. Student who graduate from Netsilik School sit from Alberta Departmental examinations and are able to enroll in southern colleges and university programs.
In April 1999, Taloyoak became part of the newest territory, Nunavut.
Inuktitut and English are the two languages used in Taloyoak. There are two dialects of Inuktitit, Netsilik and Dorset, which are prevalent; the two dialect are not totally compatible so it is fuel for confusion in some cases. English is being used more and more frequently in the home due to the influences of school, television, movies, and music. In the eastern arctic Inuktitut began as an oral language and it is now written using syllabics. Further west, Cambridge Bay and Kugluktuk (formerly called Coppermine) use Roman Orthography or the English alphabet to write words in Inuunaqtunn which is another family of the Inuktitut language. In the Kitikmeot region, Taloyoak, Kugaaruk (formerly called Pelly Bay), and Gjoa Haven use these written syllabics primarily.
Many Inuit are semi - bilingual with the abilities to speak basic Inuktitut and being about to read and write basic English. Most of the elders in Taloyoak speak Inuktitut but some have learned English as well. Parents will often use mixtures of Inuktitut and English in the home. Children will continue to use a mixture of the two languages in conversation. Elders often complain that their grandchildren are unable to speak to them in Inuktitut despite their ability to understand what is said to them in Inuktitut. There are many factors that contribute to this loss of language.
In the past, students would travel outside of the community to get their high school education. Within the last decade, there has been a push for the development of community high schools in these isolated student populations. It is hoped that more students will be able to complete their education by staying in the community.
Netsilik School is a kindergarten to grade twelve school housed in a single building; other schools in the Kitikmeot region elected to divide the program creating two separate schools. We are likely enough to have three Inuit teachers who have an Inuktitut immersion program from kindergarten to grade two. Language specialists teach the Netsilik dialect as a daily course to students up to grade nine. We hope to gain more certified Inuktitut instructors when the Nunavut Teachers Education Program (NTEP) starts at Nunavut Arctic College in Taloyoak in 2001. Once more Inuit teacher become qualified for teaching, Netsilik School will be able to offer more Inuktitut classes for students.
Students at Netsilik School are able to participate in a number of activities. Junior high and Senior High students have music classes using band instruments and violins. Sport intramurals, craft clubs, choir, ski club, guitar club, and art club occur after school. A morning breakfast program and computer club is provided for students before school. Other cultural activities happen through the year: throat singing, drum dancing, ulu making, cultural sewing. An annual Cultural Day occurs each spring out on the sea ice.
Staff at Netsilik School are able to give input into the school year schedule. For many years we have spread our five days for spring break over the month of April and May to create long weekends. This is particularly nice for families who wish to spend time camping on the land for a long weekend. Our school year is also altered to start the beginning of August and ends at the end of May. Many families appreciate this change as June and July are the best times for fishing and camping. Our student attendance is lower in the months of May and June because people tend to start travelling to camps and will skidoo to across to relatives in Kugaaruk and Gjoa Haven.
The dialect issue is a difficult one for Inuktitut teachers at Netsilik School because the Netsilik dialect is only one of two dialects spoken in Taloyoak. At times, there can be confusion as to which dialect should be teach at the school. As well, it is difficult to get enough appropriate resources written in the Netsilik dialect and syllabics for students to use. The Baffin region is larger so they able to publish material in the Baffin dialect; unfortunately, these books can not be used without modification.
Taloyoak is approximately 70 degrees North. It is far above the treeline and continuous permafrost exists. There are few plants that are able to survive such a short growth period. Wildlife found in the area include: barrenland caribou, seal, walrus, muskoxen, arctic hare, arctic fox, ermine, narwhal, beluga, char, trout, cod, arctic ground squirrel (sik sik) wolf and polar bear. Birds include seagull, loons, duck, geese, tundra swan, snow bunting, raven, arctic tern, snowy owl, ptarmigan, gyrfalcon, and rough legged hawks.
In mid April, Taloyoak begins it's session of 24 hour daylight; the sun never sets and shines straight through the night. On the other side, by mid November until mid January the sun does not rise above the horizon. Except for brief period of dusk-type light, the days are complete darkness. These seasonal changes make for a confusing schedule of sleep for some people. Young children and students find it particularly difficult to maintain regular sleeping patterns.
The temperature in the winter months can fall to negative 45 degrees Celsius; when the wind-chill is included it makes it feel closer to negative 70 degrees Celsius some days. In the summer, once the snow melts in June, the temperature can rise to 15 degree Celsius. Summer can be very dusty and dry with an overabundance of mosquitoes. Even so, it is an enjoyable season and many people spend a great deal of time outside.
Bolander, G. (no date). A little history. [Online] Available: www.polarnet.ca/~netsilik/history.html. [01,09,2001].