Acceptance Speech: Adriana Kusugak

Executive Director, Ilitaqsiniq – Nunavut Literacy Council, Winner: IBBY-Asahi Reading Promotions Award 2022 for Pinnguaqta, a program of Ilitaqsiniq – Nunavut Literacy Council

It is with great honour and hearts filled with gratitude that we accept this award today on behalf of Ilitaqsiniq and the Pinnguaqta Program. Qujannamiimarialuk, Matnalluavik,which means thank you so very, very much from the bottom of our hearts. 

Thank you to IBBY, the selection committee, our nominators, and the prize founder for listening to our story and making it a part of yours.

To be accepted, appreciated, awarded and recognized for our efforts in promoting, supporting, engaging and enhancing literacy opportunities for the children of our community is gratifying. 

We come from Nunavut, a territory in Canada’s high Arctic, a land with no trees, only tundra where we experience winter, snow and ice for 10 months of the year. Our winters consist of 20 hours of darkness and our summers 24 hours of daylight. Our territory is made up of 25 communities that are only accessible by air, as there are no roads that connect us to each other. Some may call this isolated or barren, we call it home. 

Our staff, all from Nunavut, are passionate and motivated individuals who work tirelessly and go above and beyond in service to the empowerment of Inuit people through literacy and essential skill development. This award means so much to our community, our territory and, most importantly, to the families and children of our program. 

Your belief in the Pinnguaqta Program by selecting it to receive this award has inspired us all. It has shown us that every effort counts and that no matter who you are or where you are from, amazing things can happen such as being here tonight receiving this award. 

This moment, and bringing back the award to share with our community, will be an example of a beacon of hope that we can make a difference, we are capable and that our efforts are being valued. This recognition and opportunity to accept this award here tonight in Malaysia will allow the children of our program to dream big and know that anything is possible when they believe in themselves and follow their hearts. 

With humbled hearts we thank you for this award and we can assure you all here tonight that this will make a meaningful and positive impact on our program and the people it serves.


Our territory, Nunavut, was established in 1999. It is the largest land claims agreement between the Government of Canada and an Indigenous group, and it was all made possible through peaceful negotiations. The territory makes up about 20% of Canada’s land mass. Despite our size, we are very small in terms of population. The children 18 and under in our region make up about 40% of the overall population. We are young as a territory in every sense. We also live in an area of the world that suffers from a suicide epidemic; we have the highest suicide rates in the world. Our challenges and barriers are plenty and for these reasons and many others, we come from an area that is not reflective of mainstream Canadians.

Inuktitut is the language of Inuit people in Canada’s Arctic territory of Nunavut. What is interesting about our language is that prior to the influences of Christianity, our language was distinctly an oral language. It was not until Christianity arrived that a writing system soon followed. This was less than 150 years ago. Our Inuktitut syllabary writing system was introduced by missionaries who translated the bible into Inuktitut. The bible was the first piece of Inuktitut literature and for a long time it was the only piece of Inuktitut literature. This however, did not mean Inuit didn’t have stories, quite the opposite in fact. Inuit culture, lessons, morals, values and histories have been passed down through the art of oral storytelling. Inuit legends are quite simply legendary. Inuit storytelling is so powerful that it had the ability to support the culture to survive and thrive in the harshest of environments. 

Our Inuktitut language only became a standardized writing system in 1976, less than 50 years ago and it is still undergoing modifications to make it more accessible and understandable across regions. Inuktitut is an ancient language that struggles to keep up with todays’ face-paced, ever-changing society. We quite simply do not have Inuktitut words for all of the things that exist today. One of the words that does not have a direct Inuktitut translation is LITERACY. It is for this reason that our organization was previously known in Inuktitut as “the office of reading and writing,” of which we have Inuktitut words for. Knowing that the description in Inuktitut limited how we define literacy for ourselves and our organization, we decided to change our Inuktitut name so that we could better represent who we are and what we do for our people. 

So, we set out to determine how can we best define literacy in our language. As is often the case, when we find ourselves in need of wisdom and guidance, we reached out to our Inuit Elders. We had asked several of them to describe to us what literacy meant to them in the Inuktitut language. One of the Elders replied that for him, literacy allows you to recognize the world around you in all its forms and thus, our Inuktitut name was born because the root word “Ilitaq” in Inuktitut means “to recognize” in English. And once he described what literacy means to him in Inuktitut, we knew we had a better fitting description of literacy in our language, we knew we better understood our identity as an organization and we knew that our name “ilitaqsiniq” which translates to “a place to recognize” was absolutely fitting for the Nunavut Literacy Council. Our organization—Ilitaqsiniq—provides the opportunity for Inuit to recognize themselves and the world around them. It allows our participants to navigate and understand the world from an Inuit perspective. Ilitaqsiniq is well known and respected in Nunavut for delivering unique embedded literacy, culture-based, non-formal programming which contributes to making a real substantial difference in the lives of adults, children, families and local communities.

Over the past 20 years, Ilitaqsiniq has developed a strong reputation for work that considers Nunavut’s unique social, cultural and linguistic context. 

We have coined the phrase Ilitaqsiniq Inu-vation to advance our fundamental belief in Inuit culture to grow, thrive and adapt. We believe in the strength, resourcefulness and innovation of our people and our right to live and learn in Inuktitut. Inu-vation acknowledges, recognizes and learns from the past and the wisdom of Elders while finding new ways to support younger generations to actively embrace our culture and language.

Inu-vation falls under the larger umbrella of Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit. Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit can be defined as the vast body of knowledge that Inuit have always known to be true through their lived experience, that is passed on from generation to generation. It is now commonly referred to as IQ. IQ is the foundation for all Ilitaqsiniq programs and services. All employees are expected to apply, teach and build from these values and approaches to create programs and services that empower Inuit people to participate in society and in the economy in a meaningful way.

IQ and Inu-vation have galvanized a holistic approach to literacy. To ensure strong outcomes for Inuit learners, particularly those that have fallen through the cracks of society, non-formal, culture-based embedded literacy and learning programs are key for all ages of learners. We not only know this through our own experience and regular program evaluations but have confirmed it through extensive research. Our success stems from successfully fostering healing, self-realization and compassion among participants and in strengthening their mental well-being by grounding our programs in the values and principles of Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit. Confidence building seeded in Inuit culture and learning is considered the essential starting point for participants before they are ready to move on to work, or further education, training or learning. We start where people are at and take a heart-centered approach. In this way, our programs are responding to the ongoing intergenerational, colonial trauma experienced among Inuit. Additionally, our programs incorporate elements that are sure to impact the well-being of the entire family unit and community.

Literacy, language and essential skills are integrated or embedded in a variety of ways throughout our programs. At Ilitaqsiniq, embedded literacy refers to the deliberate integration of literacy skill development into both traditional and modern culture-based learning and training reflective of life in the Arctic. Embedded literacy, language and essential skills activities both reinforce learning of culture and subject-specific content and support increases in participants skills and their confidence to apply these skills in and beyond the program.

Elements of our Inu-vative, embedded literacy programs also include learning in the Inuktitut language, learning about Inuit culture and heritage, and the involvement of Elders, youth and participants themselves. Programs make use of trauma-informed practices with a focus on physical, emotional and cultural safety. Such practices are strength based and build resiliency and coping skills among participants.

These approaches are adapted to suit our intergenerational and family literacy programs such as the Pinnguaqta Program where we build foundational language and literacy skills in children and enrich their cultural identity, while promoting and encouraging parenting practices aligned with Inuit societal values.

A driving force behind Ilitaqsiniq’s programs is to interrupt the intergenerational and ongoing effects of colonialism on Inuit. As one of our board members said, “Ilitaqsiniq is bringing back what residential schools took away.”

The rate of illiteracy is very high in our territory in both English and Inuktitut languages. There is still a divide between home and school. The negative impacts of the residential school system are still being felt to this day. Ilitaqsiniq designed the Pinnguaqta Program to act as a bridge and a resource for both parents and their children to actively participate in early childhood education in a non-formal, comfortable and safe way that is encouraging and supportive. 

This program is the first of its kind in our community. We have resourced the program with a variety of tools to support language and literacy development for children and their caregivers. For example, we have developed an app that acts as a reading centre called “Uqalimaarluk,” which means, “let’s read together.” The Inuktitut books, nursery rhymes and songs within the app come to life by allowing children to follow the words while being read to in Inuktitut. This is  special because some parents and caregivers are able to speak the Inuktitut language but not able to read it, so this allows both the child and the parents to be exposed to being read to in Inuktitut while following along. 

The program space is filled with Inuktitut and English books that are culturally and contextually relevant, that allow our participants to see themselves within the literature. The space is also equipped with traditional Inuit cultural toys and tools for children to interact with their parents and caregivers through meaningful and contextualized social play and self-discovery. The Pinnguaqta Program is staffed by an Inuit Elder, Quluaq Pilakapsi, and a community coordinator, Jovette Kurok, who unfortunately couldn’t be with us today. However, it is through their warm and open hearts that so many people come through our doors and participate in the program.

The concept of Inunnguiniq, which translates to “creating a capable and able person,” starts right from birth. It is a structure of traditional Inuit child-rearing practices to grow a child into a loving, self-sufficient, productive and giving individual. 

The Pinnguaqta Program supports parents and other caregivers to, in turn, support their children’s language and literacy development. The program supports families by guiding and teaching parents and caregivers how to interact, engage and support their child’s literacy and learning development by providing the space, opportunity and the tools and resources to do so. The Pinnguaqta Program is essential to our support system for children because Inuit-parenting practices and Inunnguiniq, “building an able human,” have been broken down and eroded by colonization, especially due to residential schools and TB sanatoriums where Inuit were sent away at an age reflective of the children within our Pinnguaqta Program. 

The Pinnguaqta Program meets a very specific need and fills a gap where the formal education system and other institutions and governments are not able to meet the community need. We work with both the child and the parent or caregiver and provide skills for all participants based on Inuit societal values. The wrap around supports for both the parents and the child have lasting positive impacts that support the family unit in preparing for the formalized schooling experience.

In the first year of the Pinnguaqta Program we had 1,300 visitors attend the program. For a community that has just under 3,000 people, this was quite astonishing. Our Pinnguaqta Program is community-based and community led. This is the reason we are able to draw in so many participants. The program is inclusive, welcoming, supportive and open. It provides the opportunity for children and their caregivers to learn together through engaging activities and social play. 

The importance of the Pinnguaqta Program for our community cannot be understated. It serves many needs and addresses many gaps. It acts as a respite space for the parents and children who participate, as overcrowded housing is at a crisis level within our territory. Because of overcrowded housing, most children do not have adequate space or occasion to interact with their parents and caregivers through reading books and play. These are some of the basic opportunities the Pinnguaqta Program provides. The program also provides healthy snacks for children. In a territory where food insecurity is experienced by over 70% of our homes, having nutritious and plentiful snacks is important to the well-being and health of the children so that they may fully engage and interact with the program activities. 

In Nunavut, we have the highest rates of illiteracy in the country of Canada. But we all know that literacy is a social justice issue that needs to be addressed through various initiatives and avenues. There is not just one right way to address the issue. Ilitaqsiniq programming such as the Pinnguaqta Program is one way we are contributing to the empowerment of our people. 

We have come a long way within our territory in a short amount of time. We have multiple Inuit authors and a publishing company that supports the publications of Inuit stories, legends, and children’s literature both in Inuktitut and English that is based in our context and culture and that allows children to see themselves within the stories. Yet, despite that success we still struggle with getting books into homes and within the hands of children. It is through our Pinnguaqta Program and the financial support of this award that we will be able to continue this necessary work. We hope to support the shift in mindset to change the current situation in which not all children have the accessibility and resources to be able to have books in the home. Our program and its spin-off initiatives work diligently to bring the opportunity to be exposed to and own books from birth in various forms that support the ever-changing ways in which we interact with literature. We feel strongly that the opportunity to become engaged with literacy at a holistic level from a young age will support the empowerment of our people and allow them to recognize and thrive within their world and the world around them.  Thank you for this award and supporting our mission.


Please watch the video on Ilitaqsiniq, shared as part of the acceptance ceremony:

Photo caption: Adriana Kusugak receiving the award from Koji Nishimura, Singapore Bureau Chief, Asahi Shimbun, and Sylvia Vardell, Jury President

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