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Elders welcome in Nunavut schools despite Covid concerns

While parents and guardians are strongly discouraged from entering schools unless making arrangements in advance, Elders will continue to be welcome within the halls of learning during the 2020-21 school year.

Elders Salomie Qitsualik and Martha Atkichok speak to students at Qiqirtaq Ilihakvik in Gjoa Haven in 2018. Elders will be welcome in educational facilities during the 2020-21 school year, despite Covid precautions.
photo courtesy of Qiqirtaq Ilihakvik

Public health orders are in place to reduce the risk of transmitting Covid-19, meaning school visitors are being kept to a minimum. Exceptions will be made for Elders who are delivering educational and cultural benefits to students during scheduled hours, according to the Department of Education.

School staff are required to keep a log of Elders visits. The documentation will outline when Elders came into the building and who they visited. This will assist in contact tracing, should cases of Covid-19 arise.

Elders will also be asked self-assessment questions pertaining to Covid risk and possible virus symptoms, and they may not enter a school if they answer yes to any of the questions, the Department of Education stated.

So long as Nunavut communities remain in stage one of the pandemic protocol, the primary concern will be physical distancing, whereby Elders and students must remain two metres apart. Failing that, Elders must wear a mask.

Should any communities in the territory reach stage two, a combination of masks and physical distancing would be in effect.

At stage three, access to Elders and other school staff may cease under orders from the chief public health officer.

Elders who prefer to offer lessons remotely – via web-cams and other technology – will be able to access technical support through the Department of Education.

In addition to offering Inuit qaujimajatuqangit principles to young Nunavummiut, Elders are compensated for giving their time in formal education settings. District education authorities each determine their own rate of pay, but the Department of Education recommends at least $30 per hour or $250 per day. That guideline jumps to $500 if Elders supply their own equipment such as snowmobiles, qamutiik, tents and the like.

In 2019-20, there were 205 Elders who were certified as DEA employees across the territory.

Asina Angotingoar, chair of the Naujaat District Education Authority, and Alan Sim, chair of the Cambridge Bay District Education Authority, said they plan to call upon the wisdom of Elders in their respective communities despite the pandemic.

“If they want (an) Elder, we let them,” Angotingoar said, adding that an Elder addressed Naujaat students on the opening day of school, which was Aug. 10 in her community.