‘We Inuit are smart, resilient and capable’: Kangiqsualujjuaq teacher comes home
Andrea Brazeau will teach Grade 4 at the school she once attended
Graduating from university is a big deal if you’re from Kangiqsualujjuaq.
So when Andrea Brazeau, 24, recently returned home after receiving her bachelor of education, with plans to begin teaching Grade 4 at the same school she once attended, it was a cause for celebration in the Ungava Bay community of about 900.
In late April, everyone from Ulluriaq School — including students she ended her practicum with — hopped onto a fire truck to take part in a parade through the community, as onlookers cheered, honked and clapped.
Nunatsiaq News recently had the opportunity to catch up with Brazeau in an email exchange about the challenges and rewards of earning her university education. The following has been edited for length and clarity.
What was it like to leave your home community to pursue a western education?
I was born and raised in Kangiqsualujjuaq. I attended the only school there — Ulluriaq School — from kindergarten until graduation. I graduated in 2014 and left to pursue post-secondary education that same year. I was actually very excited to relocate to the south to pursue post-secondary education. I was looking forward to being independent and living in the big city with my friends.
What was the transition like?
Although I was looking forward to living down south in the city, the transition was extremely difficult. I quickly realized that living there permanently was not the same as going down south for a vacation, which I ever only knew the south to be — a place to go on vacation. I called home many, many, many times crying. This is mainly because I did not believe in myself. Right from the beginning, I thought that my southern classmates were superior to me. I thought they were smarter and that I would not succeed because I was an Inuk who came from a small community.
However, with the support of my parents, other post-secondary Inuit students and Kativik Ilisarniliriniq, I eventually adapted to the fast-paced southern lifestyle — one that never stops.
We Inuit students used to gather to have country food feasts — we would all gather in an apartment in the city and eat country food — things like that helped us stay connected to who we are, which was absolutely necessary during our journeys.
How did you feel about the courses? Did they excite you?
I enjoyed my university classes much more than my CEGEP ones as they were more focused on what I was passionate about — education. I also want to mention that I always incorporated who I am and my culture in my assignments whenever possible — this made the assignments more enjoyable for me. For example, I would do PowerPoint presentations or write papers on topics such as the dog slaughter, the High Arctic relocations, the high cost of living, lack of mental health services and so on. I would always try to make that connection between the course and Inuit, whenever possible. This made my assignments more interesting and gave me the opportunity to educate my fellow classmates and professors, who unfortunately don’t deeply know the realities of the North.
Why was it important to get a southern education?
We are now living in a modern world where western education is necessary if we want to take control of our destiny. If we truly want to self-govern, it is necessary to go to school, gain the necessary tools, and come back to the community to implement those tools in such a way that fit who we are as Inuit.
Now that you have completed your studies, what does that feel like?
I am so happy! I feel thankful, relieved and proud! I honestly never thought that I would be at this point in my life. I also feel hopeful for our future. Because I completed post-secondary, it might motivate other students in Nunavik to do the same! We Inuit are smart, resilient and capable.
Why was it important that you come back home? How did it feel?
Throughout my entire educational journey at Ulluriaq School, I never had an Inuk teach me in the second language. It was always southern teachers coming to the North to teach English or French — which I appreciated because Ulluriaq has had several amazing educators. However, no matter how amazing these teachers were, there was always a cultural barrier. I want Inuit students to have a teacher that understands Inuktitut, knows the culture and grew up in the North. For example, one of the students I taught during my final teaching placement wrote, “I will miss Andrea because she can speak Inuktitut and English.” This is exactly the reason I wanted to teach in Nunavik.
You have such strong family and community support; how does that feel?
My parents were my biggest supporters during my post-secondary journey. More importantly, they supported me throughout my entire childhood. My parents always put my interests and needs before their own. This enabled me to discover myself and strengthen who I am as an individual. For example, they were always there for academic support, they attended my sporting events, they brought me out on the land. My parents built a strong foundation which led to my success as a young woman. This continued in post-secondary, my parents were there throughout the hardships. But also made sure to celebrate the little successes along the way. And my community — Kangiqsualujjuaq — was always there to encourage me and support me along the way. I am very proud to a Kangiqsualujjuaqmiuk.
What are your hopes and dreams now?
I hope that we can get more students to attend post-secondary education, if they want to! I understand that the journey I took is not for everyone and that is completely OK! Ultimately, I hope that our generation keeps working towards creating a better future for the generations after us. Inuit are resilient, we would not be here if it were not for our ancestors’ resiliency. We must do the same. We must be resilient and work hard to create a better future for the younger generations of Nunavik.
I am going to enjoy my summer relaxing. I will probably be doing a lot of cooking and cycling. I return to Kangiqsualujjuaq in August where I will be teaching Grade 4. Once I am home, I hope to do lots of camping with my family. I have to make up for the seven years I missed.
My long-term aspirations include getting into politics Makivik. Or, to work for upper management at Kativik Ilisarniliriniq, but I am in no rush. I am still very young and have a lot to learn.