Strengthening Inuit identity by learning from the land

Jane Glassco fellow sets out policies to encourage land-based education programs

Marjorie Kaviq Kaluraq hopes that the paper she wrote during her 2018-19 Jane Glassco Fellowship will help develop more land-based education programming. (Photo courtesy of Marjorie Kaviq Kaluraq)

By Meagan Deuling
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

A Nunavut educator has turned her experience growing up learning on the land into policy recommendations that she hopes will guide the future of how Nunavut delivers education.

“For me there was a natural connection between education and the land,” said Marjorie Kaviq Kaluraq.

Kaluraq was a Jane Glassco Fellow in 2018 and 2019, where she focused on education policy. She is also an instructor for the Nunavut Teacher Education Program in Baker Lake and the chair of the Nunavut Impact Review Board.

As a pathway to get to the point where the education system is based in Inuit values, Kaluraq set out four policy-change recommendations in the paper she wrote during her fellowship called Nunami Ilinniarniq: Inuit Community Control of Education through Land-based Education.

Kaluraq talks about how it’s mikku-making season where she lives, in Baker Lake.

“So a lot of us are going out and harvesting caribou so we can start preparing a supply to make caribou dry meat,” Kaluraq said.

Hunting caribou to make mikku would qualify as land-based education, she said, as it’s specific, localized knowledge about how to use the land to survive.

Land-based education encompasses viewing the environment as a whole—“from the land–nuna, sea–tariuq, sky–qilak, including the relationships within these systems,” Kaluraq writes in her paper.

Education was used to colonize Inuit, creating disconnections that displaced cultural knowledge and practices that allowed them to survive in the Arctic, Kaluraq argues in her paper.

The intent of her policy directives is to work this kind of knowledge into the school system. “Rather than fitting Inuit life into schools, we need to fit schools into Inuit life,” she writes.

She made the following recommendations:

  • Changing funding models to help schools and communities collaborate to create programming that works for their area.
  • Investing in professional development programs where all teachers are taught about the Inuit language and worldview.
  • Having the Nunavut Department of Education work collaboratively with district education authorities and communities to develop local education programs.
  • Creating a more flexible education policy that involves families and communities, so the first three policy recommendations can be successfully implemented.

The Government of Nunavut’s proposed amendments to the Education Act and the Inuit Language Protection Act work in the opposite direction, Kaluraq said, by changing the role of the DEAs, and working to create standardized school calendars.

Bill 25, An Act to Amend the Education Act and the Inuit Language Protection Act, was meant to go before the House this spring’s sitting of the legislative assembly. That has been cancelled due to the pandemic, and Bill 25 won’t be debated until the fall sitting.

The high number of vacant teacher positions in the territory, and the rate of turnover, is a problem, Kaluraq said, but it’s nothing new.

“Even in light of these challenges, I think we still have lots to work with,” she said.

Marjorie Kaviq Kaluraq and her son, Sebastian, fishing. Kaluraq wants the Nunavut education system to place as much value on learning about the land as it does on learning from books. (Photo submitted by Marjorie Kaviq Kaluraq)

There are more Inuit graduates now than 20 years ago, she said, who are in leadership roles, “so they also become champions of looking at supporting changes to the system.”

There are many people who can work with the staff that are in Nunavut, “even if we have shortages, to do that professional development,” she said.

Kaluraq is positive overall, saying the territorial government is moving in the right direction. She said it has come a long way in terms of being able to plan around using Inuit knowledge, and documenting the use of Inuit knowledge.

Kaluraq hopes her paper will start a conversation about addressing the challenges that she outlines, and that her recommendations are considered “at a local level or larger level.”

She also wants teachers to think about their own practices and use ideas compiled in her paper to support land-based education initiatives.

Local programs do struggle to access funding, she said, and people can use her paper to create arguments as to why their local programs should be funded.

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(10) Comments:

  1. Posted by Just a Snowflake on

    These articles focusing on Jane Glassco fellows have been interesting. I wonder why there were no comments allowed on the previous one?

  2. Posted by Observer on

    I’m constantly amazed that people all over the world do not require the educational system to teach them traditional activities, and yet for some reason in Nunavut it’s assumed it has to. Can parents and other family members not be bothered?

  3. Posted by Apoot on

    You are right, we hear so much from these Experts, I really
    wish they would come up with something that would help
    Inuit people. Keep hearing, PIE IN THE SKY ! !
    Yes us Inuit do get a lot of help from the Canadian people
    and I am grateful for it.
    Canada has many integrated cultures, nothing stopping them
    from asking for assistance, why not?

    • Posted by Peter Piper on

      I’m not sure I would describe the author of this study as an expert, though she has experience in her field. Having read the report I can tell you it’s strong in its use of academic tropes and language (having an advanced degree I have used these myself, aware of how vacuous they often can be). Ironic, given its subtle attack on western pedagogy and knowledge systems. But these are necessary as they will get you get entry into the ‘club’.
      Like most GN value statements we see it is heavy on abstractions; the Pie in the sky, as you say! Maybe… I think the idea of land training in and of itself is great. Suggesting this should be given the same priority as book learnin,’ (whatever that means) begs a lot of questions to a person who wants their child to be adept academically, and not just good at making mikku and pipsi. Oh well, here we are, another rallying point around identity that says we all need to hunt and fish. Let the accolades pour in!

  4. Posted by cdickie on

    I think education begins in the home and we should not bend or burden the education system to fill in for parents who don’t pass on there own language or culture

    • Posted by Pickled Herring on

      I will never understand the idea that the Inuit language is simply a nuisance and should be learned at home and not in school. This is Nunavut, people here have every right to expect the education system reflects their own language. This is a classic colonial mindset and needs critical self reflection.

      • Posted by Observer on

        Except it’s not just local languages or history, all of which are standard academic subjects all over the world, but traditional things that everywhere else family members, friends, or extracurricular groups are expected to cover, not teachers.

  5. Posted by Dried Fish on

    Us Inuit parents should have our kids taught in their own
    language at school.
    Inuktitut is funded by the Canadian taxpayer, an amount of
    50 million dollars year.
    So what are the INUKTITUT TEACHERS doing ?
    Not teaching INUKTITUT that is for sure.
    The Jane Glassco people should do something about this.
    Maybe ask the touters of IQ to do something ?

  6. Posted by Sharon Angnakak on

    Thank you Kaviq for sharing your research and findings with Nunavut on this important topic and work! So happy to see that your work is being taken seriously by the territorial government. While I advocate for the inclusive approach of education (European, Canadian and Inuit specific) I definitely think that so many amazing things can happen with land-based curriculum, such as embedded Inuktut language proficiency. Well done, Kaviq!

  7. Posted by Pickled Fan on

    Inuit knowledge, even of language is disparate like any kind of knowledge. People think it is all the same thing and equally of little value. That is just poor quality thinking. Some persons know IQ a great deal more than others. Some Inuktitut speakers are much more able teachers than others. It’s also true that some are better at ranting and others better at reasoning.

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