Chapter 6

The History of Inuit Education

The Katavik School Board describes the traditional education in Nunavik as such:

The Inuit have flourished in the region known as Nunavik (Northern Quebec above the 55th parallel) for the last 4,000 years. Through all these centuries, the traditional education process imparted all that was necessary to survive and to perpetuate the Inuit culture. Carried out on an informal basis by parents, relatives and peers, traditional informal education included teaching and learning through imitation, with no specific time frame for mastery. The child would move on to the next skill level when he or she was ready.(1)

With the goal of 'Christianizing' Inuit children, missionaries began educating Inuit children in approxiamtely 1811. It was not until 1932, however, when the first missionary school was established. On the Kativik School Board website, they further explain:

Inuit being a federal government responsibility under the Constitutional Act of 1867 (as recognized by the Supreme Court of Canada in the case of In Re Eskimos (1939) R.C.S. 104), and the jurisdiction of the provincial government toward the native population of Northern Quebec being ill-defined under the Quebec Boundaries Extension Act of 1912 (when a vast area was transferred from the Northwest Territories to the province), it was the federal government who first developed a formal school system in Nunavik. This occurred after World War II, when federal authorities believed that the North now had strategic importance and resource potential.(1)

Like the First Nations and Métis children, Inuit children were also sent to residential schools. The We Were So Far Away website describes:

In 1947, the federal government of Canada implemented a day school building program in the Northwest Territories and northern Quebec (King 13). Education plans were implemented in the 1950s for both non-Inuit and Inuit. Day schools and hostels for Indian and Inuit children were built by the government and administered by the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches. Housing under separate Roman Catholic and Anglican management provided student accommodations for the same day school. Students were boarded according to their religious affiliation. Children were also segregated by religion in separate wings of classrooms. Critics have charged that this separation promoted religious division among the Inuit.(2)

In more recent times, there has been significant change to the education system for Inuit students. One such change, for example, was to the recognition of Inuktitut, Inuinnaqtun, Inuvialuktun, North Slavey, South Slavey, Tlicho, and Chipewyan as offical languages, in addition to French and English in the Northwest Territories. The importance of this is monumental in terms of education.

In the Aboriginal worldview culture and language are inseparable; culture is language, and language is culture. It also looks at the world through the relationship between self, others, animals and the spiritual world as in the cyclical process of nature.

To respect the worldview and language of the land of the Aboriginal people, the Education, Culture and Employment division of the NWT territorial government created two curricula: Dene Kede and Inuuqatigiit. School staff are expected to bring attention to the Aboriginal worldview in all of their teachings. They should use the document appropriate to their school and community. In culture-based education, teachers are expected to offer students the opportunity to extend learning experiences necessary in K–12 skills. Teachers are to involve students in key experiences, both on the land and in school.(3)

Success of Education is paramount; this is especially important for Aboriginal children who have distinct languages, cultures and inherent connections to the land. Nunavik highlights in the following vignette demonstrate some of the successes of transferring and transmitting their languange and their culture.


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(1) Kativik School Board. (n.d.) History of Education in Nunavik. Retrieved from: http://www.kativik.qc.ca/history-of-education-in-nunavik

(2) Legacy of Hope Foundation. (n.d.) We Were So Far Away; The Inuit Experience of Residential Schools. Retrieved from: http://weweresofaraway.ca/

(3) Government of Northwest Territories. (n.d.) NWT Curriculum. Education, Culture and Employment. Retrieved from: https://www.ece.gov.nt.ca/en/services/nwt-curriculum-and-school-list/nwt-curriculum

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