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Cape Dorset promotes hands-on learning, Inuit traditional lessons

Youth in Cape Dorset are taking part in what is planned to be an annual program, assembling the first of hopefully many cabins that will be hauled out on the land to establish a cultural camp.

It's part of the introduction to a Lands and Community Leadership Program that the district education authority (DEA) and the elementary and secondary schools are launching with support from other partners.

Cape Dorset students participated in the building of a cabin as part of the new Lands and Leadership Program. Front row, from left, Manumikilak Ashevak, John Hayward and Ben Saila. Back row, from left, Salamonie Ashoona, Lucien Noolook, Pauloosie Noolook, Susie Saila, Nuvualia Adla and Isaci Shaa. photo courtesy of Claude Constantineau

Susie Saila, who is going into Grade 12 at Peter Pitseolak School this year, was among the students with a hammer in hand, pounding nails into the cabin. She said she enjoys working with her hands.

Asked what motivated her to get involved with the Lands and Community Leadership Program, she replied, “All I thought was, get the Inuit traditions back, and culture.”

Putting together the cabin not only teaches the students trades skills, it guides them in applying lessons they learn in a classroom, said Claude Constantineau, chair of the Cape Dorset DEA. He said there will be more of that style of education, such as going on a fishing trip that will put Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit, math and science lessons into practice.

"It's different hands-on activities that's going to attract the interests of the students more than just sitting in the classroom going through a book," said Constantineau.

As another example, he mentioned qamutiit. Elementary students will learn lessons and hear stories about them. They will begin to draw them and use clay to create their own models of qamutiit. As the students advance to junior and senior high, they will study the materials required to build qamutiit and then begin to design and build the sleds.

"We'll take that sort of concept and apply that to everything," he said. "I would say we all learn better that way."

Ten of the high school students involved in the Lands and Community Leadership Program will travel to Stratford, Ont., to participate in a trades program there for a couple of weeks in October.

Over the next three or four years, the students will build a boys' cabin, a girls' cabin, a staff cabin and a larger structure that will serve as a cookhouse and meeting room, according to Constantineau. These buildings will ultimately form a cultural camp that will be accessible year-round.

"It's a long-term project," he said. "We're going a step at a time."

The camp's exact location that was still being narrowed down as of earlier this month, but it will likely be 40 to 50 km from Cape Dorset, he said.

Teachers will have to make some adjustments by supplementing textbook lessons with more hands-on learning.

"It's the same material but you're just delivering it in a different way," Constantineau said.

The program, which aims to boost students' confidence and sense of self-reliance, will also foster leadership by having students attend hamlet council meetings to get an understanding of how municipal government works, learn about the Nunavut Agreement and go to business and trades fairs.

"We're trying to build community leaders," said Constantineau. "We are going through the process of getting it into the curriculum and being able to offer credits on it, but that's a work in progress."

EatFit and Embassy of Imagination, two healthy lifestyle programs based in Ontario, have played roles in developing the Lands and Community Leadership Program, Constantineau said. Both groups were in Cape Dorset this summer to host various activities involving art, hairstyling, cooking and fitness and nutrition.