Iqaluit’s only high school is a cultural mosaic and for some students, the mix of Inuit and non-Inuit students of various backgrounds has made for a positive learning experience.
Grade 12 student Kiersten Williams, in general, views cultural diversity in her classes as an “eye opening and positive experience.” For her, it is an opportunity to learn about different cultures and people. She recognizes the importance and value of creating bonds with students from the south.
“Being Inuk and having many friends from the south, it really helps in the classroom, to be able to relate to some things but also learn new things from other people,” said the Iqaluit-born teen.
Diversity in the classroom also fosters an environment for students from the south and beyond to learn about Inuit culture, according to Williams.
“And it’s also important for people moving from the south to learn about Inuit culture and what’s it like to live in such an isolated place,” explained Williams.
Sometimes however, having students from different ethnicities and backgrounds in class has been challenging for Williams. For example, when other students do not understand the importance of hunting in Inuit culture she feels frustrated and upset.
“There’s someone that doesn’t agree or understand why and how we do things based on our culture,” said Williams. “And that’s always been one of my challenges growing up is having to explain my culture and why I do things how I do it.”
Grade 11 student Jaydin Nungaq expressed, “it’s a great experience,” referring to classroom diversity.
Studying with students of different backgrounds is a gateway into gaining new perspectives and ideas for him.
“I generally have a great experience, getting to know new people and working with them in the classrooms,” said Nungaq. “It’s always about getting a new perspective on who they are and what they have and what ideas they bring into the class.” Although Nungaq is Inuk, he grew up in an English speaking household.
At school, he can relate to the experience of other students who came from down south, who are also learning Inuktitut.
In his case, despite the difference in cultural backgrounds, it is English and the learning of Inukitut that allows him to connect with other students.
Nungaq enjoys the diversity at school and hopes for more of it.
Born in Edmonton, Melicia Elizaga regards classroom diversity as an “interesting experience.”
Different cultures mean new experiences. For example, the lunch program at school served students fusion dishes. Instead of simply using beef or chicken, Filipino food was made with caribou, explained Elizaga, whose parents are from the Philippines. According to this Grade 12 student, Inuksuk High School embraces multiculturalism.
“Everyone’s accepting and respectful of other people’s cultures,” said Elizaga.
Elizaga views Iqaluit as her home and recognizes the importance of learning Inuit culture.
It is quite challenging to understand Inuit culture when coming from a different culture, she admitted.
For this 17-year-old Philipino-Canadian student, it is difficult to relate to Inuit culture since it is not practiced at home.
“It’s hard to relate to stories that you’re not used to hearing from your own family members about their experiences,” she explained.
However according to Elizaga, the advantage of learning in such a school environment are plenty. There are opportunities to learn Inuktitut and enrol in courses that teach Inuit values and stories.
“Learning in a diverse environment, we learn about other people’s cultures and learn how to accept and respect other people and celebrate everyone’s diversity,” said Elizaga.