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Norwegian exchange

Indigenous education, culture and self-determination in the North

Teaching and Learning

“This is my dream,” Doris Dicker shouted.

A woman holds a long lead line that is attached to a reindeer, outside in the snow.
Doris Dicker participates in the Sokki Reindeer Adventure, Kautokeino, Norway.
Photo: Submitted

She smiled and threw the rope again, lassoing a reindeer. Our Sámi guide harnessed the reindeer to a sled which Doris and the rest of the team learned to drive.

We later gathered around the fire in the lavvu, a traditional Sámi tent, sharing a meal of reindeer stew and listening to Sámi stories and teachings.

We are a group of current and retired educators and scholars who recently travelled to Kautokeino, in the Sámi homeland in northern Norway, for a professional learning opportunity with Sami University instructors and educators.

From April 11–16, the group shared strategies and challenges in integrating Indigenous languages and cultures into teacher education and K-12 learning.

“Knowledge exchanges like this with educators from northern circumpolar groups are so valuable,” says Laila Nutti, Sámi University, Department of Teacher Education. “We don’t need to explain basic things. We understand each other.”

Doris, an Inuktitut teacher, says, “I don’t just teach Inuktitut, I teach students about being Inuk, about our culture, values and worldview.”

‘Like coming home’

As us Canadian educators and scholars spent time with Sámi educators and scholars in the Sámi homeland, we experienced Sámi culture, values and worldview first-hand.

Kautokeino felt like coming home; the landscape and big, sunny sky made us think of the “Big Land.” Being on the land with reindeer felt like a return to the past.

“This reminds me so much of when I was a girl,” says Ola Andersen, a retired Inuk teacher, and a doctoral student and research associate at Labrador Campus, Memorial University. “We’ve had a 10-year ban on hunting caribou. They were so important for our culture. We don’t see them anymore at home.”

Three women in a snow machine on a sunny day.
From left are Sarah Townley, Sylvia Moore and Ola Andersen travelling to the Sokki Reindeer Adventure, Kautokeino, Norway.
Photo: Submitted

Another highlight was a visit to the new Sámi elementary and junior high school. The school rector guided us to a shop classroom where students made the knives used by reindeer herders and a cooking classroom where students learn to butcher and prepare reindeer meat.

Off the main hallways, we saw students working in small breakout rooms and lavvo/tent-shaped gathering spaces. Off the main foyer was a rock-climbing wall, staggered bleachers and even a pool, hot tub, and sauna.

“We fought for a new school, like this one, for decades,” said Elisabeth Utsi Gaup, Sámi University. “We didn’t get it in time for our own kids, but our grandkids finally have a school that reflects a learning space for cultural knowledge and traditional academic learning.”

We also visited the Sámi high school where, in addition to an academic program, students have a choice of programs such as reindeer husbandry.

A sign at the high school reminded all of us of the fundamental value of schooling: “The Sámi High School and Reindeer Husbandry School shall prepare Sámi youth to function in a Sámi, Norwegian and international society. The school shall contribute to the strengthening and developing of Sámi identity, language and culture among the Sámi youth.”

“The trip . . . changed our perspectives and gave us new strategies.” — Colleen Pottle

Our time together grew from a Global Arctic Leadership Initiative research project in the Verdde Network, a University of the Arctic Indigenous education network and from a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council-funded project on professional learning for culturally nourishing pedagogies.

It was further supported by the University of Winnipeg and the Torngat Wildlife, Plants, and Fisheries Secretariat. Four Sámi instructors from the Sámi University of Applied Sciences visited Labrador in June 2022; seven educators participated in this visit to Kautokeino.

The initiative promotes relationship building and facilitates an exchange of knowledge within the northern network.

“The trip was inspiring,” said Colleen Pottle, an Inuk educator. “It changed our perspectives and gave us new strategies.”

Two people in a classroom with Indigenous language imagery on the wall.
From left, Sarah Townley and Marikaisa Laiti, learn about the Sámi Reindeer Husbandry program at the Sámi High School, Norway.
Photo: Submitted

From our Canadian perspectives, the Sámi have overcome in the struggle we share: to assert Indigenous rights, developing an Indigenous-centred educational curriculum and interweaving traditional, land-based knowledge with academic, classroom-based skills.

“We can’t go back and do nothing,” said Shannon Dicker, and Indigenous program specialist and Inuk primary teacher. “We need to be change-makers. We have learned to question when we are told that we cannot do something that we know is best for our students.”

‘Visions of what is possible’

The foundation for bringing change will be further strengthened as Ola, Shannon, and Colleen will all begin graduate studies this month in the Arctic and Subarctic Futures Program at the Labrador Campus.

As educators, we know the value of learning through lived experience which includes learning about the similarities as well as the differences in the peoples and places.

The vision of preparing Sámi and Inuit youth for the responsibilities of citizenship in their Sámi and Inuit communities, their nation and the global context speaks to the complex, and therefore challenging, circumstances in which educators now work.

Spending time together, we thought about who we are and how we work, feeling the connections of our overlapping histories, experiences and values, and gaining new visions of what is possible in teacher education, and in K-12 schools.

Seven women smile at the camera outside on a sunny day.
A group selfie to document the experience.
Photo: Submitted

As Sarah Townley, a retired Inuit program specialist, said: Ilonnata takugiuppâjojaukKugut inunginnik kamatsianinginnik, sugusimminiuluak. Nakummek uvattinik kamatsialaugatsi. Puigunialungitavut./“We all saw how well that they treat their fellow people, especially their children. Thank you for your hospitality and we certainly won’t forget our trip.”

Doris Dicker, Shannon Dicker and Colleen Pottle are Inuit educators with the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District in northern Labrador. Ola Andersen and Sarah Townley are retired Inuit teachers. Dr. Shelley Tulloch, professor of anthropology at the University of Winnipeg, and Dr. Sylvia Moore, professor in the School of Arctic and Subarctic studies at Labrador Campus, Memorial University, travelled with the group and authored this article.

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