A proponent of elders and Inuktitut: Allen Aglukkaq nears retirement after almost 40 years of teaching

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Allen Aglukkaq has devoted almost 40 years to the field of education and it will come to an end with his retirement in late May.

Gjoa Haven’s Allen Aglukkaq graduated from the Nunavut Teacher Education Program in 1995 after close to a decade working as a classroom assistant. His accumulated time in the teaching profession is approaching 40 years and he’s retiring at the end of May.
photo courtesy of Allen Aglukkaq

While working at the Northern store in the early 1980s, Aglukkaq received encouragement to apply as a classroom assistant.

“I put my name in and I had an interview and then I got a job the following summer,” he recalls, adding that he maintained that role at Qiqirtaq Ilihakvik – where he graduated high school – for close to a decade.

One day the school principal asked him if he’d be interested in enrolling in the Nunavut Teacher Education Program (NTEP), which he did. He and a dozen peers took courses in Arviat, Rankin Inlet, Iqaluit, Taloyoak and Gjoa Haven.

“It was a challenge,” he says of his return to formal learning.

But he persevered and earned his teaching certification in 1995. He became co-principal and later principal at Quqshuun Ilihakvik back in his home community of Gjoa Haven.

He transitioned to school community counsellor, which is the capacity he still serves in today. He says he has found it fulfilling to assist students in overcoming roadblocks to education.

“I try to help them out as best as I can,” says Aglukkaq.

As he reflects on his career, he recalls a time when attendance was much higher than today.

“Back then, the older people, the elders would have adopted children that were coming (to school). We had to translate report cards so the grandparents could understand what the child was doing,” he remembers.

Inviting elders to share their wisdom in the education system has become more common over his time as an educator, he acknowledges – and teaching staff benefit as well.

“Just recently we had an in-service with the elders here, with the teachers, about Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (traditional knowledge and values),” he says. “We interpreted what they were saying to the teachers and the staff. It was very worthwhile listening to the elders and getting information from them. They like to help people.

“The big (message) was respecting everyone around you. No matter where they came from, you’ve got to respect whoever they are,” he says.

Technological advances

Aglukkaq also seen great advances in technology over four decades. He chuckles as he compares rudimentary hand-cranked “ditto machines” to today’s automated and much more efficient photocopiers.

“But the ditto machines didn’t break down as much as the photocopier machines that we have today,” he points out. “It was a lot easier (to fix) if it jammed.”

Due to his mindfulness of Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit principles, Aglukkaq was also reluctant to give himself credit for enriching the lives of his students.

“As an Inuk, we’re not allowed to boast about ourselves, but some of my former students that are working now, they once in a while tell me they learned how to write in Inuktitut because I was teaching as a classroom assistant and as a teacher,” he says. “Some of them are all grown up and have children now and they can write really well in Inuktitut… I’m happy that some of them have a good job now. I’m happy for them.”

He’d like to see new crops of NTEP graduates emerging as fluent Inuktitut speakers and writers.

“That’s my hope. I’m hoping to see that in the future,” says Aglukkaq. “That would be more helpful for our community… I’m pretty sure that’s the Nunavut goal for all jobs in the communities. It doesn’t have to be the school, it can be any other (government) departments in the community. People should speak in Inuktitut, in their own language.”