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Where there is a will, there is a way

| Indigenous Education

Cassie Hallett
ngujunga iliniaqtitsijujunga.

The words above translate to, “My name is Cassie Hallett and I am a teacher” in the Inuktitut dialect I learned in 1992 as a new teacher in the beautiful community of Baker Lake (or Qamanitu’aq), Nunavut – the only inland community in the vast territory of Nunavut1 (which means “our land” in Inuktitut).

I owe thanks to many for the teachings that made me the teacher I became and am proud to be. This message is, in part, a thank you letter to many students and community members in Baker Lake and Arviat, Nunavut, where I lived and worked in the field of education from 1992-2003.

Eleven years cannot reasonably be called a long time to live in communities where many Inuit spend their entire lives, learning from the previous generation and raising the next. Yet, in communities that have both a strong and stable Indigenous population and a much more transient population of “others” (or “southerners” as many migrants from the Canadian provinces are called in our North), 11 years is considered a long time for a southerner like me. It was long enough, I believe, to earn me the dual status of “insider/outsider,” a state of being most often used to refer to researchers engaged in qualitative research.

I still recall the brilliant teachings of Michael Mautaritnaaq, my first Inuktitut teacher, Tuesday evenings, in the community centre, first singing the syllabarium (or Inuktitut alphabet) and then building up to basic conversation and reading. And I will never forget Joy Tilley and the entire Suwaksiork family who adopted me upon arrival in the community of Arviat, including me in family gatherings and taking me on the land, while various families “adopted” my other new colleagues. The schools I worked in and the teachers’ associations I was member of2 facilitated all of this. Add to that the collegial support of Inuit teacher colleagues and elders who contributed to our school and the development of curriculum from the Inuit perspective3, mine was an experience rich in opportunities for developing cultural understandings. With this supported, almost immersive, access to Inuit culture and history, and culturally relevant curricula, a world of learning was open to me and my non-Inuit colleagues and that made us more effective, and, I would also posit, happier teachers.

Today, the CTF is releasing the results of a Pan-Canadian survey on Aboriginal Education. Among other things, the results show how few Canadian teachers have opportunities for meaningful professional learning about First Nations, Métis, and Inuit (FNMI) cultures. Granted, not all teachers, especially those in communities and cities with more multicultural populations, can experience the immersive cultural learning I did, but, as the saying goes, where there is a will, there is a way!

On the eve of National Aboriginal Day, I say thank you to my many Inuit teachers—teacher colleagues, students, parents, community members, Elders. Ma’na lauvik4! I also stand with my colleagues across the country, and indeed throughout the world, to call on Ministries of Education across this country to work with FNMI partners and teachers to ensure adequate and ongoing support for all teachers to better understand Indigenous cultures and histories. This is a key to reconciliation. And, lastly, I encourage all readers of this issue of Perspectives to read the article by Bernie Froese-Germain and Rick Riel, regarding the CTF survey on Aboriginal education. CTF believes the findings provide all interested with excellent guidance for a way forward that is more inclusive and respectful of FNMI cultures and histories.

1 Of course, back in 1992, Nunavut was still part of the Northwest Territories; it became a territory on April 1, 1999.

2 From 1992-1999, I was a member of the Northwest Territories Teachers’ Association (NWTTA); with the creation of the Federation of Nunavut Teachers (in 1999, which is now the Nunavut Teachers’ Association or NTA), I became a member of that union.

3 Entitled Inuuqatigiit, this was the first curriculum document from the Inuit perspective; it followed Dene Kede, a curriculum in the Northwest Territories (NWT) rooted in the traditions of the Dene of that territory.

4 Thank you in the Inuktitut dialect I first learned, in Baker Lake.

Where there is a will