Open letter: MLAs should get behind Cambridge Bay school


To members of the Legislative Assembly and residents of Nunavut:

The recent debate in the legislative assembly over the education budget, and in particular, the questions that the minister of education and the minister of finance have faced from regular MLAs concerning construction of a new high school in Cambridge Bay, with a gym expansion and heritage centre, has called into question the motives of some MLAs. I would like to try and clarify for the general public the misunderstandings that some members of the Nunavut Legislature have about the funding for the rebuilding of our high school here in Cambridge Bay.

To begin with, in August 1998, just before the school year was going to start, the high school in our community burned down. You cannot imagine the devastation that this tragedy caused for our students and their teachers, and the entire community. Many students’ final high school years were disrupted, a lot of teachers lost all their teaching materials collected over the years and the collective community spirit suffered a setback. However, rather than let this get us down we all pulled together and supported our students and teachers during a very difficult school year while plans were started to rebuild the school.

The actual rebuilding should have started in the fall of 1999, but the Board of Education did not like or agree with the proposed blue prints provided by the government. The community is growing very fast, and the feeling was that if we had a chance to rebuild a high school then it should be one that would meet our needs for the next 20-25 years. The board sought public input into how our new high school should look and what we should have in it instead of agreeing with the government standards and criteria that would have looked after our short-term requirements but overlooked our community’s long-term requirements.

The public consultation that included our elders, youth, teachers, parents and others concerned about education, recreation, culture and heritage issues revealed that the community wanted two major priority things included in the high school design. One was a full-sized gym and the second was a heritage or cultural facility up at the front entrance. When the board went back to the government with public input, they were told it was going to cost too much money so the government put the entire project on hold until everyone was in agreement with how we should proceed.

After more consultation the government agreed that the high school could be rebuilt the way the people of Cambridge Bay wanted it, but the agreement was that the community would have to pay for part of the construction of a gym expansion, somewhere around $80,000. Personally, I do not know too much about the details of the agreement but the people of Cambridge Bay have been raising the extra funds needed since the beginning of the school year. A lot of people are working very hard to try and get the extra funding together so that the community can finally realize their dreams for a high school that they have had a part in actually designing themselves and paying for.

The elders have contributed valuable advice about how the new high school should be located on the land. They have also been working very hard on the research, design and a financing proposal for a heritage centre that would be incorporated into the new high school and be the only one of its kind in the Kitikmeot, to collect and preserve the Inuit culture and heritage for all Kitikmeot Inuit. The heritage center would be for students, the community and the entire Kitikmeot and visitors to our region.

The community has also really been working hard on fundraising to pay for the school gym expansion. If we had a larger gym our community and region would have a facility that would help us to host large events like the Arctic Winter Games trials, and other large pan-Nunavut events that would bring people from around the Kitikmeot and Nunavut to Cambridge Bay. The people have been raising funds through pancake breakfasts, fashion shows, auctions and donations. At the Nunavut Arctic College graduation ceremonies on April 15, the graduates donated $1,300 which brought the fund raising total to over $30,000. To be very honest, the efforts by so many people to help us rebuild our high school and include the heritage centre and a larger gym and that has brought Cambridge Bay together with all our friends and neighbours is in the true spirit of cooperation which is what Nunavut should be all about – helping each other.

As a long time Kitikmeot resident and as a person born in Nunavut I would like to let all the people in Nunavut know that the residents of Cambridge Bay were really looking forward to a long-term solution for our high school. They saw a problem and tried to solve it now instead of five or 10 years from now when it would be more difficult and expensive. Many of our elders are now very worried that a high school and heritage centre will not be constructed before they pass on, and they will not be able to see their culture and heritage preserved in a proper way. This is not right! A lot of our students and teachers, who adjusted to difficult schooling conditions after our high school burned down, with patience, resolve and dedication that many of us admire, are now concerned that a high school will not be rebuilt before 2002 as originally planned. What kind of message are we sending to our young people?

The way it looks to me now is that some of our elected people are trying to get in the way of ordinary people who are really trying to do the right thing. We did not elect people to the Nunavut legislature to have them work against us – they are supposed to work together for the best interests of all citizens of Nunavut! When a Nunavut community that listens to the advice of its residents; follows all the rules for developing capital projects; honours all its commitments to the government to fundraise and help pay for the capital project; and then finds innovative ways to help the government develop a multi-purpose community facility that includes a heritage centre to benefit everyone; only to find it being jeopardized because some elected people don’t understand the project or are playing politics for personal reasons, then the people in all of Nunavut should be concerned and ask “when is all of this going to end?”

Let’s get together and co-operate and show the rest of the world that we can do things right even though we might be of different cultures and lifestyles, and from different regions.

Let’s do it for our elders who are our link to the past, and for our youth who are our bridge to the future! And let’s do it for all people who value education, recreation, cultural and heritage principles and values! Let’s show people everywhere that Nunavut is the best territory to live in!

Bill Lyall
Cambridge Bay, Nunavut

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