Nunavut university promoted as voice and inspiration for Inuit culture

There's a renewed push for the long standing dream of an Inuit university that would preserve and promote traditional knowledge and culture.
A member of the Clyde River, Nunavut, hunting team prepares to harpoon a bowhead whale, during a traditional hunt. (Niore Iqalukjuak)

Perhaps they'll call it Ingalangaittuqsiurvik, an Inuit word meaning "standing in an elevated place where you can see far distances."

That's one of the names suggested for a proposed Inuit university, an old Arctic dream that's getting a renewed push due to corporate money and a recent high-level report that sketches out what Canada's northernmost academic institution could look like.

"There's certainly a lot more interest in it," said Peter Ma, Nunavut's deputy education minister. "It's all across the board in the territory and elsewhere."

Canada is the only Arctic nation that doesn't have a university in its northern regions and the idea has been talked about at least since 2007. Quebec-based mining company Agnico Eagle, which operates a gold mine in Nunavut, recently offered the territory $5 million to start one up

'Pressing need' for Inuit university

"It's obvious there's a pressing need," said Terry Audla, head of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the Canadian branch of the international Inuit organization.

A traditional drum dance in an Inuit qammaq. (Hans Blohm)
In April, Ma and Audla took part in a conference that brought together northern educators, government and land-claim organizations to lay the groundwork for a report released earlier this month.

The institution would be located in Iqaluit and would need to be independent of both government and Inuit organizations, the report says. While it would be open to all, it would mostly serve Inuit students from across the North

Research limited to what Inuit care about

Classes in traditional Inuit knowledge and language would be mandatory for all. Elders could be given the same status — and salary — as full professors.

An initial course list was proposed: Inuit studies, fine arts, linguistics, political science and indigenous governance, education, health, natural science and law.

Research would be limited to what Inuit care about.

"One participant noted that the European tradition of 'knowledge for knowledge's sake' does not align with Inuit beliefs and values, and as such should not be promoted or supported by a university in Inuit Nunangat," says the report.

Fine arts would be one of the faculties at an Inuit university in Nunavut. (Tamara Pimentel/CBC)
Funding, said Ma, would come from a mix of private and public sources.

"It's going to take a lot more than $5 million."

Audla said the institution would create opportunities for Inuit and make university attendance easier both culturally and geographically. But it would also be a crucial voice for Inuit in Canadian society, he suggested.

"It's based on Inuit becoming more aware of where they stand in society in general. When it comes to the decision-makers, academia has a lot of influence. When you have that, the more credence you're given."

'It's an inspirational thing'

There are some opportunities for post-secondary education in Nunavut. Nunavut Arctic College brokers degrees in education and nursing through southern institutions. The University of the Arctic offers distance education through more than 100 institutions around the northern world.

Neither are the same as having a local university, said Ma.

"It's an inspirational thing. If something is closer to home, I think you're more motivated and more inspired to achieve."

Institutions already in the Arctic, such as the Nunavut Research Centre and the under-construction High Arctic Research Station, could provide some expertise, the report says. But Ma acknowledges that any sod-turning for Inuit U is a long way off.

Still, Audla said, momentum is building.

"There is the interest and the potential to get it all together. It could be a matter of a couple of years. That's hopeful, but realistic." 


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.