The Canadian Arctic does not have a university and for many Inuit students looking to further their educations that can mean a tough choice. Nunavut Sivuniksavut is a college program that attempts to help these students bridge the gap between high school and their futures.
“Really the beauty of the [Nunavut Sivuniksavut] is the impact that it has on student’s attitudes, about themselves, their culture, their world, and their place in the world. That is the overriding benefit that trumps everything else. People leave with an incredible amount of enthusiasm, with a desire to be involved and to contribute, confidence in themselves and in their people as a whole. They leave with an understanding of their relationship with the rest of the world, and their own culture even.” - Morley Hanson, the coordinator of the program
As the weather cools and the leaves start to change colour, youth around the world are harkened back to the halls of their schools. Be it elementary kids, high schoolers or university students, the rest of the world seem a little emptier come September. But for some students in the world, this change has deeper meaning. Canada’s Arctic does not have a university and for students who are from the north, that has implications for the education they choose to pursue. Nunavut Sivuniksavut, an Ottawa-based college program, attempts to ease the transition for high school students to the broader academic and employment world.
What is Nunavut Sivuniksavut?
Nunavut Sivuniksavut (NS) is tied to Algonquin College, another Ottawa-based college, and features two separate college Certificate programs (Inuit Studies and Advanced Inuit Studies) that students can work towards. Both of which are delivered under the auspices of Algonquin. As Morley Hanson, the coordinator of the program who has been working for the institution for the last 29 years, said to the High North News, “all along [NS] has been for young people from Nunavut, who take this leap of faith and study in this accredited post-secondary program.” Although in recent years the program has opened up to students across the Canadian Arctic, the focus remains on Indigenous people and the one hard and fast rule to participate is that students must be beneficiaries of a land agreement. Above all, Mr. Hanson said, it is “a program rooted in the land claims movement… It’s not a transition year program in itself, it is a program in it’s own right, but at the same time it helps people build the capacity to tackle university programs or other college programs ”
The program is funded predominantly by the Federal Government, the Nunavut Government, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc, and the three economic arms of the regional Inuit associations. The schooling itself is designed to teach students about, among other things, northern land claims, local economies, modern Inuit issues (such as the sealskin ban and food security) and Inuit history (looking at, among other things, the colonial relationships with the Federal Government). The focus of the program, for the last 32 years, has been to give young northern students the chance to learn content which interests them and helps them grow within their own culture.
Challenges and Lessons Learned
A program such as this one does not come without its inherent challenges. For example picking the students is a long and daunting process that specifically focuses on more than academic grades. This is in a large part due to the challenges that many Indigenous students have with current education system; so instead character references become a major part of the application process. “Mark averages don’t tell us a lot” says Mr. Hanson. The goal is to have students participate that are going to actively work hard and want to succeed, even if they have had challenges in the past.
Because it is such a small group, ensure that students work hard and create a positive environment is key. “It is like a one room school house here. We will be bringing down approximately 40 first year students and about 10 in a second year program that we offer,” says Mr. Hanson.
But the program takes all of this in stride, and above all focuses on what is best for the student. Although further education is a great option, Mr. Hanson is realistic about the goals of the the youth passing through, “the goal [of Nunavut Sivuniksavut] is that students take the next best step, whatever that is for them. A lot of them want to get in the working world, but we encourage education all the time and more and more that is happening.”
The students learn and live in Ottawa for the year, but the end goal remains to send them back to their communities with important lessons and values learned. Mr. Hanson commented that, “if they are not [further] studying, they are all working back home one way or another.” Many of them, he went on to say, work for either the Nunavut government or Inuit organizations.
Being in Ottawa allows for a learning process with the students, giving them access to many different types of resources and allows them to experience being in the political centre of Canada. Furthermore, it allows students to learn independence, as Mr. Hanson commented, “It is like an urban outward-bound” and what that does is “it allows them to look back at their homes with different eyes.” But even though it is far from the student’s homes, the focus remains on those home communities and strengthening student’s abilities to contribute when they return.
The support given to the students is likely one of the fundamental reasons of the program's success and one of the reasons this program has lasted for more than 30 years. Mr. Hanson comments that the student, in part succeed because, “they realize that there is a whole cadre of people here who care deeply about them and about promoting their abilities and realizing their desires of leading a good and productive life that leads to the betterment of where they come from.”