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Prepared for the National Committee on Inuit Education

Frances Abele and Katherine Graham

March 24, 2010

Introduction and Scope of the Research on Inuit
Curriculum and
Teaching Approaches

This paper presents the results of a literature review on Inuit
centred curriculum and
teaching approaches. An annotated bibliography of the 53 Canadian and international
sources that formed the basis for this review is
appended. The bibliography is a sub
set of
over 200 sources compiled on bilingual education, post
secondary education and Inuit
centred curriculum and teaching approaches. This report highlights the predominant
themes in the literature and summarizes key s
ources on this last topic.

The literature on Inuit
centred curriculum and teaching approaches has largely emerged
over the past twenty years. It has developed within and alongside a larger literature on
Aboriginal education that has focused on curriculum
and teaching. This literature has been
developing in Canada and internationally, including in the circumpolar North. We have a
found are relatively large body of literature on Inuit
centred curriculum and teaching
approaches, especially relative to that on

secondary education. A considerable amount
has been written by individuals with experience as educators in Inuit Nunaat

some of this
emerging in the form of Masters’ theses or doctoral dissertations. Much of the literature
focuses on Nunavut and Nu
navik, while some reports on the Alaska case. There is nothing
specific on Labrador and only one source that deals with Inuvialuit education in the NWT, a
case study of the changing meaning of education and attachment to formal schooling in
Tuktoyaktuk (Sa
logangas 2009). Most of the literature consists of one
time observations,
rather than systematic longitudinal study.

Our review revealed three dominant themes in the literature concerning Inuit
curriculum and teaching approaches:

The importance of
understanding the broad social and economic relations which
shape curriculum;

Analysis and recommendations regarding pedagogy for Inuit
centred teaching and
curriculum; and


We would like to acknowledge the helpful research assistance of: Sheena Kennedy,
Clarissa Lo, Teevi Alooloo Mackay and Chris Turnbull. They conducted bibliographic
research and provided annotations of key sources.


Policy and governance issues affecting Inuit
centred curriculum and teaching.


of these will be discussed in turn. This is followed by a discussion of gaps in the
research. The paper concludes by identifying some implications of the literature reviewed
and apparent gaps for practice and for policy.

Literature on the Broad Social a
nd Economic Relations that Shape Curriculum

There is considerable literature on the importance of understanding the broad social and
economic context in which schooling occurs and in which curriculum becomes established.
In the broadest context, this lite
rature is (understandably) rooted in the quest for renewed
determination. It analyzes the history of the North and Northern education. It situates
Inuit in colonial and in transformative states. The colonial state is generally characterized
by loss o
f Inuit control over education and replacement of traditional education within
based delivery and Euro
centric curriculum and teachers. Watt
provides an excellent description of this process:

People and decisions from far away places
began to have more impact on our lives
than the people around us and the disciplines of the land that we knew and
understood….seeing that we did not have schools, people from the south concluded
that we needed them. The idea of institutional learning was n
ew to us, and it was
difficult for many of our people to understand and appreciate. However, if schools
would help prepare our children for the changes they were facing, then most parents
were willing to let their children be educated in the southern way.
For those not
willing togo this route, the government held back family allowance cheques, making
it difficult for parents to feel they had any choice in the matter.” (Watt
2000, pp.114

Cloutier’s description fits squarely in the broader Canadian and international
literature regarding the legacy of colonialism in Indigenous education and the need to
regain control over education (often termed, ‘decolonizing’ education)as a first and
fundamental step in improving the situation of Indigenous peoples. The website

provides a good list of sources related to
decolonization and indig
enous peoples. Other sources focusing on the Canadian case
include Chance (1973), Brant Castellano, Davis and Lahache (2000), Rasmussen (2001) and
Binda and Calliou(2001).

Within this body of work, we find some nuanced ideas about transformation to a new
curricular foundation. For example, Watt
Cloutier suggests caution in rejecting the “rigour”
of southern education methods and curriculum. Concurrently, she warns against conceiving
of traditional education as “crafts.” She writes of a model of education
that treats
community needs (“self
government; culture preservation and development; and
development of community and regional infrastructure”) and personal needs (“self
management skills; heritage skills; global cultural access and analytical skills; and
community and economic skills”)as essential and inseparable to achieve renewed self

Kanu has looked at efforts to de
colonize curriculum in a comparative context. Her analysis
focuses on the construction and self
identification of “the other” i
n the Eurocentric context


of dominant curricular content and delivery. Looking at Aboriginal people in Canada (2003),
she proposes a model of curricular reform that focuses on “hybridity” or creating a “third
space” that embodies fluid, pragmatic and mult
iple power relations, unlike the relations of
Canadian domination.

Literature on Pedagogy

There are three basic clusters of literature on pedagogy and the school experience. The first
focuses primarily on teachers and curriculum developers. The seco
nd deals with learners.
The third cluster focuses on the whole school and the relationship between the school and
the community. Each cluster will be discussed in turn.

Teachers and Curriculum Developers

The literature that focuses primarily on teachers a
nd curriculum developers deals with the
formative influences on teacher behaviour, on classroom needs and on the need for
teachers to be aware of the impact of different types of curricular materials.

Bleese (1997) examines Aboriginal teacher experiences
in the Northwest Territories. She
finds that Aboriginal teachers who have had significant socialization and cultural
development in their own cultures are more likely to incorporate traditional practices, as
well as perceptions and attitudes when developin
g their classroom learning environment
and curriculum. She argues that the learning environments and approaches used by these
Aboriginal teachers should be incorporated into teacher training for both Aboriginal and
Aboriginal teachers.

Wilson (2003)
focuses on the transformation of traditional knowledge in the academy,
culminating in some acceptance in academe of the value of indigenous perspectives. His
analysis of the three stages of development in an indigenous research paradigm is
generalized but
is relevant to the type of research that underlies curriculum development.
They are: stage 1

Indigenous researchers are forced to separate their indigenous and
academic lives due to conflicting world views; stage 2

marginalization of indigenous world
ews within the academy; and, stage 3

awareness of indigenous world views and some

Berger (2007) focuses on Qallunaat teachers. He attempts to define “caring” behaviour by
Qallinaat teachers. In his view, this requires systemic change to Inui
t control over the
education system. More specifically, he argues that Qallinaat teachers should be informed
by Inuit and become committed advocates for Inuit and Inuit
controlled education. This
represents a “caring” model of Qallinaat teacher behaviour.

Looking at classroom needs, the literature, once again, is dominated by arguments for a
holistic culture
centred approach. Berger and Epp 2006 discuss the dangers of using
Qallinaat teaching strategies that may be “effective” but are counter to Inuit cul
ture and
tradition. They explore two specific practices: the use of strict discipline codes and praise
and reward systems. They argue that these techniques may achieve the desired outcome on
the surface but, depending on one’s cultural perspective, may be
interpreted differently or
lead to undesirable or unintended consequences. They also found that Elder and parental
involvement in schools has a positive impact on finding cultural balance. They conclude that
until there is Inuit control over education in N
unavut, teachers and administrators must


approach all aspects of teaching, from curriculum choices to classroom management and
discipline with caution and openness. Looking specifically at the curriculum of management
programs in Nunavut, Wihak (2005) asse
rts the importance of involving Elders and
incorporating traditional knowledge into management curriculum. She sees benefits in
terms of student learning and cultural appropriateness.

Finally, there is a literature that deals with the strengths and pitfal
ls of using different types
of materials in the Inuit
centred curriculum. Specifically, Iseke
Barnes and Sakai (2003)
suggest caution in using Internet texts as curricular material, even when they are Inuit
focused. They argue that such texts may perpetuat
e stereotypes and inadequately deal with
cultural losses of Inuit and the value of cultural knowledge. At a minimum, they argue that
educators have a responsibility to mediate distance
learning materials. The issue of open
anddistance education is very cen
tral to education in the circumpolar Arctic. The
International Review of Open and Distance Learning

is currently soliciting for a special
edition, “Frontiers in Open and Distance Learning in the North.” This initiative may well
provide useful material. (se


The literature that focuses primarily on learners includes results of ethnographic and social
psychology research, as well as development of curricular models and techniques with
assessment of their imp
acts on students. Much of this work focuses on students at the
elementary level.

Clifton and Roberts (1988) examined the social psychology dispositions and academic
achievement of Inuit and Non
Inuit students at the elementary school level. They found tha
Inuit students scored lower with regards to their social attitudes and self
concept than non
Inuit students. This finding led them to suggest that teachers create personalized classroom
environments to positively affect these two dimensions and thereby e
nhance academic
achievement among Inuit students.

Brophy and Crago (1992) undertook an ethnographic study of Inuit classroom
interactions and discourse patterns in selected Inuit
taught Kindergarten and first grade
classrooms in Ungava. Their work
reports the positive transformational effects of the
incorporation of culturally
congruous social interaction patterns and the promotion of
traditional values in students’ classroom conversations. Similarly, Greenwood, Leeuw and
Fraser (2007) argue that ea
rly child education for Aboriginal children in Canada should be
the focus as the pre
cursor to further educational attainment. They link early childhood
development to a range of factors, including community support, parental involvement,
health, nutrition

and language.

Kort and Reilly (no date) focus on the general emotional state of students. They develop a
learning model for pedagogy in developing nations. This model (The Emotion Model) is
intended to relate to the phases of learning that reflect the em
otional state of students and
the ups and downs of learning as students move from a state of anxiety to one of confidence.
Again, this model focuses on elementary students. Iseke
Barnes (2008) looks at the specific
responses of Aboriginal students to activ
ities that are explicitly intended to help them
understand the systemic structure of colonization. She concludes that it is important to
engage students in Indigenous pedagogies so that they can then find support for the
transformative understandings of In
digenous literatures and develop opportunities and
strategies to decolonize education.


Looking at learners, the findings of the multi
year study of e
learning in selected coastal
Labrador communities by Philpott, Sharpe and Neville (2008) were somewhat in

contrast to
those of Barnes and Sakai. Philpott et al. found that high school students found the
curriculum content and e
learning mode of delivery beneficial. Benefits included less
isolation, as a result of on
line connections with students in other co
mmunities, and a sense
of personal achievement, as curriculum was mastered.

Finally, there is a literature on specific efforts to develop Inuit
centred curriculum. Dicker,
Dunbar and Johns (2009) discuss the collaboration between two linguists and a teach
er in
the Labrador public school system to develop a database of stories for teaching of Labrador
Inuktitut as a second language. They describe the generally positive results of this
collaboration and assess the potential of wide dissemination of this data
base using distance
learning techniques. Joan (2006) provides an example in the literature of a case study on
the impact of culturally responsive curriculum on student behaviours. In this case, the
subjects were teachers in the Nunavut Teacher Education Pr
ogram. They were asked to
peer teach a musical activity that adapted some of the concepts, materials and skills of Inuit
culture. Students responded with materials that revealed a connection to the land in ways
not seen in Eurocentric curriculum, contribut
ing to a corpus of useful curriculum tools.

The Whole School and the Relationship between the School and the Community

The literature on Inuit
centred curriculum and teaching that focuses primarily on the
broader interaction of schooling and the community

presents general models of
based education (Lee 2007) and more focused experience in northern
communities (Okakok 1989, Douglas 1994, Douglas 1999).

Lee (2007) argues that community
based programs are a way of achieving Indigenous self
ation in education and returning to traditional Indigenous education approaches.
She uses a Community
based Education Model (CBEM) to demonstrate the positive effect on
students in terms of engaging them academically and making connections to their realiti
and home communities. For her, CBEM is a model that attempts to stimulate students
inmath and science through a focus on their application to Indigenous government and
community. Applying her model to Canada, she focuses on land
based education. Her cas
studies of CBEM in the U.S. and Canada lead her to the conclusion that education should
reflect community concerns and issues and be relevant to students. She attributes increased
interest and motivation among students receiving their education through a

CBEM. Their
cultures and values were validated by education controlled by and reflective of their home
communities. Further, they expressed interest in higher education.

Okakok (1989) reports on innovations that occurred in Inupiat education in the North

of Alaska following the Alaska claims agreement in the 1970s. The innovations and
struggles that occurred were on many levels but she does deal with a number of initiatives
at the community level, including: enabling community members to act as teac
hers in the
classroom, fostering one
one learning experiences, nurturing individual interests and
using them in practical roles in the community, inclusion of cultural activities and parental

Douglas (1994 and 1999) offers a snapshot view
of the relationship between the
community and the school in Arctic Bay over a five
year period. Her 1994 article reports on
the transition to more locally managed education in the community. She argues that one


important result was the expansion of “formal

schooling” beyond classroom values and
practices to include relationships at all levels of the community. In 1994 she observed that
increased Inuit input had created a cultural rapport, enabling two
way transaction between
culture and education in Arctic
Bay. She suggests that integrating Inuit values and practices
into the school system seems possible. Her 1999 review of the situation in Arctic Bay is a
little more sobering. She concludes that Inuit have been able tomaintain their basic social
n, based on kinship traditions, in the community. However, social and inter
relational experiences learned by younger Inuit contradict some of the tradition
activities and responsibilities that Inuit adults are asked to perform at school. She conclud
that school, and its socialization processes, increasingly impinge on the values, social
relations and cultural practices of the community.

Literature on Governance Issues Affecting Inuit
centred Curriculum and

The literature on policy and g
overnance issues in this area emerges at many levels. First is a
literature that focuses on government performance in according Indigenous peoples control
over their education, thereby enhancing the cultural relevance of curriculum and teaching.
there are related analyses of the broader conditions that have enabled Indigenous
control over education. A third stream of literature emphasizes needs related to the policy
and governance capacity required to bring about improvements in realizing Inuit
education objectives. Finally, there is a literature on standards and approaches to
evaluation of performance in realizing culturally responsive education. This last cluster is
distinct from that focusing exclusively on government performance, as its

focus extends to
students, educators, schools and communities.

In 1986, the OECD undertook a comparative review of the education of linguistic and
cultural minorities in member countries. It focused on statistical indicators of academic
attainment and so
economic status across member states as measures of governments’
performance in the education of linguistic and cultural minorities (Churchill 1986). More
recently (2006), the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and Research and Analysis Directorate of the
ment of Indian Affairs and Northern Development collaborated on a study of the
gains made by Inuit in northern and southern Canada in formal education and school
attendance from 1981 to 2001. This review found that there was improvement in
educational atta
inment among Inuit students attending school in both the north and south.
However, educational attainment in the north lags behind, a finding which the report
attributes to “factors such as curriculum and learning environments that were not always
ly appropriate, as well as lack of access to post
secondary institutions in the north.”

Battiste (2002) concentrates on generally applicable policy prescriptions for the federal
government concerning Indigenous education reform. She argues for an e
mphasis on
language vitality and true understanding and attribution of value to indigenous knowledge.
Her report recommends 23 initiatives for the federal government related to Indigenous
education reform.

This focus on the government “story” is enriched
by research concerning Sami educational
initiatives in Norway. Todal (2003) looks at the achievement of a Sami
specific curriculum


in Norway. He argues that there were two main developments that enabled this to occur:
the rise of an international movement
enhancing the articulation and realization of minority
rights and autonomy and the willingness of the Norwegian government to take a new
approach. In terms of the international dimension, Todal argues that the relationship of the
Sami with other Arctic ind
igenous peoples was most significant in terms of its political
impact at home. These relationships fostered development of educational institutions and
research centres across the Arctic that have contributed to knowledge generation, the rise
of policy net
works and indigenous control over education for the Sami.

Roland (1993) also looks at the Sami case. She argues that a key driver of changes to Sami
education were the “top
down” actions of the Government of Norway and the Sami elite.
Specifically, they
coalesced to form a task force to determine whether specialized Sami
teacher’s training was warranted. The task force found this to be necessary. Significantly, it
was re
constituted a number of years later to review progress and argue for a re
to Sami teacher training and the systematic study of Sami culture.

In contrast, Rasmussen (2009) looks at the Nunavut case. He asks: why does Nunavut still
lack an Inuit
centred school system and what can be done to make this happen? He argues
that neithe
r the federal government nor the Government of Nunavut have fulfilled their
obligations regarding education under the Nunavut Land Claim Agreement (NCLA). The
federal government receives criticism for reducing expenditures on northern teacher
training. He
concludes that the GN has not adequately involved NTI and the regional
organizations in matters related to education. Rasmussen offers a number of specific policy
prescriptions including: establishment of an Inuit teachers union; focusing on core
al programs and bilingualism, as a means to tackle high dropout rates; and
revision of the Education Act.

Isherwood, Sorenson and Colbourne (1986) take a more localized focus on governance
issues to ensure Inuit
centred curriculum and teaching. They foc
us on capacity
examining the state of school board governance in the Baffin and the first efforts to train
Inuit leaders to be effective school board members. Requisites for school board
effectiveness were thought to include: an understanding of
the role of the school board and
the formation of educational goals and policies.

The final theme of the governance literature on Inuit
centred curriculum and teaching
concerns approaches to evaluation. The Alaskan Native Knowledge Network (1998)
ed a set of standards for culturally responsive schools that was adopted by the
Assembly of Alaska Native Educators. These are cultural standards and are rooted “in the
belief that a firm grounding in the heritage language and culture indigenous to a parti
place is a fundamental prerequisite for the development of culturally
healthy students and
communities. “ These standards were meant to compliment, not replace, standards set out
by the Alaska State Government. The objective is to foster a connection

between learning
inside and outside of school; and to teach/learn

culture, rather than

it. The
standards applied to five target groups: culturally
knowledgeable students (5 standards);
responsive educators (five standards); a cult
responsive curriculum (five
standards); a culturally
responsive school (six standards); and a culturally
community (six standards).

The Alaskan Native Knowledge Network is one of a series of Rural Systemic Initiatives
implemented in the

U.S. The main focus is on place
based education, rather than indigenous


education, although the Navajo have been involved in one, as well. The Alaska Native
Knowledge Network initiative came to a formal end in 2005. We have not found any
independent acade
mic study that evaluates it. There are consultant reports on the progress
of implementation at different stages.

Gaps in

1. Few engineers

Beginning with its roots in the literature on decolonization, the research on Inuit
curriculum and
teaching has a consistent theme

there is a need for more local Inuit control
over education and for more teaching and curriculum that is focused on Inuit language and
culture. Despite this consistency, there is very little discussion of
alternative models

governance and administration for education in the Inuit north. Little attention is paid
means of maximizing existing financial resources to achieve more Inuit
focused education
in any northern jurisdiction. There is little thought given to appropriate

roles and
relationships between schools, community and territorial/provincial governments in
setting education policy, developing curriculum and in teacher training, recruitment and
retention. The future role of the federal government also remains largely


Judging from the literature alone, one would assume substantial consensus about abstract
goals (no one is opposed to decolonization, for example) but evidently little effort has gone
into to consideration of concrete ways and means, given a
realistic understanding of various
practical constraints. There are philosophers, but not engineers.

2. Scant Specific Analysis of Systems and Initiatives
, for Policy Learning

Looking further at the administration of education in Inuit Nunaat, we see no a
nalysis of the
impact of specific events and decisions on the spread and entrenchment of Inuit
curriculum and teaching. For example, over the short term, did division and creation of the
Government of Nunavut have a positive or momentarily distract
ing effect on the
development and dissemination of Inuit
centred curriculum? What has been the impact of
changes in leadership in Departments of Education and school boards? Over the short term,
what has been the impact of establishing high schools in ever
y Nunavut community on the
recruitment and retention of teachers who can teach an Inuit
centred curriculum?

In the formal literature, we found little evidence
based research either to support policy
decisions, as they were being considered or to evaluate
their impact. This type of analysis
may well exist in government, school board and school reports (“the grey literature”) but it
is not readily available. A 2007 national conference on “Sharing our Success: Promising
Practices in Aboriginal Education” did
provide a useful national information exchange and
does have published proceedings (Phillips and Raham 2007).

3. Multiethnicity

A third gap in the research concerns the impact of multi
ethnicity in the school population
on Inuit
centred curriculum and tea
ching. The extent of multi
ethnicity in northern schools
varies significantly from community to community. While the literature on bilingual
education shows support for Inuktitut teaching among Anglophones and Francophones and
Douglas provides us with some

understanding of shifting cultural values in one
Inuit community, there appear to be no studies which look at the dynamics


among students of different origins and the impact of those dynamics on the Inuit character
of schooling.

4. Personne

Finally, we found no research on how to increase the supply of bilingual Inuit teachers, and
how to establish realistic goals. There is a literature on Inuit teacher training programs, but
research on retention of Inuit teachers is lacking. As highly qu
alified people, Inuit teachers
are candidates for many jobs outside of the education field. At the same time, northern
demographics that the need for well
trained teachers will only grow. What might be done to
arrest the brain drain from the educational s
ystem? Are there alternative models of
education that would allow better use of existing community resources in the schools?

Implications for Practice

The literature reveals many experiments and innovations to further Inuit
curriculum and
teaching. In terms of practice:

More should be done to understand the dynamics among schooling, home and


This is obviously a pre
occupation, as it has already been the subject of a
separate literature review. However, it would seem important to

disseminate strong ideas and practices to educators and communities

to students. Aside from the ideas in the Inuit
focused research, the precepts
of the “success by six” (
) initiative,
fostered by United Way organizations in many Canadian communities, bears

Comparative information is key. The literature provides information on apparent
success stories in the circumpolar world

for example, the Sami e


It appears critical to continue to build and use circumpolar networks to
share and develop ideas on the governance of education and on school
practices that might promote Inuit
centred curriculum and teaching and
prepare students for sustainable

adult lives.


There are practices in other jurisdictions that also warrant attention. For
example, in New Zealand, the majority of Maori speakers are youth and a
bicultural model permeates New Zealand society. Although the history
differs from the Canadian

northern context in important respects, there may
be some important lessons from the Maori experience (Tomlins

Implications for Policy

There has been a concerted effort in Nunavut and Nunavik to inculcate Inuit
curriculum and teach
ing into the education system. There have also been initiatives in
Labrador. Looking ahead, we conclude that there remain some basic policy questions to be
addressed. These questions relate to the gaps in research that we have identified. But there
are som
e other implications of the discussion in the literature for policy. We pose these as
questions for the committee to consider:


What are the core principles that should inform Inuit
centred teaching and
curriculum for the future? This question leads to thin
king about desired outcomes
and what curriculum content and modes of delivery will achieve those outcomes.

What changes are needed in current institutional and administrative arrangements
and relationships to achieve these desired outcomes?

What is to be a

What is the best approach, recognizing that there are always constraints, to
ensuring that there are constructive policies and protocols in place for evidence
based evaluations related to Inuit
centred curriculum and teaching approaches?
Given the
literature, we see a need for qualitative and quantitative evaluation that
focuses on policies, organizational arrangements and specific curricular and
teaching initiatives.