Monday, 23 April 2018

A few brief months...

I had no idea when I began this blog that our sojourn in Labrador would be nearly five years long. Although I did not keep at this site, I have been working on a memoir of this time called Ruby's House. It has been a wonderful project, especially as the house in question is being sold and we will be wending our way homeward midsummer.

I have struggled with the structure of this memoir - I wrote the first draft as I do all of them - in a glorious hot mess. I have over a hundred thousand words that I wrote between the beginning of November and the end of February. I took a break from it all in March - to let the manuscript cool - and started again with draft two at the start of April.

Yesterday, flailing about, I thought I would read my first entries here (and even before here on my blog called The So-Called Simple Life, where I started writing about this adventure).  I copied many of my entries from that first year and put them in a file. It may be the way I organize the story - a line or two from a journal entry - then what has come of that. Not sure, but it also got me thinking that I would like to write some here about my experiences in the Sheshatshiu Innu School. I have been substituting since February and it has been such a wonderful, varied and somewhat crazy experience.

Just to give some context - I've been going to the school on the reservation since soon after my first year here. I made it part of the job that I got at the treatment centre, which included the role of outreach counselor.  Former folk in that job would see youth at the centre but I didn't find that satisfactory. I wasn't an 'In Wait Counselor' after all!  I worked my role up to including two afternoons a week at the school and met with kids from kindergarten to high school. They got to know me because I would hang about in the front entry with my sketchbook and pen at the ready. After a bit I moved my headquarters to the cafeteria - right off the entry and with glass windows between the rooms so kids could look in and know I was there. I would bring extra sketchbooks and supplies for kids to join me and while their hands were busy they'd talk. It worked out well - it continues to work out well. Sometimes I'd start a book and try to read it all the way through - kind of tough as the lunchtime kid population would fluctuate but it still meant for some interesting times. I read a great deal of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe that way. In the afternoons I'd meet with kids one on one for the most part - though I never minded if they needed a pal to come along. Sometimes it would be the student wanting to see me and sometimes it would be the teacher or administration that thought a visit might be helpful. It was just the sort of thing I liked - very low maintenance - minimal note-taking, no reporting whatsoever. It has been the scene of some of the sweetest times I've spent here in Labrador. I love the children of Sheshatshiu - they are resilient, funny, smart and loving. The best you could imagine and they've had the most trying of times - most of them. The parenting situation has been strained for generations - ever since the government told them to stop being hunter/gatherers and settle in reserves (there are two in Labrador) and that wasn't so long ago. Parents didn't know how to parent under such circumstances, boredom and grief set in - drinking and drama took the place of their former livelihood activities and a miserable existence was compounded by the streams of do-gooders who were part of the same system that frigged them up in the first place. Children have been shipped off to foster parents in communities that don't have any indigenous folk at all, let alone those that are related to the children. Families have been carelessly broken apart and then the same people who pushed for that are aghast when suicide and self-harming has become the norm.

Well - I guess you could say that I hold a view!

Being a substitute teacher has been quite a different but equally wonderful experience. And I have loved learning about teaching. I do love the challenge of being thrown into the deep end at the age of 66! Last week I had the grade twos all week. What fun I had! I made slime with them. Yay! And I found out about STEM bins (no way - you'll have to look it up!) and the third teacher and how silly it is to watch a video about Earth Day that suggests we all go plant a tree when we still have six feet of snow. I've been the phys. ed teacher a bunch of times, the art teacher and music teacher. I've taught grade five and grade eight and had a week of kindergarten too.

I tell the kids how old I am in the hopes of inspiring them. They do not understand white hair and are convinced I dye it as the Innu don't get it, if at all, until they are very old. They touch it and exclaim how beautiful it is. They love my crepey skin and like to discuss my wrinkles at length. It is heaven, truly! They call me Jannie Bananie or sometimes Granny.

We had a lock-down drill last week - I only had four kids that day because we'd had a late start due to a snow storm - but they were so good as we huddled in the corner. One boy was beside himself with wanting to wiggle and yak. I considered what a very strange world it was indeed. I feel like the vicious stranger has already entered their community - without guns but with plenty of ways to hurt them. Ah well. Another day.

So, hopefully I'll be back to tell you more - BUT I promise nothing...


  1. What fascinating stories you have to tell, Jan! And the work you've been doing sounds very enriching. Oh, and by the way, I can see why you have the opinions you do about some of what you've seen. I won't shoot my mouth off here, but....

    I hope you will do a memoir - I'd love to read it!

  2. Great to see you posting Jan. You have so much insight and empathy. I can hardly wait to read your book.