Experiential Learning

From Louisiana to Calgary then on to Nunavut

Student experiences positive cultural shock through field school to Nunavut

Moving from Louisiana to Calgary two years ago was a culture shock for Nicholas Eckert, who left his home in the United States to pursue a degree in Criminal Justice at Mount Royal University two years ago.

Cowtown is a far cry from his previous abode near the shores of the Gulf of Mexico, where the weather is always warm and the snow never flies. Just as he was getting used to YYC's community, not to mention four seasons, Eckert found himself again immersed in a brand new culture and weather combo when he signed up to participate in Mount Royal's first Community Service Learning Field School in Nunavut (spring 2015).

The third-year student found himself observing the issues of the people of Rankin Inlet first-hand.

While Eckert said he has was aware of negative stereotypes about Canada's Inuit communities, what stood out to him and his fellow students were the positives of the Inuit community.

He said the cohesiveness in the community was immediately apparent. With that, there was an extremely strong connection to the land, as well as a community-driven desire to succeed.

"They have so much pride in their culture and in their people," he said. "They were really welcoming to us - they wanted to explain their way of life and connection to the land."

The CRJS field school to Rankin Inlet Nunavut ran throughout May and June 2015 and was the first of its kind for the Criminal Justice degree program. The field school consisted of four weeks in the classroom prior to departure as well as tours of Calgary's Correctional Centre and courthouse. The following two weeks were spent in Rankin Inlet working along side several justice service agencies such as the RCMP, the Pulaarvik Friendship Centre, Probation Services, the Rankin Inlet Healing Facility and Kivalliq Legal Society.

Rankin Inlet Field School2

Looking to broaden his horizon of justice, Eckert was one of four Mount Royal students to complete the field school.

Hailing from what he calls the "U.S. deep south," Eckert chose to attend Mount Royal after reading positive reviews about its Criminal Justice degree. Noting that he was well aware of the opportunities students at the University get to experience with many different challenges in diverse scenarios.

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"When I did my research on Mount Royal's program I really liked what I heard and what I read about the professors. It seemed like the best fit for the approach I want towards law enforcement," said Eckert, who hopes to complete his under graduate degree and eventually obtain a Masters' degree.

He said that MRU's Criminal Justice program has helped him experience and see policy from a different perspective.

"To me it sounded fascinating to experience another aspect of society," he said. "Originally when I first heard about it I was totally on board."

With a liberal approach and an open mind, Eckert saw much similarity between the remote northern community of Rankin Inlet and what he calls his own "isolated back woods" area of Louisiana.

"Everyone knows each others' business," he said. "There's obviously positives and negatives to that. I saw mostly positives, especially with how much (the Rankin Inlet community) all care for one another and want success for each other."

The field study was organized by Mount Royal Associate Professor Scharie Tavcer, PhD. One major concept of the course was to demonstrate to students that Canada's law is applied differently across the country. Tavcer explained that it is important to understand the application of laws; policies and processes differ across each region based on resources and culture.

"Here (Calgary), folks get tickets quite easily for failure to have a seatbelt or helmet," said Tavcer who has been with Mount Royal for 12 years. "Up north, it's not necessarily a priority to ticket every single person in the community.

"The application of the system is very different, there are bigger issues."

Eckert received a first-hand view of this when the students were observing circuit court, hearing all types of cases and judges rulings. He noticed that in house arrest sentences for young people, they were given an exception if their family was hunting.

The judge would grant weekends where the convicted could join their family on the land.

"You would never see that in the south," said Eckert. "That's unheard of, people being granted temporary leave from their sentence. But we found out its part of rehabilitation for them to experience the land with their family."

"It was shocking but very cool to see how they operate and how it's different."

Eckert and the three other students understand they were given an amazing opportunity, but why was Rankin Inlet chosen? The simple answer is, even as an extremely remote community by city slicker standards, Rankin Inlet, with a population of less than 3,000, is a northern community with more resources than most.

"When I first envisioned the program, our contact was an individual who once worked up there. The second reason is because it's relatively easy to get to. It's Calgary to Winnipeg and then to Rankin," said Tavcer.

The other major reason Rankin Inlet was chosen was because it turned out to be a community with a lot of resources. Even though in comparison to Calgary there may only be a fraction of resources in terms of justice agencies and so forth, the students found out Rankin Inlet has quite a lot for the North.

Even with a hub of resources for a northern community, Rankin Inlet still faces multiple challenges.

"There's a lack of continuous services," said Tavcer. "Court isn't every day of the week. Policing there is sparse and the nearest major hospital is a long way away."

With no roads and little between each community - harsh weather, and limited housing all play major factors to the challenges found in Rankin Inlet. Add in the massive expense to bring in fresh food and you begin to understand why laws and policies might vary in this particular part of Canada.

With all the existing challenges, Tavcer said that services and out-reach for mental health is very limited in Rankin Inlet and, in some places in Nunavut, non-existent.

"Those services don't exist up there and if they do it would be a rotating psychiatrist who stops in every three months."

Another major difference in Rankin Inlet is Territorial court. In Rankin Inlet it occurs over one week, every two months. In Calgary, the court system runs five days a week all year.

Ben Reid the second of four Mount Royal students to make the trip was fascinated with the people he got to interact with. Reid said that even though there were challenges, he and the other students enjoyed connecting with the people and understanding their appreciation for their land.

"Everyone had a real desire to help others. The situation from Calgary was so different," said Reid, pointing out that he had heard a lot of stories about the so called "not so great conditions" he expected to encounter in Canada's north. But the third-year student insists you don't hear enough about how many great people are up there.

"Normally in the news you don't hear about all the positives and the great things that are happening in the North," said Reid.

Additionally, the students engaged in various community service activities. The group volunteered with Deacon's Cupboard food bank, clothing closet and did several activities in conjunction with the Rankin Rock girls' under 18-hockey team, primarily focusing on self-esteem exercises.

The field school is a 3­credit Community Service Learning designated course within the Criminal Justice degree.

The experience taught Eckert that young adolescents are caught between two worlds - the modern society of iPads, Facebook and the Internet and the tradition of their elders.

"In a lot of ways, they are stuck in between Inuit culture and mainstream culture," he said. "They have the elders teaching them the ways of their life and how simplistic and harmonious it is."

Tavcer believes this experience was necessary. Stating, regardless of what job her students end up doing after graduation; they will encounter the over-representation of First Nations people in every arena of the justice system. She believes it is crucial for students to understand the differences between the Aboriginal and the Inuit, to comprehend that the justice system does not operate in a rigid manner, and that the realities of life in Canada's North require our appreciation and our engagement.

"They need to understand who these people are, where they come from, what is reality."

The Criminal Justice Program aims to offer the field school again in the spring of 2017.

Sept. 21, 2015 - Jonathan Anderson