Community Life December 23, 2021

From Toronto to North Spirit Lake First Nation: A Teacher’s Journey North

Janak Chemjong

Janak Chemjong is a Grade 3 & 4 teacher at Victoria Linklater Memorial School in North Spirit Lake First Nation. Janak joined Teach For Canada’s 2021 cohort, and moved from Toronto to North Spirit Lake in August 2021. 

Below, Janak writes about why connecting with community members has helped him settle into his new role and community, and shares his journey North.


Janak Chemjong is a Teach For Canada teacher living in North Spirit Lake First Nation. He teaches Grades 3 & 4 at Victoria Linklater Memorial School.


Finding Community Connection 

Building relationships with community members is essential when moving to a new place. I am fortunate to have built some strong relationships already, and after four months at North Spirit Lake, I look forward to welcoming the New Year in my new community. I have some tips for the trip that I’ll get to later, but first, I want to share how wonderful North Spirit Lake has been to me.


A Warm Welcome

After I arrived from Toronto in early September, The North Spirit Lake Chief and Council organized a festival week from September 6-10, 2021, for community members, students and teachers. It was the perfect time for me to introduce myself, meet and greet Elders and neighbours, and begin building relationships with parents and students.

One day of the festival was specially allocated for the Victoria Linklater Memorial School staff to coordinate activities for community members and students. I took charge of a “Free Throws” basketball event, and it was wonderful to see students and parents participating enthusiastically.


Janak hosted a Free Throws event and got to know students, parents and community members at North Spirit Lake’s Festival Week.


During the festival, I initiated small talk with students, parents, and Elders in my free time. An Elder, Charlotte Rae, later called me and said, “Thank you so much for deciding to come to North Spirit Lake to teach our children!” Her words meant a lot to me.

My coworker and fellow Teach For Canada educator, Salvador and I regularly visit Church on Sundays to listen to stories from Elders and community members. We like to prepare and serve food to those who come to pray. The church has provided us with many opportunities to get to know parents, Elders and community members. A Native Language teacher, named Rachel, has also greatly assisted with getting me involved in the community. I am very grateful for her support.


Harvest Time Church has become a place for Janak to connect with fellow teachers and neighbours.


First day of Class

On the first day of school, I was greeted by the friendly faces of my students, many whom I recognized from festival week. I welcomed my class before developing classroom norms and sharing stories and expectations. We went for a nature walk in the afternoon and plucked some flowering plants. The students loved being out in nature.


Artwork by one of Janak’s students.


Preparing to Move to the North

The trip from Toronto to North Spirit Lake was quite an adventure!  Here is my story, and a couple of tips for new teachers venturing North!

Preparing to move to a remote First Nation has its challenges. Although I moved within Ontario, relocating to North Spirit Lake meant travelling 1,400 km north of my home in Toronto. 

As my departure date approached, the busier I became preparing for my move. Once a representative from North Spirit Lake Education Authority (NSLEA) confirmed my flight, the ticket arrived by mail, and I started to get organized. Throughout the packing process, I consulted the “Packing to Move” list that was provided by Teach For Canada.

When I arrived in the North and began settling into my new home, I realized that many of the kitchen utensils I had purchased were not needed. The kitchen of my teacherage came well stocked with plates, cooking utensils, pots and pans.

Teach For Canada Tip: Before moving North, ask the local Education Authority to provide you with a detailed list of what is included in your living space. If possible, it may be helpful to ask teachers living in the community for advice on what to bring.


Going North

Janak at the airport.

My flight from Toronto to Thunder Bay was delayed three hours due to a thunderstorm. When we arrived in Thunder Bay, a representative from the Education Authority received and greeted the teachers at our hotel. I felt welcomed, and despite the initial delay, I knew that my journey north was off to a positive start. The representative informed the staff that they had chartered a private flight for us from Thunder Bay to North Spirit Lake.

I felt thankful that they were taking care of us.

Around 2:00 PM, all of the teachers arrived at the airport with our luggage and groceries, prepared for our flight. After twenty minutes, a young man in his mid-twenties approached, and loaded our things onto the plane. There was only space for three passengers to fly with cargo on the first flight, so I boarded with my colleagues, Luc and Valerie.

Once the young man had finished loading us in, he signaled for the departure. I was expecting the pilot to arrive soon. To my surprise, the same young man who had loaded our bags climbed into the pilot’s seat and started the engine. We landed safely in North Spirit Lake at around 4:00 PM.


The NSLED (North Spirit Lake Education) staff, John and Timmy, received Janak and his colleagues at the airport.


Arriving in North Spirit Lake

NSLEA’s policy requires all teachers arriving in-community to self-isolate for 72 hours before passing a COVID-19 test. We took the swab test at the Stanley Rae Memorial Nursing Station. 

Unexpectedly, my test results came back positive, so the nurses informed the three teachers who had been in close contact with me to remain in isolation until further notice. The nurses had me take a second test, but this time, the results were sent to Sioux Lookout Meno Ya Win Health Centre. 

After 48 hours, I got a phone call from the nursing station. 

“Hi, Janak, we have good news for you. We have received the results of the swab test, and it is negative. The swab machine at the nursing station gives a false reading sometimes,” the nurse added, “and this one is more reliable. Now, you may follow your normal schedule.”

My co-workers and I began preparing for the school year, as well as the upcoming community festival for students, community members, and teachers.

It was quite the journey, but the warm welcome and the community connections made it all worthwhile.

I am excited to be here, and to be working with all of these great children and their families.