Linda Pemik: “Northern Educator Extraordinaire!”

I was shocked and saddened to learn of the passing of my friend Linda Pemik recently.

Linda was many things to many people, so I will leave it to others to share their stories, when and if they are able, but I wanted to take some time to reflect upon the ways that her life touched mine.

I first came to know Linda when my wife Hélène and I began our teaching careers in (then) Eskimo Point, Northwest Territories in 1982.

As Linda had done before us, we left the familiar confines of southern Canada and journeyed North to live and learn in this predominantly Inuit community of less than a thousand souls whose homes seemed to fervently cling to the Western shores of Hudson Bay.

 

This time in our lives was both exciting and daunting. We wanted to fit into this traditional, dry community. We desperately wanted to make a difference in the lives of the children we had come to serve, but with so much to learn, we needed a someone to help us find our way, to be that bridge between the world we knew and a world we wanted to know better. Thankfully for us, Linda Pemik was just such a person.

Linda had begun her northern learning journey years before us. She fell in love and married Paul. She and Paul would raise four children; Kathleen, Pauline, Paul Jr. and Evan, who, along with future grandchildren, were the loves of her life. But I will let others tell those tales.

Hélène and I taught her daughter Kathleen at Kreterklerk School and I became “Uncle Beelo” away from school.

We shared stories and laughed so many times that often our sides hurt. During one meal together I remember Linda recounting the time when her daughter Kathleen innocently wandered into a local church and soon thereafter found herself being immersed in a tub of water as she was unwittingly being baptised. Kathleen eventually came home, soaked to the skin, still wondering what had just happened to her! I can still hear Linda’s heartfelt laughter ringing in my ears as she regaled us with this tale.

Linda loved to sing, which was lucky for us, as she had a beautiful, resplendent voice that interpreted a song’s lyrics with a joyous clarion call.

Linda, Hélène and I all shared the proud academic roots of being graduates of Queen’s University. I’m pretty sure that we did a few “Oil Thighs” in sealskin and caribou kamiks (boots), much to the amusement of local Inuit friends and neighbours.

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Linda advised Hélène about sewing parkas so they would be Arctic winter-ready while remaining stylish. She invited us to her home for caribou stew and fresh Arctic Char. She loved to cook and bake on her large, warm black wood burning cook stove. The wonderful aromas that wafted from her home welcomed all and sundry.

Linda was far more than a domestic goddess.  She was a thoughtful, strong-willed woman who knew her own mind and didn’t suffer fools gladly.

As a new teacher in 1982, I had brought a computer into my grade four classroom and was teaching my students how to code using a programming language call LOGO that was created for children by Dr. Seymour Papert and his colleagues at the world-renowned M.I.T. Media Lab. While my own Superintendent was questioning the use of a computer with my young students, which I have been often told was the first computer in the North, Linda’s natural curiosity and sharp intellect had her regularly asking me questions as to the pedagogical validity of using this tool with her daughter and the other children. She kept me on my toes and I’m so glad she did. By thinking through my responses to her thoughtful questions, I was able to clarify why I had brought a computer to my classroom and what benefits it brought in support of teaching and learning.

 

 

 

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After her children were older, Linda began to work for Arctic College. This same sharp mind and ability to professionally seek important answers through critical thinking and analytical questioning skills, laid a strong foundation for her journey as a lifelong learner. In time, Linda became Senior Academic Officer at Nunavut Arctic College.

In 2000, Linda completed a Master’s degree in Adult and Continuing Education and Teaching from the University of Calgary.

She took the EC&I 831: Social Media & Open Education course from Alec Couros at the University of Regina. In no small part due to this course, Linda became active on social media and started her own professional blog, “Learning Out in the Open”  to which I contributed from time to time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Linda_PemikIn 2013 she completed a Professional Certificate in Online Teaching, Higher Education/Higher Education Administration from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

I was deeply honoured and humbled when Linda once told me that I was one of Canada’s “Ed-Tech” pioneers and that I was one of her “Ed-Tech” heroes going back to our early days in (then) Eskimo Point.

Linda walked-the-walk of a true, lifelong learner. Her curiosity about the world kept her always looking to the future, her passion for life ensured she was always present with those in her company, her love for family and community kept her grounded with a moral compass that pointed straight and true. Truth be told, Linda was a hero of MINE!

 

 

 

 

To Paul, Kathleen, Pauline and Paul Jr., Evan and the rest of Linda’s family; no words can heal the deep sense of loss you are feeling, but perhaps it may help a little to know that you are NOT alone in your sorrow. Your mom deeply touched SO many other lives. If it’s true that, “Teachers plant seeds for trees whose shade they will never see“, there are entire forests providing shade because of your mother!

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(left to right) Pauline, Linda and Kathleen Pemik

When you are confronted with one of life’s many challenges, take a moment to reflect on the question, “What would mom do?” The answer will guide you well as you go forward on your own journeys. Please know that she will never be truly gone as long as you hold her in your heart.

TAIMA,

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Eric Anoee, A Friend Remembered by Bill Belsey

The Inuit Writer and cultural activist was a man capable of great wisdom and generosity to friends – whatever their heritage.

Eric Anoee portrait

His face was deeply tanned, wrinkled and familiar, like a fine old leather jacket. The eyes, hidden by ever-present sunglasses, were tired, yet not without a sense of possibility. There was a gentle, measured cadence and tone to his voice that implied wisdom without ego, thoughtfulness based on hard-earned experience, knowledge without prejudice. This was Eric Anoee, a man I knew for all too short a time. Anoee was born in the Kazan River region in about 1924. His mind was always full of wonder, and he understood the power of knowledge early in life. He learned the old ways by watching his father and relatives in the land, and he studied the ways and language of the Qabloonat through the missionaries and their books. This love of learning stayed with him throughout his life. Others came to regard him highly because of his increasingly rare understanding of traditional Inuit practices, and the richness of Inuktitut.

Anoee became a catechist for the Anglican Church in 1962, and was asked to be an official interpreter for two bishops. In 1965 he started to publish an Anglican magazine. He became a Justice of the Peace and lived in Pangnirtung for several years, where his stature was recognized by his election to the local council. Soon after the formation of the Inuit Cultural Institute in Arviat in 1974, Anoee became a researcher for the Inuit Tradition Project, and in 1975 was appointed its director. He oversaw the the recording, transcription and editing of the cultural heritage and traditions of his people.

The Eric Anoee Readers, written and illustrated by Anoee himself, are used by teachers and classroom assistants to teach Inuktitut throughout the Eastern Arctic. His writing has appeared in Up Here (October / November 1989) among other magazines, and in Northern Voices, an anthology edited by Penny Petrone and published by the University of Toronto Press.

When I first met Eric Anoee in 1982, I was embarking on my first full-time teaching job, joining a staff that would be trying to teach over 200 students in a building without interior walls. Eric Anoee would teach Inuktitut to my grade four class. As we shook hands, I was immediately warmed by his tranquil, pipe-filled smile. During that first year of teaching, Anoee was away for a number of days I feared he was sick but didn’t ask anyone. After he returned he politely mentioned something about “meetings in Ottawa”. It wasn’t until over a month later that I learned he had actually been south to receive the Order of Canada from the Governor-General for his contributions to education and Inuit culture.

In subsequent years, Anoee would lead Prime Minister Trudeau and the other first ministers into the National Conference Centre in Ottawa to give the opening prayer in Inuktitut for the first conference on Aboriginal issues. During the 1986 Inuit Circumpolar Conference in Kotzebue, Alaska, Eric Anoee was one of the most respected elders who were invited to address the meetings. On October 16th, 1991, then Northwest Territories’ Education Minister Steven Kakfwi posthumously recognized Anoee with an award for his contributions to literacy in the Northwest Territories. While honours and accolades often cane his way, Anoee took his greatest pleasures from his family, his time on the land, his art and his omnipresent pipe. Due to a progressive illness, it became more difficult for Anoee to spend time on the land in his later years. However, it has been said that in his prime, Anoee could build a finished iglu in 45 minutes and completely butcher a bull caribou in less time. Needless to say, Anoee had the respect of his fellow hunters. In subsequent years, Anoee would lead Prime Minister Trudeau and the other First Ministers into the National Conference Centre in Ottawa to give the opening prayer in Inuktitut for the first conference on Aboriginal issues.

Whenever I visited Anoee, I felt overwhelmed by his family’s hospitality. On my first visit, I knocked at the door (a formal habit that I later unlearned), brushed the snow off my sealskin kamiks and edged inside. The porch contained an unfinished wooden shelf unit that looked like a shop project from school, loaded down with the kinds of odds and ends that are essential to Northern settlement life: a litre of 10W 30 oil, two recycled NGK9BR spark plugs, a drive belt for a Yamaha 340 snowmobile, snow knife, a well-used Coleman stove, a can of Naptha, a greasy toolbox, and a handful of .22 calibre bullets.

The living room was spartan, yet welcoming, with a large grey chesterfield that showed signs of child-erosion. Across from the couch was a crucifix and beside it, a painting of the Virgin Mary. A broad, lime green wooden table was surrounded by three chairs that could have come from a 1950s diner. In the corner of the living room was the ubiquitous 30? television, tuned to Hockey Night in Canada. Anoee’s wife Martina, brought us a huge pot of tea made from Wolf Creek ice, guaranteed to yield a better-tasting brew than you could make with trucked-in, chlorinated water. A steaming plate of bannock fresh from the frying pan followed, and a pot of caribou stew (uujuq).

During other visits, I would be ushered to his bedroom, where I often found Anoee reclining upon a single, well-worn mattress, no box-spring thank you, upon the floor. His CB radio would be squawking out messages from settlements and camps across the North. The aroma that wafted from his old corncob pipe permeated his room. Anoee carefully blended Erinmore flake pipe tobacco with a crop of low bush cranberry leaves which had been harvested at a precise time each fall, then they were roasted and cut so that even in darkest January, the effect upon the senses was like walking on the autumn tundra.

It was in this setting that I passed many a warm, memorable evening. Anoee might show me a painting or carving he was working on, or ask me probing questions about how to best use his new camera. Another evening he might tell me a story or teach me a string game. Before knowing him, I had always felt awkward with silence during a conversation; Anoee reminded me that silence gives you time to listen and time to think. He often sang, and laughed readily. This is how I remember Eric Anoee before he died on September 24, 1989, in Arviat. On March 19th, 1991, five days after the birthday of Eric Anoee, my wife Helene and I were blessed with a son. We asked our friend, Elisapee Karetak if she would take a message to Martina Anoee, who did not have a phone. We wanted to ask her if we could name our son after her late husband.

Elisapee phoned to tell us that Martina’s answer was an enthusiastic “Yes!” Our son was baptized by the Reverend Armand Tagoona in Rankin Inlet. The relationship between Tagoona and Anoee had been a long and close one. As he poured the holy water gently over the baby’s head, Armand smiled and whispered, “Welcome back my friend.”

To this day, I cannot begin to tell you how good it feels to look at my son and say, “I love you Anoee!”