Social Policy

KENNEDY DALSEG – Working Together to Develop a University in Inuit Nunangat

Sheena Kennedy Dalseg, founding editor of Northern Public Affairs, on current efforts to create a university in Inuit Nunangat.

We often hear that Canada is the only circumpolar nation without a university in the Arctic. Although discussions about developing a northern university have been taking place for decades, in recent years there has been renewed interest in the idea by government, Inuit organizations, grass-roots organizations, and academics. These stakeholders recognize the potential social and economic benefits that creating a university could have across Inuit Nunangat. Although access to post-secondary education in Inuit Nunangat has improved, it is still limited.

In 2011, the National Committee on Inuit Education (NCIE) published First Canadians, Canadians First: National Strategy on Inuit Education 2011, which recommends that a university be established in Inuit Nunangat to “build research capacity, expand post-secondary opportunities relevant to northerners, foster a more robust civil society…and act as an economic and cultural engine” (NCIE 2011: 87).

In April 2014, Agnico Eagle announced it would commit $5 million dollars in support of a university in Nunavut. This past December at the Arctic Change conference in Ottawa, Mary Simon, former Chair of the National Committee on Inuit Education, called an Arctic university the “next chapter” in education for Inuit Nunangat. At that same session, Nunavut Education Minister Paul Quassa declared that the Government of Nunavut was prepared to move forward in developing a university in the territory. In his remarks Minister Quassa suggested that “a committee or some other structure” be established to look into the ways and means of establishing a university.

In light of these developments, the Government of Nunavut, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, and a group of ArcticNet researchers from Carleton University and Laval University came together to plan and co-host a workshop the purpose of which was to bring together key stakeholders to discuss and develop a roadmap for the creation of a university in Inuit Nunangat.

The Inuit Nunangat University Workshop was held over two days in Iqaluit in March 2015. Invitations were sent to a wide range of stakeholders across all four regions of Inuit Nunangat – Nunavut, Nunavik, Nunatsiavut and the Inuvialuit Settlement Region. While the majority of workshop participants were from Nunavut, a representative from ITK was present at the meetings representing the four regions. A complete list of workshop participants appears in the report.

The workshop was facilitated by Dr. Karla Jessen Williamson (University of Saskatchewan). On the first afternoon of the workshop opening remarks were made by ITK President Terry Audla and Nunavut Minister of Education Paul Quassa, as well as by representatives from the Iqaluit-based Ilitturvik University Society, and the members of the organizing committee. I gave a brief summary presentation on the workshop background paper entitled, Northern University Futures: Working Together to Develop a University in Inuit Nunangat, which was prepared in advance and circulated to all participants. You can access the background paper here.

The second day was divided into four sessions, with participants divided into small groups for each session. Over the course of the two days, many ideas were shared and in general participants realized that there was much common ground to build upon as discussions move forward. The main topics covered during the workshop were:

1. Nature and scope of the university
2. Legislation and guiding principles
3. University governance
4. Place of Inuit knowledge and language(s)
5. Funding and resources
6. Location and land
7. Academics and research
8. Proposed names for the university
8. Next steps

Some of the key themes and recommendations that came out of the workshop were that an Inuit Nunangat University should:

– Be independent from government, Inuit organizations, and industry.

– Aim to serve Inuit students from the four Inuit regions and elsewhere in Canada but that it should be open to and inclusive of all Inuit and other Canadians, as well as other Inuit in the circumpolar north and students from around the world.

– Be rooted in Inuit knowledge and language and enhance and protect Inuit Elders and knowledge holders.

– Strive for academic and research excellence and enhance human capacity.

–Promote connections and collaboration across Inuit Nunangat and between North and South.

– Start small and retain institutional flexibility to learn from experience.

Participants recognized that while the independence of the university must be protected, collaborative and active partnerships with government, Inuit organizations, and private sector stakeholders will be necessary and important to the success of the institution. The university would require a blended public/private funding formula, with contributions from the federal government, the Government of Nunavut, the Inuit organizations, private sector, and foundations.

To read the full report, click here.

On April 29, 2015 Karla Jessen Williamson and I co-led a special session at the Nunavut Sivuniksavut NS@30 Conference held in Gatineau, QC. The purpose of the special session was to share the results of the Inuit Nunangat University Workshop with conference delegates, many of who expressed interest in participating in the ongoing discussions around starting a university in the Arctic. More than 100 delegates, including several of the workshop participants, attended the session and after listening to our brief presentation, delegates were asked to identify some possible guiding principles for the university. These ideas were collected at the end of the session. It was encouraging that the suggestions made by this larger group mirrored, almost exactly, the overarching themes and guiding principles identified by workshop participants in Iqaluit in March.

Leadership from the Government of Nunavut is needed in the drafting of enacting legislation that is in keeping with an independent institution based in Inuit values. Enacting legislation will allow for the formation of various structures, including a Board of Governors and a university foundation, that create a university.

Overall, these recent events have demonstrated the shared commitment of a diverse plurality of people and organizations to the creation of a university in the Arctic. This commitment coupled with political leadership and resources means that an Inuit Nunangat University could become a reality in the very near future.


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