Nunavusiutit Curriculum Coordinator
Government of Nunavut in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut
Since the beginning of his career, Ken Beardsall has focused his work on the intersection between Inuit knowledge and geography. Beardsall participated in an eastern Arctic summer exchange program in eighth grade. There, the North mesmerized Beardsall with its varied landscapes and its fascinating cultures. During his bachelor’s degree in Geography and Native Studies (Trent University), every one of his projects was related to the North in one way or another. In hopes of one day living in the Arctic, Beardsall learned Ojibwe and, later, Inuktitut. His connection to northern communities, along with his language skills, facilitated a smooth relocation to Nunavut after finishing his Bachelor’s of Education (Lakehead University). Currently, Beardsall works to integrate First Nations perspectives into the Nunavut high school curriculum.
1. Can you describe your career path since graduation?
My undergraduate honours thesis was called “Appropriate Education for the Inuit Geographer.” I did my research in Nunavut, where I studied how the Inuit people practice what we traditionally call ‘geography,' and the types of education programs that would support their practices. That was in 1986, and I am still doing the same work. Then, I became a teacher and moved up to Nunavut, and soon realized that there was nearly no geography in the curriculum. I was sad because
students could benefit so much from a geography education, and the opportunities are almost endless. Now, I am developing Nunavut’s social studies curriculum and trying to include geography wherever possible, but it has been a tough road.
2. How do you incorporate geography into your work?
Nunavut, with its two million square kilometers of territory, has small, spread out communities. Consequently, I collaborate with a wide-range of people in different time zones. Every time I travel for work, bring people together, look at maps and figure out which route to use, I use geography. It is interesting how geography comes up everywhere, not just in my career. We bought a boat from Nova Scotia and moved it up to Nunavut in the summer, so my geography skills came in handy. I am also on the community search and rescue team, where a sense of direction is crucial.
3. In what ways did your program prepare you for your career?
I took a course called Geography of the Arctic in university. There was one student from northern Quebec, and having him in our class was extremely helpful; he could speak with experience about life in the Arctic. In that class, there was a moment of realization when I began thinking about how we can combine geography with Inuit knowledge.
Researching for my honours thesis prepared me the most for what I am doing now. I deeply want to help Nunavut produce more geography students at the university level. It would assist the students to have their voices heard, but it would also help the entire disciple of geography. Their unique perspectives can contribute substantially to the whole conversation of geography and the furthering of this discipline.
4. Do you have any advice for students wishing to attain a fulfilling career in geography?
Stay open minded, because geography covers a vast area. There are so many opportunities and options that you may not even consider. Keep your options open and learn as much as you can. Learn GIS, even at a basic level, because it is an excellent way to express data and spatial trends.