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Seeking answers

Two Inuit women embark on educational – and life-changing – journey

Teaching and Learning

By Nora Daly

It wasn’t just a program, or just a degree.

It was an answer.

At the ages of 36 and 50, respectively, Doris Boase and Tracey Doherty began a five-year Inuit bachelor of education (IBED) program in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

Both felt their Indigenous identity was not fully, consciously being lived. Both were discouraged. And both left their homes (Ms. Boase left Hopedale, her partner and two young children; Ms. Doherty moved back to Labrador from Calgary) to begin a degree most start in their late teens or early 20s.

The first of its kind

The IBED program, the first of its kind, was offered by Memorial’s Faculty of Education in partnership with the Nunatsiavut Government, designed for the Labrador Inuit educational context, and delivered at the Labrador Institute.

The Labrador Inuttitut Training Program ran concurrent with the education program, meaning students graduated with both an education degree as well as an Inuttitut language proficiency certificate. The IBED program indigenized teacher education and was specifically relevant to the Inuit culture.

The IBED class poses for a group picture on the day of their graduation.
Photo: Rich Blenkinsopp

More than a degree

Prior to beginning the program in 2014, Ms. Boase worked as a community liaison officer for Amos Comenius Memorial School in Hopedale. She was taking a community studies program, but gave it up.

She says she was discouraged, felt she had failed her family and thought she would never be able to complete post-secondary education.

But then she heard through the grapevine that an education program was going to be offered in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. She says she never would have contemplated travelling to St. John’s to do it.

“So many times we wanted to throw in the towel.” — Doris Boase

Ms. Doherty’s path to the program was a little more circuitous. Born in Labrador, the great-great-grandchild of author Lydia Campbell of Sketches of Labrador Life fame, she and her parents left Labrador when she was a baby.

In the ensuing decades she lived in Calgary, Edmonton, Fort McMurray and Vancouver, among other places. She returned to Labrador from ages 8-14, and returned again as an adult from 1997-98.

Awareness of her Inuk identity would ebb and flow over the years. The experience of dealing with a cancer diagnosis in 2014 spoke to her about living her dream to return to an Inuit community to understand more about herself, family, community and culture.

Their journey begins

In the fall of 2014 Ms. Boase, Ms. Doherty and 15 others embarked on their educational journey in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

With their degrees now in hand — both women collected their degrees during spring convocation ceremonies in St. John’s last month — Ms. Boase is teaching Inuttitut to Grades 7-9 back in her hometown, and says it’s everything she wanted it to be and more.

She is also teaching Inuttitut to her children Gavin, 16, and Marcel, 12. According to Ms. Boase, Marcel is a natural.

“I seek to make meaning in my life, and to help our Indigenous community to share the voices of its people.” — Tracey Doherty

She insists that her partner and children deserve half the degree, but credits the relationship with her peers and instructors for her perseverance and success.

“So many times we wanted to throw in the towel,” she said, but it was their support that helped her stay with it.

Tracey Doherty is “hooded” during convocation ceremonies in St. John’s.
Photo: Submitted

Ms. Doherty now lives and works at the school in the NunatuKavut community of Norman Bay.

She is what is known as “sole charge” – principal and teacher, teaching all subjects, including Inuttitut.

She is “happily struggling” with her first professional assignment.

“I seek to make meaning in my life, and to help our Indigenous community to share the voices of its people and so educate our youth,” she said.

Shared experience

The Indigenous women have more in common than their Inuit culture. They are throat singing partners. They both contributed interactive lessons about Nunatsiavut and its people as part of the Canada C3 Digital Classroom.

Both lost their mothers – Ms. Boase during the program and Ms. Doherty in 2013. And both agree their post-secondary education was more than a career move; it was a life-changing decision that is helping them better connect with the values honed through generations of Inuit in Labrador.

Dr. Sylvia Moore, assistant professor at the Labrador Institute and lead on the IBED, agrees that the program was more than just an educational opportunity.

“This partnership with the Nunatsiavut Government is an example of Memorial University’s work with Indigenous governments in the province,” she said. “Such collaboration, particularly in teacher education, is crucial in reconciliation and the calls to action of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.”


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