This episode of Working It Out Together examines a topic dear to my heart: Indigenous education. Through the lived experiences of an Inuit student from Nunavut, it takes a hard look at the effects that the Residential School System continues to inflict upon Indigenous youth across Canada today.
Carol Rowan, Professor of Education at Concordia University–Inuit Studies, describes the way Inuit children were educated by the community and through their experiences on the land prior to colonization. “The land was teacher and land was pedagog. Children learned through a caring relationship with the land.” This attitude to education was in stark contrast to what we today understand conventional education to be.
Morley Hanson, Coordinator, Nunavut Sivuniksavut describes the process of colonization as it manifested in the far north. “Waves of outsiders would arrive, predicated on the continued use of the natural resources.” There was a European whaling industry, followed by fur traders and missionaries. The people began to convert to Christianity, and were also encouraged and/or coerced to move off of the land to live in larger communities.
Melissa Irwin, Instructor, Nunavut Sivuniksavut explains how the Residential School System was a “colonizing tool that was designed with ill intent to take away our culture, our language, our pride, and our voice. It separated families physically, but also psychologically. It introduced violence, pain, disconnect, and abuse.” As a result of colonization, the value of education has been deflated within Indigenous communities across Canada. If however Indigenous ways of knowing are incorporated into school curriculum, interest in attending school and understanding its value will act to improve student success rates.
We follow 20 year old Lucina Gordon on her quest to become a school counselor. In order to complete her college degree at John Abbott College, she must travel more than 1500 km. Lucina is 1 of only 2 youth from her community to make it to the final college semester. We see through Lucina’s eyes the difficulties students face when they leave their tightly knit communities in the north to attend school in a large urban centre.
We are also introduced to the Nunavut Sivuniksavut program that helps Inuit students make the transition from their communities to post secondary education. Using culturally relevant topics, students, so far removed from home and family, recognize their own sense of self and the program gives them ongoing support as they seek to complete higher education.
Admittedly, I am biased when it comes to Indigenous education but this episode really is jam packed with the issues that face Indigenous education and educators in Canada today. I have only touched on a few themes addressed in the episode and were I to truly do it justice (at least in my mind) this recap would be twice as long as it is. Given the heavy media coverage that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action have received across Canada, educational reform for Indigenous youth is a very timely topic. So my advice is simple, if you missed this episode just go watch it here: Working It Out Together