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Mid-century change of life for Pang man

Charlie Qumuatuq, wife Naomie, and their children aged three to 19 embarked on a new life chapter this year, moving from Pangnirtung to Iqaluit.

photo courtesy Environmental Technology Program
Charlie Qumuatuq, right, seen here with fellow Environmental Technology student Michael Salomonie, has left Pangnirtung, his long-time home, and a 20-plus year career as a journeyman plumber and oil burner mechanic to embrace a dream.

At "almost half a century," Qumuatuq, a journeyman plumber and oil burner mechanic of more than 20 years, harboured an aspiration.

"I had an uncle who used to be a conservation officer helper. I used to admire his work. He used to go out with the main guy, who was the conservation officer, and travel during summers and fall, winter and spring. They'd be out for three, four days," said Qumuatuq.

"My uncle was actually my neighbour and when he came home he would tell me or my father to grab some caribou or seal. That inspired me."

He'd thought about it since then – work that was both indoors and outdoors – but an apprentice opportunity had come up, offered by the government.

"I took that. It ended up taking me over 20 years to realize, 'Hey look, I still had a dream.'"

Qumuatuq applied for Nunavut Arctic College's Environmental Technology Program, and after some discussion with Naomie, it was decided they'd make the move to the capital. Naomie was up for a change herself.

"I really wasn't sure I was going to get in. It's mostly a lot of young people," said Qumuatuq.

But he did get in. The whole family was excited about the move, though there's been an adjustment period as they'd been in Pangnirtung since about 1999. School was different for the children, a bit more difficult, especially math and science, and there was a lot more English.

"They struggled quite a bit for the first month, but now they're actually learning and catching up with their classes," said Qumuatuq.

Dad's had some adjusting to do, as well, with the plunge into science.

photo courtesy Environmental Technology Program
Charlie Qumautuq practices his wilderness first aid skills on Lily Kilabuk at the Environmental Technology Program field camp earlier this fall.

"I had to adjust my mind that I am with students who are way younger than I am. I thought that I wouldn't keep up with them. Will I be able to learn and remember? Surprisingly, I am still capable of learning." said Qumuatuq, adding he's learning the whole new language of science.

He thinks another mature student, Michael Salomonie, understands more.

"The gap that we have is that he's been (in Iqaluit) for a while and he worked with CBC, and he has words that he understands more. Myself, I was in Pang, and the first language is our mother tongue, Inuktitut. Sometimes I have to ask, 'What is he saying? What does this mean?' I'm learning to speak more in English," Qumuatuq said.

The children are also learning to speak more in English, including the three-year-old who had no English at all. However, Inuktitut remains the language at home.

"We're trying to keep our main language at our place.  I'm telling my kids, 'During school you speak English, but at home we speak our own language, because this is our first language,' said Qumuatuq.

When the school day is done, Qumuatuq stays behind with a few other students to complete any homework he may have before going home to focus on being a father and husband.

When not in class or at home, he is getting to know his new environment.

"I check out the land with my son, look around. When the ice forms, we'll hit the ice. This is our new hunting ground, so we gotta explore and go with someone who has good experience, to show us," he said.

"Right now, I'm enjoying this. It's a totally different, new chapter for me. I'm back to learning math again, that I kind of lost. It's actually interesting, including the science part. Not one bit boring. I'm actually even looking forward to Monday after the weekend. What are we learning today, you know?"

As for nearing the half-century mark, Qumuatuq says it's like walking now, instead of running.

"You're absorbing and noticing things. You stop and think. That's where I feel I am."