The Gleaner, North America Dec 08, 2022 - Jan 05, 2023

4 Neil Armstrong/Gleaner Writer TORONTO: ALTHOUGH THEIR memories of Christmas in Jamaica are fond and vivid, that does not stop Jamaicans living and working in Nunavut from having a good time during the season. The area, a massive, sparsely populated territory of northern Canada, is now home to a small but vibrant Jamaican community that is very much involved in education and healthcare in the location. Calbert Hutchinson, an educator wi th over 20 years of exper i ence in Jamaica, travelled to Canada as an international student looking to gain residency and work as a teacher. Hutchinson was raised in Cockburn Pen, Kingston, and eventually relocated with his family to New Harbour Village 2 in Old Harbour, St Catherine. A student at Seneca College from 2015-2016, he pursued two separate postgraduate certificate courses in not-for-profit management and green business management back-to-back. But for the young man itching to get started, his life plans were unfurling slowly. “... it’s very difficult to get a full-time job as a teacher in Ontario, which is a pre-requisite for permanent residency. Instead of staying in Toronto and fighting to get a full-time job, I decided to take a full-time job as a teacher in the north,” he says of his decision to venture to unfamiliar territory. Today, he is a vice-principal and has been living there since 2017. He has so far worked in three communities, Arctic Bay in the northern Qikiqtani (Baffin) region, where he spent a year; Whale Cove, where he spent another year, before moving to Baker Lake, both in the Kivalliq region. He recalls his naivete about life in the northern territory in that after accepting the job in Arctic Bay, he asked a friend, who was already working there, how long it would take him to drive from Ontario to the community. His friend paused and then responded that he did not need to worry about that at the moment. Hutchinson says he would eventually realise that the area was a remote fly-in community. “There is no highway, there is no road that leads to these communities, so there was no way I would be able to drive,” says Hutchinson in between bouts of laughter. He says the journey was in fact quite the adventure. In his first year he travelled from Toronto to Ottawa; then from Ottawa to Iqaluit, the capital of Nunavut. After overnighting there, he moved on to one other community before reaching his destination. STEEP LEARNING CURVE He says that for every leg of the journey the trees gradually disappeared. By the time he got to Arctic Bay, he thought that he was on the moon. “There are no trees, it’s all rocks. It was completely unfamiliar tome. I was like, ‘Where will I get the oxygen that I’m going to need’, because there are no trees.” But his anxiety soon subsided as he adapted and he is surviving. He says things have changed significantly since then. “I’ve learnt a lot about the culture of Nunavut, the people [Inuit], because even though I’m in the capacity of a teacher, it has been a steep learning curve for me.” “Being an educator is one thing, but being an educator in a completely different setting, context, culture, you have to relearn a lot of stuff, so it has been a humbling experience for me. I think I’ve grown significantly; I’m able to see things through multiple lens, which puts me in a position to make informed decisions that are best suited for everyone and not just one or two. It has been a tremendous experience.” Hutchinson says the Christmas holiday is spent differently according to each person’s particular circumstance. It can vary depending on whether the person lives alone, is accompanied by family, or has friends from down south or from within the community. For his tenure in Arctic Bay, he lived alone as his family had not yet joined him. But for the larger Nunavut, the holiday period is a totally immersive community experience. The season begins in December, right after the end of school, with a series of community events – community feasts. “This is where the elders, locals, everyone come together to take part in Inuit games, dancing, and eat country food - that is the local cuisine, and it’s just engaging for the entire community.” The community hall is the central place for the food, games, and square dance. “It’s just a joyous moment, and this is like for every single night of the week leading up to Christmas celebration. Even up to the New Year’s celebration you have an event taking place in the community hall.” ENGAGING Hutchinson says most of the communities are small, with Arctic Bay having a population of just over 300 persons. It sits in an isolated area. He reasons that the events are a very practical way to celebrate the season and nurture the community spirit. “Actually, that time of the year it is dark. It’s almost a 24-hour night, so it makes a lot of sense for the people to come out together to engage, because it allows the time to pass quickly. It was very engaging - the square dance, the games, the food; you’re talking about taking part in cooking seal. If it’s raw seal, frozen meat – this is what they call country food – so you engage in all those activities during the Christmas and it’s an amazing time,” he says. Most of the homes he has visited use artificial Christmas trees, imported pepper lights and ornaments for decorating the tree. He says the difference in Christmas celebrations for Nunavut and Jamaica are stark. Hutchinson says wherever one is in the world, nothing beats the Jamaican festivity in terms of the food, the music, the family, and the get-togethers. Although he was in Jamaica last summer, he says it has been a while since he celebrated Christmas on the island. Antoney*, has been working in Nunavut since the summer of 2021. He, however, travels regularly to Jamaica . He says that at the outbreak of COVID-19 he was living abroad and decided to relocate to the remote area, to be as far away as possible from the pandemic. “It’s quite cold here, but once you’re dressed for it, you’re fine. The food is somewhat different. For example, one thing, I’ve noticed is that I’ve never been able to get Scotch bonnet pepper inmy community, not in all of Nunavut.” He says there are many family gatherings, but as he has no family there he connects with friends during the season. This year, he is planning to bemore engaged in the church services and Christmas games organised by the community. Last year, he visited Jamaican and African friends there to immerse himself in the good vibe that reminded him of Jamaica. “I didn’t leave because travel in Nunavut can be quite difficult at times. What I wished I had done, though, was engage more with the community and learnmore about what happens at that time,” he says. Still, he is constantly reminded of home, as there is a significant contingent of Jamaican teachers at his school. “Jamaica has a large footprint in the education system up here. The assistant deputy minister of education for education programmes is a Jamaican, Sonia Osbourne, she is from St Elizabeth,” says the educator, who prefers to remain anonymous. Christmas in Canada’s northern territory Jamaicans in Nunavut celebrate the season with a difference Calbert Hutchinson The Inuit community shares in traditional Christmas games. Calbert Hutchinson with his students. CONTRIBUTED PHOTOS Hutchinson’s first week in Arctic Bay. THE WEEKLY GLEANER | DECEMBER 8, 2022 - JANUARY 5, 2023 | | NEWS