Geography MA Student Starts Her Career With The National Inuit Organization


Becky Mearns is a first-year geography MA student at Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario.

Becky’s undergraduate degree, also from Carleton, was in sociology with minors in Aboriginal studies and law.

This bilingual Inuk—fluent in Inuktitut and English—originally hails from Pangnirtung, Nunavut, a small hamlet of about 1,300 people on Baffin Island.

Becky and I recently sat down to talk about her education and her current job at the national Inuit organization.

Q. Can you explain the research you’re doing for your MA thesis project?

A. I’m working on a project with my supervisor who’s the lead investigator in a project funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC).

We’re working in a town called Gjoa Haven in Nunavut (located about 250 kilometers above the Arctic Circle in the central part of the Nunavut Territory). It’s a community-led, community-based project called Connecting Elders and Youth, with a focus of community, care and well-being, and how the 3 will connect.

For your reference: Becky's hometown (Pangnirtung) and where she's working (Gjoa Haven)

The focus of the camp is to share knowledge between the generations on community, care and well-being. My interests are how the land camp—which is the forum we’ll be using for the project—can be used for education and research, and the benefits of this land camp focusing on Inuit Knowledge specifically.

[DL: A land camp is a place where people come together and camp as a group.]

Q. Can you tell me about your employer, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami?

A. Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK) is the national Inuit organization so we represent the four regions: Inuvialuit, Nunavut, Nunavik, and Nunatsiavut, which is in Labrador. Most of the work that ITK does is advocacy for Inuit issues at the national level – things that are affecting all the Inuit regions.

But I actually work in a department called Inuit Qaujisarvingat, the Inuit Knowledge Centre. Inuit Qaujisarvingat was something that was created in 2010, and I started working there in January of last year, so I’ve been there for about a year now. Our focus is more on bringing Inuit Knowledge to the forefront of science research, where Inuit Knowledge is helping to form policy and research in the Arctic.

Q. What kind of work do you do at ITK?

A. We’ve done reviews of potential projects that researchers want to work on in the Arctic. We’ve been working on an application for institutional eligibility through SSHRC, so we can apply for funds on our own as opposed to being co-investigators on projects. A lot of the time it’s educational institutions approaching us to collaborate, so instead we want to be the ones leading a project and get help from others. We’re focusing on research interests that are important to Inuit Quajisarvingat as opposed to what other researchers are doing. I’m doing a little bit of everything at the moment, and it’s pretty broad.

Q. What’s your favourite thing about your job and working for ITK?

A. Having the opportunity to work for the national Inuit organization has brought about a lot of different opportunities for me. They’ve been flexible in my school schedule, so a lot of the work that I’m doing in university is tied into what we’re doing at ITK and so on, so they’re supportive of that.

And just working for the national Inuit organization, that’s something that a lot of Inuit youth are really, really passionate about. It’s so great to be working with them and hopefully moving things forward in terms of Inuit Knowledge for research because it is so important.

Q. Have you thought about what you’d like to do when you finish your MA?

A. I’m kind of up in the air about that at the moment. Certainly working for an Inuit organization is what I want to do or, within Nunavut. Being from Nunavut, I think it’s so important for us, even as students, to go back and to give back to our territory once we get our education.

There are a lot of opportunities up there and a lot of great things that can be done, so I think getting young minds up there who have had the experience of university is important. The changes we could make are great. In the grand scheme of things, I want to end up back in the North, working in my own territory.

Q. Do you have any career tips for students?

A. I think I’ve been really lucky to have the opportunity to do the things that have been afforded to me here in Ottawa. If opportunities come up, go for it!

For example, when I applied for the job at ITK, I was still in my undergrad and they were advertising for a full-time position. I was like, ‘OK, if I don’t get it I don’t get it’, but I let them know straight up that I’m a student, so I’ll only be able to work part-time during the school year and full-time in the summer. I didn’t think I’d get the job, but I discovered they were ready to accommodate and support me because I’m sort of an emerging scholar I guess, and to give me that experience at ITK. So if there are opportunities that come up, go for it! You’ve got nothing to lose, I think.

Visit TalentEgg’s Aboriginal Career Guide to find more career resources for First Nations, Métis and Inuit students and recent graduates.