Odette Barr and her partner, YoAnne Beauchamp, spent nearly ten years completely immersed in Inuit culture in the decade prior to the official birth of Nunavut Territory. Teaching at the Top of the World is the account of their experiences as teachers and community members in Pangnirtung, Hall Beach, and Grise Fiord. The focus of the writing centres on Grise Fiord, Canada's most northern permanently inhabited community, nestled on the south shore of Ellesmere Island. It is a stunningly beautiful hamlet of about 150 people (at that time). It is also one of the High Arctic Exile communities – the history of which very few Canadians are aware.
This memoir is a love story of sorts that expresses great respect for Inuit people, their culture, and the magnificent Arctic landscape. It is told from the perspective of a non-Inuit woman, who has lived and worked within an isolated, cross-cultural environment. Odette and YoAnne learned quickly that to be successful northern teachers, you must enter into the lives of your students and their rich culture in meaningful and significant ways. Outside of their regular school day, they enthusiastically participated in community activities; they ate Northern foods; they snowmobiled out onto the land to take part in camping, fishing, and hunting activities; and they learned as much Inuktitut language as they could. In turn, the author and her partner were warmly welcomed and they were deeply touched by their complete acceptance as a lesbian couple in these remote places.
About the author
Odette Barr (author/illustrator), Colleen Landry (author) and Beth Weatherbee (author) are teachers in New Brunswick's Anglophone School District-East.
Odette has illustrated a number of nature-themed guidebooks for Fundy National Park. Her passion and inspiration for her writing and art comes from her love of nature and the environment. She worked for many years as an interpretive naturalist for Environment Canada before turning to teaching in the traditional indoor classroom. Odette spent 10 years teaching Inuit students in Nunavut.