Pangnirtung has realized many gains in education but new school needed, DEA chair says

by Derek Neary- March 11, 2018

Sakiasie Sowdlooapik has recruited plenty of teachers over the past three decades, and choosing the right ones has reaped a number of benefits.

Sakiasie Sowdlooapik, third from left, presents a certificate to Nigel Qumuaqtuq-Thomas at Alookie Elementary Schoool in Pangnirtung. Sowdlooapik has been involved with the district education authority for more than 30 years. Looking on at left are principal Lena Metuq and teachers Ian McRae and Tasha Sterling.
photo courtesy of Sakiasie Sowdlooapik

As a Pangnirtung District Education Authority member for more than 30 years – the majority of which has been spent as chair – he has conducted numerous interviews and he feels the thorough screening process has paid off. Identifying many “supportive, collaborative, caring educators has made my job much, much easier over the years,” Sowdlooapik said “Without their support, I think I would have been lost many years ago.”

He has also witnessed a changing of the guard, to some extent, during that period as well. More Inuit educators have worked their way into the education system, he noted, and he welcomes further progress.

“I am also a big-time supporter of (Nunavut Arctic College), especially in communities for teachers’ training,” he said.

Much has changed since Sowdlooapik attended federal day school and received lessons in English, he recalled.

“There was very little education about our (Inuit) lifestyle – where we come from and what we do in our daily lives,” he said. “But I think over the years we have supported Inuktitut programs and Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (or, traditional knowledge) programs.”

While Inuktitut has been incorporated within classrooms to a much greater degree, substantial work is still required, according to Sowdlooapik.

Elders have been instrumental in sustaining Inuktitut and introducing it to young students, but “we always get limited funding in that program from the Government of Nunavut. That needs to be more well-supported to maximize the program,” he said.

Growth pressures schools

Pangnirtung faced a major setback when the community’s high school was destroyed by fire in 1997.

“From there we have come a long way to house as many students as we have in high school. However, in the last 10 years student enrolment in this community has grown much larger,” Sowdlooapik said. “Both of our schools are overcrowding now, at the high school level and also at the elementary school level. So we are going to need a much larger facility to accommodate (students) properly.”

There are more than 400 students in a hamlet of approximately 1,500 people, Sowdlooapik noted. Young couples are having more children and seem to be more involved in schools, he said.

The need for a new school “has been on the table for quite some time now, but due to the many schools burning down (such as in Kugaaruk and Cape Dorset) there has been kind of limited funding from capital projects,” said Sowdlooapik. “In the meantime we want to move forward to engage that.”

He added that the buildings don’t only function as places of learning but also serve as secondary recreation centres.

“It’s quite busy and we want to make our children … comfortable and (give them) a homey place,” he said.

Sowdlooapik is also pleased to have input from an elder and from a student council member, who both have designated seats on the Pangnirtung District Education Authority.

“We have supports from each (age) level,” he said.

Sowdlooapik has had six of his own children in the education system, in addition to foster children.

“I wanted to get them better education and try to help out in the school as much as I can with the support of my family and my wife,” he said of his motivation.

As he wrapped up the interview, Sowdlooapik thanked past students and teachers “from the bottom of my heart for all their support, generosity and kindness” and he wished current students well in their studies.

“Listen to the teachers is the most important (thing),” he said. “I also encourage more parents in the community to be involved in the system … without parents’ support I have seen some kids not moving forward.”

“Having a limited education is not the best way of engaging (one’s) future,” he said.

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