#ARTICLE23: Inuit teaching students say loss of Inuktitut in the classroom leading to vanishing Inuit culture – Part 2

(Alysia Ashoona (L) and Karla Evaluarjuk are training to become teachers at Arctic College in Iqaluit, NU as part of the Nunavut Teacher Education Program.)(Photo: Holly Moore/APTN Investigates)

Holly Moore
APTN National News
Two Inuit teachers-in-training say the Inuktitut language must be preserved and the current school system could do more to promote Inuit culture in the classroom.

“It is very disappointing that our culture is vanishing,” said Alysia Ashoona, who is a part of the Nunavut Teacher Education Program (NTEP). “One day, our traditions will disappear.”

NTEP is a Nunavut government program designed to train Inuit students so they can become qualified as teachers in the territory. The program is headquartered in Iqaluit and its goal is to give students an opportunity to practice in their home communities.

Ashoona is originally from Cape Dorset, a tiny hamlet north of Iqaluit. She said she wanted to be a teacher so she could help her kindergarten-age daughter remember her roots.

“I had my daughter who I really wanted to teach,” she said. “I needed more knowledge and experience with more information. I wanted to teach professionally and be a role model.”

Being a role model is also important to Karla Evaluarjuk, one of Ashoona’s fellow students. The women spoke to APTN Investigates as we were setting up for an interview at Arctic College with Paul Qassa, Nunavut’s Minister of Education, as part of reporter Kathleen Martens report “Article 23” airing February 3.

“There are very few Inuit teachers,” she said. “I spoke Inuktituk since I was born and I try to keep my language very strong. I try to pass it on to my children.”

“I only speak in Inuktitut, because they are speaking English all day long,” Evaluarjuk added.

Both women said they understand why teachers are brought up from the South. But they see those hiring practices contributing to a loss of culture among Inuit students.

“I understand why they are coming up here because a lot of us don’t have the education we need to be teachers,” said Evaluarjuk. “But it is unfortunate for the students because where there is a role model, their teacher is white and they learn their way instead of the Inuit way.”

Paul Quassa, the minister of education, said schools do offer Inuktitut up to Grade 12 but he admitted that 85 per cent of the instruction is from Kindergarten to Grade 3.

“We have to remember that Inuktitut is the first language of this territory,” he said. “We have traditional Elders within our schools that are there to give support.”

Quassa said few college and trade programs are offered in Inuktitut.

“A lot of programs we carry are still English-oriented,” he said. ”Until such time as we have an Inuktitut stream, one has to have a good grasp of the English language.”

He said there are still many barriers to hiring and training Inuit, many of whom are on income assistance.

“Childcare is an issue in our territory; housing is another issue,” he said. “Inuit may want to work but they don’t have a house.”

Ashoona said she overcame some of those barriers last summer when Arctic College shut down the NTEP in Cape Dorset after arson gutted the local high school. She had to move to Iqaluit with one month’s notice.

“At first when we came here, we were homeless.” said the single mother of one. “I had to stay with my sister and I waited four weeks for a house.”

“If I decided to stay in Cape Dorset, I would not have made changes. There are no jobs there. I wouldn’t have enough money to live on.”

“If Inuit don’t become teachers, we are going to lose everything,“ she said.

APTN Investigates’ producer Holly Moore and reporter Kathleen Martens travelled to Nunavut this winter to examine Inuit employment rates in the territory as part of an upcoming episode on Article 23 – a part of the Nunavut land claim agreement that calls for 85 per cent Inuit employment. This is one of a series of stories they produced leading up to the broadcast of “Article 23” on Fri., Feb. 3, 2017.

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2 thoughts on “#ARTICLE23: Inuit teaching students say loss of Inuktitut in the classroom leading to vanishing Inuit culture – Part 2

  1. Hi Holly,
    I concurr with your interviewees, and as the first learning coach in Iqaluit, I understand what they are saying. I hope to return one day to address things of such concern. Keep me in the loop on how folks will address this issue.

  2. While i admire the pluck and determination of these two young women, I seriously question their assertion that Inuit culture is at any risk. As one of those former teachers brought up from the south I can honestly state that everywhere I see Inuit culture as stronger today than it was fifty years ago.

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