The Closing of Padloping Part 2″
The government badly wanted to close Padloping, its most isolated community and school, home to 38 Inuit and, not incidentally, my home. (For the record: In late fall, when the ice between Broughton and Padloping was safe, my wife and son left for the south. Pat was pregnant and we thought it best that she should spend the winter and spring with her family. I remained as the only qallunaaq in Padloping.)
The reasons for closing Padloping were a mystery to me. An economic issue, they said. The Paallakvingmiut had a lower living standard than did Inuit in Broughton Island. I suppose that means that they took in less money.
But they needed less money. There was no store in Padloping. There were no temptations. To trade, hunters travelled the approximately 60 miles from Padloping to Broughton to the Hudson's Bay Company store. In those days, its shelves were not exactly filled with temptations either. In fact, it sold pretty utilitarian, mundane wares, but still you could spend all your money there, and most did.
One factor that did figure in the economic needs of the Paallakvingmiut was the need for fuel. Only the school and its two apartments had electricity. The Inuit houses used fuel oil for stoves, available locally from government supplies, and kerosene for lanterns. And although some hunters still used dog teams, others had already bought snowmobiles, and they needed gas, which they had to buy in Broughton Island.
Still, the over-riding factor was administrative efficiency. If the Padloping Inuit moved to Broughton Island, it would be easier for government administration to keep tabs on them, to administer welfare when needed, to provide medical services, to do whatever it is that government does. But it was a red herring. The people of Padloping didn't need welfare. They were self-sufficient and doing just fine.
On a spring day in 1968, I was teaching my class, 17 attentive students in five grades. The sun was streaming in through the south-facing windows when I heard an unfamiliar sound, a droning noise. It was an airplane.
I'd been in Padloping for seven months without seeing or hearing one, except for the RCAF flyover for the Christmas air drop. The sound slowly materialized into a speck, which grew into a plane that landed on skiis on the ice in front of the school.
By this time I had bundled up in my parka and made my way to the ice. There was a wind – there usually was in Padloping – and I had my face well covered with a scarf. As I approached the plane the pilot threw open the cockpit door. How many white people live here, he shouted.
Just one, I replied. Where is he, he asked. It's me, I replied though my layers of clothing. Are you Harper, he asked. I admitted that I was. Get on board, he said, I'm taking you to Frobisher Bay.
Well, no, I responded. Who are you, anyway, and why would I go to Frobisher Bay with you. He introduced himself as "Roly." The Single Otter aircraft was clearly marked, Georgian Bay Airways, which, for reasons unknown to me, had a base at the time in Frobisher Bay. He had been sent to pick me up and take me to a meeting. Hadn't anybody let me know, he asked. They were supposed to call on the radio.
But nobody had let me know, and I was not about to be abducted by this cheerful stranger in a jump suit. Can't go, I told him. My students are in class.
But I can't go back without you, he said. Then I guess you'll have to stay, I responded. This impasse was resolved when we went to my apartment and used the radio to call Bob Pilot in Broughton Island. From Bob I learned that, indeed, I was to go to Frobisher Bay for a meeting with the regional director. Radio signals had been bad and he hadn't been able to get through to me.
It was Friday. Perhaps a weekend in Frobisher Bay wouldn't be such a bad idea, after all.
The meeting happened Monday morning when government offices opened. It was with a Mr. David Davies, not the well-known Dave Davies who was a teacher in many northern communities and later an administrator, and who had had a uniformed Inuit butler as a servant in his home in Pond Inlet. Not him, but a different David Davies who served for a short time as regional director in Frobisher Bay.
Mr. Davies explained to me the purpose of bringing me out to meet with him. The government would like to close Padloping and move the people to Broughton Island. Inefficiencies, lower standard of living, better life in Broughton, blah-blah-blah… the usual canards.
I rebutted most of his points, but he was clearly not about to be swayed. His mind had been made up. Then he mentioned that the children of Padloping would need to receive an education in a changing world. That's why we have a school, I offered.
Ah, yes, but we're closing the school, he replied, adding that I was one person they had direct control over, and my job in Padloping would be coming to an end.
I wasn't being fired. They were simply closing the school and I would be offered a teaching position elsewhere. To make it easy for me, in fact, they were offering me the principalship of the school in Hall Beach. I turned it down.
(To be continued next week)
Taissumani recounts a specific event of historic interest. Kenn Harper is a historian, writer and linguist who lives in Iqaluit. Feedback? Send your comments and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.