a long time ago now, i went North.  to teach.

i’d crossed the Arctic Circle once before, as a kid; the summer i was ten years old, i spent six weeks with my father in a landscape that looked like the moon to me – the sand and lichen and hardy little flowers of the tundra, dotted with patches of snow even in July. we caught fish. i had my first dark chocolate at the Hudson’s Bay Store. at 2 am in the midnight sun, i went outside – me who’d never been up past nine – with the other kids around town. i started grade six, because school starts in August up there. i was the only white kid in my class. there was a girl who was pregnant. the teacher was decapitated in a three-wheeler ATV accident a few weeks after i went home, back south, to my mother and a world i understood.

that six weeks was both the freest and loneliest i’d ever been.

thirteen years later i caught a plane the size of a sardine can and flew again up past the tree line, to a hamlet in the middle of the Northwest Passage.

i had a teaching license myself, this time around, and stayed away from ATVs. i taught the very first grade ten classes ever available in the community.  the end of the residential schools, the long history of students being forced to travel far from home to be given what the dominant culture considered an education.  nowhere near the end of their colonial legacy, of course. but i didn’t know that.

i thought education was an uncontested good.

one of my students was older than i was.  at least 50% of them were parents, or pregnant.  i taught To Kill a Mockingbird, brimful with naivete. i taught Midsummer Night’s Dream reinterpreted as Inuit legend. i taught a Canadian history curriculum that my students did not even exist in; a curriculum that rendered them absent, invisible, less than footnotes.

i did not understand why i was so angry.

something in me loved the North. the light, where the world tilts on its axis, flooded me whole.

the rest of me felt alien, Alice down the rabbit hole.  it was culture shock.   most human beings find it uncomfortable to be Other, to be constantly read as representatives of a foreign group rather than as an individual. i was not only white, teaching students who assumed i’d lived a Beverly Hills 90210 existence back at home, but a white teacher, part of a long history of imposed “education” implicitly aimed at colonizing the Inuit mind into a proper externally-determined subject.

i stayed two years. by the second year, i was no longer angry. but i was still uncomfortable. the job had made it impossible for me to ever see education as a neutral, straightforward process again.

it’s now twelve years since i left the North. some of the students i taught are dead now, lost to suicide and cancer and overall the lowest life expectancies in North America. many are grandparents. Nunavut has come to the Inuit, and brought with it not necessarily the self-determination hoped for, but a neo-colonial layer of bureaucracy that threatens – say a lot of Inuit voices – to stifle everything they aimed for.

and i have the chance to be involved with work there, again. research, ironically, on how the education system of which this research would be a part is perhaps incompatible with the traditional knowledge structures and ways of knowing of the people it has ostensibly tried to “help” for generations.  research that would explore how the research construct itself privileges, once again, the belief systems of the dominant culture and contributes to making the Inuit “Other” even in their own eyes.

part of me chomps at the bit. theory is what i love, where my mind takes flight.  and yet the prospect of this research makes me feel free and lonely like i did at ten, running wild in the midnight sun at two in the morning, wondering if i have any place in this at all, wondering if i can de-centre myself enough to ever really understand.

i know the content of this post is pretty esoteric. but what i’m getting at is, i’m afraid of agreeing to stick my nose where i’m not sure it has any business being.

and at the same time i’m excited.

and i’m wondering, would YOU leap in?