Meeka Kakudluk is still struggling to relearn the Inuit culture she lost a half-century ago in schools where southern ways and the English language dominated.
This week, when she and her 20 classmates receive the first Master of Education degrees ever granted in Nunavut, she’ll do her part to ensure that in the future, Inuit schools – and students – are led by Inuit educators.
“The more they see Inuit leading, the more encouraged (students) will be to do the same,” said Kakudluk.
Kakudluk, 56, has been a teacher in Nunavut for 31 years, but that career will turn a whole page on Wednesday when she graduates with a brand-new Master of Education degree.
Offered through the University of Prince Edward Island, the program is designed to begin filling principal’s offices throughout the territory with educators who are members of the same community that they serve.
“There’s a need for Inuit leadership in the school system,” said Fiona Walton, the UPEI faculty member who set up and oversaw the three-year program.
Although there are more than 100 Inuit teachers with undergraduate degrees now teaching in Nunavut, the great majority of vice-principals and principals still come from the south. The UPEI program — the first graduate-level program of any kind offered in Nunavut – is intended to eventually change that.
It’s easier for an Inuk to understand community needs, said Dinah Kavik, who teaches in Sanikiluaq. As well, parents may feel more comfortable speaking with a principal in Inuktitut.
“The Inuit know their people,” said Kavik, a newly minted MEd.
The graduates enter the system at a crucial time for Nunavut.
Although Premier Eva Aariak has identified education as a top priority for her government, the territory’s graduation rate is dismal 25 per cent and a recent report concluded the system produces too many graduates fluent neither in English nor Inuktitut.
As well, the legislature passed a new Education Act in the last session that promises to deliver an Inuktitut language curriculum for students in all grades. Some of the new program’s graduates will help write that curriculum.
Nunia Qanatsiaq has already started working on an Inuktitut language program for high school students.
“(The program) really helped a lot,” she said. “It gave us confidence that we can step in and do things for our people instead of relying on others.”
Walton said the influence of the new graduates is likely to spread beyond education. She points to the Akitsiraq law school, which graduated 11 Inuit lawyers in 2005 through the University of Victoria.
Several of those graduates hold prominent positions in the civil service. A second Akitsiraq class is being planned for this fall.
Such programs help the territory at large, said Walton, who used to teach in Nunavut herself before joining UPEI’s faculty.
“When you raise the educational levels, you’re going to be feeding into the whole community.”
All the students were able to remain in their home communities, where they held down full-time jobs in the education system. Classes were taught online, as well as by lecturers coming north from Prince Edward Island.
Kakudluk is already looking forward to her new job — vice-principal of Iqaluit’s Nakasuk school.
“It’s very, very important to keep learning, to keep going to school,” she said.
“I’m just trying to be a good role model to my own children.”
– The Canadian Press