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What’s New in Nunavut History Education?

Posted by Heather E. McGregor
13 January 2012 - 1:02pm

As the newest member of the THEN/HIER graduate student committee, I am looking forward to sharing thoughts and stories about education and history from Canada’s North. I would like to begin by introducing a recent history curriculum initiative in Nunavut, which is in fact part of the reason I was inspired to pursue my doctorate in education. Staking the Claim: Dreams, Democracy & Canadian Inuit is a required grade 10 social studies module, published in 2009, that examines the history of Inuit land claims across Canada. As this first entry will not provide enough space to explore it fully, this will be the first of several comments on what I view as the most exciting made-in-Nunavut curriculum module to date!

Before I jump in, I would like to briefly position myself and the place from which I speak about history and education. I am thankful for being able to study on the traditional, ancestral and unceded territory of the Musqueam people, near Vancouver, at UBC. I relocated here in August 2011 from Nunavut, one of the Inuit regions in Canada. I was born in the NWT and Iqaluit, Nunavut has been my family’s home, most of the time since 1992. While I have no Inuit ancestry and I do not speak the Inuit Language, I am thankful to have been raised, educated, employed and included in Nunavut throughout my life. I say this to offer some explanation for what I bring to speaking or writing about Inuit culture, history, education and the Arctic environment – not as an authority, but with deep respect and lengthy experience as well as study. In terms of education, I must also point out that I am not a teacher by training (but rather a historian), and I recognize that my contributions may be limited in that regard.

Back to Staking the Claim, one of the most unique aspects of this new program is that it is based on a DVD that documents four Inuit youth seeking the stories and experiences of negotiators and leaders involved in the claims. The DVD was the result of a partnership between the Nunavut Department of Education and several students and their instructors at Nunavut Sivuniksavut, a college program for Inuit students located in Ottawa (as well as several other funding partners). Combined with archival photos and other material, the DVD footage, available in English and the Inuit Language, is intended to be used throughout the module to support student learning activities. This integral part of the module clearly demonstrates the initiative, creativity and leadership of two generations of Inuit – the older generation who struggled to bring about increased Inuit self-determination, and the younger generation who care about investigating and documenting their people’s history for the future.

One student contributor to the film project, Stacey Aglok MacDonald, wrote in an introductory letter to educators (included in the module Teacher’s Guide): “I saw in myself and my classmates our huge desire to be inspired by strong pasts and strong people: we need to sing for our leaders; dance for our accomplishments; and take courage from our losses. We learn from all of it, become wiser and gain hope because of it. Only when we understand how much we’ve survived are we able to find pride in ourselves, our people and our country.” (viii)

In another introductory letter to educators, Morley Hanson and Murray Angus, instructors at the Nunavut Sivuniksavut college program, say: “The story of what Inuit achieved within a mere three decades (i.e. from 1970 until 1999) represents one of the most inspiring stories in all of Canadian history. In many respects, it was Canada’s other ‘quiet revolution’.” (x)

Overall, the module touches on a wide range of issues, vocabulary, historical events and processes, as well as collective and individual perspectives. It begins with traditional Inuit lifeways, delves deeply into the difficult experiences of settlement and colonization as the Canadian government became increasingly interventionist with Inuit, and then traces the pathways towards political mobilization, land claims and self-determination. Students are encouraged to engage with their family and community members to learn about their experiences and memories from the time of the land claim. It finishes with Unit 10 “Fire in Your Belly” in which students identify ways they can make a difference in their own community, or participate in continuing the legacy of Inuit cultural, linguistic and political integrity and preservation.

The extent to which this module is an exemplar of the philosophy and direction of education in Nunavut and the ways in which it connects with other history initiatives in Nunavut cannot be fully explored in this entry. So, I will finish up by emphasizing what an important accomplishment it is that Nunavut students have access to locally-relevant social studies curriculum content – school programs in which Inuit students see themselves, their families and people they know in their communities. What I see, particularly in the DVD component of Staking the Claim, is the youth interviewers and older leaders being interviewed making history active, accessible and engaging for 10th grade students.