Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

Young People Have a Lot to Say ... with Trust, Time, and Tools: The Voices of Inuit Youth in Nunavik

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

Young People Have a Lot to Say ... with Trust, Time, and Tools: The Voices of Inuit Youth in Nunavik

Article excerpt


A large body of literature has investigated the causes of high dropout rates among Inuit youth in Nunavik. Often driven by a deficit approach, many of these studies portray students as victims of their circumstances with little chance of succeeding under existing conditions. Young people's voices are seldom present in these studies, because research with youth presents very specific challenges.

This article draws from an ongoing three-year participatory research project, informed by critical Indigenous methodologies, on the resilience and school perseverance of Inuit students in Nunavik. It describes ethical issues that have thus far arisen during the research process, as well as the various tools used to engage students, increase their participation and make their voices count. This article is of significance to researchers working with youth in Indigenous and Aboriginal communities, as well as young people of other ethnic, social, cultural, or linguistic backgrounds.

After providing background information on the research project, we describe the ethical guidelines that informed our research methodology. We then look at ethical considerations of doing research with the Inuit youth. Finally, we discuss the advantages and limitations of the tools we used and adapted to ensure the inclusion of young people's voices.

Education in Nunavik: Shifting the Focus to Resilience

Created by the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement in 1975, the Kativik School Board (KSB) has exclusive jurisdiction in Nunavik to develop programs and teaching materials in Inuktitut, English, and French, and to provide elementary, secondary, and adult education in the region's 14 communities. Programs must meet objectives set by the Quebec Ministry of Education, but the content and language levels may be adapted to Inuit second-language learners (Kativik School Board, 2013). Students study in Inuktitut, their mother tongue, from kindergarten to Grade 2. When their children reach Grade 3, parents must choose to place them in English or French immersion. Despite many initiatives and significant changes, there continues to be a major discrepancy between high school completion rates in Nunavik and those in the rest of Quebec. Dropout rates were estimated to be between 80% and 93% in Nunavik, compared to 25% in the rest of the province (Ministere de l'Education du Loisir et du Sport, 2009).

Many studies have examined the situation of youth in Nunavik, their educational attainment and their high dropout rates. The emphasis has typically been on the challenges students face within their communities and the education system. These include the trauma of colonialism and the scars of abusive residential schools (Ives, Sinha, Leman, Goren, Levy-Powell, & Thompson, 2012); high teacher turnover rates (Mueller, 2006); pedagogical practices that are unsuitable for second-language learners (Berger & Epp, 2007; McGregor, 2010; Tompkins, 1998; Vick-Westgate, 2002); and little involvement and engagement of parents and communities in schools (Vick-Westgate, 2002).

The uninterrupted and repeated "single story" of despair, poverty, loss, abuse, and addiction has, in a way, become the story of the Inuit of Nunavik. As Chimamanda Adichie (2009) has eloquently stated, "Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign. But stories can also be used to empower, and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people. But stories can also repair that broken dignity."

Numerous Aboriginal and Native scholars have criticized the deficit approach of Western-centric research practices (Kovach, 2009; Smith, 2012; Tuck, 2010). Tuck (2009) refers to the persistent trend in research on Native communities as "damage-centered research," which "intends to document peoples' pain and brokenness to hold those in power accountable for their oppression" (p. 409). However, she warns that this type of research "reinforces and reinscribes a one-dimensional notion of [Indigenous] people as depleted, ruined, and hopeless. …

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