This coming Canada Day, 21 smiling Inuit women will climb a podium in Iqaluit, the capital of Nunavut, to proudly accept a new “Leadership in Learning” master of education degree.
For the July 1 event, most of these women will wear amoutis, traditional ceremonial parkas. And on many of these amoutis will be an embroidered ulu, an Inuit knife, symbolizing the sharp critical thinking skills these women have honed during their studies.
These graduates, all teachers from across the territory of Nunavut, are the first in their community to receive this new degree. Delivered on a part-time basis over three years, the degree is provided through a joint initiative of the University of Prince Edward Island and the government of Nunavut.
It is, according to the university, the first graduate degree to be offered in the territory. The program is a blend of online courses and face-to-face sessions in either Iqaluit or Rankin Inlet.
Among the graduates will be Lena Metuq, 46, a mother, grandmother and co-principal of Attagoyuk School in Pangnirtung, a tiny hamlet on Baffin Island. Ms. Metuq says the program empowers Native leaders like her to help make education more relevant to their community. “The Inuit have their own language, their own culture, their own way of doing things,” she says. This degree “gives us more of a voice” in helping Native students “gain knowledge and wisdom to be contributing members of their society.”
Like the other graduates, Ms. Metuq is a “striking role model” for her community, says Fiona Walton, a professor of education at UPEI.
While a master’s degree is considered a requirement for leadership positions in many school systems across the country, until now, Inuit were unable to easily access this higher education, says Dr. Walton, who spent 17 years working and researching in the north. “This is going to increase their skill and give them greater confidence.”
Why won’t there be any men on the podium? Dr. Walton believes that in the Nunavut culture, as in many other societies, teaching is viewed as a “maternal role.”
The graduate degree is proving popular. Over 50 people applied for the first program, and there has been “a tremendous demand” for it to be offered again, says Dr. Walton. A second iteration of the program should start next year, she says.