Visual artist Thomas Kneubuhler and I are in Kangirsuk, a village of some 450 people, located on the Payne River, about 12 kilometers from Ungava Bay. We spent our day at Sautjuit School, working with teacher Velta Douglas's secondary students. And it was a magic day.
Here's why: it was quite foggy this morning, but it just so happened to clear up exactly after Thomas had finished his photo workshop and was ready to head outside with the students and their cameras. By the way, I should also tell you that Velta managed to get ten super fancy digital SLR cameras for her students -- she applied for and got a grant to cover the cost of the cameras... anyway, the students didn't just look like professionals, they behaved like professionals, too! Right now, Thomas is on his computer, reviewing the photos the students took today -- and tomorrow he'll give us all his feedback on their shots.
Like the other classes involved in this year's Quebec Roots project, the group here has had to come up with an idea for their chapter in this year's edition of Quebec Roots: The Place Where I Live. They've decided to focus on the land, and plan to call their chapter, "On the Land/From the Land." My job was to inspire them to do some writing. I explained how I'm hooked on writing and how writing (and reading) have helped me through the toughest moments in my life. I also talked about how writing takes courage. Together, we managed to produce a few group poems. They supplied the details and most of the language; I was the cheerleader at the blackboard -- and one especially cooperative student, Malaiya, was our official scribe, writing down everything and not once getting upset when we crossed things out and added new stuff.
We did a couple of poems about the students' experience on the land. I tried to stress the importance of details -- I explained how readers remember strong details. Jessie came up with a gorgeous unforgettable detail -- about a snowy owl landing on a wooden cross. Aaaahh! Jessie, you brought me with you there, and made me feel like I saw that snowy owl, too.
Just about all the students made some sort of contribution to the writing. Christopher shared some great stories about a walrus and a polar bear. Susie helped to describe a woman named Sarah who had died in a nearby community, by telling us she came to Kangirsuk "when her family needed her or if there was a funeral." This detail will help readers get to know Sarah, too, and feel how kind she was.
I took notes during Thomas's talk, too. I liked how he told the students, "First I think before I take a picture." Of course, that's great advice when it comes to writing, too. Thomas also compared himself to Joe Juneau, the former NHL player who's been working with students throughout Nunavik. Thomas said, "I'm a photography coach." Which makes me a writing coach. And today, we two coaches had a magic day. Thanks to Velta Douglas for doing such good preparatory work with her students and for training them to be expressive and polite (she uses an ingenious reward system called "Meltas") and to her students for sharing their stories and this beautiful place where they live with us!!