Creative writing, publishing and the empowerment of Inuit adult learners
Driedger, Diane Lynn
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This small-scale, qualitative, instructional study examined creative writing, publishing and empowerment of Inuit adult learners in Baker Lake, Nunavut. I studied whether instruction in culturally relevant topics in English and Inuit songs in Inuktitut motivated the learners to write. In addition, I examined whether having their creative writing published led to empowerment for the learners. This was a participatory action research project, and a Project Advisory Committee of community members helped in planning and carrying out the study. I examined concepts of orality and literacy and discussed how Inuit have historically practiced many types of literacy—such as reading snowdrifts and Inuksuit to navigate. The project took place in Baker Lake, an Inuit community that has experienced the colonization of the South. Thus, throughout the project, I examined my positionality in terms of culture, colonialism, disability and its affect on my research. I taught a creative writing workshop at the Nunavut Arctic College, along with the local Elders, who taught songs from the Baker Lake area. In the process of curriculum planning, the Elders asserted their right to teach the songs in Inuktitut, which is the way that they originally composed or learned them. In this context I explore the work of Fanon (1963) concerning the role of storytellers in the decolonization of cultures. After the workshop, in February 2006, The Sound of Songs: Stories by Baker Lake Writers (Utatnaq, 2006), an anthology of the adult learners’ writings, was published. This small book was then launched at the Community Centre in Baker Lake, where community members listened to learners’ readings. In the course of the project, the Project Advisory Committee and I examined the meaning of the term “empowerment” in the context of Inuit culture. Each of the nine learners who took part in the workshop published at least one piece in the book. The majority of the nine learners who took part in the study reported some degree of empowerment, in the area of confidence about their own writing, in gaining the respect of community members, especially the Elders, and also in learning to be a “real Inuk” from the Elders who taught songs from the Baker Lake area. Most of the learners had not heard these songs before and thus this was an opportunity for Elders and younger people in their twenties and thirties to better understand each other. Indeed, the community itself may have been empowered in the process of doing participatory action research for this project and in seeing its young people take an interest in their heritage.