Reconciliation and Education Where are we at in Nunavik? Article Photo

Curriculum, Indigenous Learning

Reconciliation and Education

Where are we at in Nunavik?

The theme selected for this issue of Education Canada resonates with Kativik Ilisarniliriniq,1 the school board of Nunavik. Weaved into our current activities, the goal of delivering Indigenized educational services and programs to Inuit learners animates our organization at all levels, from its elected representatives to pedagogical experts, teachers and school administrators.

Kativik Ilisarniliriniq was created in 1975, under a land claims settlement known as the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement (JBNQA). Negotiated after a major hydroelectric project in the James Bay received opposition from the Inuit of Nunavik, the James Bay Cree, and other Aboriginal groups, the agreement is a protected treaty under the Constitution of Canada.

The school board embodies Inuit-controlled education. Indeed, under the JBNQA, Kativik Ilisarniliriniq can exercise unique powers to develop programs and curriculum aimed at enabling Inuit students to preserve their language, culture and identity. Providing students with access to learning based on Inuit values, culture, language, history, worldview, and approaches to pedagogy is therefore at the core of our mission and vision.

As an organization, we approach education from a holistic perspective. The services we deliver – as well as the curriculum and programs we develop – are rooted in the Inuit definition of Inuguiniq, an education process that seeks to develop the human being as a whole through direct engagement with the environment and the community. This is clearly reflected in the school board’s 2016-2023 Strategic Plan.

Applied to curriculum development work, these fundamental principles have led the school board to innovate and rethink its curriculum development framework. Rather than looking for areas where Indigenous content could be inserted into existing provincial programs, we used an Inuit perspective to incorporate the Quebec Education Plan (and other global or Euro-centric approaches to education), into a framework driven by Inuit worldview, Inuit pedagogy, and Inuit values.

The resulting curricular framework builds on Inuit heritage: thousands of years of environmental and architectural knowledge, sustainable communities, and a sophisticated language and culture. Recently presented at the Inuit Education Summit, a conference organized by the International Circumpolar Council (ICC), this approach was validated by the strong support it received from the Inuit representatives of ICC member countries.

A curricular framework built on Inuit heritage truly aligns to the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). I believe it also presents the Quebec government, through its Ministry of Education, with a unique opportunity to demonstrate leadership in working alongside Kativik Ilisarniliriniq to implement the TRC recommendations that relate to education.

Concretely, when applied to Science and Technology, using a curricular framework built on Inuit heritage has paved the way to the development of programs such as Inuit Environmental Science. Grounded in Inuit culture and land knowledge, the program aims to teach the conceptual and skills-based competencies that will allow Nunavik youth to meet and even exceed the requirements for the Quebec Ministry of Education Science and Technology Cycle One and Two and Environmental Science and Technology Progressions of Learning.

The program structures learning around seasons, with units tying lessons to the Arctic fauna, flora and environment, as illustrated in Figure 1. The program is currently being introduced for review for accreditation by the Ministry of Education.

As the school board pursues its effort to “Indigenize/Inuitize” the education services, programs and curriculum it offers, support from the Quebec Ministry of Education is essential. The Idle No More movement, the work of the TRC and its recommendations, as well as the increased media attention that Indigenous issues have attracted since the last federal elections all contribute to an environment in which there is a more acute awareness of the necessity to do things differently for reconciliation to become a reality.

As it currently stands, the Canadian public education system does not provide learners, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, with much in terms of knowledge related to “the history and legacy of residential schools, Treaties, and Aboriginal rights, as well as the historical and contemporary contributions of Aboriginal peoples to Canadian society.”2

While the situation varies from province to province, Quebec is not exempt of what the Director General of the First Nations Education Council Lise Bastien describes as “systemic ignorance.”3 This ignorance also reinforces the profound colonialization that we still have to extricate from our education system and mentality.

This point is important as it has a direct impact on the school board, and on the challenges we face as we seek the accreditation of programs and curricula built on Inuit heritage. Indeed, within the non-Aboriginal population, there is little awareness and understanding of Inuit rights enshrined in the JBNQA, and of who we are as Inuit; the government officials and ministry employees we work with are no exception to that. In this regard, it should be noted that the dialogue recently re-established between Kativik Ilisarniliriniq and the Quebec Ministry of Education also contributes to awareness-raising about Indigenous education, and is in itself a process conducive to reconciliation.

In terms of curriculum development, the Nunavik population is small and Inuit expert resources are scarce. In the case of non-Inuit expert resources in Canada, few are familiar with Inuit and Indigenous worldview and pedagogical approaches. This poses challenges that should be acknowledged; as an employer, we must be able to offer competitive work conditions to these experts who are in demand.

As mentioned above, the Quebec education system does not provide learners with much in terms of knowledge related to the historical and contemporary contributions of Indigenous peoples. As the school board caters to Inuit students and learners, filling this gap has been a priority for us.

In this regard, the following initiatives should be mentioned as best practices: 1) a new Nunavik History Program; 2) the launch of Nunavik Sivunitsavut (Nunavik Our Future, in Inuktitut); 3) the teacher training program implemented in partnership with McGill University.

Nunavik History Program

Currently in progress, the development of a Nunavik History Program was undertaken in collaboration with the Avataq Cultural Institute. The program bridges the school board’s regular and adult education sectors. It consists of 12 modules and will cover the period of 1600 to 2016.

The launch of the new Quebec history program in 2017 only reinforced the school board’s determination to pursue the development of its own program. While a step in the right direction, the new program contains little content related to the Inuit in Quebec. In no way does it respond adequately to Nunavik youth’s desire for knowledge about their history and identity as Inuit.

In addition, it is also important to recognize that the Indigenous educational content offered to non-Indigenous Canadians through the public education system (as well as the lack of such content) will continue to have tremendous repercussions on the Inuit of Nunavik. The school board (and other Nunavik organizations) would benefit from provincial education systems that offer more Indigenous and Inuit educational content. This would have a positive impact on our workforce if, in the future, the professionals we recruit outside Nunavik were to arrive with knowledge about Indigenous peoples in Canada, and a better understanding of the Arctic context and communities in which they are working.

Nunavik Sivunitsavut

Nunavik Sivunitsavut is inspired by the successful Ottawa-based Nunavut Sivuniksavut, that has been around for 30 years. Hosted at the Avataq Cultural Institute in Montreal, the initiative offers a one-year college-level experience to adults who hold a Secondary Studies Diploma. The courses, the knowledge and the skills student acquire are rooted in the Inuit culture, language and identity.

For each course completed, students obtain college credit from John Abbott College (our accreditation partner). The credit accumulated can count towards any college or CEGEP program in Quebec. The Nunavik Sivunitsavut team is currently formed of six teachers, two of whom are Inuit from Nunavik. Nunavik and Inuit experts are frequent guests in our classrooms and we are grateful to all those who have generously shared their knowledge with students.

Nunavik Sivunitsavut enriches the options available to Nunavik youth at the college level in Quebec. As our first cohort indicates, the initiative is well positioned to have a positive impact on student perseverance at the post-secondary level. Our hope is that it will contribute to increase the number of Nunavimmiut4 holding college and university level education, so that more Inuit can benefit from professional and economic opportunities in Nunavik.

Nunavik is a huge territory and there are not many opportunities for youth from different communities to meet and exchange with one another. At Nunavik Sivunitsavut, students share a strong learning experience through which a common sense of Inuit identity emerges. Students from the same cohort will very likely meet again in future roles or professional positions. From that perspective, Nunavik Sivunitsavut can also foster future partnerships and collaborations in the region.

Teacher training and certification

Ensuring the transmission of Inuit values, culture, and language through an education system where Inuit employees form only 51.49 percent of the workforce is challenging. At the moment, the school board employs 462 teachers, of which 36.4 percent are Inuit (168 Inuit teachers) and 40 percent of them hold a teaching certification issued by the Quebec Ministry of Education.

To increase access to the profession of educator, Kativik Ilisarniliriniq offers a Teacher Certification program and professional development programs to its Inuit teachers, Inuit teacher trainees and Inuit school administrators.

The program is implemented in partnership with McGill University. All courses are taught in Inuktitut, by Inuit instructors working alongside with McGill consultants. Since 1978, a total of 182 Inuit teachers have graduated from this program. As such, it has contributed to and continues to play an important role in building pedagogical expertise in Nunavik.

Looking forward

The recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission are valuable in many ways. In fact, they support Kativik Ilisarniliriniq in the exercise of the unique powers conferred to it by the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement. They also validate the approach that characterizes our program development work. Most importantly, they highlight the opportunities currently available to us (as well as our interlocutors within the Ministry of Education) that can be seized to refocus the conversation on the educational needs of our communities. In this regard, and as discussed here, many initiatives are already well underway!


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Photo: Marie-Andrée Delisle-Alaku/Kativik Ilisarniliriniq

First published in Education Canada, June 2018


1 Kativik Ilisarniliriniq means Kativik School Board in Inuktitut.

2 Guiding principle number 10. See: Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action, 2015.

3 Coined by Lise Bastien, Director General of the First Nations Education Council, the term “systemic ignorance” has since been widely used to describe the general lack of knowledge non-Indigenous Canadians display about Indigenous people in Canada, their language, culture, current realities and identity. Bastien first used the term when advocating for inclusion of content on Indigenous people in the province’s pedagogical material and curriculum as well as for the inclusion of content developed from an indigenous perspective. See: Jessica Nadeau, Plaidoyer pour une présence accrue de la culture autochtone, Le Devoir, November 29, 2016.

4 The term Nunavimmiut is an Inuktitut word. It is used to designate “the residents of Nunavik.” Currently, the Inuit represent approximately 85 percent of the Nunavik population (Statistics Canada, Fact Sheet for Nunavik, March 29, 2016).

Meet the Expert(s)

Robert Watt Education Canada

Robert Watt


Mr. Robert Watt is the President of Kativik Ilisarniliriniq, a position he was appointed to in December 2017. Former Co-Director of the Inuit Sub-Commission of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission ...

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