Students see Parliament Hill, visit senator's office

Kuujjuaq kids get a glimpse of Ottawa lifestyle


For nine high school students from Kuujjuaq's Jaanimmarik School, a recent visit to Parliament Hill in Ottawa was a glimpse into another way of life.

The Kuujjuaq students, who were in Ottawa for the southern portion of an exchange program between their school and Woodroffe High School, paid a call last month to the posh office of Senator Charlie Watt.

There, Watt, also from Kuujjuaq, spoke to the students about his work as a senator, which involves debates in the House, many meetings and lobbying on behalf of Nunavik in the Senate.

And Watt's long-time assistant, Lisa Smith, implored the students to stay in school so one of them can some day hold her job.

Parliament Hill was the "best," said 16-year-old Emma Saunders, a secondary four student at Jaanimmarik, who said she wouldn't mind having a job that would put her in the centre of political action.

The Kuujjuaq students also took in Ottawa's other sights – Rideau Hall, the Canadian Museum of Civilization, and the War Museum where they met a Holocaust survivor who told them about the persecution and murder of approximately six million Jews by Germany's Nazi regime during the Second World War.

But the week-long exchange trip to Ottawa was about more than history or politics.

On his first visit to the capital, 17-year-old Tommy Sequaluk donned a helmet and watched his step, as he dared to try tightrope walking at the Bonnenfant outdoor leadership camp centre near Ottawa.

The trip to Ottawa included many other unfamiliar activities for the Kuujjuaq students: playing soccer at Britannia Park, disco-bowling and meeting new people at the Woodroffe High School where there are 800 students in Grades 9 to 12 instead of 375 students from Grade 4 to 11, as is the case at ­Jaanimmarik.

Attending a Grade 12 class at Woodroffe introduced ­Jaanimmarik students to an advanced course, filled with interaction from students who come from all over the world.

The Jaanimmarik students also visited Annmarie Aitchison of Kuujjuaq, who attends Nunavut Sivuniksavut, the post-secondary program in Ottawa. NS now accepts students from Nunavik if they complete one year of Quebec's college program at a CEGEP, the students learned.

The exchange program was a two-way street, with Ottawa students also visiting Kuujjuaq. In early April, Jaanimmarik played host to 13 students from Woodroffe as part of the YMCA Exchanges Canada.

Their visit to Kuujjuaq included a rollercoaster-like snowmobile trek across the frozen Koksoak River to Old Chimo where the group held an outdoor picnic. The menu? Army ration packs, hot dogs and Arctic char.

Aaron Levine, a 16-year-old Grade 10 student from Woodroffe, said the trip to Old Chimo, riding in the back of the komatik, was "real bumpy."

He and the other students also felt embarrassed to be the only ones wearing helmets – and they couldn't drive the snowmobiles, either.

"I like skidooing, but they won't let me drive. I do have my drivers' licence," Levine said, admitting he had never driven a snowmobile before.

Asked about the weather, Levine said he was freezing going to Old Chimo, about a half an hour away from today's community.

"I had gloves on but I needed mittens. My nose was exposed and with the wind and snow, it took a beating," he said.

During an outdoor soccer game on the snow in Old Chimo, it was funny to see all Ottawa kids cold while the Kuujjuaamiut peeled off their jackets, said Jaanimmarik teacher Julie Cadet.

Overall, the visit of the exchange students to Kuujjuaq was "fantastic," said Cadet, who helped organize the Kuujjuaq portion of the exchange with another teacher.

The Woodroffe students found Kuujjuaq, population 2,000, much smaller than they had imagined.

"It's big surprise how small the town really is and how people say that Ottawa is down south when it's in the north for some of my friends," one participant said.

The Ottawa students marveled that you only have to remember the last four digits of a telephone number to make a call in Kuujjuaq because the community's numbers all start with 819-964.

Apart from that, Kuujjuaq life seemed about the same to them, with cable television and internet available everywhere. Caribou pizza was "pretty cool."

Woodroffe teacher Jaden Lairson, whose aunt, Joanne Barrett, has taught in Kuujjuaq for more than 30 years, set up the exchange, which was also a project for his school's International Affairs Club.

Funding for transportation came from the program, YMCA Youth Exchanges Canada, under a Canadian Heritage grant.

YMCA Youth Exchanges Canada promotes cross-cultural awareness and a sense of belonging among Canadian youth aged 12 to 17.

The program covers travel costs, but each group had to raise money for the exchange in their communities. To this end, Jaanimmark raised $15,000 from solicitations and a contribution from Nunavik's Saputit youth association.

After a dog sledding trip, ice fishing at Stewart Lake, watching drum dancing and Inuit games and meeting with local leaders and elders, the Woodroffe students, who said they didn't know much about the North before they came to Kuujjuaq, now say they know much more- their only criticism is that the exchange trip to Kuujjuaq was too short.

As for the Jaanimmarik students, after visiting Ottawa and Woodroffe, they have lots of friends in Ottawa and a clear picture about what they can look forward to doing in the future, Cadet said.

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