Inuksuk in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut.

Inuit Principles of Conservation: Serving Others

Grade 4 - Grade 6

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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
Pijitsirniq – Serving others, working for the common good

Topic: Respecting authority and accepting responsibility 

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).

Students will learn the Inuit perspective on serving others through pijitsirniq and how this is linked to the concept of becoming a respectful steward in life through avattimik kamatsiarniq. Inuit are known as a resilient people who live in harmony in a harsh environment through innovation and resourcefulness. Students will understand how living according to these cultural principles has helped Inuit to succeed over generations, as well as to protect the environment they depend on for successful living.

Learning Goals

Students will understand the Inuit described concepts of avattimik kamattiarniq (respectful stewardship), pijitsirniq (serving) and qanurtururangniq (being resourceful and innovative). They will gain insight into the cornerstones of being respectful and taking responsibility in terms of serving a shared purpose and the common good.

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


Avattimik kamattiarniq
creative/deep thinking
maintaining harmony

Guiding Questions

  • How do the beliefs and principles you are raised with help to determine your behaviour and the decisions you make? 
  • Why is the ability to be resourceful and innovative important to success in life?

Curriculum Links

This unit of study lays the groundwork for understanding Inuit perspectives on environmental stewardship. It is interdisciplinary and suited for use in social studies and science classes. It is best incorporated into an integrated thematic approach to environmental stewardship, socially responsible action, and citizenship. 



Activity 1: Introduction

A) Exploring Inuit Societal Values

Provide each student with the Elements of Inuit Culture handout. Have them work on this task in groups of two or three. 

The first task is to identify all the aspects of social life that Inuit have to consider. Students should write their ideas inside the first circle. 

Ask: What would Inuit have required in the past in order to live well together? What systems do we have in our communities today that help us live  well together? 

Provide an opportunity for students to share their ideas. They can add comments to their circles that they have not already recorded.

In the second circle, students should identify all the resources Inuit would have had in their environment in the past to help them provide for their daily needs. 

Ask: In the past, what things were available to Inuit in the environment that they could use to meet their needs? 

Provide an opportunity to share ideas. Add any new ideas to the circle. 

Ask: When we think about the environment Inuit lived, did they have many resources available? 

Ask: Having so few resources at hand, how do you think Inuit would have taken care of their environment?

Move to the third circle. Students should think of all the things Inuit were able to do with the limited resources available to them in the past. For example, they built igluit using snow blocks. How did they build sleds without wood? What else were they able to do so they could hunt and live well in their environment? Record these ideas in the third circle. 

Provide an opportunity to share ideas. Add any new ideas to the circle. 

Ask: In order to be able to survive and live well, what skills would Inuit have needed? 

Ask: How important would it have been for people to share their abilities and help each other? 

Ask: Given what we see in the three circles, can you predict what some of the core beliefs or expectations for Inuit might have been? List these on chart paper. Compare the students’ ideas with the Inuit rules for avattimik kamattiarniq identified by Elders (see below). 

Avattimik Kamattiarniq – Stewardship

Careful attention to the environment is an important part of survival and sustainability. The care we take and the importance we give to this stewardship also has an impact on our personal health and well-being. For these reasons, it is important to think about the environment we provide for future generations to grow up in. We also need to think about how we train them to become good caretakers of their surroundings and good contributors to a healthy and positive environment. Over the course of our lives, we are interdependent—on each other, on animals, on the weather, on the water, on the land. Encourage children to notice things around them at all times—changes in the weather, the movement of animals, the changing seasons. 

Discuss what it means to be a good steward with the students. Some suggestions for these discussions:

  • Set expectations about how we treat the land, the animals and each other. Remember: we are interdependent
  • Watch everything that goes on around you carefully so you will have a better understanding of it
  • Make people feel welcome when they come into your home, school or community
  • Never tease or harm animals or people. Do not cause suffering for any reason
  • Never waste or destroy the land, plants or animal parts. Never destroy a friendship
  • Always leave a place clean so no one would know you had been there
  • Carry out your non-biodegradable garbage. This includes plastics, cans, diapers and other garbage that cannot be reused, recycled or composted
  • Clean up around your house, playground, school and streets. Never litter
  • Never let things that have not come out of the water sink in it. The water is home to many creatures
  • Don’t waste water in the house or at school
  • Don’t tear up the land with machinery. Stay on trails as much as possible
  • Never spill gasoline into the water or onto the land
Teachings from the Past

Long ago, the land was kept clean so the animals would have secure and safe migration routes. Even bones were not to be disposed of in the water. The health of fish was always a consideration. In order to ensure that the fish thrive, the water was always to be kept clean. 

Specific rules were in place for igluit (snow houses). For example, nothing was to be placed near an entrance, because that would make snow pile up at the other entryway. In wintertime, igluit were oriented to face the sun. In this way, they would receive sunlight and face the north-west winds; snow does not pile up in the entrances when igluit face this direction. Placing igluit in this way meant they would provide good homes throughout the winter. 

Areas of land used for long-stay camps were left to rest before a group would make use of them again. For example, the land had to be allowed time—usually at least a year—to get rid of the scent of humans before people returned for another stay. ones were gathered and placed in one area before leaving the camp. 

Ittuqtarniq or anijaarniq is a daily routine for young children during which they observe the weather early in the morning. This experience can provide the first steps toward becoming environmental stewards. If we fail to be keen observers, we will be less able to adapt to conditions that are always changing.

Pijitsirniq – Training Children to Serve Others

Pijitsirarniq is the concept of serving others. The degree to which one demonstrates pijitsirarniq in life indicates a personal level of maturity and wisdom. It is taught from a very early age and applies to almost every aspect of life. This powerful concept provides guiding principles for raising children, as well as for how adults are valued by the group. Each person has a contribution to make and is valued according to that contribution. 

Inuit children have always been expected to serve others willingly. Serving means doing something for someone else. This is taught throughout childhood. Inuit have always been encouraged to be good servants to others. Serving a neighbour often meant offering something for them to use. This involves a forward-thinking vision, recognizing that the benefit of sharing what one has available may not come immediately but rather later, when it is needed. Ongoing, genuine concern for other people is a way of life. Serving others means to lead others with a vision that will benefit your neighbour through putting aside your own interests for the sake of helping someone else. 

Character is developed over time as part of the pijitsirniq process. The activities we rely on when first beginning to develop pijitsirarniq might appear to be unrelated to the core value, but this is because we begin with activities that are at the initial stages of development. As children become more skilled, and as attitude and character develop, the activities are more and more directly related to the core value. For this reason, it is important for parents and teachers to pay attention to the process of instilling pijitsirarniq in our children.

We hope the following ideas will help:

  • Don’t allow children to laze around. Give them tasks to accomplish
  • Expect children to do their tasks very well and always do their best 
  • Expect children to notice when something needs to be done and to act without being asked 
  • Expect children to do jobs when asked even if they are boring or messy 
  • Provide opportunities for children to show respect and love for others
  • Give children responsibilities, especially caring for others
  • Encourage children to do these things without expecting to be rewarded. Remind them that by doing these tasks well, they are showing love and respect for others and will be recognized throughout their lives as good people

B) Exploring Inuit Societal Values (continued)

Display the Inuit Societal Values (ISV) poster in the classroom. The poster shows the societal values that have been identified by Inuit as valuable. Investigate what each one means in order to understand what is important to ensuring Inuit live well together. Have the students form eight groups and assign each group a value to investigate. Provideach group with a Defining Terminology sheet for the specific value and an ISV blackline master. The task is to report back on their assigned value by describing what the value means. Students should predict why this would be identified by Inuit as a core value by answering these questions:

  • Why is this idea important to Inuit society?
  • What social expectations come from this societal value?

Use the ISV handout to record the students’ ideas.

Activity 2: Computer Project

Go to Have the students investigate the Inuit artifacts presented there to get ideas of the kinds of things Inuit made with the resources they had available. Have students select one artifact to report on. They should copy the photo of the artifact, and list all the materials that were used to create it and what technologies would have been required to produce this object. Each student should be prepared to report back to the class on their selected artifact. 


Assessing Inuit Life: Provide the chart handout for assessing how successful Inuit were at meeting their basic needs in the past. The chart can be on paper, or on a tablet or computer. Have the students work in small groups to collaborate—piliriqatigiingniq—and provide responses—aajiiqatigiingniq—in the chart. They should define how Inuit were able to provide shelter, clothing, food, transportation, heat, tools and weapons for themselves, describing all the skills that would have been required and the beliefs necessary to sustain this kind of cooperation. 


Additional Resources

  • The Resourcefulness of the Inuit. Case, R. and Daniels, L., eds. Critical Challenges Across the Curriculum Series. British Columbia Ministry of Education. 2002. ISSN 1205-9730
    Excellent learning resource directed at Grades 4 to 6. Highly recommended for more detailed teaching about Inuit
  • National Film Board of Canada: The Stories of Tuktu Series
    This series of films documents Inuit family life and interactions before forced relocation moved families off the land
  • ISUMA Inuit Studies Reader. Robinson, G., ed. Isuma Publishing, 2004. ISBN 0-9733297-0-X Exploring Inuit Cultural Curriculum. Teacher Resource Guide. Flynn.
  • The Canadian Home Schooler: Teach Your Kids About the Inuit People
    Some information and short lesson plans
  • Royal Ontario Museum: Learning with Inuit
    Interactive kit with artifacts, videos, lessons and teachers’ guide
  • Ducksters Education: Native Americans, Inuit Peoples
    Short, basic overview of traditional Inuit culture
  • Deepening Knowledge: Inuit Perspectives
    National Film Board of Canada videos and other resources
  • First Peoples, The Inuit of Canada. Corriveau, Danielle. Minneapolis: Lerner Publications Company, 2002. ISBN 082254850.
    Describes aspects of the way the Inuit lived in the past and how they live today—their spirituality and legends, transportation, and forms of entertainment—and how political changes have affected them
  • The Gift of the Inuksuk. Ulmer, Mike. Toronto: Thomson Gale, 2004. ISBN 158536214X
    A story about how the Inuksuk helped the Inuit harvest caribou
  • Through Mala’s Eyes: Life in an Inuit Community
  • Learn Alberta: A Comparative Look at Inuit Lifestyle
  • Explore Our Culture, the Inuit Impact, Inuit Inventions
    Suitable for student research

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