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'Culture shock' impedes some Inuit students from success in south

The vast differences in size and cultural practices can prove to be a challenge for many Inuit who go to southern Canadian cities for services like education, healthcare, and jobs. Organizations like the Manitoba Inuit Association work to make the transition easier.
Photo of the Nunavut Arctic College. Many have been advocating for a university based in Northern Canada. Manitoba Inuit Association president Fred Ford says that until one is founded students will continue to head South. (Vincent Desrosiers/CBC)

The vast differences in size and cultural practices can prove to be a challenge for many Inuit who go to southern Canadian cities for services like education, healthcare, and jobs. Organizations like the Manitoba Inuit Association (MIA) work to make the transition easier. Listen to three members of the MIA discuss their perspectives:

Nicole Luke, Fred Ford, and Rachel Dutton are all members of the Manitoba Inuit Association. A growing organization that aims to support Inuit in Southern Canada and provide them with a sense of community. 8:34

Nicole Luke is an urban Inuk and a post-secondary student at the University of Manitoba. She worked as a summer student for the MIA last summer, in a role to increase the capacity of the organization to serve young Inuit students. While she grew up in the South, she experienced a shock when she visited her own family in the North. "From my own experience, I'd say it's a bit of a cultural shock," she said. "Up North, everyone is neighbours to everyone...But come down South and I don't even know half my neighbours on my street."

Luke's noticed that in her peers, the scale of cities and campuses can be overwhelming. She said, "A campus can be as large as a community up North; and to add a city on top of that can be intimidating."
Fred Ford, a founding member of the MIA, constructs an igloo with other members of the association. The group organizations many cultural events to keep the Inuit living in Southern Canadian cities connected with their culture. (Courtesy of the Manitoba Inuit Association)

Fred Ford, one of the founding members of the MIA and President of the association, said one of the impetuses for creating the group was to bring many groups of Inuit together so that they could support one another. This community can support and help students to thrive. Ford said, "We want our students to be successful here and too many of them are going home and having not completed their degrees because often the experience of being in the city is overwhelming."

Inuit travel South for a number of reasons, with healthcare and education being the most popular. Others go South and stay in the South. But all of these groups benefit from engaging with their traditional culture said Ford. "What we want to do is to make that transition as easy as we can, whether it's for health care patients or whether it's for students," he said. "[We] bring people together as a community with food and music from home, and engage in activities that are common to all of us. It goes a long way to celebrate our community and to support one another while we're here--it takes some of the trauma of being away from home."

We want our students to be successful here and too many of them are going home and having not completed their degrees because often the experience of being in the city is overwhelming.- Fred Ford, president of the Manitoba Inuit Association

Rachel Dutton, executive director of the MIA, finds that, "there's a big sacrifice that individuals and families make in terms of the decision to leave home and come to the city." 

"[It is], predominantly, the social and economic factors back home that are really driving them towards these urban centers," said Dutton. "With that, come a number of challenges for people who are very connected with their language and culture."

If the community and the support isn't provided, there are consequences to bear. Dutton said, "We find that people cycle into crisis quite quickly if they're not connected with some family down here in Winnipeg who can show them the ropes of what it is to live in an urban center. It's mundane things like understanding city transportation, taxis, and buses, and it extends to the darker side of what every city has in its underbelly. We don't want to see the young people falling into gang life, or for young women into the sex trade. It's very easily done when you're disconnected with who you are and where you come from."

Join us Sunday March 6, 2016 to hear more perspectives like this on the question: How do we provide a future for young people in the North? Listen and participate in Cross Country Checkup.

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