Few people have a better window on Nunavut’s youth than John Fanjoy, and few people are so irrepressibly optimistic about the territory’s future.
Despite the social concerns that permeate much of his job as vice-principal of the 300-student Aqsarniit Middle School, he insists he works with the world’s best kids in the world’s best place.
“We have students who have some major issues. We have students who struggle in literacy. But our students, for the most part, are respectful, willing to learn and, above all, love living in Nunavut,” he said. “Many of them are pulled in many directions culturally, depending on whether they’re at school or at home, but they come here and work hard.”
That resilience in the face of perplexing cultural demands is reflected in the essays here. Heading into their teen years, students at Aqsarniit carry some very grown-up concerns about life in Canada’s newest territory: food prices, truancy, over-hunting, global warming, cultural erosion.
“The biggest issue we face is these social problems being brought into the school,” Mr. Fanjoy said. “We have students who don’t eat enough, students who have substance abuse at home. We try to do a lot to make the school as warm and welcoming a place as possible.”
Mr. Fanjoy realizes he’s always working against a historical image problem. Decades of abuse at residential schools created a widespread distrust in public education across the North. A chronic shortage of Inuktitut-speaking teachers and a lack of outdoor education only compound the cultural wariness. Across the territory, just one in four Inuit students finishes high school.
But the kids who stick with it receive an education on par with any school system in the country, according to Mr. Fanjoy. “We don’t have a graduation issue, we have an attendance issue,” he said. “People have to realize the idea of daily education is a very new concept in Nunavut. What was the graduation rate of Ontario in, say, 1885? It’s an evolving process. There are students here now who are going to push Nunavut onto great things.”
WHAT NUNAVUT’S YOUTH HAD TO SAY
We asked students at Aqsarniit Middle School to tell the rest of the country about their lives in Nunavut’s capital. Here are seven of their written responses.
ROSALINA DEMESCHON (13), GRADE 8
In Nunavut, many children don’t eat much healthy food, they eat mostly junk food. Sometimes they skip meals because their parents can’t afford the high prices of food. Hunger happens a lot up here in the North. I think it is wrong that the prices of expired food are cut down low while the rest stay the same. It is unfair. Also, fast food is less expensive here than healthy food and I personally think it should be the other way around.
Many people are concerned by the high costs. On Facebook, there are many complaints on the prices and there is a page that is called “Feeding my Family,” which is filled with tons of pictures of the price tags of all different sorts of food from our local stores. The prices we have here in Nunavut are so high compared to the ones down south. Whenever Inuit travel somewhere besides Nunavut and go to a market, they’re shocked that they can buy much more food than in Nunavut.
It’s sad seeing Inuit buy groceries because they cannot buy many of the things that they need. Even just buying a couple of the plastic bags of food can equal up to $100, and the food they’re buying can last only a couple of days. Families often struggle to eat and fill their stomachs, and it’s no fun going to school or work while your stomach is growling!
I think that the government needs to make a change to the high food costs in Nunavut to make families happier instead of having an empty fridge. I hope that one day it happens and people can just walk through the aisles in the store and finally get to see low-priced food in their communities. It is overwhelming to see how many families can’t afford it.