We met with Carmelle Castonguay (CC), an education consultant in the Adult Education and Vocational Training Department. She has been a school board employee for over 30 years.
PR: When did you begin working for KI?
CC: The first time I set foot in Nunavik was nearly 35 years ago, in 1984, for a teaching internship in Inukjuak. I later taught in Salluit from 1984 to 1987. I’ve held various counsellor positions in the regular stream and also worked as assistant coordinator of Complementary Services for a year, in 1990. I’ve been in my current position since 2002.
PR: What drew you to Nunavik?
CC: I’m from Abitibi, so I spent time around the local Cree and Algonquin communities when I was young. I didn’t necessarily get to know them well, but it was enough to pique my curiosity. When completing my education degree, I already knew I wanted to work with Aboriginal communities somewhere remote. I ended up choosing Nunavik. Work-wise, we had fewer resources when I first started out at the school board. You had to be super creative to figure out which teaching methods worked best and know how to turn every possible situation into a learning opportunity. It was a professional environment full of exciting challenges where everything revolved around human relationships.
PR: After all these years, what has been the most memorable part of your experience?
CC: First and foremost, the students I’ve been lucky enough to have, the incredible people I’ve met, and the friendships I’ve made. For me, the Inuit are a warm, light-hearted, and welcoming people. There’s something remarkable about how humour and laughter bring people together. And then there’s the land that the Inuit love so dearly, it’s vastness and breathtaking beauty. It puts you in your place as a human being. It’s a lesson in humility that leaves you awestruck. When you work in the North, you have to remember to experience the world outside your classroom. In every single village I’ve lived and worked in, I’ve been fortunate to meet people who have welcomed and inspired me and who continue to have an important place in my heart. There are also all of the colleagues with whom I’ve spent hours discussing teaching strategies and the best ways to transmit knowledge. It’s thanks to all of them that I’ve gotten to where I am, and they have my sincere gratitude.
PR: On a professional level, what keeps you working for KI?
CC: Being able to participate in, create, and contribute to students’ learning and to the school board’s action plan. The sense of camaraderie with my colleagues is an important factor too! The relationship between the students and teachers is something that really inspires me. And I love working in a second language!
PR: What was your proudest moment while working at KI?
CC: Hearing my students speak French! Seeing their energy, curiosity, and intelligence, and hearing them speak a language that isn’t always valued. I think the French language has opened doors for those who’ve mastered it. I feel so proud when I see what my former students have accomplished professionally. Many of them now hold important positions in their communities and serve as inspiring leaders in their roles.
PR: What advice would you give your 13-year-old self?
CC: Listen to the advice you’re given, even if you don’t always agree. Be independent, chase your dreams, and never forget that education opens up so many possibilities. Education is also a doorway to the world. It’s one of the most important keys to making your dreams come true.
PR: Who’s your role model?
CC: On a personal level, there’s my sister. She’s really someone who’s always been there for me, through good and bad. She loves me unconditionally and without judgment. She’s my rock, and I’m hers. On a professional level, I’d say my mom was a big inspiration. She was someone who was fiercely devoted to her work and who was incredibly open-minded. In her eyes, differences were appealing. She welcomed differences with an accepting and generous heart. Our door was always open. We often opened our home to friends, neighbours, or anyone going through a transition who needed a break or a helping hand. I think my affinity for other cultures, for human connections, comes from her. It’s the common thread in all of my professional work. There have also been teachers who have inspired me, either because their dedication pushed me to work harder or because they were so passionate.
PR: What are your future plans?
CC: I want to keep singing, making music and crafts, and travelling to places where I can meet different people and learn about different cultures. In terms of retirement, since it’s not all that far down the road, I’d like to find way to help and provide guidance to people in need. What I’ll miss most when I retire is getting to visit my friends in Nunavik. Who knows—maybe I’ll be back someday.