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Literacy council seeks to build up workers’ knowledge of Inuit culture and history

In Nunavut, it's no big secret there are many workers in critical positions who move up from the south with little to no knowledge of the territory and its people. With that in mind, Ilitaqsiniq (Nunavut Literacy Council) developed a pilot project.

Michele LeTourneau/NNSL photo
Kristen Kownak, left, and Adam Akpik facilitate Ilitaqsiniq's (Nunavut Literacy Council) pilot workshop Nov. 26, which seeks to inform Nunavut workers about the historical and cultural environment in which they do they jobs.

Four sessions of Inuit history and culture training workshop were successfully completed Dec. 6.

"The main motivation is that we know the importance of understanding the history of Inuit for everybody that works here. We knew that to properly do their jobs in whatever area that they work in, it's important to understand the context and the experience of the communities and the people they're dealing with," said programs and projects manager Jesse Mike.

"Not just that, but also the cultural differences."

To that end, Ilitaqsiniq hired Adam Akpik, who is normally the Embrace Life Council's program development coordinator. He took a month of unpaid leave to take on the task of developing the workshop.

The all-day sessions are based on Nunavut Sivuniksavut's power curve, which lays out Inuit power, control, autonomy and independence from pre-contact days to the formation of Nunavut. In their presentation, Akpik and co-facilitator Kristen Kownak offer deeper insight into each historical event.

Both Nunavut Sivuniksavut graduates, Akpik and Kownak delivered similar workshops to federal employees responsible for Inuit files while they were second-year students.

"It's basically turned into my career, using what I studied at Nunavut Sivuniksavut in Inuit history to inform my work," said Akpik, who has delivered similar training across Canada for different organizations and universities.

"We're basically enhancing that (NS) presentation, and taking it to Nunavut. At every single workshop we've run in the last two weeks, people say it should be mandatory as an orientation."

photo courtesy Nunavut Sivuniksavut
The power curve – developed by Nunavut Sivuniksavut and laying out Inuit power, control, autonomy and independence from pre-contact days to the formation of Nunavut – is the foundation of a new workshop being developed by Ilitaqsiniq (Nunavut Literacy Council) for those who come to Nunavut to work among Inuit.

Each session had a full registration list, and the demographic has been a mix of non-Inuit and Inuit.


"Having the combination of Inuit of different generations and non-Inuit who have different experience in the North in terms of time and work that they've done, you generate a lot of conversations. There are a lot of questions," said Kownak.

"Inuit, with their own personal experiences and personal family stories, add a lot to the conversation."

Kownak and Akpik also share personal stories.

"It creates a great dialogue," said Kownak.

Nevertheless, there can rigid perspectives based on stereotypes, and those moments can be painful when they occur.

But Kownak says minds can open, and so empathy can follow.

Akpik especially noted how effective the power curve is.

"Inuit and non-Inuit, at every training, have some knowledge of this history, but oftentimes don't have it pieced together into one big presentation.  (The power curve) shows just what the effects of those relationships were in our history. That's what makes it unique to any other kind of training," Akpik said.

"You hear, maybe, about the dog slaughter and residential schools, but oftentimes not much beyond that. And when you do, it doesn't conceptualize it the same way as seeing it in that one graphic."

Kownak says such a workshop has been needed for a long time.

Participants filled out evaluation forms, and debriefed at the end of each workshop. They were also asked what they have to offer Nunavut in the future, in light of their new knowledge.

Ilitaqsiniq's vision is that the workshop be expanded to two days, with delivery across Nunavut, said Mike. The organization hopes to put together a train-the-trainer type of program as well, with the necessary resources to facilitate a workshop.

"For me it's almost unreal it's taken 20 years to develop. I'm not saying it's an orientation, yet, for new workers to Nunavut … But I think that's what it could turn into. Transient workers come up here and are not given any resources on the background or the history of Nunavut," said Akpik.

Akpik mentioned the health profession, as another example among many.

"A health professional from the south will come up and work and they're given no context, for example TB treatment, being mistreated by health professionals. They see someone, who in their eyes might be acting irrationally when they're receiving their health service. But they didn't get the context of why it's not irrational," he said.