Thinking with Nunangat in proposing pedagogies for/with Inuit early childhood education
University of New Brunswick
For 30 years, centre-based early childhood education (ECE) in Inuit Nunangat has operated with programs largely conceived using models, theories, and practices imported from the South, housed in buildings designed by architects from outside the area, and equipped with materials and equipment ordered from southern catalogues. This imported system, based in Euro-Western conceptualizations of developmentally appropriate practice, perpetuates assimilatory and colonizing processes and disrupts access to Inuit ways of knowing and being in pedagogical practice. This research project was conducted on an understanding that Inuit views of the child and approaches to child care and education are different from southern Canadian / Euro-Western ones. It was conducted on the premise that when ECE is conceptualized from Inuit perspectives, using Inuit languages and grounded in practices meaningful to life in the Inuit community, then the potential for children to acquire the strength-based competence needed to live a good life and be successful learners is substantively supported. It was conducted on the premise that Inuit lands and cultures cannot be reduced to a single knowable equation. This research, which took place in Inukjuak, Nunavik, investigated engaging with nunangat— land, water, and ice—and working with Elders and hunters as a strategy for living with the complexities of Inuit knowledges and the diversities of Inuit cultural and linguistic identities in ECE. The researcher purposefully engaged with nunangat; with Elders, hunters, educators, parents, and children; with willow branches, foxes, grasses, and berries with the intention of accessing and living Inuit knowledges and practices in ECE programs and thereby interfering with ongoing processes of colonization and assimilation. The main method involved engaging with nunangat and working with Elders. Parents provided direction during two meetings, five educator and Elder meetings were held, local materials were prepared and/or made at the centre, 20 excursions took place on nunangat, and 51 learning stories, four short videos, a poster, two booklets, and two children’s stories were made. Thinking with nunangat enabled educators and children to access Inuit knowledge and language and to work in ways informed by Inuit knowledge systems. Funding Elder educator positions in all Inuit centres and increasing opportunities to engage with nunangat pedagogies is a strategy for revisioning educational practice with Inuit perspectives.