No water, no school: How the problem of water supply hinders education for Inuit children in Nunavik

Once or twice a week, Elam Akpo runs from the principal’s office of Tarsakallak School in Aupaluk, Kwe, rides in a school truck and walks the village streets in search of a water truck.

When Akpo took over as principal last January, it wasn’t part of the job description, but it was something that kept the only school in village 233 open. Tarsakallak School runs out of water regularly. If its reservoirs are not filled before the water dries out, Akpo will have to send all 60 students home.

The tanker drivers are “very generous and very understanding,” Akpo said in a telephone interview from a village on the west bank of the Ungawa Sea. – As soon as I talk about the school, they immediately change direction and come to help. we ».

Until recently, Akpo was able to prevent the closure of schools under his control in Aupaluk, the smallest of the 14 communities in Nunavik, the Inuit area of ​​northern Quebec.

Because it is also difficult to find qualified drivers in the village, Akpo, who came to Canada from Togo about a decade ago, even offered to train and occasionally drive a tanker himself – a proposal he said the municipality would consider.

But two weeks ago, Akpo had no choice but to close the school on Friday afternoon.

The truck broke down, he said. “That’s another problem we often have here.”

Akpo said in an email that the school should be closed again last Thursday.

The Tarsakallak school in Aupaluk was rebuilt five years ago, after a fire in 2014, the only school in the village. It has been closed twice in recent weeks due to water shortages.

Damaged or inadequate pumps, filtration or water storage tanks, mechanical failure of water trucks whose drivers are already in high demand, and the unbearable winter climate mean that Nunavik villages regularly face water supply problems.

And when the school runs out of water – or when the sewer tanks that need to be emptied regularly are filled – the school has to be closed.

“In some communities, this is a very big problem,” said Sarah Alupa, president of Kativ Ilisarnilirinik, the school’s regional council, in a telephone interview.

Sarah Alupa, president of the Katyvik Ilisarnilirinik School District Council, said that in some Nunavik communities, reliable sewerage and water are “a huge problem” and forcing schools to close when reservoirs dry up or sewer tanks fill up. (Kativik Ilisarniliriniq)

“When we try to demand [an improved water and sewage system]the government doesn’t understand why schools need them, “he said.” These seem trivial things to the government, but they are very important services for normal life. “

So far 8 days lost

Kativic Council Executive Director Harriet Keleutak conservatively estimates that water shortages since the start of the 2021-2022 school year have resulted in the loss of 56 45-minute classes and just eight school days.

“These numbers would have been higher if about half of our facilities had not been closed due to COVID-19,” he said in an email statement. “There may be additional cases of school closures that are not included in our data management system.”

Recently, at least four schools in four different Nunavik communities were forced to close due to water shortages.

In addition to the Tarsakallaki school of Aupaluk, students from the Nuvviti school in Ivujivik, the Iguarsivik school in Puvirnituk and the Pigiurvik school in Salluit were sent home.

Thomas Mangiok, who is in charge of the Nuvviti school in Iwukijik, said unfavorable weather and mechanical damage caused the school to run out of water frequently. Ivujivik, in the northernmost community of Quebec, has not had a water treatment plant for more than a year. (Presented by Thomas Mangiok)

“When the water runs out, we announce to everyone that there are two rounds left until the school closes,” said Thomas Mangiok, who oversees the installation of the Nouveau school, in a telephone interview.

Mangiok said when the winter in Ivukijk, the northernmost community in Quebec, was the harshest, they were forced to close the school frequently, giving students at least one term two or three times a week.

Ivujivik water treatment plant retired for more than a year. The tanker travels back and forth between village 412 and the neighboring lake, but is unable to meet demand. Weather conditions and mechanical damage make the situation worse.

“We’re never sure what’s going to break,” Mangiok said with a sigh.

“It’s hard to know that other people in Quebec have access to water. They don’t have to worry about that,” he said. “We don’t even have access to clean water.”

Negative impact on learning

“We are trying to keep the school as open as possible,” Hugo Quillard, director of the Iguarcivic School in Puwernituk, said in a telephone interview.

“When the toilet becomes unusable,” he said, he had no choice but to close the school.

As shown in FIG The press recently reported, the pipeline that connects the Puvirnituk pumping station to the river, froze this winter. Similarly, here, too, trucks have to carry water from the river one tank at a time to supply the village, which is located on the northeastern shore of the Hudson Bay.

But the closure is not new due to water shortages, said Quillard, who has worked in Nunavik for nine years.

“Usually, it’s not that bad. Trucks shouldn’t go that far,” he said. But, “at least a year we have to shut down ten times. Every year.”

He believes that this repeated closure will have a negative impact on student learning.

“Unfortunately, we need school every day. The academic side is struggling a little in the north.”

“All the hours we miss, it’s unfortunate.”

Problems with water supply and mechanical damage led to the closure of schools in four different communities of Nunavik, including Aupaluk, Ivujivik, Puvirnituk and Salluit. “All the hours we miss are unfortunate,” said Hugo Quillard, principal of the Iguarcivic School in Puvirnituk, on the east coast of Bay Hudson. (Nunavik Regional Department of Health and Social Services)

According to the Ministry of Education, cited in 2018, only a quarter of Nunavik students will graduate from high school. report by the Quebec ombudsman on the quality of education services in the region. That compares to more than three-quarters of students in Quebec in total.

“Students have lost many schools due to COVID,” said Elam Akpo, who worked for two years at the Pigiurvik School in Salluit, also faced water problems before coming to Aupaluk in January. “So being closed again because of the water affects me personally. I feel very bad for the students.”

There is no solution

The Quebec Ministry of Education has rejected requests for an interview with Minister Jean-Francois Roberts. In response to written questions from CBC News, the ministry said it was “aware of the situation” and acknowledged that water shortages leading to school closures were “a factor that could affect student truancy”.

However, the Ministry of Education has not proposed a plan to improve the situation. Instead, it said water infrastructure is the responsibility of the Ministry of Communal Services and Housing. The ministry, in turn, said it had allocated $ 120 million to the Kativ Regional Government (KRG), which provides utilities in Nunavik.

This financial assistance program should allow the CRC and northern villages to “implement their municipal infrastructure projects,” such as improving pumping stations and water trucks and water trucks, according to a recent MMAH message.

KRG rejected the interview requests and did not respond to written questions, instead directing the CBC to the mayor of each community. “The KRG is not directly involved in the closure of schools due to water shortages,” the e-mail said.

“The Quebec government needs to come more and see us because they say they serve us,” said Alupa, chairman of the Quebec School Board. “You know the people you serve well if you don’t communicate with them.”

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