Thanks to an innovative new program in Nunavut, 15 future Inuit lawyers have completed their first semester at law school.

Many native people who go south to study end up dropping out because of culture shock and language difficulties. So the organizers of the new Akitsiraq Law School in Iqaluit, Nunavut, tried a different approach: They brought the school to the students, instead of the other way around.

Now, students have the option of staying close to home and learning about not only mainstream law, but also traditional Inuit law and the Inuit language, Inuktitut.

“We recognized that for most aboriginal applicants, it’s not possible to go to law school; poverty, the demands of family, and living in the South mean there are too many distractions,” says Don Galloway, a law professor at the University of Victoria and one of the Akitsiraq’s directors.

About 42 percent of the Nunavut population over the age of 15 have no schooling past Grade 9, and just 6 percent have a university degree. Yet public-service jobs are eventually required to be filled by Inuit in proportion to their population in Nunavut.

Currently, Nunavut is home to only one lawyer from the Inuit population – the territory’s premier, Paul Okalik.

The law school has the financial backing of the federal and Nunavut governments and is a partnership between the University of Victoria law school in British Columbia (more than 2,200 miles away), the Nunavut Arctic College, and the Akitsiraq Law School Society.

Of the 15 students in the program, 13 are parents. To ensure they’re able to support their families while they study, most receive government funding. In return, they will work for their sponsors during school breaks and for at least two years after they graduate. They must also agree to remain in the North for four years after graduation. The classes are taught by professors from various Canadian universities. Most of them fly into the community every week, while at least one professor stays in Iqaluit for the term.

Mr. Okalik, the premier, says that by 2020, he wants his people to have the same living standards as others in Canada. This program is one step. “If you want legal counsel on any given issue today, you won’t likely get it in the territory, especially for Inuit clients who won’t likely receive service in their language,” he says.

Source: The Christian Science Monitor.