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Inuktitut for capable: changing how success is viewed in the North

When Nunavut Tunngavik Inc.'s (NTI) president Aluki Kotierk earned her master's degree, a local newspaper wrote about her achievement.

"People back home in Iglulik had seen it and would see my father and would make comments. My father called me and said he was feeling ashamed. I felt horrible, because part of it was he didn't appreciate all the attention being given to us and our family," said Kotierk.

"And the idea that we were arrogant, that we're better than anyone else."

Which is never the intention, she adds.

Kotierk turns instead to the word ajungittuq in her Inuktitut dialect, meaning capable.

When discussing youth achievement, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. president Aluki Kotierk says everyone is an achiever. For example, in August 2018, Qaggiavuut offered a course on a pisiit (ancient songs), which brought elders and youth together. Inuit youth then brought a new production called Pisiit Nunattinnit (Arctic Song) to the world stage, helping draw attention to the need for a performance arts centre in the territory. Back row, from left: Lazarus Qattalik, Susan Aglukark, Chad Hayohok, Rhoda Ungalaq, Terrie Kusugk, Charlotte Qamaniq and daughter, Abraham Eetak, Corey Panika, Uvilu Qamaniq, Siobhan Arnatsiaq Murphy, Charlie Panipak, Eva Suluk, Hilu Tagoona, Aajua Peter, Elisapee Avingaq, Rebecca Anaviapik Soucie and Marley Dunkers. Middle row, from left: Annie Ipirq, Rico Manitok, Theresa Sikuark, Bernadette Uttaq, Miriam Aglukaaq, Sidone Nirlungayuk, Francis Qaput, Natar Ungalaq and Emerald MacDonald. Front row, from left: Eunice Arreak, Alianait Niviatsaq, Alika Komangapik and sister, Annabella Piugatuk, Sheena Akoomalik, Tooma Laisa, Christine Tootoo and Marie Belleau.
photo courtesy Thibaut Larquey

"When you think of where we've come from and who our society is, everyone has an important role and they're all equally important. And so everyone is an achiever. Everyone needs to be capable. Our capability and our strengths determine where we're specialized and how we contribute to our society," she said.

Kotierk makes the point that the leaders who worked so determinedly to create Nunavut were under 30 years of age.

NTI recently held a board meeting in Qausuittuq/Resolute Bay. Kotierk met a young man who had just graduated from high school, one of three graduates.

"He had just caught a whale with his qayaq. I'm like wow, if that's not achievement, what is? The next day I met another graduate from the same community who just recently participated in the Northern Youth Abroad program. To me, that kind of experience, expanding your horizons, seeing what life is like outside of Nunavut, is so beneficial to our experiences as Inuit," she said.

"And, ironically, I think leaving Nunavut often helps us understand more who we are as Inuit."

She also mentions Miles Brewster of Iqaluit, who in 2018 at the age of 12, sat out the Canadian anthem at school.

"To me those are all indications of confidence. A bold belief in something. To be able to say, whether it's going against the grain, so to speak, I'm willing to have my opinion heard. I think that's extremely important," said Kotierk.

In an email after our interview, Kotierk wrote of attending the 2018 Inuit Circumpolar Council General Assembly in Utqiaqvik, Alaska, where incoming chair Dalee Sambo Dorough spoke.

"It was absolutely electrifying – inspirational. I think there is room for improvement in the area of making sure all Inuit know that they are valuable and have an important role to play – whatever it may be," Kotierk wrote.

Dorough said:

"We need every Inuk. There are 7.6 billion people on earth. There are approximately 165,000 Inuit on the entire planet. We need every single one of us; every woman, every man, every young person, every child, every mother, every father, every elder. We need every one of you here today and more important, all those at home. We need every future leader and every past leader. We need every Inuk across the Arctic and elsewhere."

Kotierk recalled her brother earned his master's degree sometime after she did. Again, an article appeared in a local paper.

"Then when I had seen my father he talked to me a little bit about that and said that he's realized that society is changing. He didn't say I'm sorry or anything, but that's what I took it as. So I think it's all part of our story as Inuit, and those questions that you ask, is our transitional story of our society changing," she said.

"And I think there is value in praising people. I've come to believe that there is value in celebrating successes. And, even if we feel shy about it, to raise people up because there's so much hardship and there's so many negative stories that I think we need to do more of that, celebrate the successes.

"And when I say successes I don't want it to limit it to people who have master's degrees. I think it's so important that we also, rightly, celebrate the successes of the first caribou hunt, the beluga hunt."

Meanwhile, at NTI, a new position has been created in Rankin Inlet: youth programs coordinator. That position is currently out for competition.

Kotierk says the Inuit organization is also looking to fulfil a 2015 recommendation brought forward at an annual general meeting by Gjoa Haven's James Takkiruq.

"A youth made a presentation that there are always cultural exchanges with the south but he would like to see cross-cultural exchange across Nunavut with the different regions so they could learn from each other," then NTI president Cathy Towtongie told Nunavut News.

The resolution states that because Inuit youth form a large proportion of the population in Nunavut, and due to the geography of the territory, Inuit youth are spread out amongst isolated communities, programs need to be in place to formulate and enhance a unified Nunavut identity.

NTI also offers scholarships, such as the $5,000 Jose Amaujaq Kusugak Scholarship Program.

"We also have, more recently, scholarships available for students going to post-secondary institutions and, also, training programs," said Kotierk.