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Pirurvik preschool program reaps $1-million Arctic Inspiration Prize

An innovative made-in-Nunavut preschool program has $1 million to invest in expansion thanks to the Arctic Inspiration Prize. 

Fiona Aglak of Pond Inlet’s Pirurvik Preschool demonstrates how to present a vocabulary activity to children to the Clyde River staff of Aileen Kadloo, Eena Iqaqrialu and Kelly Arnakak.
photo courtesy Pirurvik Preschool

The Pirurvik Preschool in Pond Inlet, which allows children to express natural curiosity to learn about what interests them at a pace that suits them, was announced as the big winner during the Arctic Inspiration Prize ceremony in Whitehorse on Tuesday evening. Children from three months to five years of age are involved in this style of learning, based on the in the Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit principle of Pilimmaksarniq and Montessori methods.

The program is available in seven Nunavut communities in three regions and there's talk of establishing it throughout the territory in the future.

"We have a dream to build a high-quality, culturally-relevant early childhood education program for the community of Pond Inlet," said program co-director Tessa Lochhead, who was joined onstage by her counterpart, Karen Nutarak. "This type of programming affects whole families, it affects whole communities."

A Kitikmeot Heritage Society program, Uqarluta Inuinnaqtun – Let's Speak Inuinnaqtun, was a one of the two runners-up for the $1-million grand prize.

A Cambridge Bay welding program for at-risk youth that produced a striking muskox statue and eye-catching wolves earned $100,000 in the youth category.

Daryl Taptoona and Robert Taptoona were among a group of young men who welded together this multi-coloured metal muskox in a program known as From Scrap to Art in 2017. The scrap metal artwork stands at the entrance to the heritage park in Cambridge Bay. photo courtesy of Marla Limousin

Cambridge Bay's Andrew Kitigon is the team leader for the project, From Scrap to Art. It was designed to imbue participants with welding skills, elevate their self-esteem and enhance their cultural knowledge. The Hamlet of Cambridge Bay and the Kitikmeot Inuit Association threw their support behind the initiative.

"We are not really good in school, but we are good at building," Kitigon said during his acceptance speech. "Our imagination runs a million miles a minute, but, in the end, what do we do with all the ideas?"

Standing alongside Kitigon, welding program participant Kaitak Allukpik added, "It changed our lives... we thank God each day that we've been given the gift to become leaders and share knowledge with other youth, other young people like us. We look forward to creating more art for our community."

Allukpik added that the $100,000 will go toward getting the welding program's shop "working all the time."

The Nunavut Law Program was a runner-up in the AIP category, which offers up to $500,000.

The Rideau Hall Foundation oversees the annual Arctic Inspiration Prize, which was conceived by Canadian philanthropists in 2012 to reward Arctic knowledge and innovation.

Kaitak Allukpik and Andrew Kitigon address the audience at the Arctic Inspiration Prize awards ceremony in Whitehorse on Tuesday evening. Marla Limousin, Cambridge Bay's senior administrative officer, looks on at right. photo courtesy of Marla Limousin
At the Cambridge Bay airport, bound for the Arctic Inspiration Prize awards celebration in Whitehorse, are, from left, Pamela Gross of the Kitikmeot Heritage Society, Cambridge Bay senior administrative officer Marla Limousin, welding program participants Andrew Kitigon and Kaitak Allukpik and cultural mentor Attima Hadlari. photo courtesy of Marla Limousin