Land claim goes into history books

Filmmakers bring recent history to Nunavut classrooms



When the Nunavut land claims agreement came into force on April 1, 1999, Stacey Aglok was a high school student in Kugluktuk.

“That’s old enough to at least have some basic understanding of what was going on, but I don’t even remember that day,” says Aglok, now 23.

It wasn’t until she was enrolled in the native studies program at Trent University that Aglok realized she wasn’t alone in her ignorance of Inuit political history.

At Trent, Nunavut was not on the agenda, and even though she managed to incorporate Inuit themes into her essays, she decided after her second year to leave university to enroll in Nunavut Sivuniksavut, the eight-month pre-college program in Ottawa, “specifically to learn about Nunavut history and the Nunavut land claims agreement.”

Pauloosie Akeagook was 15 and a Grade 10 student in Grise Fiord when the land claim took effect, and says he knew nothing at all about it before joining Nunavut Sivuniksavut in 2002.

Learning about the history of Nunavut brought with it “a whole attitude change,” he says, inspiring him to pursue an honours degree in political science and aboriginal studies at Ottawa University

Now 21, Akeagook, along with Aglok, is grabbing a quick coffee in Iqaluit on his way to film an interview with one of the original players behind the land claim, for a documentary that will soon bring the history of the land claim to high school students around the territory.

Aglok and Akeagook – and later, two other Nunavut Sivuniksavut alumni, David Joanasie and Tommy Akulukjuk – are taking time out over the next year to interview the people behind the land claim, and help turn the footage into three 20-minute documentaries on the 30-year negotiation that led to the historic deal.

The project is called Staking the Claim, and it grew out of conversations between Madeleine Redfern, then a student at the Akitsiraq Law Program, and Marianne Demmer and Kath Clarida Fry, two women with a long history in Nunavut and a fledging production company, Entheos Films, in Ottawa.

The documentary is one of three upcoming projects that will bring Nunavut’s recent history into classrooms. Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. is also working on teaching materials to accompany its Plain Language Guide to the Nunavut Land Claim Agreement and Nunavut Arctic College will soon begin publishing detailed biographies of six chief negotiators.

While all of those materials will become valuable resources, Staking the Claim is likely to be the most eye-opening for youth.

“We realized about a year ago that the best way to tell the story about the Inuit land claim was through the eyes of Inuit youth,” says Demmer, who was also in Iqaluit last week for the first round of interviews that took the Entheos film crew to Igloolik, Rankin Inlet and Arviat. “It’s their story and their journey and it really is helping young people understand the story.”

Nunavut’s education department is a partner in the project, and is now working on a teaching unit for its Grade 10 Northern Studies course, which is mandatory for graduation.

In future, says Cathy McGregor, director of curriculum for the department of education, more units will be developed – one based on the people involved in the land claim, and some for younger and older students.

McGregor credits the Nunavut Sivuniksavut program with providing a model for new teaching materials.

“What we would hope in the very long run is that we might make some of that same spirit, energy, and drive that they have, come out of our high school programs,” McGregor says.

She said she also hopes that young people will be inspired by the project to become more active in their communities. “That’s a very big part of the message, that if I see something in my community that I think needs to be different, I can do something about it.”

In the van on the way to a film shoot at the home of Betty Brewster, one of the interpreter-translators at the land claim negotiating table, Aglok and Akeagook both say they aren’t nervous about meeting another of the players in the land claim, or about being on camera.

They’ve just returned from interviewing Tagak Curley, who told them his story while taking them on a boat ride to Marble Island, where he introduced them to the tradition of crawling on the island – the resting place of Captain James Knight and his crew of 60 who were marooned in 1721 – on your elbows and knees to show respect for the souls lost there.

“We got it on tape,” Aglok says. And this becomes another story that both she and Akeagook can take and preserve for future generations.

Murray Angus, a teacher with Nunavut Sivuniksavut in Ottawa, is delighted to offer four of his alumni and his 20 years of experience teaching Inuit history. He says the first question many of his students ask when they learn about the land claim is: “why didn’t I know about this sooner?”

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