Mary Porter reflects on 18 years as preschool cultural instructor

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After 18 years of instructing children in the Inuit language and culture, Mary Porter walked away from Gjoa Haven’s preschool for the last time on May 29.

“She enjoys working with kids along with preserving the culture and language, as well as young children who may have behavioural problems, to correct their behaviour to have a healthier life,” said Simon Okpakok, interpreting for Porter. “Every child is different.”

After 18 years of working at Gjoa Haven’s preschool, Mary Porter has more time to spend with her large family: 11 children, 51 grandchildren and 33 great-grandchildren. She’s seen here with her sister, Mary Aqiriaq, left, grandson Wilder, great-grandson Jacob, and husband Ralph Porter Sr. photo courtesy of Megan Porter

Porter, along with three other instructors, worked from 9 a.m. until noon with three year olds and from 1 p.m.-4 p.m. with four year olds, as many as 19 of them.

In addition to educating them, she made sure they ate daily, things like porridge, cereal, fruit and juice.

Porter grew up on the mainland, approximately 240 km south of Gjoa Haven. The Arctic was a vastly different place back then. She had to be wary of wild animals and even the sound of airplanes would cause her to run into her family’s shelter, she recalled.

“There were no white people around. The upbringing (under) her parents was very different from today. She was very easy to be afraid of anything that happened. She was very timid,” Okpakok said, adding that Porter moved into Gjoa Haven at age 13. “Today, behaviour and attitudes have changed so much. They’re more brave than I was.”

Demonstrating her keen sense of humour, she said she’s grown less skittish today, and the only thing she’s still frightened of is the RCMP.

“So I try my best to stay out of trouble,” Okpakok interpreted, and then he and Porter both laughed.

She didn’t attend classes while growing up. After raising her children, she was approached by school staff about becoming an Inuit language and cultural instructor in 2001. She attended training courses, becoming certified for the role in 2004.

Now that she’s retired, Porter said she will spend her days cleaning up around the house and preparing meals. She will also be able to spend more time with her huge family in Gjoa Haven. She has 11 children, 51 grandchildren and 33 great-grandchildren. They all try to get together at various times throughout the year, such as Christmas, Easter and birthdays and anniversaries, Porter said.

When late summer is turning into fall and school is back in session, she said she will likely get the urge to be back in the classroom like her colleagues.

She admitted that she’ll dearly miss the preschool graduation ceremonies as well. She would help make the clothes for the children to wear during the ceremony and prepare gifts for the proud parents.

“I think that’s something that will always be on my mind,” Porter said.

Mary Porter, now retired as a preschool cultural and Inuit language instructor, enjoys dinner with her husband, Ralph Porter Sr. photo courtesy of Megan Porter