The third annual National Indigenous Education and Reconciliation Network Gathering was held in Inuvik for the first time May 29-31.
Co-organizer Heather Ochalski said the gathering is a reconciliation – or “reconcili-action” – initiative where a network of approximately 100 key stakeholders in Canadian education meet to work on policy and curricula surrounding Indigenous-specific education materials.
Ochalski said 70 network members were in attendance at the Inuvik gathering, which was focused on actions participants could take to implement change once they return home.
“An outcome that we want to see is, at least from the Inuit perspective, is that we have our Inuit knowledge systems within our curricula,” she said. “We’ve also asked the participants to make connections and commitments to action, and then report back what kind of action they’re taking when they get back home.”
Another first for the gathering was that its first day was solely focused on Inuit education, according to co-organizer Charlene Bearhead.
“People who are in the south … don’t recognize that there are Inuit students in every jurisdiction in Canada,” said Bearhead. “For example, in Edmonton, there’s the largest urban Inuit population, but where are these children and why are they not self-identifying? Because they don’t see themselves reflected in curricula.”
Bearhead said one of the initiatives developed at the gathering in response to this issue is a collaboration between public and Catholic schools in Edmonton, Inuit organizations in Edmonton, and the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation (IRC) to build student supports, programs and professional development courses for teachers to support Inuit students in Edmonton.
“The relationship is really the thing that solidifies it,” said Bearhead. “If you don’t have that, it never happens.”
Lucy Kuptana, director of Operations, Culture and Communications for IRC, co-host of the gathering, said the biggest roadblock in the Northwest Territories for Inuit education is the territory’s lack of territory-specific curriculum. Right now, NWT schools follow Alberta’s curriculum and school calendar.
“I think it’s fine time we look at drafting our own curriculum for our classroom,” said Kuptana.
“We’re doing that with language and culture, so why don’t we do that for the overall curricula?”
Kuptana said there are differences between Alberta and the NWT, such as traditional hunting and fishing schedules, that have to be accommodated in the territory’s school calendar.
“Why do we have to have school from September to June? If you look at the attendance presentation that Chris Gilmour and Jennifer Rafferty did, you see a plunge in attendance in December and January, the darkest time of the year, because it’s so dark, it’s so cold,” she said. “You see a plunge in attendance in May because everyone is out fishing or hunting geese. We need to look at Northern realities and think about what’s best for the kids.”