Nunavut Sivuniksavut marks 30 years with all-star education conference
“I wanted to become a more active participant in helping Inuit become self-sufficient”
OTTAWA — You’d be hard pressed to walk through any Nunavut government department or land claim organization without bumping into a graduate of Nunavut Sivuniksavut.
In three decades, the Ottawa-based leadership and post-secondary preparatory program has helped to shape the Nunavut territory by giving a generation of Inuit youth enough pride and confidence to run a business, stage a play, stand up in a boardroom, sing an ayaya song in front of an audience, negotiate with a federal cabinet minister and travel the world.
“It was an enlightening experience to learn, not just the land claims agreement but the history of Inuit and the struggles that have taken place,” said Vinnie Karetak, co-host of the IBC program Qanurli, public relations officer with the Nunavut Languages Commission and an NS grad from 1998.
“I wanted to become a more active participant in helping Inuit become self-sufficient. I wanted to be able to see what we are doing will ensure our territory and ourselves as a people will be able to stand up and make our own choices and choose our own destiny,” he said.
“[NS] not only helped me do that, it introduced me to many graduates of the program as well who are just as passionate.”
Nunavut Sivuniksavut is celebrating its 30th birthday this year, but rather than just throw a party, the school has organized a conference focused on supporting Aboriginal students in post-secondary institutions and ensuring Aboriginal course materials are meaningful and relevant.
That’s typical of NS: never pass up an opportunity to learn and grow.
“We’ve had alumni head off to university and not find a lot of meaning in the courses they’re sitting in,” said NS coordinator Morley Hanson.
“This was a way of saying, ‘can we get some discussions going and some institutions in to talk about how it might not just be a matter of students fitting in institutions, but how about the institutions fitting the students?”
From April 27 to April 29, at least 200 people, including current NS students, will make their way to the Hilton Lac-Leamy in Gatineau, Que., to attend “A Conference to Celebrate Innovation in Inuit and Indigenous Post-secondary Education.”
After the Monday night meet-and-greet with Nunavut Premier Peter Taptuna and Cathy Towtongie, president of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., guests will be invited to attend plenary sessions and workshops for the following two days.
Speakers include homegrown leaders such as Nunavut Education Minister Paul Quassa, Languages Commissioner Sandra Inutiq, and Mary Simon, former president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, as well as visiting experts from across the country — former Auditor General Sheila Fraser, for one — and beyond, from Alaska, New Zealand and Norway.
Hanson is particularly pleased to see Dalee Sambo Dorough on the roster. Dorough, an Alaskan Inuk and political science professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage, is chair of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.
The University of Alaska has managed to lure thousands of Aboriginal students into Aboriginal studies programs.
“We were quite amazed,” Hanson said. “They’ve made big strides in responding to community needs there, with a variety of programs, not just native studies, but rural development and so forth.”
Jimi Onalik graduated from NS in 1993, the year the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement became law along with the Nunavut Act which set the stage for the creation of the Nunavut Territory in 1999.
Onalik, who works in Calm Air sales and operations in Rankin Inlet, said it was the buzz of land claims negotiations which prompted him to apply to NS. He wanted to learn more about the territory, and his own history.
“Without NS, I can’t think of a place where you can get that level of training and education on the land claim and politics in Nunavut,” said Onalik. “It’s the place to go, to get that exposure.
But Onalik added he learned as much inside as outside the program — how to live in a southern city, for instance, and how to budget his money.
He credits Hanson and the rest of the NS team for giving him confidence and showing him the world beyond his home town.
“The NS experience is at a time in life where it simply responds to a lot of questions young people have,” Hanson said.
“It’s not just the content they learn here. It’s the attitudes that people develop, the enthusiasm for wanting to be involved, to get engaged, wanting to contribute, the pride they have in who they are, being Inuk, pride in their culture. That’s what takes them forward.”
The NS program has graduated about 450 students in 30 years and now has a second year program which includes university courses. The intake of first-year students doubled to 40 about five years ago and roughly 10-12 students stick around for the second year.
The school’s $1.2 million annual budget comes from a variety of sources including Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, the Government of Nunavut, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. and the three regional Inuit associations.
You can find details of the conference here.