Education key to solving Cape Dorset’s problems


There are no problems in Nunavut, not even in Cape Dorset, that have not been solved elsewhere in the world.

First, alcohol, and its abuse, is absolutely not, of itself, the cause of the problems.

It’s a symptom. Nor is pitifully weak Inuit leadership. That too is a symptom.

Where problems have been most severe, as they once were in Harlem, New York, the school system has been able to do the heavy lifting. On the evidence, a successful school system can also turn around the parents in a seriously dysfunctional society.

Without a successful school system, leadership for change practically never emerges within a community like most in Nunavut.or, if it does, the benefits tend to be small and temporary.

For decades, Nunavut has needed a root-and-branch revamping of education and skills training. That must include a longer school day, including supervised in-school homework, and a longer school year. A successful program also requires vigorous participation by all students in sports, recreation and hobbies.

The mostly great cadets program on the Hobbema Reserve near Calgary (largely sponsored by the RCVP) shows, however, that partial or voluntary participation often has the practical effect of leaving out those most in need.

A Canadian success story showing what can be done is the Athol Murray College of Notre Dame, in Wilcox, Saskatchewan. It’s a Catholic, co-educational, boarding school for students in grades 9 to 12.

It has enrolled many Indian students and has produced many famous hockey players. Another now sadly defunct success story was the Inuvik ski program which produced Canadian members of our Olympic cross-country ski team three years in a row.

Nunavut also needs extensive prenatal and early-years social counseling. Problems with health such as FAS start in the womb. Hawaii’s Healthy Start program exemplifies how this can work.

As far back as 1925, almost a century ago, the great Canadian anthropologist Diamond Jenness foresaw the challenges facing Inuit, and he also advocated the kind of solutions I propose — education and skills training for the real jobs in their own land and not, as mostly now, just putting bums on seats.

Too bad that Thomas Berger had his feet planted so firmly in the clouds when it was his job to find out and then say what needed to be done.

Colin Alexander

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