An Inuit principal, set to receive her masters of education at UPEI today, doesnt want youth in her Baffin Island community to lose touch with their past in preparing for their future
"Life is a country that the old have seen, and lived in. Those who have to travel through it can only learn from them.''
Joseph Joubert (1754-1824)
Jukeepa Hainnu has always embraced her elders.
As an Inuit child, growing up in the small, remote Baffin Island community of Clyde River, she was fueled by the wisdom and kindness of her elders to strive to meet her potential.
"Elders have been very kind to me in my growing-up years, and they also seemed to have raised me in a more leadership aspect,'' she said.
"The people who are living today should be grateful for our elders because they brought us here. If it wasn't for them, we wouldn't have survived, because it was their knowledge and their wisdom that kept us alive.''
Elders have not only helped the petite, 42-year-old woman survive. Their guidance, absorbed by Hainnu like a sponge, has helped her thrive.
Today, at UPEI convocations, Hainnu will become the first Inuit woman on Baffin Island to get her masters of education.
Hainnu's journey to this laudable academic achievement should inspire others. She is, in fact, banking on such an outcome. Setting a path for others to follow served as a prime motivator for her to come to UPEI to get her master's degree.
The co-principal of Quluaq School - the only school in Clyde River, a community of about 800 people - wanted to set an example for her students.
She is concerned by all of the young people who are staying in her community without choosing to further their education after high school.
"If we are looking at the future, if we want our future nurses or doctors to be people from our own culture, we have to start pushing our children,'' she said.
"I wanted to show to them that it is possible. I think this is going to be a bridging for them.''
So she packed up her family - husband Amie Qaqasiq and the couple's children: Kyle, 12, and Jarome, 4, (Jimmy, 20, stayed behind to work on Baffin Island) - for P.E.I. last summer to fast-track her degree.
In nine months, Hainnu worked her way through 10 courses to attain her masters of education. Fiona Walton, associate professor of the faculty of education at UPEI, credits Hainnu's grounding from the elders in her community with instilling the needed endurance and resilience to succeed.
"She had her nose to the grindstone,'' said Walton.
"She worked all through Christmas and March break with the determination to graduate in May.''
Hainnu returns to Clyde River and Quluaq school next week, where she will become the sole principal. She plans to continue working to validate the input of elders.
"I think that is critical to our society,'' she said.
"I think if we had more foundations built upon elders' knowledge and wisdom, I think our society would be far better off than what we are today.''
Yet Hainnu is also quick to note the need to teach children not just their own Inuit culture and values but also to prepare them to function in a global society.
"If we don't teach them how to be global people, then we are teaching them how to be in isolation,'' she said.
She wants to see her own children living the way she herself can live today - a balance between traditional and global.
Her children are growing up immersed in a very modern society, but they are also taken out on the land to camp for a month at a time, living the traditional Inuit life.
Kyle was only eight when he began catching seals. The children's diet includes char, caribou and narwhal meat.
Hainnu grew up in a very traditional Inuit lifestyle. She lived in a modest home, built by her father, that she likened to a shack. There was no television, no telephone, no running water and no electricity. There were nine children.
Her skills retained today from her upbringing include the ability to build an igloo, point herself in the right direction by looking to the stars, and sewing pelts into clothing.
Even today, Hainnu calls her main hobby to be out on the land, to see animals.
"When you go into a mountainous area it is breathtaking,'' she said.
"You cannot explain how beautiful it is. Those are moments where I would rather be most of my time.''
Her career ambitions were stirred early on in life. At age eight or nine, she served as an interpreter for a nurse in Clyde River who could not speak English.
"I really loved the way I felt helping another person and so I thought I will be a nurse one day or a teacher,'' she recalled.
"But the teacher aspect grew because of the love of children - I've always loved children even when I was a young child.''
She started at Quluaq school at age 17, assisting the teacher. The job was meant to last only one month but was extended to eight months and a year later she was hired on full-time as a classroom assistant.
She went on to get her teaching degree, doing field-base courses and turned to UPEI to land her master's degree.
Walton finds Hainnu's drive and philosophy inspiring.
"She's just a tiny, little thing with an awful lot of guts,'' she said.
"I think her connection to her elders defines her...Her respect for people who are older is just extraordinary.''
Even in her short, busy stop on P.E.I., Hainnu made a point of consulting elders. She visited a nursing home in Charlottetown, armed with pictures and artifacts from her community, to offer a snapshot to seniors of life on Baffin Island.
"Oh, they were really great,'' she said.
"They put their arms around me, shook my hand, and thanked me.''
The residents also voiced despair that young people don't seem to want to listen to them - a disturbing, growing trend that Hainnu is witnessing in her own community on Baffin Island.
"Today, young people will usually say 'oh, they (elders) just know what is in the past,' she said.
"But it's not true. They are still living with us today...They know what was before, what is now, and probably they have a good prediction of what will be tomorrow. Sometimes we have to really settle down and listen to what they are really explaining.''