Traditional Inuit views in Texas

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A teacher from Victor Sammurtok School (VSS) in Chesterfield Inlet is off to San Antonio, Texas, this week, where he will present his views on indigenous teaching to the academics attending the American Educational Research Association conference, the largest educational conference in North America.

A group of Grade 10 to Grade 12 students from Victor Sammurtok School are enthusiastic about their traditional learning out on the land near Chesterfield Inlet. - photo courtesy of Glen Brocklebank
A group of Grade 10 to Grade 12 students from Victor Sammurtok School are enthusiastic about their traditional learning out on the land near Chesterfield Inlet. – photo courtesy of Glen Brocklebank

Glen Brocklebank will make his presentation – his abstract was selected from among 13,000 submitted to the conference for consideration – in co-operation with Leisa Desmoulins, a professor at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ont.

Brocklebank, who completed his masters on indigenous education this past year, has long advocated for more traditional learning in the Nunavut curriculum and is proud of the fact VSS goes the extra mile to engage its student body by offering a more balanced program.

Brocklebank said teachers should be practicing and helping to promote acts of indigenous resurgence.

He said more has to be done to incorporate the teaching of various forms of traditional and land-based skills in Nunavut class rooms.

“Basically, what I found was validation of my teaching practices through the building of kayaks, going kayaking, teaching traditional and GPS navigational skills, and exposing students to cultural relevancy and skill development through physical participation in guided land trips and culture camps,” said Brocklebank.

“These activities promote and highlight the importance of Inuit knowledge.

“Prof. Desmoulins picked-up on one of the projects I passed in that looked at how our science fair projects are physically Inuit-related, and how, through their study and development of the projects, our students become somewhat expert on topics such as sewing, the qamutiik, fur preparation and other similar practical Inuit skills.

“The students use the western scientific model to test items and practices that have all ready been around for quite some time and, to date, everything we’ve tested at VSS – such as Inuit snow goggles of the past versus modern sunglasses, and the material used in the qamutiik of the past versus the modern qamutiik – the traditional example of the past outperforms its modern equivalents.”

Brocklebank said incorporating such teaching practices provides a sense of cultural inclusion and identity within the students, in addition to promoting, highlighting and showcasing the value of Inuit knowledge.

He said VSS students always look forward to land skills programing and often can’t wait for March and April to roll around for the programs to begin.

“We usually start small by just getting outside of the school and focusing on something like the proper cutting of snow blocks, and then we’ll gradually expand our focus to something like visiting one of the lakes to do a bit of fishing or build an iglu.

“We will usually highlight one Arctic animal, covering the western information on it and then looking at what Inuit know about the animal and its habits.

“Then we’ll go out and try to harvest the animal, or, at least, find it somewhere out on the land.

“Caribou are easy, both to find and harvest, and we’ve gone to the floe-edge to see polar bear tracks and, this year, we’re focusing on muskox to learn how the population has rebounded, what happened during that process, what it can be used for and how it’s processed or prepared after being harvested.”

Brocklebank said the VSS traditional-learning program has been bolstered by the fact the community has a number of expert guides who have worked with the school for a number of years and who also support, 100 per cent, the importance of having students get out on the land and be exposed to traditional skills.

He said for a number of students, the school trip has been when they harvested their first caribou or, in fact, marked one of the few times they’ve actually been able to get out on the land.

“I’ve been at VSS in Chester long enough now that I have a number of older students who went through our program and, one of the things they say is, these types of traditional and land-based-skills programs are their favourite part of actually being in school.

“It’s weird for me to hear those kinds of things being said because it’s something I truly believe in and try to incorporate into my teaching.

“They’re the highlight of my teaching experience, where I derive the most satisfaction from teaching, and part of the reason why I’ve never wanted to leave my classroom for administration, or any other role for that matter.

“To leave my classroom would be to leave the part I enjoy most out of teaching, and I don’t want to leave the part that makes me the happiest.”