The need to read
Bookworms in Nunavut united last week in recognition of Literacy Week and first meeting of the Nunavut Literacy Council

Maria Canton
Northern News Services

IQALUIT (Oct 11/99) - Read for 15 is one component of Literacy Week created from the mind's eye of the northern literacy council.

Although the numbers for the territory-wide effort that see young and old sit down for 15 minutes during celebrations of the printed word have yet to be tabulated, last year saw some 11,000 people in the North reading for 15 minutes.

"The idea is to promote a basic concept of what literacy is. It's also reading street signs or labels, basically understanding the printed word," said Dan Page, literacy co-ordinator/instructor for the Iqaluit Community Learning Centre and treasurer for the Nunavut Literacy Council.

"Anything counts in the Read for 15 because literacy affects people in all aspects of life, without it your access becomes very limited."

During the second week of October, Nunavut recognizes Literacy Week and how it serves to strengthen, inspire and promote the need to read.

"The week is a celebration of what literacy can do for the individual and the health of a community," said Page.

"Literacy is tied to many things in a person's life -- health, poverty, prosperity, unemployment, self-esteem."

Across Nunavut, schools fell silent while students and teachers alike were devouring reading material of their choice last week.

At Kiilinik high school in Cambridge Bay, students not only read for 15 minutes in unison, but also enjoyed workshops conducted by author Barbara Greenwood, who was touring through the Kitikmeot region.

"We are really lucky that she was passing through last week," said vice-principal Judy Cherniak of Greenwood.

"We also had the whole school read together and then spent the rest of the week talking about literacy to create awareness."

Coinciding with Literacy Week was the founding meeting of the Nunavut Literacy Council, held in Rankin Inlet last weekend.

The council laid the groundwork on how it can make increased efforts to be more Inuit specific, as a way of focusing and concentrating on meeting the needs of Nunavut.

Education Minister James Arvaluk, who is a former vice-president of the literacy council and currently a general member, says his department is constantly helping to produce books in Inuktitut and will be working with the council.

"Right now we have more than 200 books in Inuktitut, published through the divisional boards, that are used in our schools," he said.

"We need a lot more, these are very relevant to education."

Arvaluk says people now realize that literacy and education go far beyond numbers and letters, that reading builds a bridge to broader issues of culture, language and environment.

"There is a strong interest and enthusiasm in education today," said Arvaluk.

"And there is evidence that it's getting better."

A positive example is the literacy council's writing contest.

Over the years, the number of story entries has swelled to more than 1,000, arriving by mail in both Inuktitut and English.

Page says guidelines and possibly categories will have to be established in the future, but for this year it remains wide-open.

"We had so many entries that it was almost out of control," he said.

"But that's a good thing, that's what we want. Maybe in the future we'll narrow it down with selection processes at the school level."