Ground cleansing ceremony
Hoping to end a cycle of fires

Andrea Cnudde
Northern News Services

CAMBRIDGE BAY (Aug 30/99) - The story begins back in 1956 or '57 when, the night before school started, fire struck and the school in Cambridge Bay burnt to the ground.

It was rebuilt. Then, in 1973, another fire destroyed an addition onto the school that replaced the first one. Again the school was rebuilt and, last summer, the school once more was destroyed by fire.

The community decided it was time to do something.

Last week, the hamlet's religious leaders performed a spiritual dedication of the land at the site where these fires have destroyed the last three high schools in Cambridge Bay before the new school is constructed.

Brenda Jenke, chairperson of the local district education authority and manager of the visitor's centre, helped organize the ceremony. She says that the belief among the community is that years ago, people may have been buried on the sight where the last three high schools burnt down.

"We're not sure, but it's probably not a coincidence," Jenke says. "This is to offer a token, it's a cleansing thing."

As part of the ceremony, several symbolic items were thrown into a hole dug on the site. Traditional tools, old story books from past students, an old yearbook and floppy disks from the old school were among the offerings tossed into the hole.

Jenke says that in addition to the ceremony, the town asked the architect to move the new building a few feet over.

"It was at the elders request," Jenke says. "Since the last school burnt we made it a point to consult with the community before we proceed.

"The elders were very, very happy to be involved in the process."

Dawn Wilson has been a teacher in Cambridge Bay since 1972 and agrees that everybody felt it was time to have a ceremony.

Is the site cursed or unlucky? Wilson agrees that some consider the possibility.

No one knows for sure if people were buried on the sight. In the past, because there were no traditional burial grounds, bodies were left on the land and stones were piled around them where they lay, although, Wilson says that no bodies have ever been uncovered during any construction on the site.

Through this ceremony, the community hopes to lay the past to rest and put an end to what seems to be a cycle of fire and concentrate on a positive future.