It’s been a long time since I have written about what I am doing with my life on the professional front. Since this is a question I get asked a lot, especially since my move to Kuujjuaq, I thought it was time to share a little more about what I do to make ends meet and thrive.
My profession is Educator.
I have been an educator in a variety of ways, from working in a museum, to barely controlling 7th graders, to being a university professor for teachers in training. For me, being an educator isn’t about being a teacher, it’s actually about being a learner, and wanting to get others as jazzed up about topics and ideas as I am. That desire to learn more led me to complete a PhD in digital learning and cultures, which I will soon be defending. While my research has thus far focused a great deal on digital identity and learning in digital spaces, I have also had a vast interest as a learner in Indigenous education. I have sought for some time a way to combine my skills and knowledge in the field of digital education with my heart for Indigenous education and issues. I started small, working as a research assistant on projects centred on supporting Indigenous schools, and creating Indigenous centred education resources for communities close to my university. I spent a lot of time sitting in rooms with elders and leaders discussing the futures of their young people, listening to their overwhelming desire to connect their children and grandchildren with their culture and the land. The more I listened, the more I realized I had to find a way to support their vision for the future.
Before taking on the role I now enjoy at Kativik Ilisarniliriniq, I tried to find that role of support with a company who, with some guidance from me, decided to work with First Nation, Metis and Inuit schools through creating educational resources. I was traveling the country, developing community partnerships and training teachers in First Nations’ schools on using these resources, as well as helping them to develop their own resources for their Nation and communities. It was hard work; it was rewarding and a great time of learning for me. I got to see first hand what many schools across Canada are doing to support their young people in a time where reconciliation is a buzzword but not a school of thought. I got to see first hand how many schools are struggling to stay open, whether due to poor funding or poor infrastructure. I saw the need in so many communities for advocacy and better funding. I saw a need for the rest of Canada to start giving a damn, quite frankly, about the education and welfare of Indigenous children.
It was hard work; it was exhausting work. And it was work that was only surface deep. It was far from enough, and much less contribution by me than my skill set could have allowed. I grew frustrated, and felt the settler was too present in all that we did.
So when I saw the role advertised for a school board in the eastern Arctic, I felt that if I was going to, as they say, put my money where my mouth is, this was a good place to start; an opportunity to work directly with an Indigenous group, to use all my skills and knowledge to support the great effort of teaching Indigenous children from an Indigenous point of view, with resources and teachers from their communities.
So here I am, nearly 6 months after stepping off the plane, still only learning, mostly listening and occasionally pulling my hair out. I am the assistant director of teacher training and development. Which means I oversee the education programs for 212 teachers, student counselors, and leadership who are registered in the education program that is a joint effort between Kativik Ilisarniliriniq and McGill’s Office of First Nation and Inuit Education. I also provide guidance to a separate teacher training program offered through l’Université du Québec en Abitibi-Témiscamingue (UQAT) who work with two of our Hudson coast communities, Ivujivik and Puvirnituq.
In this role, I do a number of different things. I advocate for our students and our program; I listen a lot to principals, Centre Directors, teachers, Teacher Training counselors, complimentary services, and the curriculum departments to know what is going on in schools, what is going on with our curriculum development, and what teachers and support staff need to be successful in our mandate, which is to educate Inuit children so that they are not only academically competent to the standards of a provincial government, but to more importantly help ground them in their culture, language, and historical identity as the first peoples of Nunavik.
At the most basic level, I organize and help plan the instruction of courses for our teachers, leaders, and support staff in schools in Nunavik. I work with McGill to bring on the right consultant for a course, and support them and either one or two Inuit instructors as they plan a course delivery. Our department then signs teachers up for the courses they need, and delivers these courses (usually 8 to 9 a school year) in different communities in Nunavik. Teachers then travel (sometimes with their children in tow) to wherever the course is being hosted to attend a 7 day intensive, where their sole focus is that course and it’s topics. It’s a hard model on their families and on them. They are expected to take in all the knowledge of a course like Classroom based evaluation in a short period, and be able to return home and immediately integrate this into their teaching practice. Education in Nunavik is only in Inuktitut for the first several years of children’s education, so our teachers are in high demand. They begin teaching almost immediately in their training journey, and it’s our job as a department to find ways to support them and encourage them in their practice journey. We also host a 7 course summer Institute, with usually 3 cultural skill courses offered in the evenings, over an 8 day period in early summer. Here, between 70 and 80 teachers, student counselors and people in leadership positions take almost 2 weeks from their summer vacation to further their education. This is a pretty big sacrifice from time spent on the land with family, for a people who only 70 years ago enjoyed a much more nomadic lifestyle than today’s school structure will allow. Right now I am working on making sure all our students who attend summer courses will have activities and chances to learn and grow together outside of just their regular classwork, as well as offer camp activities for their children who accompany them to their training.
As an overall mandate, it is my goal to make sure our teachers are receiving the best Inuit-based education and training they could want. It is often a weird space to inhabit, finding the balance between the westernized teacher training content from a colonial institution and leading the courses in Inuktitut, with Inuit values and competencies interwoven. This is a big mandate; a complicated mandate, which means a lot of consulting and discussion and also making sure when ideas or approaches are suggested that we are paying attention to the needs and culture of our students, and not simply taking the lead. I check my motivations and ideas with staff and teachers often. I at times miss the mark. I at times am not listening to the best of my abilities. I sometimes need to take pause and make sure I am not just looking for easy, instead of best practice. But most importantly my work is to consult and advocate; and I do this fiercely, if I do say so. I am bringing in Indigenous education experts and workshops to empower and motivate the teachers and professionals who fall under my department. I want to take that westernized training content, and turn it over to elders and teachers who can weave in the Inuit knowledge and capacities that are taught every day from mother to daughter, grandfather to grandson, from ice on the bay to berries on the tundra. I am filled with hope and admiration because of the hard working Inuks I see doing this weaving in our various departments and classrooms. I have said it a number of times, but learning about Inuit culture has been an amazing opportunity for me because of it’s richness and the Inuit of Nunavik’s strong desire to not only maintain their culture and language, but to watch it thrive and grow. The storytellers and artists and hunters and carvers and teachers among them are the ones who will meet the mandate for Inuit-based education. It is my complete pleasure to offer what support and knowledge I have to them so they may continue to thrive and grow as a people.
When I think about the question “What is your mandate” or “what is your role” I wish I could spend more time asking it to my teachers. What do you want from your training? What support and help do you need in your classroom? I have put up chart paper all over my office walls so that they can come in and tell me these things themselves. I am bringing in a team who will help give the staff and teachers the opportunity to express what ways and knowledge they want shared in their training and learning. I am also organizing workshops and sharing opportunities with other Inuit teachers in Canada, so that our teachers can learn and grow and support others in their quest towards returning their education into their hands, and not the hands of bureaucrats, politicians and university deans. That, at the end of the day, is my mandate. To find a way to support and continue to listen.