Indigenous education conference sparks conversation about lack of N.W.T. curriculum

One woman at Inuvik education conference asks whether northern students benefit from curriculum imported from the South.

Organizer of Inuvik event calls for territory to quit relying on Alberta curriculum and build something new

Discussions at the National Indigenous Education and Reconciliation Conference this week in Inuvik ranged from whether the Sixties Scoop needs to be taught to children to what unique challenges Inuit students face in post-secondary education. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC)

Whether the N.W.T. needs to develop its own curriculum — rather than relying on Alberta's — was one big idea among many discussed at a national Indigenous education conference in Inuvik this week.

This is the National Indigenous Education and Reconciliation Conference's third year — and the first time the North has played host to it. The Inuit Tapiirit Kanatami organized the three-day event with the help of the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation.

Lucy Kuptana wonders whether N.W.T. students are well served by the adapted Alberta curriculum currently used by the Department of Education, Culture and Employment. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC )

Lucy Kuptana is the director of operations with Inuvialuit Regional Corporation and an organizer. She's also part of the Beaufort Delta Education committee and sits on the national committee with Inuit Tapiirit Kanatami.

"Our curriculum is with Alberta," she said, adding she wonders whether it focuses enough on Indigenous and Inuit education.

"I think GNWT, the department of education, needs to seriously think about having our own set of curriculum ... they need to wake up and these are realities of the North."​

Mindy Willett is the social studies and northern studies co-ordinator for the territorial Department of Education, Culture and Employment.

She says although the N.W.T. has been using a southern curriculum since the 1960's, it's tailored to the North using Dene Kede and Inuuqatigii — which is the curriculum of the Indigenous people of this land. The territory adopted Dene Kede and Inuuqatigii in the 1990s. 

Mindy Willett, with the Department of Education, Culture and Employment, says the N.W.T. government is expanding its Northern studies program. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC )

"The challenge is that we are a small jurisdiction," said Willett. "Where do you want to put your time and resources … We try to pick and choose what to adopt from Alberta and what to adapt."

Willett says the government is continuously working on and trying to improve programs, and that Northern studies is one example of this. Currently the class is only offered to Grade 10 students.

"We have had a request from many people to expand it to Grade 11 and 12," she said. "You would be able to choose an on-the-land program that is on par with social studies. So that is definitely something we are looking toward for this year."

Willett added Alberta is in the process of revamping its curriculum, and an N.W.T. team is part of the process to make sure "their curriculum is our curriculum."

Lots to think about

Heather Ochalski attended and presented at the event last year, and knew she wanted it to come North this year. She was one of the main organizers of the conference. 

"For the first day we thought it was really important to showcase the Inuit context," she said. 

Heather Ochalski said she felt it was very important to showcase Inuit perspectives at the conference. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC)

"The take-home we want for them is that there is a lot of information they can take back and take action in their own school districts."

Ochalski said attendees were from different ministries across Canada as well as people "who are interested in First Nations, Métis and Inuit education."

Other presentations included a look into why the Sixties Scoop should be taught in schools across the country and a discussion into unique challenges Inuit students face when they attend post-secondary education.

Many Northerners who attended said this was their first time at this event and many said it was eye-opening.