Inuit have always valued educating youth as a foundation for survival. However, the shift from community-based learning to more Western individualistic schooling has meant that over time, education has become further removed from Inuit culture and values (Snow). On top of this, the legacy of colonialism and residential schools has led to generational trauma and distrust in the education system. A 2016 Census found that only 17% of Inuit ages 15-64 had a secondary (high) school diploma or equivalency certificate (Inuit). New educational policy needs to address this inequality and act to involve more Inuit in education in a meaningful way by focusing on curriculum that centers Inuit culture, values, experiential and traditional knowledge. There also needs to be an emphasis on community, including roles within schools for elders. And lastly, providing funding and programs for Inuit to become certified teachers is essential to implementing culturally relevant courses.
In 2014, Inuit leaders from Chukotka, Alaska, Canada, and Greenland called for a summit specifically focused on Inuit education prior to the 2018 General Assembly of the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC). The Inuit Education Summit took place in February 2018 in Nuuk, Greenland. The goal of the summit was to share educational practices, develop enhanced culturally appropriate curriculum and learning resources, and jointly conceive and implement successful Inuit-focused educational policies. Particularly emphasized was the significance of the Inuit language as the key and most important component of any Inuit-focused educational policies, and elders as the most important teachers that Inuit have (Outcome).
It was the first ever international Inuit-organized summit on the state of Inuit education, and the outcome document was reiterated at the 13th General Assembly of the Inuit Circumpolar Council from in July 2018. The Utqiaġvik Declaration called for new pedagogies that reflect Inuit values, culture and languages, for the Inuit language to be the primary language of instruction in schools, and for Inuit hunting, gathering and food practices to be incorporated into educational practice (Utqiaġvik).
When the last Inuit land claim was settled with the creation of Nunatsiavut in 2005, Mary Simon stated that the next Inuit focus should be education. Nunatsiavut is the first Inuit territory to achieve self-governance, which gives them control over their education system. They have implemented a number of successful strategies to increase Inuit participation in school including Inuktitut classes, learning traditional crafts and skills, trips out to the land, and the involvement of parents, elders, and community. There is increased support for youth who are struggling or considered at risk, and many are paired with elders to go out to the land and learn new skills.
After student requests to learn more about their culture, educators developed an Inuit history course, Labrador Inuit Society and Culture, which is certified as a provincial credit, satisfies the Canadian Studies requirement and is now accompanied by a high school textbook, ‘Inukkutivut Ilukkusivut’ translated to ‘Our People, Our Culture.’ The textbook has also been modified into modules for younger grades. Many Inuit youth feel increased cultural pride and belonging and are more engaged in school (Snow).
Other Inuit territories would also benefit from similar approaches as Nunatsiavut, emphasizing traditional knowledge and experiential learning, as well as teaching the Inuit language throughout elementary, middle, and high school. Having a textbook that is culturally relevant to Inuit and based on the region where it is being taught would have a huge impact on making Inuit youth feel more engaged and connected to what they’re studying, as well as opportunities to go out on the land, learn traditional crafts and engage in community.
Besides elders, teachers play a crucial role in whether or not classes will be culturally competent. Due to a lack of local applicants, teachers are often from outside communities and come because the wages are high. The salary scale for teaching positions in Nunavut for instance, is one of the highest in Canada. The base salary range is $78,438 to $122,360 per year. Along with the salary, the Government of Nunavut provides a northern living allowance, ranging from $15,016 to $34,455 per year, to offset the higher cost of living in a remote location. Benefits sometimes also include relocation assistance, subsidized staff housing, and other professional development opportunities (Teaching). This influx of southern, non-Inuit staff can lead to a lack of stability for students and a decline in Indigenous language speakers.
Rather than putting so much money towards hiring non-Inuit teachers, Inuit governments should focus on funding post-secondary education and teaching programs for Inuit youth. Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami has recently announced that they’ll be increasing funding for Inuit people from $20,000 to $35,000 per year in order to cover other necessary costs such as housing, travel, childcare, and counseling (Inuit). Nunatsiavut has also had an ongoing program to introduce career planning and post-secondary education preparation throughout school, and particularly in high school so students know that post-secondary education is an option and are prepared for the application process and what college might be like (Lane).
But for many people in Inuit communities, a southern college or university is both too far away and massively overwhelming. There needs to be more local resources and opportunities for people to take college and university credits and get their teaching certification. One such program is the Inuit Bachelor of Education (IBED) in Labrador, a partnership between the Nunatsiavut Government (NG) and Memorial University of Newfoundland. The IBED offers parallel Inuktitut language program, encourages pedagogies that incorporate a cultural lens, centers Inuit heritage, culture, language, and land in teaching and learning and respects Inuit students’ prior knowledge and perspectives as an integral part of teaching and learning processes (Moore).
For many Inuit students who want to become teachers, the IBED program is ideal because it is local, offers a lot of resources and support, and is grounded in Inuit knowledge systems. It creates a similar environment to one that they can later reproduce in their own classrooms. Replicating similar programs in other Inuit territories would provide a much-needed resource and opportunity for training new teachers from inside the community as well as an opportunity for those who have the skills and experience to teach but lack the required credentials. Indeed, the Utqiaġvik Declaration speaks to this as well, specifically in regard to finding innovative ways of accrediting elders and other Inuit knowledge holders “so that they may be certified as the competent and invaluable teachers that they truly are, within the larger educational environments that all Inuit live in today” (Utqiaġvik).
The role of elders in education is clearly valuable. They play a prominent part in schools in Nunatsiavut, and the Nunavut Education Act also specifies a clearly defined role, that of Innait Inuksiutilirijiit. Innait Inuksiutilirijiit are elders who have the skills, knowledge and abilities relating to Inuit culture and traditions to assist in the instruction of the education program. Elders employed as an Innaq Inuksiutiliriji can be granted certification that lists their area of expertise (Education). Elders should be regularly employed by schools, both to support students, and also provide skills that teachers are lacking, in particular language proficiency.
Barriers to implementation
A likely issue is lack of funding. If territories had the money to establish local colleges, they probably would have done it by now. As well, Nunatsiavut has a special territorial status due to self-governance, that other territories don’t have. They might want to change their education policy and the way it’s implemented, but in reality, have very little control over it, especially if their funding comes from the federal government. Even in Nunatsiavut, teachers often come up against administrative rules that don’t allow students to go on the land or engage in traditional skills such as hunting. Involving elders might also come up against both lack of funding and relevant required certifications. While many people would likely prefer to hire local teachers who are Inuit, if Inuit people aren’t getting the certification and applying, they might not have much choice. Lack of applicants to teaching posts could lead to continued hiring of non-Inuit southerners who lack the cultural competency but have the required certification.
In order to address educational disparities between Inuit and non-Inuit, there needs to be a shift in educational policy in Northern Arctic territories. Implementing programs that better integrated Inuit culture, language, experiential learning, and traditional and local knowledge into the school curriculum would lead to increased youth participation in school. Alongside this, there needs to be increased funding for post-secondary education for Inuit, college and university programs that see Inuit knowledge systems as valuable, and job training programs that certify Inuit as teachers. And finally, creating opportunities for both students and teachers to learn from elders, and creating roles within schools to employ elders, would offer increased community, support, and address current gaps in traditional skills and knowledge.
Education Act. Government of Nunavut, Sept. 18, 2008, www.gov.nu.ca/sites/default/files/e2008snc15.pdf.
Inuit Post-Secondary Education Strategy. Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, June 2020, www.itk.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/ipse-strategy_draft_english.pdf.
Lane, Jodie. “Change Can Happen: A Proactive Approach to Post-Secondary Preparation.” Northern Public Affairs RSS, 2014, www.northernpublicaffairs.ca/index/volume-2-special-issue-revitalizing-education-in-inuit-nunangat/change-can-happen-a-proactive-approach-to-post-secondary-preparation/.
Moore, S., Allen, C., Andersen, M., Boase, D., Campbell, J.-R., Doherty, T.,Edmunds, A., Edmunds, F., Flowers, J., Lyall, J., Mitsuk, C., Nochasak, R., Pamak,V., Russell, F. & Voisey, J. (2016). Inuit-Centred Learning in the Inuit Bachelor ofEducation Program. Études Inuit Studies, 40 (2), 93–107.https://doi.org/10.7202/1055433ar
“Outcome Document, Inuit Education Summit: Nuuk, Greenland.” Https://hh3.0e7.Myftpupload.com/Wp-Content/Uploads/ICC-Education-Summit-Outcome-Document.pdf?Time=1604963330, Inuit Circumpolar Council, 15 Feb. 2018.
Snow, Kathy, et al. “Profiles of Perseverance and Success in Inuit Education: Focus Nunatsiavut – 5/28/20.” YouTube, Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies, University of Washington, 26 Oct. 2020, www.youtube.com/watch?v=huIp6xjVzJg.
“Teaching Jobs: Government of Nunavut.” Govofnunavut, Government of Nunavut, 2020, www.teachinnunavut.ca/.
“Utqiaġvik Declaration 2018.” Arctic Today, Inuit Circumpolar Council, 19 July 2018, www.arctictoday.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/2018-Utigavik-Declaration.pdf