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Elders on Par with Teachers in Nunavut Schools

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It’s traditional to honor elders as keepers of knowledge. However, nowadays many cultures seem to have lost that perspective, celebrating the young and dismissing the old.

Not so with most indigenous cultures, and the Inuit are no exception. The Nunavut Department of Education recently certified five elders as Innait Inuksiutilirijiit in the territory’s schools, giving them the same status as establishment-trained teachers, in recognition of the value they bring to a child’s development.

“Today is a great day for learning in Nunavut,” said Premier Eva Aariak in a statement after the February 2 ceremony. “The certification and recognition of Elders and their expertise is an important step in creating a Nunavut education system that is founded in Inuit culture, language and traditions.”

Mary Akumalik, Sinea Kownirk, Serapio Ittusardjuat, Letia Tikivik and Sheepa Ishulutaq, all from Iqaluit, were the first Elders to be awarded this certification under the new Education Act, which stipulates in Section 102 that District Education Authorities (DEAs) may employ Elders to assist in teaching about Inuit culture, tradition and knowledge, the release said.

On a par with faculty as well as the principal, guidance counselors and student support assistants, certified elders may participate in instruction of school programs, in concert with teachers and other school personnel.

“My congratulations and thanks to Mary, Sinea, Serapio, Letia and Sheepa for their commitment to Nunavut’s learners,” Aariak said. “I encourage all DEAs to begin this important process and certify Elders in their communities. It will certainly enrich the learning experiences of our students and help build a strong foundation of Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit in our schools.”

The Education Act, passed in 2008, stipulates that elders in the school “play an important role in maintaining and supporting Inuit societal values, Inuit Qaujimajatuqangitand Inuit cultural identity,” according to a summary. “An individual may be employed as an Innaq Inuksiutiliriji if the DEA believes the individual has the skills, knowledge and abilities required and meets the criteria in the regulations. On the recommendation of the DEA, the Minister will provide the Elder employed as an Innaq Inuksiutilirijia certificate regarding the area of expertise.”

In implementing this, the Department of Education recognizes that the “vision, leadership and education offered by Elders is vital in building a school system substantially shaped by Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit, reflects local needs and values and supports life-long learning,” the agency said in its press release. “The certification of Elders is one of many initiatives under the Education Act to strengthen Inuit culture and language in Nunavut schools.”