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Defenders for Human Rights
Mary Simon

Mary Simon Cultural Identity and Education

GRADE LEVELS = 7 to 12  /  SUGGESTED TIME = Five 60 minute class periods

Preparatory Set

  1. What do students already know or think they know about the Inuit in Canada?
  2. Enhance the students’ knowledge of Mary Simon by viewing and discussing one of the following videos. As students are viewing the video(s), ask them to reflect one or more of the following questions:
    1. What challenges is Mary Simon talking about?
    2. What is her view on the education of Inuit students?
    3. What is her view on Artic Sovereignty?
    4. What is her view on cultural identity?

Full (extended) Interview: Mary Simon by George Strombolopolous. An excellent interview that offers insight into the Inuit People, their challenges, their solutions, and their culture.

Mary Simon and Peter Mansbridge on Inuit Education. A discussion between Peter Mansbridge & Mary Simon regarding Inuit education that was not included in the "on air" version of the Peter Mansbridge One on One interview.

ITK President Mary Simon in the House of Commons. Mary Simon’s response to the Government of Canada’s apology to residential school students.

Mary Simon CBC The Hour Interview April 13, 2012. This segment speaks to the important issues, including Arctic Sovereignty, that Inuit peoples have to face on an ongoing basis.

Activity 1

The Inuit have experienced massive changes to their ways of life in the last century leading to myriad challenges.

  1. Divide the class into six groups and have each group research one of the six following changes, focusing on:
    1. Immediate and longer term implications and repercussions for the Inuit
    2. How these changes affect Inuit rights, referencing the legal instruments section of this lesson plan.
  2. Each group will then share their knowledge through a class presentation.

Forced Relocation

Traditionally the Inuit were nomadic and moved seasonally in their traditional territory. In the 1950s the Inuit in northern Canada were forced to relocate into permanent settlements.

Global Climate Change

Global climate change has made weather conditions more unpredictable. This has serious repercussions for the Inuit.

Changes to Ways of Life

Changes to Inuit ways of life have had negative effects on Inuit health, both physical and emotional.

Residential Schools and Education

The Inuit have lived experience with residential schools, leaving many with a distrust of both schools and education, especially with a system provided for them from “southern Canada” where life ways are different.

Disc Numbering for Identification Purposes

The Inuit had their own way to identify families and name children. In the 1940s, the Canadian government imposed a disc-numbering system on Inuit Peoples for record-keeping purposes which denied them their name.

Slaughter of Sled Dogs

In the 1950s and 1960s there was widespread slaughter of Inuit Peoples’ sled dogs, by governments or their representatives, which harmed the Inuit way of life.

Activity 2

The Education of Inuit Peoples

The Inuit have identified the need for viable, healthy, sustainable communities. With 56% of the Inuit population under the age of 25, education must be a priority. The National Committee on Inuit Education, chaired by Mary Simon, published First Canadians, Canadians First: The National Strategy on Inuit Education (link), which is a blueprint for improving future Inuit educational outcomes. The document consists of three goals that require ten investments to improve outcomes in Inuit education.

THREE GOALS to improve outcomes in Inuit education:

  1. Offering support to children to help them stay in school.
  2. Providing a bilingual curriculum to achieve literacy in the Inuit language and at least one of Canada’s official languages, and learning resources that are relevant to Inuit culture, history and worldview.
  3. Increasing the number of education leaders and bilingual educators in Inuit schools and early childhood programs.

Ten investments required in achieving the three goals:

  1. Mobilizing Parents
  2. Developing Leaders in Inuit Education
  3. Increasing the Number of Bilingual Educators and Programs
  4. Investing in the Early Years
  5. Strengthening Kindergarten to Grade 12 by investing in Inuit-centered Curriculum and Language Resources
  6. Improving Services to Students Who Require Additional Support
  7. Increasing Success in Post-Secondary Education
  8. Establishing a University in Inuit Nunangat
  9. Establishing a Standardized Inuit Language Writing System
  10. Measuring and Assessing Success

Ask students to discuss each of these core investments: their content, their requirements and their implications for change and how they will enhance the three broad goals.

Activity 3

Linking to the Moments in Time section of this resource, under the theme of this lesson plan cultural identity and education:

  1. Ask students to research one of the moments that advanced or setback the rights of Indigenous Peoples.
  2. Ask them to write a short opinion piece that includes the following in their reflection
    1. Media and other events surrounding that particular period and issue (e.g. the residential school system is set up in 1830 in Canada).
    2. Was this particular human rights moment in time perceived as an advancement or a setback at the time? Please explain.
    3. Today, would that same moment be perceived as an advancement or a setback? Please explain.

Culminating Activity — From Reflection to Action

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

  1. Ask students to review the articles in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) that focus on cultural identity and education.
  2. Ask students to prepare a multimedia presentation on how one or more of the articles they identified in UNDRIP relate and/or impact the cultural identity and education of Inuit people.

Extension Activity

In the 1950s, the Canadian government relocated Inuit families to Resolute Bay and Grise Fiord as part of the plan to create a presence in the far north. This compulsory relocation created significant hardships for these families. The government has since made an official apology to the people.

  1. Have students view the following video as an example of the effects of this relocation.
    Broken Promises (Trailer) 4:10 minutes
  2. Have students view the documentary film Martha of the North. It tells the story of Martha Flaherty, who at five years of age along with her family, was relocated from Inukjuak to Grise Fiord (Ellesmere Island).
    Martha of the North (Trailer + NFB documentary of 82 minutes)
  3. Ask students to discuss how forced relocations influence the social fabric of a community.
  4. Ask students to reflect on the following questions and to write a journal piece on their ‘perceived’ experience with forced relocation from the south to the north.
    1. What if you had to move 1500 kilometers north?
    2. How would you adjust to a much colder climate for a longer period of time during the year?
    3. How would you feel about living from the land for food and shelter?
    4. What challenges would you experience in adapting to a different culture?
    5. How well would you adapt and how long would it take?