Inuksuk in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut.

Inuit Principles of Conservation: Becoming Capable

Grade 7 - Grade 9

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Shirley Tagalik

Shirley Tagalik

About the author

Shirley Tagalik is a former educator for the Nunavut Department of Education and the author of Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit: What Inuit Have Always Known to Be True. In her time as an educator, she was tasked to assist in the redesign of the education system within the framework of Inuit Knowledge. Shirley now volunteers her time in her community of Arviat, Nunavut, promoting research, youth engagement and mental health programmes.

Art & Design, Digital Storytelling, Health & Wellness, Root & STEM
Lesson Plan

Message to Educators

This module provides you and your students with opportunities to explore Inuit values and cultural beliefs. We hope it will also allow you to explore the diverse value and belief systems your students bring into the classroom. Inuit say that the purpose in life is to live a good life. The information in this module will help you begin to make meaning of Inuit expectations for living a good life, especially in a changing environment where we face new challenges on many fronts. 

Inuit Elders say that although the context we live in is always dynamic, our beliefs never need to change, and this is why it is so important to clarify values for youth. Inuit also say their teachings are helpful to anyone, and are not just for Inuit. With this in mind, we hope you will explore these Inuit understandings of how to live well in a dynamic world and that, in doing so, they will help you and your students set personal goals as agents of change in effectively meeting life’s challenges in order to live a good life.

– Shirley Tagalik


Avattimik Kamatsiarniq • Respectful Stewardship
Inunnguiniq/Pilimmaksarniq – becoming a capable human

Topic: Defining expectations of competency and capability in caring for others in life

It is important to recognize that the Inuit worldview is highly holistic. As such, its topics resist organization according to curricular subject divisions. The units presented here are cross-curricular in nature and aim to provide an understanding of Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (worldview) and how Inuit beliefs and perspectives set the stage for respectful stewardship of all life and the guiding principle of avattimik kamatsiarniq. A short PowerPoint document is provided as background (access the PowerPoint in the Resource Kit).

In the past, Inuit had to ensure that everyone in their community was capable and able to contribute their skills to help sustain and improve the lives of others. Inunnguiniq is the process used to train everyone to become capable members of the community. Being capable required that each person was a contributing member of society with a strong sense of both belonging to and responsibility for the collective. At the same time, each person was expected to become highly skilled, self-reliant and able to live in a way that would not cause concern for others. The process of training a community member to become capable relied on the aspects of having the correct sense of group belonging, and on mastering skills in order to assist the collective.

Learning Goals

Students will be able to describe the processes of inunnguiniq and pilimmaksarniq and how the dynamics between these contributed to forming a capable human being. Students will be able to link the goals of inunnguiniq and pilimmaksarniq to the establishment of perspectives of environmental stewardship among Inuit. 

It should be noted that the spelling of Inuit terms often differs according to dialectal differences. The concepts remain shared despite spelling differences. 


becoming a capable human being
skills acquisition
Avattimik kamatsiarniq

Guiding Questions

  • How is inunnguiniq different from Western styles of education or child-rearing?
  • How do the expectations for becoming successful in life differ between Inuit and Western society?
  • What Impact do these differences have on the way one views one’s place in the environment?

Curriculum Links

This is an interdisciplinary unit suitable for social studies, wellness and environmental sciences. The focus is on training youth for their role as cultural and environmental stewards. 



Activity 1: Introduction

A) Becoming Capable

Have students form two lines facing each other. They must put their right foot forward so that their toes touch the toes of the person opposite them. The task is for everyone to raise their left foot without losing their balance. Have them repeat this activity until they are able to keep from falling for 30 seconds. 

Once they are successful, ask them to identify what strategies eventually helped them to succeed. 

Ask: What could we say are some of the elements for becoming successful? (Practice, communication, support, thinking/strategizing, learning from our experiences, etc.)

Divide the students into four groups. Give each group a quote from an Elder that describes inunnguiniq (see Elder quotes – Definitions of Inunnguiniq handout). Have the students read the quote, discuss what it says and collaborate to identify three key messages they take from this quote. Share the definitions of inunnguiniq based on each group’s responses. 

Ask: Are any of the key messages they identified similar to the things they learned from the Touching Toes activity? 

Show students  the Ulu/Sakku poster. It can be displayed as a hard-copy poster or as a digital file on a screen. 

Ask: Does anyone know what we are looking at? 

Show the students the outline of the ulu (curved women’s knife) and the sakku (harpoon head). 

Ask: Why do you think the artist integrated these two tools into a single poster?

  • Discuss the traditional roles of men and women in Inuit society 
  • Discuss the ulu as representing the home/social relations and the sakku as representing the environment/hunting relations 
  • Discuss the need for balance between these two sets of activities 
  • Discuss the idea that the ulu represents becoming a human being (social being) and the sakku represents becoming skilled (a capable being)

Brainstorm these two ideas on a chart. Identify what being a social being looks like on the left-hand side of the paper and what becoming skilled looks like on the right. 

Ask: What happens if we have one side developed without equal development on the other? 

Read this Becoming Capable quote to the class. Discuss.

Inuit define a capable human being as a person who is able to achieve skilled independence. By this it is meant they are highly skilled and able to be self-reliant to a level of mastery in certain areas in their life. This self-reliance is balanced by a set of core beliefs and attitudes that ensure the person uses their skills to serve and care for others, and to improve the common good. A capable human being does not cause worry to others in the way they live their life. They support others in every way through care for and service to the community.

B) Exploring Inunnguiniq

Divide the students into two groups. Give each student in Group 1 a copy of the Inunnguiniq pamphlet for 12-year-olds; Group 2 the pamphlet for 13-year-olds. The task for each group is to read the pamphlet and review the information it contains. Each group should respond to the following questions: 

  1. What do you think is important to focus on in your life based on this pamphlet?
  2. How would you summarize the value being defined in this pamphlet?

Instruct the students to jigsaw so that they form triads of  one person from each of Groups 1 and 2. The task is to now share some of the things said in their pamphlet and the answers their group came up with for the two questions. 

C) Exploring Pilimmaksarniq

Divide the students into two groups. Within the groups, students should form pairs. 

Provide Group 1 with the text by Louis Angalik #1, and Group 2 with Louis Angalik #2.

Students should read the text and take examples from it to identify some of the differences between Inuit and Western perspectives. Use the blackline master to record their responses. Have the groups come back together and share their insights.

Activity 2

Inuit Elders have identified six principles of inunnguiniq. Using the 6 Foundational Inunnguiniq Principles handout assign each group one principle to investigate. 

Each group should follow the online links (see below) that outline a selection of the  principles. Each group should review the materials they have been provided and report back to the whole group: 

  • What they learned about this principle
  • Why it is important to healthy development for Inuit
  • How young people can use these principles to make all our lives better
  • Three ideas for how they will apply these principles to their lives

Videos available at:

Based on these materials, what does a capable person look like in Inuit society? What societal expectations might you identify for Inuit youth? 


Divide into four groups and provide each group with an Avattimik Kamattisarniq Story. Have each group read their story and answer the following questions: How does this story apply to life today? What role does a capable person have in terms of environmental stewardship? 


Additional Resources

Social Media Resources

  • Nunavut Hunting Stories on Facebook

This lesson plan originally appeared in the first issue of Root & STEM, Pinnguaq’s free print and online STEAM resource supporting educators in teaching digital skills