Iqaluit’s French students take classes out on the tundra

Children learn about nature, animals and survival skills

Benoit Havard leads students from École des Trois Soleils on a weekly land trip. (Photo by Courtney Edgar)

By Courtney Edgar

Iqaluit’s francophone school is letting nature teach its students once a week.

Every Wednesday afternoon throughout the school year, a group of students between kindergarten and Grade 12 from École des Trois Soleils has a class scheduled out on the land.

This is the second year the school has run the “Sila” program, says principal François Ouellette. (Sila can represent weather, the environment, climate, or the world outside.)

Ouellette said he understands the Inuktitut word “sila” as the equivalent of the French term “plein air,” which is a combination of the weather and breath.

École des Trois Soleils students in Iqaluit, Nunavut

Grade 2 and 3 students from École des Trois Soleils ride in a sled behind a snowmobile this Wednesday. (Photo by Courtney Edgar)

Benoit Havard—described as a “professional Arctic cowboy” by Ouellette—leads the classes, driving the snowmobile and sled back and forth to take groups of 20 or so kids at a time to the camp.

He is an outfitter and adventurer who wrangled reindeer in Siberia and wrote a book about it.

At the camp, with the help of instructors and volunteer supervisors, Havard teaches the children things like the cardinal points, nature, animals and survival skills.

If you kick your heel up and against the ground repeatedly, it brings circulation back to your feet, he says, demonstrating.

Some days the students learn archery. Other days, an Inuk elder comes in to teach the students how to sew.

At the end of the school year, some of the older children will get to go on a fishing and camping trip to practice all they have learned in their classes out on the land.

École des Trois Soleils students in Iqaluit, Nunavut

With the help of parent volunteers, Benoit Havard has built a camp area for students. (Photo by Courtney Edgar)

This week’s class trip

On Wednesday afternoon, a group of second and third graders travelled to the camp on three sled shuttles.

Then Havard led a treasure hunt. Its clues were rich with Arctic animal trivia, hidden out around the tundra, following a short lesson about cardinal points.

École des Trois Soleils in Iqaluit, Nunavut

École des Trois Soleils climb a hill during a land trip. (Photo by Courtney Edgar)

Havard always brings his two dogs on these trips. The children take pauses from activities to roll in the snow with the sled dogs and rub their bellies.

Additionally, Ouellette says Havard has the children pack little survival packs for the journey: snacks, extra socks, extra mitts, water and a pocket knife.

With the help of parent volunteers, Havard built a structure for the students’ camp area. They used salvaged wood.

A few wooden stairs lead up to a landing where there is one canvas tent so far. It was built to hold two, Havard says.

In the tent are camp chairs, benches and a small Coleman heater.

The children warm up in the tent if they get cold before their end-of-day hot chocolate.

École des Trois Soleils students in Iqaluit, Nunavut

Benoit Havard’s two dogs accompany the children on trips. (Photo by Courtney Edgar)

Learning tundra culture

While Havard is not Inuk, he and the school try to incorporate Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit principles in their outdoors learning, Ouellette says.

Additionally, they are working on involving Inuit elders to teach the students, he says, but it poses challenges since not many Inuit are also able to speak French to the students to follow the school’s language mandate.

Christine Bérubé, a community counsellor at École des Trois Soleils, says that the Sila project is good for mental health, giving kids a chance to be outside more than just at recess.

Bérubé also says it gives students a necessary connection to their location in a way you would not have inside a classroom.

“It helps them develop a sense of appreciation for the land,” Bérubé says.

École des Trois Soleils students in Iqaluit, Nunavut

Time spent outdoors helps give students an appreciation for the land, says Christine Bérubé, a community counsellor at École des Trois Soleils.

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(17) Comments:

  1. Posted by Clarity on

    Great idea until something happens and someone gets hurt. Lots of liability there…

  2. Posted by Crystal Clarity on

    Excellent. It is great to see schools take students out off the land. It is really growing in popularity in Europe as well.

  3. Posted by Well taima to that! on

    This is rediculous! Non-Inuit being paid to teach Inuit land skils in a territory of Inuit with more knowledge and experience. Hope the GN isn’t paying for this. Does nobody understand that they live in Nunavut among Inuit?

    Bet the school pitched this story as a good idea and the journalist bought it because the journalist is new to Nunavut and doesn’t know any Inuit either.

    Reeks of cultural appropriation and privilege.

    • Posted by Daniel D on

      Where do you come from and where are you living to write such a thing Benoit Havard lives in the north since many years and he is very involve with young inuits regarding outdoors activities. Among other things he teach para ski since many years. You are going too far with the concept of cultural appropriation. It is becoming a bad joke,

    • Posted by j-J R. on

      M. Benoit Havard est un travailleur hautement respecté dans une entreprise appelée Inukpak Travel. Tout le monde à Iqaluit sait que Inukpak Travel est une entreprise très respectée qui existe dans la communauté depuis de nombreuses années.

      I suspect this commenter lives outside Iqaluit and is unfamiliar with Iqaluit and has misunderstood what is happening here. M. Havard is a worker with Inukpak Travel, which is the leading guiding and outfitting company in Iqaluit and has been here in Iqaluit for many years. They are an ideal company for taking children out on the land, because they are safe, responsible, reliable, trustworthy and licenced and they are ideal for École des trois-soleils because they can communicate in French.

      The Commission scolaire francophone du Nunavut is a self-governing body and has the right to hire whoever they want to enhance the educational program and they are responsible for ensuring the safety of children on these trips, which should be the primary goal.

      There are many non-Inuit who have excellent land skills and who have excellent knowledge of nature and the outdoors and there is nothing wrong having them teach our children. This has nothing to do with cultural appropriation.

      None of us are going anywhere so we all need to live together with respect and tolerance.

    • Posted by Crystal Clarity on

      A poster that was widely circulated when the formation of Nunavut gained royal assent was a picture of 2 little girls one Inuk one qablunnaq, the intended message being that Nunavut was for everyone who lived here not just a certain group. This is not cultural appropriation/privilege. The instructor is obviously skilled.

    • Posted by Great place to learn on

      This comment is very narrow minded. Since when did you have to be Inuit in order to show children basic land skills, how to respect and enjoy the land. Inuit are not the only people who enjoy camping, hunting, and other outdoor activities. It only makes sense to teach the children how to be safe. It’s this sort of attitude that destroys a community and segregates people from each other. There’s no place for this sort of foolish thought!!

    • Posted by phil on

      Guess what? Nunavut and its land belongs to its residents regardless of what race they are. So enough with the nonsense! If you don’t like it, then it is too late to do anything about it other than get lost!

  4. Posted by Big Tent on

    Outdoor education programs are great, and exist in lots of places. I am glad to see they have that. It is not and cannot be an Inuit cultural program unless they have Inuit leaders, and I hope they know that. But to have an outdoor education program in Nunavut and not have Inuit teaching Inuit culture with it is a whopping missed opportunity, and I think that is what the commenter above was reacting to. Including Elders is an obvious solution, but using the ‘can’t find an Elder that speaks French, so too bad’, excuse is lame. Get Elders and Inuit guides. Keep French-speaking leaders to explain, even if they can’t translate. Inuit culture involves lots of observation. Problem solved.

    • Posted by Get over yourself!! on

      Inuit elders are included, when possible: “Other days, an Inuk elder comes in to teach the students how to sew.”

      The purpose of these trips is for education: “Children learn about nature, animals and survival skills”.

      This is the French school built under the Federal agreement, therefore, all instruction must be in French.

      These are not your children!

      • Posted by Big Tent on

        The French school exists to support French language education, and I haven’t read all the law on this, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t say anywhere “the school must limit itself to only French language and culture. Do not under any circumstances provide students with exposure to other languages and cultures – students may end up well-rounded, open-minded and with a wider set of skills than allowed.”

      • Posted by Northern Guy on

        You and your children live in Nunavut, a territory created solely as the result of an agreement between Inuit and the Government of Canada. The population of Nunavut is fully 85% Inuit. If Ecole Des Trois Soleils and its School Board, in addition to the parents and caregivers of its students, are unable to acknowledge this fact within their curriculum, especially as it relates to teachings about the land, animals and environment of Nunavut then it is time to reconsider both the mandate and raison d’etre of the school and its board.

        • Posted by Daniel D on

          You are getting too far. The organisation in charge of the event cannot be everything for every one. They do their best to initiate kids to outdoors activities and they do it well. They are very conscient of the fact that they are in Nunavut, land of the inuit people. And what they do is nothing against this fact.

          • Posted by Northern Guy on

            It has become very clear that the school, the parents and the school board remain extremely tone deaf to what is being pointed out to be a real failure to include Inuit culture and values in the school’s curriculum. All the other schools in Iqaluit have been extremely successful at this and yet Ecole des Trois Soleils continues to resist resorting instead to the same old excuses: “language barriers”, “can’t be everything to everyone” etc. etc. The time has come to acknowledge that your kids live in Nunavut and they should be learning from Inuit Elders, hunters and community members.

            • Posted by Daniel D on

              You are the one who is deaf. We are talking here about an initiation to outdoor activities for kids. You do not need to expand the subject to other things loosely related. You should see problems where they are and not where they are not and stop putting fingers at people in the name of your politically correct view of the world.

  5. Posted by Northern Guy on

    These kinds of programs are great, they get kids out on the land and staying active. While I understand that finding an Inuk hunter capable of communicating with the kids in French may be a challenge, I think that in this case Ecole Des Trois Soleils could have done a much better job of integrating Inuit knowledge and experience into a program of this kind. No matter how knowledgeable the instructor may be, no Qallunaat is able to provide the same depth of knowledge connection and understanding of the Arctic environment as an experienced Inuk hunter. Not to mention the lost of income to someone who can probably really use it.

    • Posted by NPC meme on

      I agree that having an elder is a great idea and there is a connection there that could not be compensated for in any other form. But, must every exchange of information and activity in the north reducible to who makes money off it (sub text = race)?

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