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Ottawa school teaching Inuit students the history of Nunavut

Nunavut Sivuniksavut is a school in Ottawa, for Inuit students from Nunavut to learn about contemporary issues, land claim history and rights for people from Nunavut.
Leanna Wilson attends Nunavut Sivuniksavut, a school in Ottawa for youth from Nunavut. (Stephanie Cram/CBC)

Nunavut Sivuniksavut is a school in Ottawa where, in an eight month program, Inuit students learn about contemporary issues, land claim history and rights for people from Nunavut.

"Inuit today [who are] 18 or 19-years-old, they grew up with Nunavut being around them," said Melissa Irwin, a teacher of contemporary issues at Nunavut Sivuniksavut.
Melissa Irwin is a teacher of contemporary issues at Nunavut Sivuniksavut in Ottawa. She is also an alum from the program.

"But Nunavut wasn't always there, it was a real fight and a real struggle to get our own territory, there's a long story behind it. Our young people need to hear and learn this story, and understand what we gave up and the challenges that we faced to get to where we are today."

"In order to move forward, you need to understand where you came from."

Jonathan Pitseolak from Pond Inlet, Nunavut is currently enrolled in the program, and says he was most surprised by what he learned about the land claims.
Jonathan Pitseolak from Pond Inlet posing with a classmate from the Nunavut Sivuniksavut school in Ottawa. (CBC)

"I didn't know what my leaders went through … in order for us to get what we wanted, in order for us to be happy, in order for us to do what we want.

"All those struggles they went through in order for us to have a say on behalf of our own environment is a very big deal."

"I would really love to encourage high school students to start learning about what's in the land claims."

Irwin says that in addition to learning about Nunavut's history, the benefit of moving away from home to attend Nunavut Sivuniksavut, is to learn about Nunavut land claim struggles in the city where it all went down.

"When the land claims were being negotiated in the '70s and '80s … our negotiators had to be here [in Ottawa] for months at a time, so it seemed natural for students to come down here and learn about it," said Irwin.

"And I think leaving home for eight months can have an impact on students — learning about themselves, learning about Inuit history, learning about how we're organized politically, and learning about all of our land rights in the land claims agreement — being away from home and learning all of this really fills students with awe."

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