Inuit visions for schooling in one Nunavut community
Doctor of Philosophy in Educational Studies
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This descriptive case study explores Inuit visions for schooling in a remote community in the Qikiqtani (formerly Baffin) Region of Nunavut. I use information from interviews, casual conversations, observations, and a review of the literature on minority and cross-cultural education to describe what participants want, to discuss obstacles to student learning, and to suggest ways to improve schooling in Nunavut. The study, conducted in a critical frame foregrounding issues of power, was meant to be useful in considering change. Data came primarily from semi-structured interviews with 74 Inuit adults, and were contextualized by two years of teaching grade 7 in this community in the late 1990s, five short visits since, master’s research in five communities in the Kivalliq Region of Nunavut, four months of fieldwork in 2006, and two brief trips to return preliminary findings to the community. Findings from this study echo descriptions of what Inuit participants want from schooling found in the Sivuniksamut Ilinniarniq consultations (Aylward, 2004) and the Nunavut Education Act consultations (Nunavut Department of Education, 2006). Participants supported schooling and wanted an increase in Inuit knowledge and skills taught in (and outside) of the schools. They wanted an increase in, or strengthening of, Inuktitut in the schools, the meaningful inclusion of elders in schools, and higher academic standards. These wishes were consistent for women and men, younger and older participants, the wage-employed and those without wage employment, highschool graduates and those without formal schooling, and for participants who take part in ‘traditional’ activities like hunting, sewing and carving, as well as for those who do not. Participants described a number of obstacles to student achievement, and no one theory can explain the failings of Nunavut schools. Many concerns identified in the literature on schools that underserve Aboriginal and minority students are discussed. These include culturally incongruent pedagogy, a weak connection between school and work, prejudice from non-Inuit, and disempowering relations between the school system and the community. Eurocentric thinking in the schools, the school system, and in Canada continues to block the creation of schools that work for Inuit. The Government of Canada must provide funding to facilitate the transformation of schooling in Nunavut to a system based in Inuit culture. The Nunavut Department of Education must work with Inuit educators to implement the changes called for in the Bilingual Education Strategy. As long as non-Inuit educators are needed in Nunavut, District Education Authorities should prioritize the hiring of people who are willing to examine their own Eurocentrism. In calling for schools where Inuit language and culture are taken seriously, people in Tuktulik reassert that despite massive pressure for assimilation, assimilation is not inevitable. It is time for EuroCanadians to understand this message.