'We're the same people,' says Nunavut woman studying in Greenland

·2 min read
Maatalii Okalik of Nunavut, nearing the end of a two-year program in governance and sustainable management at the University of Greenland, hopes to find new ways to 'bring our regions more closely together.' (Submitted by Maatalii Okalik - image credit)
Maatalii Okalik of Nunavut, nearing the end of a two-year program in governance and sustainable management at the University of Greenland, hopes to find new ways to 'bring our regions more closely together.' (Submitted by Maatalii Okalik - image credit)

Maatalii Okalik misses her home in Nunavut, which she hasn't been able to visit since the start of the pandemic.

But living and studying in Greenland has given her a different sense of home, immersed in a culture that is deeply familiar.

"We love to laugh the same, we hunt the same food ... we're the same people. It's just been... I feel like, very home, here," she said, from Sisimiut, Greenland, where she has been working on her master's thesis.

Okalik, who is originally from Pangnirtung, Nunavut, is nearing the end of her two-year program in governance and sustainable management, at the University of Greenland.

It's been an incredible experience, she says, that's allowed her to study Greenland's history of colonization and the ongoing process of decolonization and Inuit self-government.

"Sometimes in our communities, we feel like the struggles we experience, we're the only ones going through it. But you know, Inuit all across Inuit Nunaat have had great success in overcoming those struggles," she said.

Submitted by Maatalii Okalik
Submitted by Maatalii Okalik

She's also been spending plenty of time on the land, learning hunting skills, as well as how to skin animals and tan hides, and learning the language in the process.

"I think equally as important is the learning that is happening outside of the classroom in terms of the community that I call home now here and spending time with the people," she said.

Learning about 'the success we've had as Inuit'

Okalik has received some financial support from the government of Nunavut and Inuit organizations to pursue her studies. She says she sometimes had to make a case for studying in Greenland instead of somewhere in Canada.

"I think it makes more sense to learn about the success we've had as Inuit in our respective regions and try to share that and bring it back home," she said.

"They [in Greenland] are just like us in the sense that they are 85 per cent Inuit in this population, and they are Inuit who want to have control over their daily lives and decision making, as well as their future, in a way that make sense to them."

Submitted by Maatalii Okalik
Submitted by Maatalii Okalik

Okalik has a background in activism and advocacy — she was president of Canada's National Inuit Youth Council from 2015 to 2017, and more recently has appeared in The Last Ice, a National Geographic documentary film about climate change in the Arctic.

But she feels that she's ready for a shift out of the public eye.

"That's still inside of me, but instead of focusing on influencing qallunaat to understand who we are, why we want basic human rights, and try to fight for pots of money to run programs at our local levels," Okalik said.

"I think I'd rather focus my energy on working with Inuit and bring our regions more closely together."

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting