Thirty seconds of a conversation with educator Rebecca Hainnu is more than enough time to understand why she is lauded by so many – her energy and will are at once contagious and compelling.
Yet Hainnu, named one of Canada’s 40 outstanding principals by The Learning Partnership Jan. 31, says she can’t believe she was even nominated.
But it’s perfect timing, she adds. This week the principal of Clyde River’s Quluaq School is the instructor leading 16 Nunavut educators through the accredited university certificate in Educational Leadership – specifically Foundations of Transformational Leadership for Nunavut Educators.
The course is entirely in Inuktitut, and it’s the second time it’s being taught – the first time was last July. The Department of Education notes this is the second-known graduate course ever offered in Inuktut to Inuit educators.
But courses like this, which is as rigorous as any found at southern universities and follows University of Prince Edward Island standards, don’t just magically appear.
Hainnu, with collaborator and educator Darlene Nuqingaq, worked on the curriculum over a 15 to 20-year span. It all started when Hainnu was a pregnant summer student working for the Educational Leadership Program long before it was a university course.
To make the course authentic for Nunavut, “it took lots of emails back and forth, lots of teleconferences, telephone calls.” Before developing a course outline, the two read hundreds and hundreds of articles. The course uses about 70.
“Finding Inuktitut articles was very rare, so it involved translations, verifying translations to be understood in multiple dialects,” said Hainnu.
The course outline, the general course description, the learning outcomes and evaluation of the course, expectations for the students, pre-course assignments, and course assignments – all underwent rigorous academic scrutiny.
“Like what you would find in a course delivered in another language,” said Hainnu.
That the course is in Inuktitut means everyone is participating in their first language.
“Nobody in the group who is participating is trying to articulate something in a second language, in a second weaker language to them. All the discussions, all the information, all the presentations are being done in Inuktitut, in their first language, in their dialect. It’s Inuktitut at its best. It’s natural. And it’s very academic.”
That discussions are in Inuktitut, and located in Nunavut, means no superficial discussions with introductions or explanations on Inuit history and the background of Inuit. There is a particular emphasis on culture, educational history, struggles with power and privileges, and the beliefs, values and principles relevant to Nunavut.
The 16 educators come from various communities, and include teachers, learning coaches, language specialists, and vice-principals.
“The discussions are rich and vibrant. They’re filled with hope and ideas. The participants are so dedicated,” she said.
The course includes lots of reading, and writing lots of papers. Hainnu hopes the papers can be published to be used as a future resource. She imagines an academic journal in Inuktitut. And while she values the amazing partnership with the University of Prince Edward Island, she also hopes for a university in Nunavut. She envisions someone in the near future celebrating accomplishing credentials all in Inuktitut.
“I can only dream of a doctorate degree thesis being done in Inuktitut. One of my sisters is currently exploring that option,” she said.
Hainnu remembers when such goals were discussions in meetings, and now she’s taking part in the evolution, and witnessing the dream come to reality – in Inuktitut.
“It’s so empowering,” she said. “I’m sitting in a classroom full of educators with experience, who have gone to residential school, who have lost parents to TB treatment. Our guest speakers the other day were two District Education Authority chairpersons, one with 24 years’ experience, the other with 35 years of experience, and one of them grew up in a snow house. His children went to university, became lawyers and … They’ve seen their own culture change from Inuit nomadic lifestyle to sending out their children to university. It’s so inspiring.”
The best part, said Hainnu, is the children in the community are witnesses.