Canku Ota

(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America

November 18, 2000 - Issue 23


Nunavik Finds Alternatives for Challenged Youth

by Jane George Nunatsiaq News


Award-winning program offers future for kids at risk of dropping out

Any time you see a large group of young people bent over intently at work you can be sure something pretty interesting must be going on.

In this classroom at Puvirnituq’s Iguarsivik School, there’s a lot of activity: Some kids are hammering or cutting, others are painting, and one is painstakingly outlining a design on a piece of leather.

Some results of these efforts are displayed on a table, where there’s a colourful, eye-catching assortment of keychains, barrettes, bracelets, belts, and pins — all for sale.

The Sanajiapiit Workshop which produces these items is part of the Independent Paths of Learning program offered at this school and others in Nunavik.

The IPL program is designed for students aged 12 to 18 who face academic challenges or who are at risk of dropping out of school. Its course of study, which differs widely from school to school, tries to offer these students an alternative to academics, as well as to provide them with the life- and work-skills they’ll need later on.

Teacher Danielle Demers, who started teaching leatherworking to her students two years ago, said the Sanajiapiit project has improved the way they look at school, their classes and themselves.

"Some of them have developed a vision of what this project could be over the long term. They’re in charge of what happens and show a lot of initiative," Demers said.

"They can see the possibility of making a living and giving themselves a better future."

She said students are more punctual, responsible and dependable because they want to succeed at what they’re doing.

"Our business has a good reputation, and these young people want to keep it up," Demers said. "Some have a solid experience, and they willingly share it with those who have less. A good sense of camaraderie has developed."

According to Demers, one of this project’s strong points is its innovative side, which involves working with wood, leather and mosaic tiles.

"By using techniques which are little known or totally unfamiliar in Nunavik, these kids can express their creativity with objects that also reflect their culture — they’re very popular with people in POV and with transients who want to buy a local product at a reasonable cost," Demers said.

Demers would like this workshop to expand its market so its products reach all of Nunavik, and to develop over the long term into a cooperatively run workshop.

The program has received support from government "stay-in-school" programs as well as from local businesses and organizations.

Last spring a group of IPL students travelled to Montreal where they learned more about leatherworking and visited some of their suppliers.

In June, their IPL project also received the Grand Prize for cooperatives from a Quebec business competition, the Concours Québécois en entrepreneurship.

Two of the students travelled to Montreal to accept this award, where they presented Montreal Mayor Pierre Bourque with a handmade belt.



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