Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Around the Arctic May 04, 2015 - 8:00 am

Get moving on a Nunavut university, speakers urge

"Nunavut is on the cusp of robust economic growth"

JIM BELL
James Nasso, the chair of the board of directors that oversees Agnico Eagle Mines Ltd., at the NS @30 conference in Gatineau, Que., this past April 28. (PHOTO BY JIM BELL)
James Nasso, the chair of the board of directors that oversees Agnico Eagle Mines Ltd., at the NS @30 conference in Gatineau, Que., this past April 28. (PHOTO BY JIM BELL)
Mary Simon, the founding chair of the National Committee on Inuit Education said a university for Inuit Nunangat should have an Inuit identity but be operated with others through a form of co-management. (PHOTO BY JIM BELL)
Mary Simon, the founding chair of the National Committee on Inuit Education said a university for Inuit Nunangat should have an Inuit identity but be operated with others through a form of co-management. (PHOTO BY JIM BELL)

OTTAWA — James Nasso, the chair of Agnico Eagle Mines Ltd. and a stalwart believer in building a bricks-and-mortar university for Nunavut, took his message to an audience of Inuit and Nunavut students and education leaders in Ottawa last week.

“It could be a great healing force,” Nasso said, saying he has seen first-hand the extent to which training and education can bring benefits to Inuit.

In April 2014, Nasso injected new energy into the debate over the creation of a Nunavut university when he announced at the 2014 Nunavut Mining Symposium in Iqaluit that Agnico Eagle is prepared to donate $5 million towards a brick-and-mortar Nunavut university.

A year later, Nasso is still evangelizing for the cause. Last week he took his message to NS @30, a three-day conference held at the Hilton Lac Leamy in Gatineau, Que., to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the founding of Nunavut Sivuniksavut.

He told his audience — made up NS alumni, Inuit education leaders from across the Arctic and southern academics — that it’s “a scandal” that Canada stands out as the only circumpolar country without a university based in its Arctic.

And that makes the creation of a university in the Canadian Arctic even more urgent.

“Nunavut is on the cusp of robust economic growth but without a university, it will be hard to take advantage of it,” he said.

Mary Simon, the founding chair of the National Committee on Inuit Education, which in 2013 created the Amaujaq National Centre for Inuit Education, participated on a panel with Nasso, saying she agrees the need for a university is urgent.

And she said existing entities such as Nunavut Sivuniksavut and Nunavut Arctic College must start work now on figuring out how they’ll fit into an Arctic university.

She also said she envisions an institution with an Inuit identity that would serve all of Inuit Nunangat.

But at the same time, it would be open to non-Inuit students from outside the Arctic and exist as an example of Inuit and non-Inuit co-management.

“Inuit have always had a consensus-building culture,” Simon said.

Nasso said that, although he and his company have an obvious interest in helping prepare Inuit for resource development, he said it’s up to Nunavut to decide how to build a university.

“It’s the people of Nunavut who would do it, whatever they create. It would be an Inuit institution,” Nasso said.

Kelly Fraser, a Nunavut Sivuniksavut alumnus originally from Sanikiluaq, asked Simon and Nasso if a Nunavut university would offer a sub-standard curriculum.

She said it’s well-known that Nunavut’s kindergarten to Grade 12 system is “dumbed down.”

“Will the curriculum in the university be dumbed down also?” she said.

Simon said no, and that standards at an Arctic university would be as high as those at any other institution of higher learning.

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