Call for an Arctic university grows louder

“We envision in our homelands a renowned institution centred on the teachings of the land”


Yes, the idea of a university in Canada’s Arctic is a sound one and worth pursuing, a group of about 50 academics, officials and other representatives from the three northern territories said this week at a meeting in Yellowknife.

By this time next year, they want to see a much larger convention-type gathering take place where delegates will work towards forming the first board of governors for a university in the North.

During the three-day meeting in Yellowknife, organized by the Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation, participants tried to identify a framework and a vision statement for the future university.

“As Northern peoples of Canada, we envision in our homelands a renowned institution centred on the teachings of the land, led by the wisdom of Indigenous peoples, fostering innovation, dialogue and inspired communities,” says the vision statement released Nov. 4.

“After an overwhelmingly positive and constructive few days, I think participants came away with a renewed hope that a university in the North can and will happen,” said Joe Linklater, from the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation and a trustee of Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation. “But our university must be based on a new, northern model, one with northern, indigenous culture at its core. If done properly, in 25 years we envision a North where we teach the world to live in balance, local languages are revitalized, communities are healthy, young people are educated both academically and traditionally, and northern cultures prosper and grow.”

Now the work begins, as those at the meeting return home to see whether there’s financial support for the project.

If the project for a university in Canada’s North moves ahead, it won’t be a unique institution of higher learning, because there are already 53 universities in other circumpolar nations that are located north of 60.

Representatives from Nunavut, the Northwest Territories and Yukon, agreed in Yellowknife to work together on the university project.

But there’s already a group in Iqaluit, the Ilitturvik University Society, which sees the “bricks and mortar” university located in Iqaluit.

Admissions would be open to everyone, but with a priority for students from Inuit Nunaat.

The members of the Ilitturvik society hope an Iqaluit-based university could become a clearinghouse for Nunavut-based scholarship and activism, and inject an Inuit perspective that’s sometimes ignored in discussions on Arctic issues such as mining, sovereignty and climate change.

The university could serve as a home for critical thought in the territory, Kirt Ejesiak, a member of the society, told Nunatsiaq News in an earlier interview.

The university would be a place where academics would have the freedom to speak out and criticize the Government of Nunavut or regional Inuit organizations when criticism is needed.

With the federal government pouring millions of dollars into Arctic research, an Arctic university could also conduct some of that research, giving Inuit greater control over the results and access to them, he said.

And there’s also a University of the Arctic, which has a presence in Canada.

Officially launched in 2001, this university is known as UArctic.

But this university has no campus.

UArctic is a web-based institution of higher learning, a university without walls, that offers courses which can be taught on line.

Its courses are designed for delivery in existing classrooms, through intensive semesters of study or via distance-learning. And it also organizes north-to-north exchange programs with its member institutions around the circumpolar world, which include Nunavut Arctic College.

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