Morty Alooloo has been part of a resurgence of Inuit language and culture in the education system, and it comes after a childhood lessons from her dad, who endured just the opposite.
“What really motivates me is my father was my hero. He’s not around anymore, but he was really the one who taught me how to be an Inuk,” said the Arctic Bay educator. “He never went to school, but he told me our language and our culture are very important to keep. He was around when the missionaries and the RCMP were starting to come up and (they) told him to forget about our culture and learn qablunaaq ways.
“They weren’t even supposed to be talking about the (Inuit) legends and drum dances. They were supposed to get rid of them and never show their children, but my father told me, ‘You’re Inuk. You have to know where you come from. I’m going to tell you lots of stories but I know it’s not going to be part of your life anymore because we’re in a big community now and there’s government coming into our community. We have to listen to them.’ He told me to always listen to your boss and if you take a course, take it seriously. That motivates me to keep my language alive, and the culture.”
Alooloo started her career in education as a classroom assistant in Arctic Bay in 1975. She worked her way up to become a principal, after attaining her bachelor of education degree through Nunavut Arctic College, in association with the University of Regina. She had strong family support, particularly from her mother and her husband, in raising children at the time, she recalled.
She transitioned from principal to learning coach after 18 months due to personal circumstances. Her primary functions in that role, which she still fills, are to ensure that teachers and students are on track with the curriculum and to support them with Inuktitut programming.
Find more stories on Nunavummiut advancing their education in the Degrees of Success 2022, available online here: https://www.nunavutnews.com/special-feature/special-feature-pdfs/degrees-of-success-2022
More Inuktut resources
Alooloo has seen a wealth of Inuktitut teaching aids made available over the past 40 years, many of them in the past decade.
“Inhabit Media has produced a lot of resources for learning to read and write. I think we have so many choices,” she said.
Alooloo welcomes all of the tools because preserving the Inuit language is admittedly a big task.
“I feel that (parents) are really caught in the middle, knowing a little bit about two cultures,” she said. “Therefore I notice a lot of students are struggling with learning a second language… we even have to start thinking about teaching Inuktitut as a second language for some young students, very young students.
“We’re losing it (Inuktitut). It’s kind of scary,” she said. “We use Inuktitut a lot in the community, but I notice the young, smaller students are really struggling.”
One area where she would like to see improvement is student attendance in class, which is up to the parents.
“Everything starts at home,” she said. “That’s number one for me, to get the parents to support their children in education.”
At the other end of the spectrum, Alooloo always feels tremendous joy when it comes time for students to don their caps and gowns.
“It’s always good to see so many graduates coming out of our school,” she said of Inuujaq School, which usually cultivates close to 10 students earning diplomas each year.
To this day, Alooloo, who was one of the first graduates of the Eastern Arctic Teacher Education Program (a precursor to the Nunavut Teacher Education Program), is constantly seeking opportunities to expand her own knowledge and teaching techniques.
“All the teachers that I worked with as a classroom assistant, they’re the ones that have really had an impact on my learning, how to become an effective teacher just by working with them,” she said on a professional development day, when she was involved in video workshops on how to improve instruction in reading and writing, ideas for art classes and how to address Canada’s reconciliation with Indigenous peoples in a classroom.
“We’ve got wonderful guest speakers from all over Canada online.”
Despite a lengthy career, retirement isn’t something she’s contemplating yet — she intends to keep working as long as her health allows.
“Us Inuk and Elders, I have big plans to share with the children,” she said.