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Learning to teach
2012 grads of the community educators program tasked with revitalizing aboriginal language and culture

Laura Busch
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, May 17, 2012

When Aurora College students crossed the stage to receive their hard-earned diplomas and certificates last week, among them was the first group of aboriginal culture and language instructors to be trained in the region for about 10 years.

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Inuvik resident Dwayne Drescher celebrates receiving his diploma in aboriginal language and culture from Aurora College. - Laura Busch/NNSL photo

The program had lofty goals to train a new batch of aboriginal language and culture teachers in order to bring the traditional knowledge of the area to a new generation.

"They are going to be the leaders for revitalization," said Suzanne Robinson, senior instructor of the community educators program in Inuvik. "But also, these students are amazing at reciprocity. There's a generosity, that 'people have helped me, and now I'm going to help the next person,' and that's community life."

Though a similar program was taught at the Inuvik campus 10 years ago, this is the first time it has been offered here as a diploma program, said Robinson.

"The benefits of the diploma is that they gave greater time to language acquisition and some of the other skills that certificate students don't have a chance to work on," she said.

A more concrete goal of the program is to train instructors who will be able to teach in a kindergarten to Grade 12 environment.

While not all their graduates will go on to be teachers, the program focuses on training students to teach others about aboriginal language and culture. Students learn about creating lesson plans, and how the structure of languages work in order to be able to explain them to others.

Rather than teach these skills out of a book, the program focuses on drawing out community resources.

"The whole key is elders," said instructor Debra English. "It's connecting to your environment and on-the-land programming because when teachers study, they don't always know how to make that connection, but these students have that opportunity while they're up here."

Because of this use of local knowledge, the program could not be held as it is here anywhere else. Training instructors to teach the languages and cultural traditions of the Gwich'in and Inuvialuit peoples is especially important because the number of speakers of these languages has been in decline for many years, said English.

Since the program was taught in Inuvik, it took advantage of community elders, who taught the students about bush skills, traditions and their experiences. Much of the hands-on portion of the coursework was facilitated by Barb Memogana, an experienced aboriginal culture instructor who, as Robinson put it, "could kill a polar bear with a paper clip."

While basking in the success of their current brood of graduates, English and Robinson still worry about the future of the program in Inuvik.

Funding could not be arranged to run the program again this fall, but the hope is to arrange enough funding to start another certificate program in the fall of 2013.

"Leadership is very interested in the program running again," said English, adding that the next time around, it may be helpful to the community to focus on early childhood education to take advantage of the new Children's First Centre and help the community reach the goals set by the Aboriginal Student Achievement plan.

Either way, the grads of 2012 are now prepared to take on the daunting challenge of passing their traditional culture on to those who have been disconnected from their heritage.

"It's a revitalization process," said Robinson. "It's also to ensure that schools are inclusive because, for too long, these things weren't part of the curriculum. So students need to see themselves, their families, their communities in school and an aboriginal language teacher is going to be the centre of that leadership in their schools."

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