Tradition meets technology at Paatsaali School


From polar bear skinning and goose plucking to sewing, art and shop class, Paatsaali School’s Twitter feed has it all.

photo courtesy of Paatsaali School
Sanikiluaq’s Paatsaali School graduate Alissa Amagoalik, left, shows the sealskin necklace fellow graduate Rebecca Qavvik made her.

“Kids like seeing their work displayed. At the elementary the artwork is all over the walls, here we put it all over the Twitter feed,” said principal Tim Hoyt.

“It’s an exciting time to work in a school when you can use the new technology of today to connect with our past, to help preserve and promote our traditions and culture.”

The Sanikiluaq 164-student high school is active culturally – regular classes include sewing and the school incorporates traditional seasonal activities in the students’ lives – though the school’s 587 Twitter followers may have been surprised to witness the arrival of chickens at the school.

“The chicken project is in cooperation with our local daycare – they paid for everything and the students built the chicken coop and care for the chickens with daily feed and water. This year was a trial run, only eight chickens, with hopes to expand to 100 chickens for next year to provide local food production,” said Hoyt.

“Eggs will be used in the school and daycares. Excess eggs will be given to elders or sold at a great discount to the community.”

Sewing takes students from hunting to providing for others.

“The sewing we’ve done this year is parka making. They had to do one for a student who is in need of a parka. Then they can make one for themselves. And when they finish, they can make one for their family,” said vice principal Mina Rumbolt.

The students also made winter pants.

“Again, with hollofil because we don’t have eiderdown at the moment,” said Rumbolt.

Finally the students made mitts, either in leather or seal skin.

“If they have a grandmother or grandfather, they have to make one (pair) for a grandmother or grandfather first. Then they can make one for themselves or make one for a family who is in need,” she said.

The students also hunt seal, and when teachers brought in geese the students learned how to pluck the geese and how to prepare a meal for a small feast.

Paatsaali provides space for families to work on polar bear skins.

“Students get to observe. It takes a lot of space to spread out a bear and can get crowded in a house so it’s a win-win for everybody,” said Hoyt.

Paatsaali’s presence on the internet began with a website.

“My desire was to try and communicate good things that are happening in the school out in the community because a lot of the time people just don’t know what’s happening in the school. If we can use technology it’s a little easier to spread the news,” said Hoyt.

“Then last year we started Twitter. It’s been super-popular. It’s really popular with people outside Sanikiluaq, as well. This year we added a Facebook page, and that’s more of an opportunity to communicate with our local community about what’s happening in the school, make announcements. We’re trying to get away from sending home newsletters because almost everybody’s on Facebook now. It’s the easiest way to communicate with parents.”

Students, such as Grade 11 student Alice Mickiyuk and graduates Jaani Audla and Sapa Cookie are fans of the school’s social media efforts.

“I go on Twitter because I want to see the pictures the school has posted. When I want to see what other students make I go on Twitter and like their posts,” said Audla.

Responses to the school’s tweets are overwhelmingly positive, said Hoyt.

“But occasionally we’ll get somebody who doesn’t support the hunting lifestyle or feel bad for the animals, which are humanely slaughtered. But they’re far and few between, and usually they self-select out of our Twitter feed if they’re offended,” he said, adding the school does not engage though other followers might.

“Usually we can count on other Twitter followers to educate about our culture, tradition, where we live and what not.”

Mickiyuk prefers Facebook, which is also a way to check if there’s school on any day when that’s in doubt.

“I post my work from school so my friends and family see what I did in school. Like it was my first time making mitts this year for my girl,” she said. “She told me her friends wanted me to make some for them.”

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Michele LeTourneau first arrived at NNSL's headquarters in Yellowknife in1998, with a BA honours in Theatre. For four years she documented the arts across the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. Following a very short stint as a communications officer with the Government of the Northwest Territories, Michele spent a decade at a community-based environmental monitoring board in the mining industry, where she worked with Inuit, Chipewyan, Tlicho, Yellowknives Dene and Metis elders to help develop traditional knowledge and Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit contributions for monitoring and management plans. She rejoined NNSL and moved to Iqaluit in May 2014 to write for Nunavut News. Michele has received a dozen awards for her work with NNSL.