Group aims to make Nunavut an academic department

Program will include exchanges, correspondence for communities



An ambitious group of Nunavut bureaucrats and southern academics hopes to put an end to Canada’s ignorance of Inuit and the eastern Arctic by creating a university department devoted to studying Nunavut.

Nunavut health, education and human resources officials joined forces with professors and students at Acadia University in Nova Scotia earlier this month, leading to the unofficial beginnings of INSPIRED – International Nunavut Studies: Policy Innovation, Research and Development at Acadia.

Among other issues, participants discussed how to further Nunavut’s interests through policy research, such as persuading Ottawa to increase funding to the Government of Nunavut.

Participants concluded, in part, that they will have to put an end to the condescending research techniques they say scholars have used in the past, when Inuit were rarely consulted on whether findings were accurate.

To gather accurate information on Nunavut, the residents of the territory, especially Inuit, must be the ones creating the research agenda, said Millie Kuliktana, who attended the symposium in Wolfville, N.S.

“My feeling is we’re going to create a new criteria for research,” said Kuliktana, executive director of Kitikmeot School Operations. “It’s an opportunity to do research on Inuit, but to do it with Inuit, using Inuit as partners, not as objects of interest.”

In order to make research more “Inuit-driven,” organizers hope to:

* provide more post-secondary education opportunities in Nunavut’s remote communities, either through exchanges or on-line correspondence courses;
* create a fellowship program that sends Nunavummiut to teach students and professors about Nunavut in southern universities and colleges;
* develop a more comprehensive understanding of Nunavut’s challenges, such as housing and health care infrastructure, among media, politicians and bureaucrats in the south.

Cynthia Alexander, a political science professor helping coordinate the project at Acadia, said increasing awareness of Nunavut in the South will pay dividends to Nunavummiut, such as finding new funding for health care in the territory.

Alexander, who hosted the forum May 5-7, said federal politicians don’t usually act on issues that the public aren’t educated about, such as Nunavut’s extreme lack of housing.

By educating the South, Alexander expects money would flow more readily from federal coffers.

“We typically ignore anything North,” she said from her office in Nova Scotia. “If we all learn now about Nunavut, maybe it will become a priority to support and maintain her priorities.

“As the public, we can influence the policy agenda, but we need to be informed to do it.”

Alexander added that creating a formal institute for Nunavut policy research will also benefit the South. She said southern decision-makers could benefit from Nunavut’s example of consensus government, or the territorial government’s efforts to integrate culture into its policies, through its Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit programs.

Participants also hope the renewed focus on Nunavut policy research will help the territorial government find ways to reach its goals set out in the Bathurst Mandate, namely ensuring Inuit comprise 85 per cent of the public service by the year 2020.

Stephanie Rose, a third-year political science student at Acadia, will be coordinating the project from her home town of Iqaluit during the summer, with the help of education officials in Kugluktuk, plus territorial health assistant deputy minister Victor Tootoo, territorial human resources training director, Marion Love, and language commissioner Eva Aareak.

Rose, 19, said the focus will be ending unproductive research on her home territory.

“What’s been the problem in Nunavut, we’ve seen a lot of research but no action,” she said. “We’re giving leadership to Nunavut because they know what’s needed in Nunavut.”

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