A View From Nunavut. Day 4: Now We’re Rockin’

Some of the Eat Fit group out for a walk. Finally, on Day 4, the sun has come out, everyone


Some of the Eat Fit group out for a walk.

Finally, on Day 4, the sun has come out, everyone arrived and we hit the ground running. I thought life in Toronto was busy. You’d be surprised how much you can pack into one day in Cape Dorset. First up on the EatFit agenda: cooking. Joshna Maharaj, Paul Finkelstein and the Stratford, Ont., student crew led the Inuit kids through the steps of making beef and vegetable stir fry.

Cape Dorset student Lori, 14, slicing beef for the stir fry.

‘We chose recipes recommended by the Nunavut government for the people who live here, because they use foods that are accessible in most local grocery stores,‘ says Finkelstein. ‘Within the recipe, they also embrace country food’for example, by suggesting you could substitute caribou for the beef’so it bridges both worlds, embraces their culture and also feeds the palette of younger generations.’ A group of VIPs has just arrived to take part in Eat Fit, including the executive chef at Rideau Hall (the Governor General’s residence), Louis Charest. He will cook with the kids tomorrow, and Paul is conjuring up a ‘challenge’ for him: to shop on a budget at the local grocery store and prepare a meal with the Cape Dorset kids.

Principal Mike Soares holds an assembly to introduce EatFit and get kids and teachers excited about the week’s activities: there are plans for a winter carnival, a pig roast (Finkelstein brought a couple of suckling pigs all the way from Stratford!), Inuit games, a broomball tournament and much more. We are also going to build an igloo! And a trip out on the land is also being planned for us visitors. I’m not sure what that means, but I imagine my parka will be involved.

At midday, Paul takes the Stratford kids down to the local printmaking shop. There, they speak with some of the artists at work on lithographs and carvings. Stratford student Jamie Kalbfleish hadn’t realized Cape Dorset was the Inuit art capital. ‘It’s opened my eyes,’ he says, ‘to see that a lot of the income here comes from art, not just government jobs or welfare. They sell to galleries around the world. It’s awesome to see the pieces before they go to Toronto, Vancouver and New York.’

Then, it’s time for fitness: We crank the music in the gym as the students rolled in. Initially, they hesitate, but as we play game after game they throw themselves into it. We focus on running, squatting, crawling ‘ fun, functional movements: with Daft Punk’s Get Lucky blaring, we finish with a giant dance of two long chains of sweaty kids doing a conga around the gym.

Downtime involves walking in nature: ask any ‘southerner’ what they love about working in the North and they mention the quiet, the clear skies’and how their commute might involve a snowmobile, but never traffic. I relish my moments of stillness even as icicles freeze on my eyelashes.

Art and music teacher Danick Clavel-Terio, 58, a single mother of four from Cape Breton, believes the natural surroundings inspire the great artists that abound. ‘They have a deep connection to the land here, to something bigger ‘ the silence in the wind, the mountains, the snow. You see it in their art.’

Clavel-Terio first came North in 2009 for two years, and returned again last year. She works at breakneck speed: besides teaching, she runs the breakfast program, feeds the elders at a Friday tea, cooks soup for the community, and is writing grant proposals to promote art and storytelling projects. ‘You can’t come up here for a paycheque,’ Clavel-Terio says. ‘You have to live it, to do everything you can while you’re here. You have to encourage them to dream.’

Some of her students tell me that they want to be teachers or nurses. These are the ones who are here every day, who participate and work hard at school. I’m seeing that, just like in high schools in the south, you’ve got the gamut’everything from the problem students to the straight A’s. 

The air is a crisp, about minus 25, as the sun starts to set over the treeless hills at almost 8pm, but children play in the park, waving at me. Time is a strange concept in Cape Dorset, a place where months descend into darkness and then switch over to a season where the sun never sets. That’s coming soon, and locals tell me kids will be playing on the streets at 4 am. I think about my kids, and how much I miss them.

Sunset over Cape Dorset.

Soon after supper, my adopted Stratford kids put on music and dance as they wash the dishes. Then the Cape Dorset and the Stratford kids huddle together, watching a soccer game in the gym at 10 o’clock, looking at iPhones and listening to music. They are sharing so much. The Stratford kids have thrown themselves wholeheartedly into this experience, and then it hits me: Paul Finkelstein is hatching a plan to bring some of the Cape Dorset students south, like he did in an exchange a few years ago’I realize that, when that happens, I’d like to watch them climb trees.

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Erin Phelan is a fitness trainer and mom of two. She’s a regular contributor to Best Health.