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Retired Iqaluit teacher will miss students
For first time in 30 years, Darlene Nuqingaq will not be heading back to class this fall

NNSL photograph

Darlene Naqingaq has fun in the snow with her students in Kimmirut in 1987, her first year of teaching. They were on an ice fishing excursion on Soper Lake. Left to right are Pitsiulak Ikkidluak, Noah Eeyeevadluk, Naqingaq, and Etuk Tikivik, kneeling. - photo courtesy of Darlene Naqingaq

John McFadden
Northern News Services
Monday, July 31, 2017

Darlene Nuqingaq admits that it is going to feel a little strange when kids starting heading back to school in a few weeks.

For the first time in 30 years, she will not be heading back with them. After three full decades as an educator, Nuqingaq, 55, was officially retired from the profession but she said that will not keep her out of school entirely.

"It will be hard to keep me out of the classroom. I have a passion for education and for being with children and especially for music education," Nuqingaq said. "I'm hoping to expand the music programs that are available for kids in Iqaluit. I'm probably actually semi-retired."

Nuqingaq was a fresh-faced, 25-year-old woman from Halifax, straight out of university, when she arrived in Kimmirut for her first teaching assignment in 1987.

"In those days there were absolutely no teaching jobs available in Nova Scotia and I saw a little tiny ad for teachers in Baffin. I applied, got a position and stayed," she said.

"As I reflect back, I had an awesome orientation. One staff member Peesee Pitsiulak called me in the summer before I started and became a friend and mentor. She was the first Inuit person that I became friends with."

Nuqingaq said she told Pitsiulak that she did not have much money and asked her how soon she would need a parka because she could not afford a good, warm winter coat.

"She assured me that I wouldn't need one for a couple of months but if winter came early people in the community could outfit me," Nuqingaq chuckled. "But I had this vision of Inuit being short and I'm 5'8". I told her I was really tall and big. So when we first met she said you're not that big and I said you are not that small."

Nuqingaq taught elementary school in Kimmirut for three years before moving on to Iqaluit.

She started working at Joamie School where she went on to become vice-principal and eventually principal. She was principal there when Nunavut divided from the NWT in 1999.

"Media from around the world flocked to Iqaluit and the school to do stories on the largest-ever land claim settled peacefully.

"I became known as the principal who started to charge media," she laughed. "We decided that if the media wanted to come to our school they had to give a one-hour presentation on where they were from or pay $200," she said. "Time magazine would not do either. So I told them they could get their story elsewhere."

Later in 1999, Nuqingaq transferred to Iqaluit's then-new Aqsarniit Middle School, where she taught Grade 6 and went on to become principal.

In 2008, she joined the Department of Education as an educational leadership development coordinator teaching adults. Nuqingaq was also involved in a program to train principals and vice-principals.

"I then chose to go back to Joamie School to teach Grade 3 where I started. I was a teacher/vice-principal so it kept me in leadership but I kept grounded in the grassroots of the classroom at the same time," she said. "It was really fun because I was teaching children of children I had taught in the 1990s. I felt like a grandmother."

Nuqingaq is married to Inuit artist and jeweler Mathew Nuqingaq. She said they met at Friday night broomball, a big social event for teachers at the time. They have two children: a 19-year-old daughter in university and a 14-year-old son who is about to start high school.

Nuqingaq said her lengthy educational career could not have been more rewarding.

"I still see students I taught in Kimmirut and I can't walk down the street in Iqaluit without running into former students," she said. "I've got to watch my former students grow up and be contributing members of society. It's been wonderful."

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