After 31 years, Nunavut Sivuniksavut founder and teacher says goodbye

One of the founders of the Nunavut Sivuniksavut program is retiring this June. Murray Angus has been teaching at the college program in Ottawa since it started 31 years ago.

'I just feel an immense gratitude towards those people who put their trust in us,' says Murray Angus

Long-time Nunavut Sivuniksavut instructor Murray Angus celebrates his upcoming retirement with students. His last day of teaching was April 15, but Angus will officially retire at the end of June. (Courtesy Nunavut Sivuniksavut)

One of the founders of the Nunavut Sivuniksavut program is retiring this June. Murray Angus has been teaching at the college program in Ottawa since it started 31 years ago.

Nunavut Sivuniksavut is a one to two year college program that teaches Inuit youth about the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement, Inuit history, politics and traditional skills. It often helps youth transition from high school to post-secondary education.

The program started in 1985 when a handful of Inuit, from what was to become Nunavut, travelled to Ottawa to learn about the Nunavut Land Claims negotiations. The idea was that after their time in Ottawa, the students would go back to their communities and help others understand more about the negotiations taking place in the 1980s.

Qulliq host Kevin Kablutsiak spoke with Angus Monday morning. 

This interview has been edited for length. 

How are you feeling?

I've been anticipating the challenge of how I'm feeling for the last year in anticipation of this last month or so to come. I'll be finished at the end of June, even though classes are already finished. Lots of emotions. Lots of thoughts in anticipation of it. And I've reached a point where there could be lots of things I could be sad about — I'd prefer to walk away with gratitude rather than with regret or sadness.

What are you thankful for?

Oh my goodness, how long do you have? Some of the things that have come to mind for me looking back, you referenced the start of the program, I'm feeling a very deep personal sense of gratitude and amazement to the Inuit leadership in the mid-1980s. They wanted something to be done. They weren't sure exactly what it could be. I happened to be on the scene and was given the chance to help things get started.

We had no vision of what it was going to become at that point. What strikes me in looking back is just seeing how much trust was placed on us and given to us to see if we could make something happen. That's not the typical way that college programs get created.

I just feel an immense gratitude towards those people who put their trust in us to see what we could do.

Why did you stay with Nunavut Sivuniksavut all these years? 

Students. Staff. Those are the two things that come to mind right away. 

We've had the chance to work with just amazing young people all these years. But more importantly, young people who are at a point in Nunavut's history where there were so many future opportunities to make a difference. And the students who we've worked with are people who have been making a difference.

Thanks to the wonders of Facebook and social media, we also get to enjoy now, in ways we never used to, just watching what people are doing long after they've left the program. And that's probably the most gratifying thing to behold really. The kind of pursuits that people have chosen and the accomplishments they have racked up in various fronts, whether it's in politics, the arts or media.

In April 1998, Kevin Kablutsiak (far right) travelled with fellow Nunavut Sivuniksavut students and instructor Murray Angus to Kiruna, Jokkmokk and Gällivare in northern Sweden. Here the group poses with a Sami reindeer herder. (Submitted by Stephanie Tucktoo)

Can you share some of the highlights or most memorable moments of being at Nunavut Sivuniksavut?

I think of many of our trips. As you know, our students raise money for end of year trips. It's typically to places where there are other Indigenous people, where they can share their story of Nunavut and the Inuit experience with other Indigenous people.

Just merely to be present in those encounters, it's absolutely fascinating, or it has been to me, just watching people unpack their respective stories of what we might call colonialism, and finding the commonalities and recognizing how similar they are. But also watching people share the story of what Inuit have gone through to settle the biggest land claims in Canada, and probably the world — what they've gone through to create their own territory and just to see how inspiring that story can be for people elsewhere who are still struggling.

What are you going to do when you're completely retired?

The short answer: whatever I want [laughs]. I have a list of personal things that I could pursue, but again that's the joy of the retirement phase of life.

But I will be keeping some involvement in [Nunavut Sivuniksavut]. I've got to just come in and teach one course each term for the next while. I won't have an office. They will no longer have Murray's office as the standard bearer for messiness.  So I won't be involved in the operations at all. Just come in and teach a particular course. 

It was a real pleasure to have you as my teacher back in 1997-1998. Congratulations on your retirement.

It's a real pleasure to be interviewed by you so many years later and knowing the role that you're playing, and so congrats to you too.

with files from Kevin Kablutsiak