Tuktoyaktuk moves spring break to March, complicating traditional hunt in May

The Tuktoyaktuk district education authority decided to move spring break to March, matching up the community’s school calendar to schools in the rest of the Northwest Territories, beginning in 2019.

May break gives students time to go out on the land with their families

People in communities above the Arctic Circle go on the land each May, hunting geese and fishing. Parents say it's a time to pass on skills to their children. (Submitted by Maya March)

Spring break is set to come earlier in the year for students in Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T., marking the end — at least officially — of spring break in May, the traditional time when families go on the land to hunt.

On March 5, the Tuktoyaktuk district education authority decided to move spring break to March, matching the community's school calendar to schools in the rest of the Northwest Territories, beginning in 2019.

The change accommodates students taking online e-learning classes. Those students work in classrooms in Tuktoyaktuk, but are taught via video link by teachers based in Inuvik.

They often miss two weeks of school each year — once in March when the online teachers based in Inuvik would go on break, and then again in May, when their schools close for the break in Tuktoyaktuk.

'Students are missing out' 

"Students are missing out on 25 per cent of their [online] courses. We're basically setting them up for failure before they register," said Darlene Gruben, the chair of the education authority.

E-learning is one of the only ways students are able to take the required courses to get into university. There are few teachers who can teach those courses based in Tuktoyaktuk, said Gruben.

"If you look at the big picture, we'll never have those teachers that could teach those academic courses," she said. 

"It's kind of sad to say, but we have to try to go with the times, times are changing."

Evening in Tuktoyaktuk, parents in the community say they'll likely take their students out of school in May, even if they miss class time. (Chris Corday/CBC)

The school break in May has been part of the rhythm of life in Tuktoyaktuk for years. Families usually take a week or two off at that time to go out on the land. Many say they'll continue this practice.  

Daniel Nogasak uses the time to take his six kids out to their cabin out on the Husky Lakes and geese hunting on the Arctic Coast. He'd like to see more on-the-land programming included as part of the school curriculum. 

"For myself, the best way is to grow up my kids [is] on the traditional ways," he said. 

"Hunting and living off the land is what we do. It's how I was brought up."

The weather in Tuktoyaktuk is too cold for him to do a similar trip during the March spring break, Nogasak said, meaning he'll still take his children out of school in May, even if they miss out on their classes.

No penalties for missed class 

Terri Lee Kuptana feels the same way, she feels the experience her children get on the land is invaluable — and the food they harvest is needed.

"It's a time of year you get to spend with family, no internet, no TV, no nothing," she said.

"It's also our harvest for the coming year."

Even Gruben, who is the biggest supporter of moving the break to March, said it's important for families to expose their children to the spring hunt. There will be an extra long weekend in May to allow students to get on the land without missing class time, and no penalties for students who do skip classes, she said. 

The important thing for her is that the new break gives a choice to the students who don't want to miss that class time in March.   

"They'll be excused," she said.

"We're not going to try and take our culture away from our people." 

With files from John Last


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