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Society wants a university in Nunavut
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, July 29, 2009
"Our view is that it's a university that creates critical thinking, analytical thinking, research skills, that fosters debate," said Sandra Inutiq, one of the proponents of the project and a graduate of Akitsiraq Law School through the University of Victoria.
Inutiq and four others form the Ilitturvik University Society, which has spent the last year investigating how a university begins.
The group has written a proposal to apply for funds, which will go towards a formal feasibility study. That study will consider a range of possible forms such a university could take including size, location, programs, target student body, cultural considerations and everything else that needs to be examined before the project can proceed.
The academic focus of the university would be subjects relevant to Nunavummiut, Inutiq said, for example, natural sciences. Having a university here would help introduce a more local, Inuit perspective on Arctic ecosystems and climate change since such research is overwhelmingly carried out by southern scientists with no permanent roots here.
"It would basically prove the depth of knowledge held by Inuit on their surroundings, their environment," Inutiq said.
Another area of study could be political science, looking at issues such as government policy in Nunavut's unique social conditions and Arctic sovereignty. Again, Inutiq stated, these are areas where outsiders are the experts on subjects Nunavummiut should be more engaged in.
At present, the only option for most Nunavummiut who want a university education is to leave the territory, which means leaving family, culture and even language behind. Inutiq said having a university at least in Iqaluit would make a post-secondary academic education seem less far-fetched to Nunavummiut youth.
Inutiq said the university should be accredited and acknowledged as a potential place for people to study from across the country, but the focus would be on providing post-secondary education to Inuit.
"This is what is missing in much of today’s Arctic debate," said Kirt Ejesiak, a graduate of Harvard University and another Ilitturvik member. "Educated Inuit are missing at the table. We are capable of solving many of our collective problems. This is what is happening across the bay with our cousins in Greenland. There are many things we can learn by going to see them and inviting them to Nunavut."
Initially, the plan would be to have a campus in Iqaluit and later establish programs in the communities, either by sending instructors or by correspondence. Having a physical, visible building in town is important because it would make youth aware of the institution's presence and the opportunity it would offer them, Inutiq said.
"We want to start small but do a good job with the programs the university delivers," Inutiq said.
Aaju Peter, another Ilitturvik member and a graduate of Akitsiraq Law School, recently returned from a trip to Nuuk, Greenland, where she witnessed a model of education she found promising. Over the last year, the University of Greenland has been investigating education techniques from a variety of indigenous cultures in other parts of the world such as Polynesia, Australia and New Zealand, looking at how people learn outside the Western concept of education and teach by example rather than by lecture.
"I think for our elders and for youth, they would recognize this way of teaching," Peter said.
"For Canada to claim true sovereignty of the Arctic, we have to be the ones who are tackling the full issue in the Arctic," Peter said. "If we are just onlookers, then we are just being controlled."