Hammering it out

Shy but dedicated carpentry students build a better future for all women



The hammering in the carpentry shop of Inuksuk High School halts as a student cries out in pain. The young woman drops her hammer and studies the point of contact between tool and flesh.

“It was my middle finger,” she says, boldly displaying the symbolic body part.

The injured student is one of eight women from Kimmirut, Qikiqtarjuaq, Arctic Bay and Iqaluit in the all-female carpentry program. The class falls under the same guidelines as a co-ed cooking program down the hall and is administered by the departments of education and income assistance.

Most of the carpentry students keep their eyes focused on their projects. But Greg Taaffe, the school’s vice-principal, is quick to list the benefits of vocational training — especially for Nunavut teens.

The carpentry class is a preparatory career program for women between the ages of 20 and 35. The classes are held in the school’s otherwise unused woodworking shop.

“Our vision is that this program will incorporate not only adults, but high school students one day. The more diverse programming you offer high school students, the longer they stay in school,” Taaffe says.

About 80 students start Grade 8 at Inuksuk, and only 30 students finish five years later, he says.

Additional programming, such as carpentry, carving and small engine repair, Taaffe says, means teens stay in school and graduate.

“Literacy is a huge issue. A lot of these kids are taught in Inuktitut from Kindergarten to Grade 4 and then start Grade 5 in English. There’s no way they’re at the same [literacy] level as kids who’ve been taught in English since Kindergarten. These kids are bright but they get discouraged and frustrated and drop out. Who can blame them?” Taaffe says.

Creating alternative programming for high school students requires additional money to pay for staff and supplies: money that must come from the department of education.

“I know the GN is doing their best to fix this, but it will likely take years,” Taaffe says.

Safety, math and science are emphasized during the first half of the carpentry program. This month, students are learning to use a table saw, drill press, portable circular saw and a router.

“I’m hoping they find work placements or enter a college program once they’re finished in March,” says instructor Pius Brennan, who taught a men’s carpentry class last year.

Last year’s students made a name for themselves by building a new gym floor and bleachers for the Arctic Winter Games.

When asked about the difference between teaching a group of women and a group of men, Brennan politely replies, “I’m not going to answer that. What I will say is the women are more detail-oriented and the men like the big construction projects.”

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