Live radio show from Nunavut unpacks barriers to youth success
"We need to understand why parents can’t be good parents all the time"
What do you get when you bring Iqalungmiut and Canadians together over the radio to talk about Nunavut youth, and how to build them a better future: you get a bunch of good ideas.
National reporter Duncan McCue, a guest host for CBC Radio’s popular Sunday call-in show Cross Country Checkup, was in Nunavut’s capital March 6 to host a live version of the show from Iqaluit’s Anglican Parish hall.
McCue, a polished ringleader, juggled a panel of three Nunavut leaders, an audience of more than 100 residents who made comments from the floor, and calls patched in from Toronto which came from Canadians across the country.
His seemingly benign question — “How do we provide a future for young people in the North?” — fostered a debate which began with education issues and moved through culture, poverty, residential schools, parenting, community programming, housing, jobs and entrepreneurship.
Panelists Jesse Mike, chair of the Nunavut Sivuniksavut board, Nunavut’s deputy premier, Monica Ell-Kanayuk, and Terry Audla, former president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, now president of the Nunavut Housing Corp., began with a critique of Nunavut’s education system, the first barrier to success for Nunavut youth.
“I truly believe more children today in our schools need more mentoring,” said Ell-Kanayuk. “We were formerly a nomadic people and it takes time for us to realize our potential. We need to see more role models.”
Audla talked about the need for parental engagement, to get kids fed and off to school in the morning and to support them in their studies.
But school programs should include a mix of modern and traditional instruction, he added. Parents need to see themselves reflected in the system.
“We still have people who are very traditional who rely on the land and the sea to put food on the table, so we still need to find the right balance,” Audla said.
“We need more history of our own time and our own people,” Ell-Kanayuk said.
Mike agreed that the school system can be alienating for parents, many of whom went to residential schools, distrust the system as a result, and were denied parenting role models themselves.
“How can parents be involved in a system that is so foreign to them?” Mike asked.
“Parents are a huge part, for sure. You raise the children and you teach them to try to stay focused but because of our struggles and many social changes, it’s hard to be parents. We need to understand why parents can’t be good parents all the time.”
But two youth in the audience said that support from parents can often make the difference between whether a child thrives in school or drops out.
Talia Maksagak, a 22-year-old from Cambridge Bay in Iqaluit to serve as a youth ambassador for this week’s Arctic Winter Games, got choked up while holding the audience microphone.
She said children need to feel engaged in, and responsible for, their community wellness, but they need encouragement and support from their families to do so.
Jennifer Williams, 13, an Aqsarniit Ilinniarvik middle school student from Iqaluit, said some kids go home and they don’t even have food to eat.
Adults need to pay attention to those struggling children, she said. “We have to be told that we are confident,” Williams said.
Eventually, the debate drifted away from education toward other hurdles youth face, such as meaningful employment.
McCue invited Iqaluit entrepreneur Cedric Rusike to talk about why he left Yellowknife in 2014 to move to Nunavut. Rusike said he saw economic opportunities and a chance to launch a career.
Rusike, Montreal-born, runs three businesses in town — a cellular phone service as well as security and janitorial services.
He said the small community makes it easy to network and that chambers of commerce and the city’s economic development committee offer much needed support and guidance.
“It’s definitely a welcoming environment,” he said.
Mike said she appreciated Rusike’s comments and added that although the Nunavut government is the biggest employer in town, “you don’t grow up dreaming of working for the government,” she said, drawing laughs from the audience.
Rusike sets a good example for youth because he turns ideas into business opportunities, something young Nunavummiut should try to emulate, she said.
Mike wasn’t fond of other comments though, especially a caller from Winnipeg who suggested some small Nunavut communities are unsustainable and that relocating for work —“migration” he called it — is the answer for unemployed youth.
She said that kind of attitude is to blame for the forced High Arctic relocations that occurred in Nunavut and that in this modern era, “it’s very sad to hear and very unfortunate.”
Some of the biggest applause was reserved for Inuktitut-speaking elder Aimo Muckpaloo who spoke through CBC Igalaaq host Madeleine Alakkariallak because he doesn’t speak English.
Muckpaloo said, through translation, that in order to be successful, young people need to speak Inuktitut and they need to be grounded in traditional skills such as snowhouse-making and sewing.
Then he said outsiders who come to Nunavut to live and work should make more of an effort to learn Inuktitut. Then he handed the microphone back and sat down to rousing applause.