Baffin’s Inuit teachers discuss ways of teaching in Inuktitut

Group draw timeline of education to discover “where things started to go wrong”



Twenty-six Inuit teachers from across the Baffin region met in Iqaluit this week to talk about how to carry out the Government of Nunavut’s language of instruction report.

The report, called Aajiiqatigiingniq, was tabled in the legislative assembly last fall and presents several models for strengthening the use of Inuktitut in Nunavut classrooms.

The teachers will take information gathered during the two-day session at the Frobisher Inn, and present it to teachers, principals, and members of district education authorities in their home communities.

They will decide within their own communities which Aajiiqatigiingniq model will serve them best.

“This is to help them make an informed decision,” said Naullaq Arnaquq, an assistant deputy minister within the department of education.

DEA members and principals discussed the report during a meeting this past October.

“We’re talking about where we have come from and identifying what program initiatives, policies and resources we need,” Arnaquq said.

On a long sheet of paper stretching from one end of the Frobisher Inn meeting room to the other, the teachers plotted a timeline of the history of education in Nunavut.

The purpose of the activity, one participant said, was to discover “where things started to go wrong.”

They went back as far as 1945, before schools were established, when Inuit culture was strong and people knew their identity.

“The only reading material was the Bible,” said Peesee Pitsiulak, the GN’s director of curriculum and school services.

In the late 1950s, federal schools were established and children would be gone from their parents care from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Where children had been primarily taught by parents and grandparents, now their primary instructors were schoolteachers.

“They were being raised during the day by strangers,” Arnaquq said.

With the introduction of formal education, children would learn their traditional skills in the evenings and weekends.

“It was a complete turnaround of what was important,” Pitsiulak said.

In the early 1970s, Inuktitut was introduced in Baffin schools. Inuit children began to read and write Inuktitut in the classroom, while before they had learned to read and write Inuktitut in church.

The 1970s also saw the first crop of Inuit teachers, after some Inuit went to Fort Smith for teacher training. The number of Inuit teachers steadily increased after 1979, when the Eastern Arctic Teacher Education Program was established in Iqaluit.

Through the 1980s, education in Inuktitut continued to develop, with the creation of the Baffin board of education and more Inuktitut books and materials.

One of the biggest boosters came in 1990, with the Sivumut conference at Joamie school.

“We held it on our own,” Arnaquq said. “It was very empowering.”

But the conference was controversial. Some people thought the organizers were trying to separate Inuit and Qallunaq teachers, but the opposite was the case.

The participants in this week’s meeting, many of them long-time teachers, just want the same types of resources that are available in English.

“This is not a new start,” Arnaquq said. “There have been various initiatives started in the past. As a new government, we want to set a strong direction for language.”

Similar meetings will take place in Cambridge Bay and Rankin Inlet next month.

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