Project 2c

Project Completed, October 2009

Completed Thesis: The meaning of education for Inuvialuit in Tuktoyaktuk, NWT, Canada

Research Team

Raila Salokangas Masters student
Dr. Brenda Parlee
Department of Rural Economy, University of Alberta


This study investigates how the meaning of education has changed for the Inuvialuit in Tuktoyaktuk, NWT, Canada, over a century. This is done by situating Inuvialuit educational experiences in the context of government policies, socioeconomic and cultural changes, and Inuvialuit self-determination. The study found that the meaning of education for the Inuvialuit has been and continues to be: acquiring the means to support a family. A change has occurred from learning "the Inuvialuk way" in the 1930s to "striving for the best of both worlds" in the 1970s to the dream of "becoming whatever I want" in the 2000s. Unfortunately, the dreams that youth have are often cut short.Among other things, the level of engagement in formal education by youth and their families is influenced by the family's past experiences and perceptions of the education system. The study identifies family, community, school, and policy factors that increased student engagement.


This case study explored how the meaning of education has changed for the Inuvialuit in the past 80 years. The study was conducted in the Inuvialuit community of Tuktoyaktuk in 2007 and continues into 2008. The qualitative data sources included community participation field notes from three months field work, transcripts from a youth focus group, as well as interviews with key informants and diverse multigenerational families.

The study found that in the 1930s for the Inuvialuit learning to speak, read and write English was seen as beneficial, but formal education was not considered a necessity. Instead, it was more important for children to learn "the Inuvialuit way of life".

By the 1970s more parents encouraged their children to continue to junior high school or even high school. Youth that had more schooling were able to benefit from wage employment, but also enjoy "the Inuvialuit way of life".

In 2007, education was seen an instrument for economic self-sufficiency, opportunity, security and choices. High school graduation was seen as a means to getting a good job, continuing to post-secondary education, and for some a way out of the small remote community. The reasons why this dream has cut short for most of the students is discussed in the light of family, school and community factors.

Project Description

The goal of the research is to investigate the meaning of education for Inuvialuit youth and their families in the community of Tuktoyaktuk, specifically;
1. How has the meaning of education changed for the Inuvialuit families?
2. How does / has education contributed to social change?
3. How do and could families, school and policy help with student engagement?


The study was guided by indigenous methodology; where research methodologies and theorizing center around indigenous peoples' interests, experiences and knowledge (Rigney, 1999; Smith, 1999). The main aim of indigenous methodologies is to ensure that from indigenous people's view the research is done in a more respectful, ethical, compassionate and beneficial fashion. From a researcher's point of view, this draws the researcher to think critically about their research processes and outcomes (Rigney, 1999).The case study used qualitative methods with the central rationale of gathering contrasting and complementary data on the same themes and issues (Rapley, 2004). The methods include: secondary data, participation in community life, individual thematic semi-directed interviews, and a youth focus group. A case study was chosen first, to have time to form meaningful partnerships with community organizations and people. Second, to be able to get a deeper and more thorough understanding of school community dynamics. Third, to "expand and generalize theories" (Yin, 2008:15) of the meaning of education and student engagement; instead of getting statistical representation of reasons why students get educated. Billson and Mancini (2008) point out that case studies have a series of advantages and difficulties. One advantage of focusing only on one community is that it allows one to see connections between specific and unique historical and current events. Another advantage being that it allows the participants to reflect not only on their personal lives, but also on life in the community without feeling the need to reveal personal accounts that might be sensitive to discuss.


The meaning of education for the Inuvialuit has been and continues to be: acquiring the means to support a family. For the Inuvialuit, the formal education system initially emerged as a tool to support the Inuvialuit in taking advantage of opportunities, especially employment, brought on by modernity and globalization. By the present period, formal education has evolved into a function of pseudo-modernity. Although it would appear as though youth today could become "whatever they want", the expectations of "becoming" created through the education system, community members, media and other voices of globalization are rarely met. The tasking of educational or occupational identities (Bauman, 2001) is cut short by local realities and everyday life in Tuktoyaktuk. As most youth do not graduate from high school, dropping out of high school is considered common, though unfortunate. Thus, it seems that for many dropping out is only one stage in life, not an identity crisis. Some youth are taught by their relatives to live the Inuvialuk way and continue to provide for their families as their ancestors did before them. Women, especially, upgrade at the Aurora College community learning center in Tuktoyaktuk and continue to take a course from Aurora College in Inuvik or Yellowknife. Those that return to Tuktoyaktuk are often hired by the local hamlet or government offices. Men continue to be hired by transportation and oil and gas industries. Mills (2007:71-72) might argue that these occupations have become "new traditions" in Tuktoyaktuk, as they have become more common than or just as common as older traditional occupations (hunting, trapping, housekeeping). Though many of the high school students want to move away from Tuktoyaktuk and realize their global dreams, educational and occupational paths and identities continue to be bound to life, family and economic opportunities available in Tuktoyaktuk.

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