Elder Manitok Thompson and Nunavut Sivuniksavut college students, who study, Inu

Elder Manitok Thompson and Nunavut Sivuniksavut college students, who study, Inuktitut language, Inuit history, land claims agreements, contemporary issues and Inuit-government relations. / Photo by Tom Thompson

MANY INUIT have experienced similar colonial histories where assimilationist policies have been pushed on them, especially through education.

Angela Nuliayok-Rudolph, a recent alumna of the Jane Glassco Fellowship program, focuses on decolonization through education in her new policy paper, Breaking Down Colonial Borders in Inuit Nunaat Through Education.

Prior to joining the program, Rudolph worked as a teacher in her home community of Gjoa Haven, Nunavut – located approximately 1000 kilometres northeast of Yellowknife.

She explores existing educational policies, programs and resources that could be utilized by Inuit to advance decolonization.

Traditionally, Inuit had their own education system guided by the practice of inunnguiniq (to become an able human being). To achieve inunnguiniq, a person had to understand Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (IQ), which is the traditional educational framework encompassing the principles, beliefs, skills and experiences of the Inuit world. IQ has six guiding principles:

  • Pijitsirniq – The concept of serving;
  • Aajiiqatigingniq – The concept of consensus decision making;
  • Pilimakmaksarniq – The concept of skills acquisition;
  • Piliriqatigiingniq – The concept of collaborative relationships or working together for the common good;
  • Avatimik Kamattiarniq – The concept of environmental stewardship;
  • Qanuqtuurnnarniq – The concept of being resourceful to solve problems.

IQ principles interacted with maligait – traditional Inuit laws.

“Through the educational practices of inunnguiniq, IQ and maligait, Inuit were enabled to be valuable contributors to society, which allowed them to thrive for thousands of years in the Circumpolar North,” writes Nuliayok-Rudolph.

“Education of Inuit was the epitome of colonization efforts,” she explains, noting that. “the purpose of Inuit education during colonization was to destroy the ‘Indian in the child’ for the purpose of aggressive civilization.”

That legacy continues. Just one in four Inuit students graduated from high school in 2011. Nuliayok-Rudolph attributes this to the legacy of residential schools tainting parents’ views of education, a lack of bilingual education options for Inuit and Inuktitut speakers, and a lack of community involvement.

Angela Nuliayok-Rudolph is a recent alumna of the Jane Glassco Northern Fellowship program. / Photo by Cathie Archbould

She focuses on a particular cause: a lack of culturally relevant education in Inuit schools.  Although there has been progress over the past decade to incorporate culturally relevant curriculum into schools in jurisdictions like Nunavut, she says that more can be done, and more is being done. The issue lies in the colonial borders that separate Inuit from accessing resources and services available in various Inuit jurisdictions. For example, Inuit living in Canada have extremely limited access to programs and services in Alaska and Greenland, and vice versa.

At the same time, a number of culturally relevant education programs and curricula currently exist. Take , for example, the Nunavut Sivuniksavut college program in Ottawa.  Over two years, students in this program take courses in Inuit history, land claims agreements, contemporary issues and Inuit-government relations, in addition to practical courses like Inuktitut, English, computers and Inuit music.

“Inuit youth do leave the NS program with a passion to build on the Nunavut dream,” Nuliayok-Rudolph writes. “Not only do these Inuit youth leave passionate and empowered, but the Government of Nunavut and Inuit organizations … see the value in hiring them, because they understand the Inuit world and [its] governing structures.”

Other successes include Nunavut’s recently updated Grade 10 social studies curriculum, which is entirely Inuit and Nunavut, focused. Education policies have also been put in place by Inuit organizations like Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami in Canada and Inuit Circumpolar Council Alaska to expand curriculums designed by and for Inuit.

Building on these programs and recommendations offers an exciting opportunity to decolonize Inuit education and empower the next generation of leaders.

Read Nuliayok-Rudolph’s full policy report, as well as other policy work from the Jane Glassco Northern Fellows, at www.GordonFoundation.ca/resources/fellowship.

Follow Alternatives Journal’s Northern Perspectives series at ajmag.ca/northernperspectives.

The Gordon Foundation is a charitable organization dedicated to protecting Canada’s water and empowering Canada’s North. The Jane Glassco Northern Fellowship is a crucial part of our mission to promote innovate public polices for the North and amplify Northern voices.

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