“I believe we learn something every day – I believe we learn something small, sometimes it’s big,” said Susie Evyagotailak, a Kitikmeot educator for 31 years. “As an elder had once said, ‘When I became an elder I thought I knew everything but as it turns out we learn something every day, even as elders.'”
Evyagotailak grew up in Ulukhaktok. She dropped out of school and, as the eldest child, helped her mother raise some of her 10 siblings. She later had two children of her own. After moving to Kugluktuk in 1974, she became a classroom assistant in 1981, enrolling in various courses to become certified. She continued her formal learning and added her teaching certificate through Aurora College in 1990.
She taught for 10 years and then took education leave to pursue her bachelor of education at Nunavut Arctic College in Iqaluit.
“I felt I needed to further my education in order to become a teacher in the language of Inuinnaqtun,” she said.
She also took courses through the University of Victoria to become qualified as Aboriginal language revitalization instructor.
She didn’t stop there. She completed her masters in education in 2009 through Nunavut Arctic College and the University of Prince Edward Island.
Evyagotailak retired as a bilingual language consultant with Kitikmeot School Operations in 2012, following three decades in the education field. Over that span, she witnessed the use of Inuinnaqtun in decline. Although there are only a few hundred Inuinnaqtun speakers remaining today, it’s still possible to rejuvenate the language, but it’s going to take a concerted effort, she acknowledged.
“The learners have to be very committed and determined to learn the language,” she said. “I still have hope for the language, even though there’s few speakers left yet… we need the parents’ support from the home. The school can only do so much.”
Evyagotailak is still called upon to periodically teach adult learners at the college in Kugluktuk. She also imparts language and cultural lessons to passengers on cruise ships.
“I would like to encourage everyone to learn,” she said. “Learning doesn’t have boundaries. We may have a Nunavut boundary, but learning does not have any boundaries.”