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Elders get certified to help at schools
Innait Inuksiutilirijiit considered school staff and paid accordingly

Emily Ridlington
Northern News Services
Published Saturday, February 5, 2011

IQALUIT - It came from the mouths of the children themselves: "elders are cherished" sang the Aqsarniit Middle School choir at an elders' certification celebration in Iqaluit on Feb. 2.

NNSL photo/graphic

Leetia Tikivik receives a certificate from Premier Eva Aariak for being honoured as an Innait Inuksiutilirijiit on Feb. 2. She leads the culture class at Joamie School. - Emily Ridlington/NNSL photo

The Department of Education recognized five Iqaluit elders for their invaluable contributions to the education system certifying them as Innait Inuksiutilirijiit under s.102 of the Education Act.

"They are experts in their own field and they are passing their knowledge onto future generations," said Premier Eva Aariak.

The elders who received certificates were Sheepa Ishulutaq, Mary Akumalik, Serapio Ittusardjuat, Sinea Kownirk and Leetia Tikivik. As Innait Inuksiutilirijiit (literally translated as 'adults who work with Inuit-related things'), the elders are considered part of the school education staff and get paid through the District Education Authority.

Ishulutaq said in Inuktitut she was very happy and proud.

Ishulutaq was born outside Pangnirtung at an outpost camp called Qimmuiqsuaq. She spends her time at Nakasuk School teaching the children how to make silapaaqs and parkas and talking to the younger generation in Inuktitut.

"They are not very talkative in Inuktitut and we need to see more growth in the language," she said.

Also proud of her are the students at the school including Mary Itorcheak who spoke about Ishulutaq.

"She is like our grandmother and is our friend," Itorcheak.

Ittusardjuat helps in the wood shop at Aqsarniit Middle School; Kownirk plays Inuit games with the students and makes bannock and muffins at Joamie School; and Tikivik, born in 1940 near Pangnirtung at the Illutali outpost camp, shares stories and teaches sewing with the students at Nakasuk School.

This was the first event of its kind and Deputy Minister of Education Kathy Okpik said she hopes there are many more.

Okpik said the department would like to see schools across the territory recommend elders for this certification. The department has $1.6 million to support the use of elders in the schools.

"Money will be allocated by community, is based on school enrolment and each DEA will determine which elders they wish to certify and employ," Okpik said.

Those recommended will be subject to a Criminal Record Check.

Okpik said many schools across the territory are already employing elders but the certification process makes it more official. Having children speak about the role of the elders made the certification event more special, she said.

"You're looking at the impact of the elders with the students," Okpik said.

Nakasuk School student Annie Kootoo talked about the school's youngest elder, Mary Akumalik, who at 51 years old is a strong supporter and promoter of the use of Inuktitut.

Akumalik spends the mornings with the kindergarten students and with the preschoolers in the afternoon teaching them about Inuit culture, sewing, playing string games and singing.

"When we sing in Inuktitut, even though there are little qallunaat, they are reading my lips and they sing with me," she said adding that even the preschoolers understand her.

Akumalik said she is proud of herself and would like to see more elders working in the schools.

"If I can do it, you can do it."

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