Nunavut university grads encourage aboriginal youth to enrol

Current and former aboriginal university students are encouraging youth to follow in their footsteps in a new online campaign unveiled Tuesday.

2 Nunavut women highlighted in "Let's Take Our Future Further" campaign

Raigelee Alorut went back to school at age 40. The grandmother from Iqaluit would go on to earn a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Toronto. (submitted by Council of Universities of Ontario)

Current and former aboriginal university students are encouraging youth to follow in their footsteps in a new online campaign unveiled Tuesday.

The campaign, organized by Council of Ontario Universities and called "Let's Take Our Future Further," profiles 13 aboriginal university graduates, including two women with ties to Nunavut who took very different paths to post-secondary education.

Donna May Kimmaliardjuk spent much of her childhood in in Ottawa, but has family from Chesterfield Inlet. She's currently undergoing a six-year practicum to become the first female Inuk cardiac surgeon. 

Raigelee Alorut has a much different story.

The grandmother and high school dropout from Iqaluit was 40 when she went back to school, spending a year in a transitional program at the University of Toronto.

Donna May Kimmaliardjuk poses with three aunts: Mary, Elizabeth and Helen Kreelak. Though she grew up in Ottawa, her family has roots in Chesterfield Inlet and Rankin Inlet in Nunavut. Now, she's on her way to becoming a cardiac surgeon. (submitted by Donna May Kimmaliardjuk)

"What am I doing here? I'm too old for this," Alorut said, reminiscing on the program that saw her sitting alongside students fresh out of high school.

She stuck with it, eventually graduating with a combined bachelor of arts degree in Aboriginal and Caribbean Studies.

"It took me seven years to get my degree – a lifetime – and it was a lot of hard work," she said. 

Alorut found similarities between Caribbean and Inuit history.

"Learning their history, it was the same thing that happened to us. We were impacted by the Europeans and the same thing happened in Nunavut, the same thing happened in the Caribbean," she said.

"We're all related into one because of the first contact that happened."

Alorut is now awaiting to hear if she will be accepted into a teachers program.

"No matter how old you are, as old as I am, you can always try and get educated," she said. "Because there's a whole lot of things — you get to understand what the world is trying to tell you — and it's rewarding in the end."

Building on the past

The online campaign, sponsored in part by the Government of Ontario, highlights Alorut's success with the hopes to inspire aboriginal youth to enrol in one of the province's 20 publicly-funded universities. According to the Council, there are 6,500 aboriginal students currently enrolled in their institutions.

"The work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, as well as the Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, underscore the important role that education plays in building and sustaining communities and realizing true reconciliation in the future for our collective past," says Reza Moridi, Ontario's Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities.

"The [program] builds on that momentum."