MEd student looks at role of traditional Inuit culture in schooling

When Adam Pulpan (BA ’04, BEd ’04) decided to do his master’s degree, he picked the North, a topic for which he had a passion. His love of the Canadian Arctic and its people began four years ago after he was hired to spend a summer in Resolute Bay, NWT, conducting scientific research for York and McMaster universities. While there, Pulpan became interested in the role of traditional Inuit knowledge within schooling. He was invited to do his master’s research in the community of Sanikiluaq and is currently completing his MEd thesis titled “The Role of School within a Remote Nunavut Community: The Relationship of Community and Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit in Education of Youth”.

Right: York master’s student Adam Pulpan (centre) with Inuit children

Pulpan is not Inuit, and does not claim to be an expert on traditional knowledge. Instead, he hopes that his work will may have a positive influence on education in northern Canada. He went to Sanikiluaq to see how Inuit language and traditions are integrated into the program at Nuiyak School.

“The most important purpose of my research is to add useful knowledge to ongoing endeavours to improve the education of Nunavut youth,” said Pulpan. “The objective of my research is to add an understanding of the role of the school within a remote community of Nunavut and to better understand how Inuit Quajimajatuqangit is used in teaching”.

The government of Nunavut defines Inuit Quajimajatuqangit as “embracing all aspects of traditional Inuit culture including values, world-view, language, social organization, knowledge, life skills, perceptions and expectations”. It also informs official governmental policy and underlies the educational philosophy in Nunavut schools.

Pulpan hopes that his research will inform how schools can be seen as a hub for renewing Inuit culture. Schools in the community, he says, can integrate ways of teaching traditional Inuit skills and cultural lifestyle into their curriculum. The integration of learning these traditional skills, such as tool making, craft making and hunting, would not only have an effect on the economic sustainability of communities in the North, but would also re-establish the importance of traditional Inuit knowledge passed on through the generations by elders to young people.

Pulpan’s research consisted of a number of face-to-face conversations with community elders, teachers and parents about the role of community and Inuit Quajimajatuqangit in education,including taped interviews and daily school visits. All of this conformed to the requirements established by the community. “As an outsider, I am determined to ensure that both my methods and research remain ‘respectful and useful’ to Inuit culture,” said Pulpan.

The final results of his dissertation research will be shared with the communities through Nuiyak School, Hamlet Council of Sanikiluaq and the Nunavut Department of Education. “It is my hope that the results of this study will contribute useful knowledge to ongoing endeavours to improve education for youth in remote communities in Nunavut,” said Pulpan. “Research into the inter-generational ties between traditional knowledge, elders and youth in remote areas of Nunavut can help to highlight the significance of schools to the communities they serve, and the best practices of meaningful education for Nunavut youth in the 21st century.”