Creation of Inuit university a ‘priority’: ITK president

But ‘we are still at the very beginning point of this conversation,’ says Natan Obed

ITK president Natan Obed speaks at the 2020 Arctic Inspiration Prize ceremony in Ottawa. (File photo by Lisa Gregoire)

By Sarah Rogers

Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami president Natan Obed says he believes his organization’s new partnership with a philanthropic organization will help create a “world-class” post-secondary institution by and for Inuit.

ITK announced June 16 that Mastercard Foundation had committed $1.475 million towards helping ITK plan an Inuit Nunangat university.

“It’s a broad scope,” Obed said. “We have a vision, which is to create a university that has a specific purpose, that is run by Inuit and that is infused with Inuit self-determination in the way in which the academic institution functions.”

But he added: “We are still at the very beginning point of this conversation.”

It remains to be seen what disciplines will be taught at the university, its language of instruction, governance model, where it would be located and whether the school would have a permanent home or satellite campuses.

Obed stressed that the new university would not be competing with other university and post-secondary level programs across Inuit Nunangat.

“We should have a diversity of post-secondary opportunities,” he said. “I really hope that people see this as something uniquely positive.

“No matter what, we’re going to have to partner with many post-secondary institutions and governments. There are so many different ways we can go about this. But from my perspective, the best way forward is through collaboration.”

For now, the Mastercard Foundation funding is the only money the still-to-be established task force has to work with, though Obed said ITK has applied for some federal grants.

ITK is also in the process of hiring education consultants to help guide the process, he said.

Plans for an Inuit-focused university stem from ITK’s 2011 National Strategy on Inuit Education, which laid out the groundwork for building and reclaiming Inuit education systems.

Although there is no set timeframe, Obed said the creation of a university is considered a “priority item” for the organization.

“My sons are 12 and 13 now, and I would be so pleased that if, by the time they’re looking to go to university or even a graduate-level program, an option would be this university,” Obed said. “That would be so incredible to me.”

Obed reflected on his own university experience in the U.S., where he said he always had to explain who he was and where he came from. The notion that Inuit might study their own culture, in their own language, would be “transformational,” he said.

Brian Pottle, the new president of the National Inuit Youth Council, said he thinks an Inuit university would have far-reaching impacts on pride and well-being among his own peers.

“It means that we can actualize our potential,” Pottle said.

“For a youth to have this opportunity to move beyond all the systemic barriers to attending a post-secondary institution … could mean tremendously positive things for the Inuit community.”

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(28) Comments:

  1. Posted by All is Trauma on

    “Obed reflected on his own university experience in the U.S., where he said he always had to explain who he was and where he came from.”

    Is this supposed to indicate some kind of hardship or trauma? You had to explain who you were to a group of people who don’t know you? Oh gosh, that must have been unbearable.

    • Posted by Worlds Apart on

      Imagine the audacity of the 5,000,000 people in the Greater Boston Metropolitan Area not knowing about the 65,000 Canadian Inuit. And then for them to actually be interested in him telling them about himself? How degrading.

      • Posted by Culture of Narcissism on

        No stretch into the far reaches of logic surprises me with Nattan, but I do have to wonder if the author wrote that with a sincere, unironic disposition toward his terrible plight, or if there was some subtle acknowledgement of the absurd embedded in that little stink bomb.

    • Posted by A Stranger in A Strange Land on

      Why wouldn’t Obed expect to have to explain where he’s from when he was in university? He was a essentially foreigner from a foreign land far away. In the US he would have been no different than someone from Papua New Guinea or Nepal.

  2. Posted by FD on

    Has Natan not heard of the Inuit language and culture programs at NAC? They provide many opportunities for Inuit to study their own culture and language.

    If ITK is set on improving postsecondary opportunities, they should just work with institutions (i.e. NAC) that are already actively working to improve programs and supports for Inuit.

    The idea that Natan’s project will not compete with NAC is bizarrely naïve.

  3. Posted by Sceptical supporter of higher Ed. on

    While I am an ardent supporter for a Nunavut University, I am also still reminded of ITK’s detachment from the people it serves, combined with its time proven talent for spending wads of cash and botching the end product, if there’s one at all.

  4. Posted by S on

    “Foe a youth to have this opportunity to move beyond all the systemic barriers to attending a post-secondary institution … could mean tremendously positive things for the Inuit community.” Pottle said.

    IF rhere are systemic barriers to Inuit attending post-secondary institutions, those barriers exist ONLY because they are consructed by Inuit, against Inuit.

    Everyone who has lived in Inuit Nunangat knows that

  5. Posted by Toonik’s Grandfather on

    If the idea is from Inuit Nunangat and general population at large, that I can support. Sell your idea first to the people you serve.

  6. Posted by Steps on

    First you need students. Nunavut’s current high school graduates aren’t ready for University without upgrading. Many (most?) who do the NS upgrading program don’t finish second year. Not even the NS program operates in Nunavut.

    Also, since I am sure the idea is to have the professors also be from Nunavut, that’s impossible. How many people from Nunavut, who haven’t just moved there for employment, have PhDs or even Masters degrees? If you have to hire almost all the professors from outside of Nunavut, is it really a northern University? Nunavut would never provide enough highly educated people from such a tiny population base to staff a university, even a tiny one.

    Even if most people graduated from high school and high school was improved such that they were university ready, Nunavut would not have enough students to sustain a university. Only a handful of students from outside of Nunavut would want to go to Nunavut to study, and that would only be if they had a specialized program not available elsewhere, which would be unlikely.

    A University would be filling a need that just does not exist, and that is a waste of resources, when the actual educational needs of the population are not being met.

    • Posted by No Moniker on

      There’s an extent to which, I believe, a fair measure of this is simply prestige chasing.

  7. Posted by Think About It on

    The word systemic seems to be tossed around a great deal lately, but in this instance I think systemic is the right term.
    It starts in Kindergarten when kids do not show up, than there are no expectations until High School. Only at grade 10 is there any expectation to show up and complete course work, even if the classes are spoon fed to the students. Bullying is severe, at least at IHS, and if they a student wanted to take University prep classes they have to Home School because at least when my children attended IHS didn’t offer Physics 30 or Calculus, all had to done at home.

    And if the idea to create a “world-class” post-secondary institution by and for Inuit is the goal, they need to start at the bottom and work their way up. It you start at the top; good luck finding professors (PHD’s) willing and able to instruct in Inuktitut to fill the teaching roles.

    • Posted by Let’s B Real on

      Nattan is excited at the prospect of Inuit studying at University in their own language, yet we can barely get Inuktitut teachers to fill rolls in elementary school let alone anything at the high school level.

      There are a lot of serious, practical questions that should be asked around all this, yet the only sensible ones I see are coming from the comments section, no where else. Do journalists not do this anymore?

    • Posted by High school parent on

      100% agree, and now COVID has complicated everything, especially school. In other districts parents are holding their kids back a grade as, let’s face it, the last two years have been a bust.

      My high school kid is starting grade 10 in the fall and is not ready at all for grade 10.

  8. Posted by Kenn Harper on

    It is not only Inuit students who have to leave home to attend institutions of higher learning. Students from all over the world, of every race, relocate to attend the university of their choice, or pursue the studies of their choice. This is a mind-opening experience for many who have never ventured beyond the confines of their own community. Why should Inuit be different? I suggest that they are not. But many Inuit who attend university have rocky beginnings to their experience of higher education; that’s the fault of the sub-standard education they receive in their schools at home (I’m thinking of Nunavut). A start would be to improve the quality of the education “back home” so that they could thrive from Day One in a southern university environment. There are many universities in Canada which have faculties that cater to Indigenous students and do so well. We probably don’t need another one, located in the most expensive part of the country (Inuit Nunangat). Better to partner with one of the existing ones. But I suspect that ITK and their funders will pursue the expensive impractical dream rather than adopt a practical approach.

  9. Posted by Johnnis on

    People do not have to worry about a University in Nunavut. Like in the south, as Nunavut Arctic College grows and evolves it will seek course and program accreditation and morph into a University, perhaps changing its name then. Example Caribou College became Thompson Rivers University and Malaspina College in Nanaimo became Vancouver Island University. As the programs at NAC grow, enrich and mature through work to accreditation it will take time, commitment and support.

    • Posted by Okanagan Sun on

      Exactly, this is what my hometown College did too. It started out as Okanagan College, grew into Okanagan University College with a main Campus in Kelowna, that became part of The University of British Columbia, while Okanagan College itself broke back into an independent entity from there. This seems like a sensible path, even if it is a little slow and conservative, it is at least responsive to demand.

  10. Posted by Forever Amazed on

    “The notion that Inuit might study their own culture, in their own language, would be “transformational,” he said.”

    This is quite a statement from someone who does not speak Inuktitut.

    • Posted by Below the belt on

      I don’t support much of what Nattan dreams up, but this is actually quite a low blow.

    • Posted by IHS student on

      “Step 1: Teach the language would be great.

      I have taken Inuktitut classes every year of my life since grade 1, now in Grade 10. Now consider that two of those years there was no teacher available, so a few substitutes were rotated around to try and cover. When there were no Inuk teachers we watched movies. When I did have a teacher, I was given a list of syllabic words and pictures akin to elementary school work to match up. No pronunciation, no explanation, just matching. I have received those types of sheets for the entire duration of primary, middle and now high school. They have not gotten more difficult, and I lost interest a long time ago. My teacher did not correct me, offer suggestions or help of any kind. I received full grades for even writing gibberish, I got an A+. I speak absolutely no Inuktitut words despite having genuine interest to want and learn.

      Let’s add COVID lockdown into the mix. In 2020, March, we moved to homework packages. How many did I get for Inuktitut between March and June of 2020? Zero.

      Fast forward to 2021 lockdown, we have Edsby. Three weeks into the lockdown I messaged my Inuktitut teacher asking for homework, I had lots of time to learn and practice. It is now about 8 weeks since I reached out a few times to my teacher, he has never responded, or possibly even used Edsby. Yet this week I am going to receive a grade based upon a combination of my Edsby work and in class work.

      Teach Inuktitut in school, please. I want to genuinely learn it.”

      I am submitting this on behalf of both of my high school kids who are outraged we are letting Inuktitut die and are not putting in real effort to teach it. They are frustrated at the teachers lack of motivation to even show up to work, and lack of a proper learning system to teach it. There is no structure, no follow up, no corrective action taken. Fail my kids in Inuktitut, please. Recognize they are failing to learn, that we are failing to properly teach this language. Please focus on our basics, we cannot have a University if we cannot even teach our children to strive and accel and grow.

  11. Posted by Inuk on

    This is great news! I do hope this university will partner with the Greenland University as there are so many similarities and that university has a great track record for many years now.

    Such great opportunities here!

    • Posted by Please go on on

      Tell us more Inuk? What similarities do you see, what are the successes in Greenland that we could emulate?

      • Posted by Inuk on

        So many similarities, one being in the Arctic, remote, same culture, language and customs, residential school trauma, a lot of nay sayers when they planned to start their own university and so on, the list is way too long to continue.
        Many Inuit have gone on to this university and graduated, this university has had a very positive outcome to education and employment, it works very well and can be a model for to use.

        I don’t understand all the negativity from some of you maybe it’s threatening or not being capable of understanding the benefits of having our own university but it sounds like it will go ahead and I am excited for us and look very much forward to it.
        Here is a link to the Greenland University, some Inuit from Canada have enrolled in the past and speak highly about it. I hope more Inuit from Canada will enrol at this university for the experience and see another world where things can be done differently and to the way we want them to be in our home land.

  12. Posted by Ches on

    A standing task force, committee would be a start. As Harper says North costs more by 50% if not more, it is a huge hurdle to clear.

  13. Posted by articrick on

    He is so out of touch for the people he’s suppose to represent. If this “university” goes along, it will not keep its doors open long enough.

    • Posted by Really on

      Really? And how would you know that? Can you give us some examples of a northern or Arctic university that had to close its doors?

  14. Posted by David Simailak on

    When Agnico Eagle Mines opened Meadowbank, Mr. Jim Nasso took it upon himself to try to spearhead work towards building an arctic university. If people like Mr. Obed and organizations like the Government if Nunavut had provided even minimal support, maybe it would have been open now.
    But now, going to try again with a credit card company? Mr. Obed, start by moving your whole organization to Baker Lake.

    • Posted by Northern Universities Already Exist on

      Canada already has two fully functioning northern universities. One each in YK and NWT.

      Why do so many people talk about creating a northern school seem to forget that we already have them?

  15. Posted by Candace on

    Before we create an Inuit University, may I suggest that we work on creating more Inuit high school graduates? Inuit youth are underserved by an poorly resourced school system that leaves them bored, alienated, and struggling once they hit southern schools with normal standardized grading. First things first.


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