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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


August 25, 2001 - Issue 43


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Inuit Youth and Education


 by The National Inuit Youth Council

Inuit education today includes formal instruction in the public education system as well as the learning of traditional skills required to survive on the land from one's family or extended family.

Inuit used to receive an education in traditional knowledge before formal schooling was introduced. Values were directly linked to life skills. Young Inuit were taught hunting, meat and pelt preparation, sewing, building igloos, navigating on land and water, as well as forecasting the weather. The family and knowledgeable community members instructed Inuit youth in becoming proficient in the tasks. This enabled them to care for themselves and the people around them. They were taught to respect the environment and the animals upon which they depended.

The children and youth learned by observing and imitating experienced adults and elders. After a period of observation, the younger people were encouraged to practice hunting and sewing skills under the careful supervision of an adult. Training in a particular skill was complete when a youth was able to perform a particular task without assistance. Because Inuit learned primarily by observation - by performing tasks in the presence of others - Inuit were always teaching their skills to those who were watching.

Upon the arrival of Europeans, the method of educating and training changed dramatically, separating Inuit values from everyday teaching. The Missionaries taught Inuit new religions, replacing Inuit spirituality and values with new beliefs.

When the Traders arrived, Inuit economic models changed. The subsistence lifestyle changed to a mixed economy, consisting of harvest animals for bartering and trading, in combination with subsistence hunting. Inuit hunted and trapped animals to trade the fur for items such as guns, ammunition and dry goods that had previously not been part of their lives.

In order to maintain the churches, trading posts and schools, Inuit were in many cases relocated from their camps and nomadic trails into settlements and communities. While still largely dependent on the land and animals for food, Inuit learned to depend increasingly on trading to provide their clothing, shelter and hunting tools.

Inuit learned, in a relatively short time span, a whole new way of living.

Today most Inuit live in established communities. They attend regular church services, buy groceries at the local stores and send their children to school. Nearly every community in the Canadian Arctic has schools to educate children from Kindergarten to Grade 12. Most of the larger communities have access to post-secondary courses. The courses available at these institutions are comparable to courses offered by other Canadian institutions.

Education is a challenge for Inuit. The high school graduation rate is low. Even lower is the number of Inuit enrolling in and completing college or university programs. Inuit also experience high dropout rates. But the situation is improving. Young Inuit are accustomed to the need for formal education. When education was introduced in the North, the dialogue was minimal. There was a lack of student support and a lack of encouragement for scholastic achievement, which resulted in low graduation rates. With more support, the number of graduates is beginning to rise, and attendance at post-secondary institutions is up.

Besides the fact that Inuit youth are attending and completing their schooling, Inuit adults and organizations are active in making changes to the education system, to better reflect the realities of the North and the needs of Inuit students. * Inuit organizations are active in the establishment of new institutions for Inuit education. A few examples include:

· The University of the Arctic The University of the Arctic will offer university programs for Arctic residents. A network of northern circumpolar academic institutions is developing a "virtual" university to deliver post-secondary distance education to circumpolar residents; this is an initiative of the Arctic Council, an international organization formed in Ottawa on September 1996 to address environmental protection and other challenges in the circumpolar north. The Inuit Circumpolar Conference is a member of the Arctic Council.

· Nunavut Sivuniksavut Training Program This is a training program originally founded by the Tungavik Federation of Nunavut (the organization responsible for negotiating the Nunavut Comprehensive Land Claims agreement). An independent board of directors now runs the Nunavut Sivuniksavut Training Program. It educates Inuit youth about their history, the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement, Inuit political organizations, and prepares students for furthering their education opportunities.

· Language and Culture Camps Various Inuit organizations across the North hold regular language and culture camps out on the land, where the youth are taught a variety of traditional and modern survival skills by experienced Inuit adults and elders. The Kivalliq Inuit Association, for example, has held three successful Pijunnaqsiniq Camps each summer since 1998. Elders and youth go hunting, make tools, tell stories and hold healing sessions. Interest and demand has risen as each participant has completed the course and talked about it. Parents have also been supportive of their children's participation. Five other regions are working towards strengthening their youth and elder leadership programs.

ITC Youth Council
The Inuit Tapirisat of Canada (ITC) is committed to addressing the needs and concerns of Inuit youth living in Canada, therefore, has created and maintains a Youth Department.

Thanks to George Lessard at:

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