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March 2019 in review: Inuit recollect Franklin for posterity; Arviat seeks birthing centre; Kunuk receives Order of Nunavut

A look back at 2019's top stories, month by month.

Inuit recollections of Franklin shipwrecks documented

Elder Tommy Tavalok reviews the map created from his oral history interview with Edna Elias, lead interpreter for the Franklin Inuit Oral History Project. Tavalok grew up in the area south of King William Island, near where the where the wreck of the Sir John Franklin ship Erebus was found. Tamara Tarasoff/Parks Canada photo

Inuit accounts of the Sir John Franklin shipwrecks were recorded for future generations.

Parks Canada's Franklin Inuit Oral History Project team returned to Gjoa Haven in late February to review maps created based on interviews with 15 Gjoa Haven residents, mostly elders.

They seemed pleased and relieved to tell their stories and share the narrative of their ancestors, according to Edna Elias, the project's leader interviewer.

"As children (and) young adults they were told not to talk about it for fear that lots of qablunaat (white people) would come and take away their land," Elias said. "Many knew (about the Franklin wrecks), and one person had seen the Erebus from the air as long as 40 years ago. The pilot again told the people to keep it quiet."

Arviat aims for birthing centre

Shirley Tagalik of Arviat's Aqqiumavvik Society explained the community has been working on getting a birthing centre for years, most recently with a 2017 Arviat Birthing Centre Proposal submitted to the Government of Nunavut, as well as to the feds.

Tagalik stated women in the community were surveyed and 87 per cent would choose to give birth in their home community. There were approximately 60 to 70 births annually for an estimated population of 2,850 in Arviat.

The comprehensive 87-page Aqqiumavvik proposal was sent to the Health Department since early 2018.

"The Department of Health requires sufficient time to review the proposal, as well as review and evaluate existing maternal newborn services in Nunavut. Once the department completes the review, Health will provide a response to the society," stated territorial co-ordinator of maternal newborn health services Carol Griffin.

"Birthing services for low risk women are available in Rankin Inlet and Cambridge Bay birthing centres and Qikiqtani General Hospital. Plans to expand maternal services in the future are currently under review," she said.

With $1 million-plus in hand, Pirurvik heads out to Nunavut communities

Alashua Akpaleapik, seen here at Pond Inlet's Pirurvik Preschool, benefits from the blend of Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (IQ) and the Montessori method. photo courtesy of Pirurvik Preschool

Pond Inlet's Pirurvik Preschool trainers had plans to set off on a three and-a-half year journey across Nunavut to introduce their award-winning program in March. In mid-February the Pirurvik team won the $1 million Arctic Inspiration Prize. The team also received an initial quarter-million dollar pledge from the Qikiqtani Inuit Association.

Pirurvik uses a blend of Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (IQ) and the Montessori method to teach children.

This allows children to learn at their own pace and enjoy what they’re doing, said co-founder Karen Nutarak.

Children learning at their own pace is grounded in the Inuit societal value pilimmaksarniq – development of skills through observation, mentoring, practice, and effort – and the foundation of the Montessori method. Inunnguiniq, the process of making capable and contributing human beings, is also an essential element of the Pirurvik program.

"Over the past few years since we opened – word of mouth travels fast – we've had people approach us about training opportunities, possibilities to support daycares in the Qikiqtani region," said co-founder Tessa Lochhead.

"We will learn how to apply the same programming, community specific and apply it to infants and toddlers, three months to age two, which is a new area for us since we currently just operate as a preschool for ages three to four," said Lochhead.

Pirurvik had plans to train and set up materials at Iqaluit's Tumikuluit Saipaaqivik Daycare beginning April 2018, and then at daycares in Arctic Bay, Iglulik, Pond Inlet, Rankin Inlet, Cambridge Bay and Taloyoak.

Trudeau apologies for the harm suffered by Inuit

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivered a national apology in Iqaluit, March 8 for the violation of their human rights during the tuberculosis epidemic in the mid-1900s.

Earlier that morning, Trudeau listed – in front of a full house at the Frobisher Inn's banquet rooms, including representatives from across Inuit Nunangat and press – the abuses visited upon Inuit by the federal government, including identifying Inuit by numbers instead of names, Inuit punished for using their language and Inuit forced into settlements where disease ran rampant.

As Trudeau detailed the egregious effects of government policy – Inuit screened without consent, Inuit sent for months or years to the south without a word to their families, anonymous burials, the absences and silence – Inuit in the room had quietly wept.

Trudeau also listed the aftereffects: culture and language eroded, broken families, lives shattered beyond repair. "Those wrongs will never fade – Canada must carry that guilt and shame," said Trudeau.

The Nanilavut Initiative, which has been in the works for a decade and was officially announced with the apology, was intended as a small measure of reparation.

Trudeau concluded his speech by saying that morning's apology was also a promise. "It's a promise to never forget the harm that was done to Inuit and to your families," he said.

Kunuk receives Order of Nunavut

Filmmaker Zacharias Kunuk, left, watches as Commissioner of Nunavut and Chancellor of the Order of Nunavut Nellie Taptaqut Kusugak signs the official document signifying he has been invested in the Order of Nunavut the evening of June 5 at the Legislative Assembly.
photo courtesy Michel Albert

Acclaimed Iglulik director Zacharias Kunuk was the 2019 recipient of the Order of Nunavut, the GN announced.

Kunuk, a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, is co-founder of Igloolik Isuma Productions, whose 2001 film Atanarjuat: the Fast Runner earned the Camera d'Or at the 54th Cannes Film Festival.

The Journals of Knud Rasmussen, Maliglutit (Searchers) and Exile are among other films that Kunuk has directed.

The Order of Nunavut was established in 2010. It's the highest honour bestowed by the GN.

Nunavut teachers program sets record

The Nunavut Teacher Education Program (NTEP) reached a new high in 2018-19 with 90 students enrolled in nine communities and via distance-learning, marking the most participants in a single school year in NTEP's history.

The previous record, set in 2016, was 86 NTEP students enrolled across eight communities.

This momentum comes as the Department of Education is reviewing the teaching program with a goal of fostering more graduates who can teach proficiently in the Inuit language.

The GN is in need of an estimated 450 qualified Inuktut teachers to help preserve the Inuit language. That's on top of the 140 existing Inuktut instructors already in schools.

Republic of Kitikmeot?

As Nunavut was preparing to celebrate its 20th anniversary, businessman and former Kitikmeot Corporation president Charlie Lyall floated the idea of the Kitikmeot region separating from the territory.

"We're always treated as a poor cousin," Lyall said, offering the Republic of Kitikmeot as a possible remedy. "Everybody says when Yellowknife was our capital, we got better treatment. Of course, we're closer to Yellowknife than we are to Iqaluit."

He's critical of elected officials who don't put the regions on equal footing.

"You hear politicians talk about (how) we're going to be fair to everybody, but everybody only includes the Baffin and Kivalliq, I think," he said. "Housing is a huge issue here. Mental health is a huge issue. We need somebody to step up to the plate and say, OK, let's get this work done right."

-with files from Rajnesh Sharma