Liz Aapack Fowler may not be the most well-known educator in the North, but her work has certainly influenced many - if not all - students who have passed through education systems in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut.
For her efforts in the classroom and her contributions to curriculum development, Fowler was honoured at the 2015 Guiding the Journey: Indigenous Educator Awards for Culture, Language and Traditions by Indspire, an organization which recognizes and celebrates outstanding educators for their achievement and innovation in Indigenous education. On Nov. 13, the organization held its annual gala and handed out the awards.
“I’m very honoured,” Fowler said. “I think that the category that I was nominated for is very honourable and certainly I’m very pleased about it and humbled.”
Born and raised in Iglulik, Nunavut, Fowler said she was “quite privileged” to grow up with her extensive family, where she was immersed in her language and culture.
“We had very few people in my little town, my little community, and everybody knew everybody and there was no English spoken,” she said. “We were very independent and took care of each other and hunted from the land and the sea, so my first introduction to learning was from everybody. Everybody had something to offer.”
When she started her teaching career in 1974 in Iglulik, she was one of the first Inuit teachers in the eastern Arctic and used her traditional language of Inuktitut in the classroom. She soon became an Inuktitut program specialist at the Teaching and Learning Centre in Iqaluit, eventually taking on a role as the culture-based education curriculum coordinator at the Department of Education, Culture and Employment in Yellowknife.
In 1995 she left her teaching career to open a consulting business and one year later, she coordinated the development of Inuuqatigiit: The Curriculum from the Inuit Perspective, a document which revolutionized culture and language teaching and became the basis for curriculum development in the newly created territory of Nunavut. It is still used in both Nunavut and the NWT today.
One of Fowler’s most recent projects was of particular importance to her.
“Participating in the development of the Grade 10 residential school resource which came out as a collaboration between NWT and Nunavut” was fundamentally important, Fowler said. “It was something that is so necessary for the two territories.”
Culture, language and worldview
While completing her work, Fowler always aims to view her subject matter through multiple worldviews.
“Within every linguistic culture, there are some deep values that can surpass any language, any culture,” Fowler said. “I think those are fundamental in passing on and they are values that have sustained human kind throughout eons and those are things that I grew up with and they’re in some of the resources I helped develop.”
This is a lesson that Fowler has stressed to her contemporaries, said Mindy Willett, a former consultant who has worked with her on and off for 15 years.
“When we worked together on the last two projects, Liz and would I write together but simultaneously. She writes in Inuktitut and I write in English,” Willett said. “One of the things I’ve learned from Liz is that translations don’t work, we need to work in more than one language at a time and that way, even though in English we often hope to achieve writing from an Indigenous perspective, unless you actually take the time and think about it in the Indigenous language, you’re not going to get it right.”
Those same values that influence a person’s worldview can also help steer them towards success – however they define it – Fowler said.
“To young people – the world is big, it’s so wonderful and I think that if you have a good, strong foundation of family values, community values or whatever you want to call it, I think that can sustain you anywhere and go anywhere and I think that that is valuable in itself.”