Shelton Nipisar

Shelton Nipisar is an Inuk student from Arviat, Nunavut, who is passionate about Inuit culture and language, and is a role model for many Inuit youth. He recently graduated from the Nunavut Sivuniksavut program in Ottawa. Nunavut Sivuniksavut, or NS as it’s commonly called, is an educational and cultural program for Inuit students that offers one, two, and three-year programs that provide Inuit students with linguistic, cultural, and academic education.

Shelton recently completed Year 2 of NS, and the program has a heavy focus on Inuit culture and experiences. “For the past two years, I was living in Ottawa as a student at the Nunavut Sivuniksavut program, where we got to learn about our history, our culture, the issues that we face today, and then our land claims agreement. During my first year, we got to study Inuit Studies, which was mostly about Nunavut in general, and other Indigenous peoples in Canada. And in the second year program, we got to study Advanced Inuit Studies, which is about the circumpolar region. We got to study the Indigenous peoples from Circumpolar Regions.”

Learning more about his language and culture from a broader perspective is important to Shelton, and so is family and his home community. He has recently returned home to Arviat, where he plans to spend the next year with his family after being mostly separated from them for the last two years.

After that, he has plans to make a career out of preserving and speaking his language. “I’m planning to go to Iqaluit, which is the capital city of Nunavut. I’m going to apply at the Nunavut Arctic College program, and I want to apply for the language interpreter program, so that I’ll be able to interpret or explain what I have been learning at the Nunavut Sivuniksavut program in Inuktitut to people who are unilingual or who cannot speak English. That’s what I’d like to do, because where I come from, the majority of the people in my hometown speak Inuktitut. There’s around 3,200 people in my hometown and 95% of that community speaks Inuktitut.”

In addition to being a role model in his own right, Shelton has role models of his own, such as Jose Kusugak, a well-known protector and promoter of Inuit language. “Well, there was this guy named Jose Kusugak and the way he wanted to keep our language strong, that made me motivated to keep speaking my first language, because of him, I want to keep our language strong. So, that’s why I want to apply for language interpreter at the Nunavut Arctic College program.” Shelton was subsequently accepted into this program.

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Illustration by Kailey Sheppard

Although fluent in Inuktitut before he went to Ottawa, a better understanding of his language was one of Shelton’s key experiences at NS. “My Inuktitut vocabulary seemed to expand, because we have Inuktitut class, and I’m in the advanced one … not all of us from Arviat were in that (advanced) class. I got to discover myself, that I have a strong Inuktitut vocabulary or language. And in the second year program, I got to learn about who I really am as an Inuk. There were some things that I discovered about myself.”

But despite his good experiences at NS, moving from a community of just over 3,000 people in Nunavut to the city of Ottawa presented some challenges for Shelton. There were financial challenges as he figured out sponsorships available for Nunavut students, as well as the culture shock of moving to the big city. “Everything was new to me. I’ve never lived on my own in the city before. I had culture shock … it was a sensory overload with all the lights, the buildings, the cars. Everything out there was too much for me … where I come from, you can see pretty far out on the land, or you can just go out on the land and relax out there. But in the city it was something different. That was kind of hard for me, but I got used to it after Christmas break. I got to process all these things during Christmas break and when I went back to Ottawa for the winter semester, I was prepared mentally.”

“During my first year, I was struggling financially and I had to learn how to navigate through the city. But when I went back for the second year, I knew what I was going to do, I was prepared for that. It’s just that I got to learn more about myself during those two years at NS.”

Shelton’s advice to students who are coming to the city for the first time is to ask for help, either from fellow students or from staff, although he knows this can be tough with people you don’t know. “During my first year at NS, I got to ask questions to people I was comfortable with. There were some Inuktitut teachers. I was more comfortable with them because of my language. But then after Christmas break, I was a little more comfortable with the other instructors. I got to talk about my mental health issues with the trauma therapist and a social worker. I also got to talk to them about my mental health issues or whatever I needed help with, such as navigating through the city, (using) Uber or Lyft or how to use the bus… if I needed help financially, there would be help with application forms or… when I needed some stuff for school or for food. They were really helpful during the process.”

Shelton also learned the importance of self-care, and of staying connected to your language and culture. “During those hard times, I told the instructors that I wanted to stay home, to take rests, especially for my mental health. And then I contacted everyone back home, especially close friends and family. And with that, it was easier for me to express myself in my first language, Inuktitut. I was also talking to the second year students about what I was going through to get some advice from them, especially those who could talk in Inuktitut, and then I was also talking to my classmates who were going through the same things. (When) I wanted to be alone, I would go for a walk, go to a park and try to enjoy nature.”

As he prepares for the next step in his education, Shelton continues to think about the Inuit who came before him and worked so hard to save their language and culture, and to create Nunavut. “What inspired me were the Inuit leaders, what they went through during those times back in the 1970s, like that political view. They were trying their best to have a voice for all the Inuit in Canada. So, because of what they went through, I want to keep going. Those Inuit leaders inspired me to become better at my culture and who I am as Inuk.”

Special thanks to Keith Collier for authoring this blog post.

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