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DEGREES OF SUCCESS: Mother of two strives to earn teaching degree

Saalia Pijamini is fluent in speaking, reading and writing Inuktitut.
Saalia Pijamini comes from Grise Fiord, Canada’s northernmost community with a population of close to 130. She is in the process of attaining her teaching degree, something that her cousin Monica achieved more than a decade ago. Photo courtesy of Saalia Pijamini

Saalia Pijamini is fluent in speaking, reading and writing Inuktitut.

Those are skills that she looks forward to teaching students in classrooms in the years ahead.

“Lately there’s been more Inuit students graduating from NTEP (Nunavut Teacher Education Program), but when I was in school, there wasn’t many Inuktitut teachers and that was one of the reasons why I wanted to go into teaching as well,” she said.

Currently in her second year of the four-year NTEP, Pijamini said she’s always enjoyed school and has long had a desire to become a teacher.

“I like learning, and I’ve always looked up to my teachers. I have a few teachers that I’m still in contact with, that I keep in touch with regularly. They’re the ones that have motivated me and inspired me to become a teacher,” she said.

Her cousin Monica was another positive influence as she earned her NTEP degree at the Nunavut Arctic College campus in Cambridge Bay more than 10 years ago.

“She was very encouraging with taking the program,” she said.

Pijamini, who hails from Grise Fiord, is pursuing her studies in Iqaluit, although most of her courses are online. She has six courses on her plate. Sciences, such as learning about chemistry, biology and astronomy, are her favourite areas of study. She finds English the most challenging course.

“There’s a lot of good resources with the courses that we’re taking, and a lot of our courses try to incorporate the Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit principles,” she said.

Outside of daily lectures, she estimates that she spends an average of an hour or two each day completing her homework.

Another important use of her time is spending it with her two daughters, ages three and five.

“Luckily my girls have a spot at the daycare, so when I’m done with my classes, I still have time to do my homework before I pick them up, so it hasn’t been stressful,” she said.

Scholarships have also made life easier. Pijamini earned financial support through the Atuqtuarvik Corporation, Baffinland Iron Mines, the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, Nunavut Tunngavik Foundation and Indspire.

“It’s such a big difference. It relieves so much financial stress because being a student, our funding is not that great with FANS (Financial Assistance for Nunavut Students),” she said.

Upon finishing her second year of NTEP, she’s planning to jump right into work as a summer student with the Government of Nunavut. Last summer, the Department of Finance provided her a job.

Decorated student

Pijamini was a strong performer in high school, earning math and science awards along with the Governor General’s Academic Medal when she graduated.

After taking a year off, she enrolled in the Nunavut Sivuniksavut (NS) college program in Ottawa. She completed the first year, but only after going home to help look after her mom in a time of need.

“School was still there,” she said of her choice to put family first.

Pijamini said she found NS to be beneficial.

“There was a lot I didn’t know about our Inuit culture, so I learned a lot about our history and language,” she said. “With my school in Grise Fiord, I didn’t know much about essay writing in English, so I learned a lot of that when I took Nunavut Sivuniksavut.”

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About the Author: Derek Neary

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