Emily Ross was one of six Island students who attended the Canadian Students Debating Federation’s National Seminar held in Hay River, Northwest Territories from March 8-15, 2011. Overall, there were 100 students and 45 chaperones at this annual event.
It was cold on PEI at that time, but nothing compared to what this group experienced with daytime temperatures of -24C and night time about -40C. Their clothing included long underwear, layers of sweaters, snowsuits, boots, facemasks, hats and zinc oxide on exposed skin. The dry cold air would take one’s breath away and yet, further to debating for several hours, Emily went snowshoeing, played hockey, enjoyed a ride on a dogsled, played traditional games, and, with a large group of brave souls, laid on the ice after dark to view the beautiful Northern lights.
A highlight for Emily was the dog sleds; 17 little muscular dogs pull 6 ft. long sleds that haul 5 passengers and the driver. The driver had great control, and when he called directions, quietly the dogs instantly obeyed his voice. For example, when the driver said “line up“, they all fell into their spot in the line. When he said ‘turn for a picture, boys‘, the dogs all turned around. These obedient dogs work all day in the cold and are very playful when they were off duty.
An amazing sight everyone enjoyed was the Twin Falls Park, where there is a breathtaking combination of frozen ice and waterfalls (featured in photos). The students were amused that there were more snowmobiles than cars in the parking lots.
Another adventure for Emily was flying to Fort Smith in a refurbished WWII Buffalo plane. This area, known for its TV show Ice Pilots has a huge high school with few indigenous students, as this is a base for Northern Rangers. As they flew, Emily saw wildlife such as lynx, moose and wolves. In fact, their outside hockey game had to be moved indoors because there were wolves around. The Dene people are careful not to interfere with wildlife.
Competing in a National Debating Team was initially unnerving. The PEI delegation had long waits for planes and arrived in NWT not having slept for 48 hrs. Emily had studied long hours before she left but the PEI delegation only learned in an airport there were three types of debating they would take part in during the week: parliamentary, cross-examination and consensus. They also didn’t know what language they would debate in or who their debating partners would be. Emily debated in English but stayed in a French school gymnasium and spoke French much of the week. Although they had familiar food, they had opportunities to try foods such as fresh beaver and moose meat.
The Dene people were very involved in the week, and the students soon learned it wasn’t appropriate to look them directly in the eye. On the day that the judges were Dene Elders, the debating team solved the problem when they threw a coin on the floor and looked down at it when they were participating.
The busy days in Hay River started early with a lecture including one from the Northern Rangers. They were divided into teams for debating on such subjects as cultural preservation, environmental protection verses economic growth and Arctic sovereignty. Students were rated on their engagement, arguments and presentation. By the end of the week, Emily received high marks and positive comments for her strong, clear, confident presentations and her knowledgeable and compelling arguments. Overall, she won 4 debates and improved her personal scores every debate proving she was a serious competitor. The medals, made of moose hide and traditional beads are featured in photos.
The next National debating competition will be held in NFLD, and in 2013, in PEI. By then, Emily will be in university, but she was asked to help PEI prepare for this event. Until then, Emily continues her busy life. She heads off to Vegerville and Banff, Alberta, on April 24th for a cultural exchange and will return in time for the spring sports season. Oh, yes, in between, she will aim to keep her high grades at Bluefield High, and this week she helps her younger sister Ellen prepare for her trip to Paris. No time to be bored in the Ross household!