Martha Kyak has come a long way from her first teaching job in Pond Inlet.
As of June 5, she is the new executive director of the highly regarded Nunavut Sivuniksavut college in Ottawa, replacing Lynn Kilabuk, who formerly held the position.
“I’m really looking forward to working with the team and to build this school and make it stronger – especially in terms of Inuktitut and Inuit culture,” Kyak said on her third day as executive director.
“I’m just excited right now.”
Nunavut Sivuniksavut offers one and two-year programs designed to empower Inuit young people. The college’s expansive curriculum covers everything from land claims and research methods to throat-singing and drum-making.
Kyak, who also runs a fashion brand called InukChic, has been working at the school since 2010, when she made the flight south from Pond Inlet to teach Inuktitut and Inuit history at the college.
While she is excited about her new role, she admits she felt some hesitation to apply for the executive director position because she was “so committed to teaching.”
Her teaching journey began long before she arrived in Ottawa.
She got her start as an educator at just 16 years old, when she began working as a substitute teacher in Pond Inlet out of necessity.
“We needed to work to not be hungry,” she said. “That’s why I started working at a young age, and why I started teaching in Pond Inlet, just to have food on the table.”
A year later, when she was 17, she began working as a classroom assistant, and in the intervening years, has held a number of impressive positions including principal and superintendent.
Four of her sisters have also held teaching jobs, and one still does.
“I come with that background, having educators in the family,” she said. “I’ve always been an educator.”
As an educator, Kyak has seen first hand how beneficial Nunavut Sivuniksavut can be for Inuit young people, noting the way the curriculum promotes a sense of self among students.
“What I really noticed is how positive it is for the young people,” she said. “They come to NS not sure who they are. They aren’t sure where they want to go in their future. By the end of the year, we really notice how confident they are, how proud they are. They know who they are as Inuit.”
“That’s the most rewarding thing I always see since I started,” she added. “That’s why it has been so successful for many years.”
Despite her appreciation for Nunavut Sivuniksavut, Kyak sees areas where the college can improve. She has already begun addressing those areas with her team with the goal of enhancing the experience of all the Inuit students that walk the college’s halls.
“We’re meeting as a staff to see what things work and what hasn’t worked, and see how we can improve our school and make it even better and stronger” she said. “The staff has been very supportive.”
“As Inuit, we really want to see the younger generation rise up and be proud of who they are, and to do whatever they want to do in life.”