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Bravo to lifetime Inuktitut teacher

Casey Lessard
Northern News Services
Published Monday, December 12, 2011

Lacking the self-confidence and patience to teach children, Daisy Dialla twice rejected the idea she could teach Inuktitut. However, 35 years and generations of students later, the Pangnirtung Language Specialist recently became one of the first Inuktitut teachers to retire.

NNSL photo/graphic

In Pangnirtung, they didn't just say "Bravo" to retiring Inuktitut teacher Daisy Dialla; they gave her a Yamaha Bravo snowmobile on Oct. 28. Dialla retired in June after 35 years of teaching Inuktitut, becoming one of the first Inuktitut teachers to retire. - photo courtesy of David Kilabuk

"I didn't think I'd have patience to teach students because I was short-tempered," Dialla said, recalling how she was asked to interview for the job, "but the third time (a member of the Pangnirtung Education Committee) asked me, I agreed."

Dialla started as a casual Inuktitut teacher, but funding ran out.

"I had to wait until they got more money to rehire me. That's how it was run back then."

That funding came, and in 1979 she was hired as a permanent Language Specialist.

With one school in Pangnirtung and almost exclusively non-Inuit teachers, Dialla taught Inuktitut to all grades. Today, students take classes using the Inuktitut language, but at the time, students could only take classes learning the Inuktitut language.

"The most rewarding thing that I've felt is when my former students thank me for teaching them how to read and write Inuktitut properly," she said, expressing her thanks for them in return. "I often think it's pointless thanking people after they have passed on. I am thankful that they've thanked me while I am still living."

Throughout her long career, Dialla has taught many students, many of whom are now grandparents.

"Quite a few of my former students now have good jobs," because they know Inuktitut, she said. "I find it very rewarding."

After all those years, she deserves some rewards. One of them is time to relax and sew or knit, enjoying what she calls "my time."

Another reward came on Oct. 28, when she returned from a little "my" time digging for clams and was asked to come to the school for a gathering celebrating her retirement.

"I was super tired," she said, "but I went. Once I got there I was given a plaque from the Nunavut government for my 30-plus (years of) service as a teacher."

But that wasn't all. After speeches by Cathy Lee and Meeka Alivaktuk, Dialla was handed a ball of yarn.

"Meeka told me to wind the yarn and find out what's at the end of the yarn. I started winding the yarn, and at the end of the yarn was a key. When I walked up to them, Meeka told me 'this key will start a brand new (Yamaha) Bravo that is parked outside'. I instantly got a lump in my throat and almost started crying. I didn't expect such a big gift."

Dialla, who continues to travel extensively promoting the Inuktitut language, plans to use the snowmobile for a spring fishing trip to Avataaqtuuq. Now she has the freedom to do so.

"In so many years, I haven't totally relaxed. Work and family always came first. Now I don't have to look at the clock to see what time it is."

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