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Inuit vocational school: A work opportunity or a life of confusion?

While Inuit parents were being moved from igloos to houses in the 1950s, their children were being assimilated into the Canadian education system. In the worst cases, children were taken from their families, harshly disciplined and stripped of their culture. Only over the past 25 years have the Inuit been permitted a voice to speak out about how their children are educated. After so many years of feeling marginalized by formal education, the Inuit today are a people trying to correct the damage.

media clip
At this vocational school, a pilot project for similar schools in the north, young Inuit men are trained in the operation of heavy machinery. The eventual goal is employment at the airstrip or open-pit mine. In this CBC Television clip, reporter Ab Douglas tells the Canadian public about the most recent assimilation initiative. No Inuit students are interviewed about the problems they've encountered so far.

The school is another one of the government's continued attempts to ease the Inuit into an urban lifestyle. Some boys have already left due to homesickness or alcohol offences. They spend six months at the school, receive an allowance, and get the chance to "brush up" on their English studies. Although nothing is wrong with the school's concept, it's no wonder some boys are having trouble adjusting. After centuries of close-knit family life, these students live miles from home and will be the first Inuit generation to grow up without hunting or trapping with their fathers.
. Through the 1950s and 60s, industrial and vocational schools were a popular supplement to the regular scholastic day school.
. Many hostels (government-run boarding schools), technical schools and day schools were erected in the postwar expansion into Inuit land. It was hoped that the Inuit would have a role to play in the development of the Arctic region, through education and vocational training.

. The term "residential schools" generally refers to a variety of institutions that have existed over time, including: industrial schools, boarding schools, student residences, hostels, billets and residential schools.
. The U.S. Air Force built an airport in Frobisher Bay, NWT in 1942. After the war, Canada took over the operation, making the airport large enough for jetliners. Traffic flow, tourism and industrial opportunity increased, changing both the economic and social landscape of Frobisher Bay.

. Frobisher Bay became the centre for DEW line construction operations between 1955 and 1957. This project brought hundreds of men to the Northwest Territories from the southern regions. By 1957 the population was approximately 1,200 (489 of whom were Inuit).
. Despite the training schools, there were many instances of companies hiring young white men from the south over local Inuit boys. This problem contributed to the feeling of disconnect between the intended purpose of the educational institutions in the north and the actual results for the Inuit.

. In 1987 Frobisher Bay reverted to its original Inuktitut name of Iqaluit, which means place of many fish. When the new territory of Nunavut was formed in 1999, Iqaluit became its capital.
Medium: Television
Program: CBC Newsmagazine
Broadcast Date: Sept. 22, 1968
Reporter: Ab Douglas
Duration: 1:11

Last updated: September 18, 2014

Page consulted on September 18, 2014

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