18 students spend 1st week of Nunavik Sivunitsavut's pilot year team-building

Eighteen students between the ages of 17 and 38 have arrived in Montreal for the pilot year of the Inuit-culture focused post-secondary program, Nunavik Sivunitsavut.

The 1-year post-secondary course focuses on teaching Inuit culture

From bottom to top row, from left to right: Angela Moorhouse, Mary Saunders, Judy Tookalook, Matilida Kooktook, Minnie Kasudluak, Susan Nulukie, Narsuq Nellie Atagotaaluk, Naujaq Vidahl, Lizzie Novalinga, Nyomi Gordon, Allison May, Noemie Arngaq, Alec Saunders, Paasa Lemire, Lizzie Nowra, Sapina Saunders, Neevie Simigak and Hannah Tooktoo. (Kativik School Board)

Eighteen students between the ages of 17 and 38 have arrived in Montreal for the pilot year of the Inuit culture focused post-secondary program, Nunavik Sivunitsavut.

The program, which kicked off this week, is based on the similar Nunavut Sivuniksavut program run in Ottawa .

It's been in the works since 2015, when Nunavik regional organizations began working with John Abbott College in Montreal to develop the courses.

The college will provide post-secondary accreditation, while funding to get the program off the ground came from the Department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, according to Rita Novalinga, assistant director general at the Kativik School Board.

The one-year course includes classes on Inuit history, governance and culture, something which Novalinga said is lacking in Quebec's education curriculum.

'I want to learn things that will benefit our people'

The program is designed to be a foundation for anyone who wants to pursue additional higher education.

"We need professionals, we need educated people working in Nunavik, so we're hoping most of them will be able to go back and take leadership in these jobs that we have available."

This is student Hannah Tooktoo's goal. She wants to take what she learns back to Kuujjuaq, Quebec, particularly with regard to the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement and related governance issues.

"I know that I want to learn things that will benefit our people and come back and teach people what I've learned, that's my ultimate goal because we have a long way to go before we're healed," she said.

Tooktoo started at John Abbott College studying social science, but left after a year. She said she felt isolated as the only Inuk in her program because of some of the perceptions her classmates had about Inuit. 

"I went through a lot of culture shock and homesickness in the beginning, but the longer you stay the easier it gets. When I first came here I was feeling very alone, but I had other people going through the same thing and we leaned on each other."

She said she heard about Nunavik Sivunitsavut while at John Abbott and applied. She expects this program to be a better experience because it's something she's more interested in.

Student Angela Moorhouse has an advantage over some students: she's familiar with city life.

Moorhouse, who is from Inukjuak, moved to Montreal while in elementary school and said while her heart is in Inukjuak, she's at home in Montreal.

She said much of the first week of the program included student orientation and an introduction to Montreal's transit system and the culture of the city, but it was also a period of team building.

She wants to take what she learns in the program and go on to study social work or a similar program that she could use to help Inuit address their history.

'I think I am going to learn about myself and about Inuit, our culture, our history, since I was here in Montreal we didn't talk about it much in school, we only knew about the European's point of view, we didn't get [the] Inuit's point of view and as an Inuk I wanted to know."

The course takes students out on the land to teach traditional knowledge, teaches Inuit games, and explains Inuit connections across the circumpolar region.

With files from Michelle Pucci, Kieran Oudshoorn