Task Force on Northern Post-Secondary Education

As part of Arctic and Northern Policy Framework commitments, the Government of Canada and framework partners have nominated an independent task force on Northern post-secondary education.

On this page

About the task force

The arms-length task force is dedicated to improving post-secondary education in Canada's North.

Members were nominated by Northern governments, Indigenous organizations and co-development partners of the framework.

The following framework objectives will inform their work:

The task force will be led by northerners, with balanced and diverse representation from:


The task force announced the launch of their official website and Facebook page in May 2021, signaling at the same time the start of broader public engagements.

Every Canadian should have access to quality education and skills training no matter where they live. The task force's work will help find innovative solutions to improve education opportunities and outcomes in Canada's North and Arctic, leading to better jobs, improved health and well-being, and economic growth.

In keeping with public health guidelines, the task force members led public engagement sessions across the North. The regional engagement phase of their plan was completed on November 15, 2021. The task force is now in the research analysis and report writing phase. Final recommendations are expected by March 31, 2022.

A Northern moment: Minister Vandal chats with the original Northern Post-Secondary Education Task Force (video)

What we are doing

Budget 2019 proposed a number of new measures to complement existing efforts to strengthen Arctic and Northern communities, including $40 million over 5 years to support options for post-secondary education in the North.

This funding includes:

Building on these investments, and to further increase access to quality post-secondary education in Canada's North, Budget 2021 proposed to provide the following funding:

Task force members

Listed below are the members that were originally appointed to the task force in October 2020.

Malerie Bayha, Northwest Territories

Malerie Bayha is a youth member of the Délı̨nę First Nation. She was enrolled in first year pre-medicine at Red Deer College and is working toward a Bachelor of Science in Psychology at University of Alberta. She volunteered at Red Deer Regional Hospital for 2 years and has received a Health and Life Sciences Fundamentals certificate and First Aid certificate Level C. Bayha was employed as Traditional Knowledge research assistant for the Délı̨nę Got'ine Government in the summer of 2018.

James Cook, Manitoba

James Cook grew up in Opaskwayak Cree Nation which is 6 hours north of Winnipeg and next door to The Pas. He considers both places home. James highlights his role as a 31- year- old dad to 3 amazing children and a husband to an incredible wife. He is currently enrolled in the second year of the Business Administration program at University College of the North in The Pas. James loves playing basketball in his spare time. He enjoys teaching his kids their homework and playing games with them. He also loves reading books with his wife and just being in her presence. For Cook, home is wherever his wife is. Everything he does in this world, he does for his world.

Ashlee Cunsolo, Newfoundland and Labrador

Ashlee Cunsolo PhD, is the founding Dean of the School of Arctic and Subarctic Studies at the Labrador Institute of Memorial University. She is working with multiple partners in Labrador and at Memorial University to lead the development of an academic unit in Labrador to offer Northern-led and Northern-focused undergraduate, graduate, and professional learning opportunities, as well as to establish a Labrador Campus of Memorial University. Cunsolo sits on a variety of research and education councils and boards, both at Memorial University and externally and focuses on institution building, equity, diversity and inclusion in higher education, Northern sovereignty in research and education and Indigenization and decolonization of the academy.

Florence Kushniruk, Yukon

Florence Kushniruk is the Post-Secondary Program Officer at Champagne and Aishihik First Nation's Education Department. She sits on the President's Advisory Committee on First Nation Initiatives within Yukon University. She has worked for her First Nation since the age of 12 in many capacities but joined the education team permanently in October 2011. Kushniruk completed the Business Administrative Certificate program at Yukon College in 2016 but resigned in June 2017 in order to move forward with completing the diploma accreditation program. She returned to work for her First Nation and accepted the Post-Secondary Program Officer position in 2019. Kushniruk is passionate about helping students reach goals they thought were unattainable because of their situation and uses her own experiences to understand, empathize and support each student.

Jodie Lane, Newfoundland and Labrador

Jodie Lane is Nunatsiavut's Director of Education. She is a beneficiary of the Labrador Inuit Land Claims Agreement and was born and raised in the Inuit community of Makkovik. She completed her Bachelor of Arts in Sociology at the University of Guelph, and then returned to her home to work for the Labrador Inuit Association, now Nunatsiavut Government, as a career fair coordinator. She has since held the positions of Education Counsellor and Education Manager for the Nunatsiavut Government's Department of Education and Economic Development, and earned her Master's in Education at Mount Saint Vincent University. Every year Lane visits all schools in Nunatsiavut, spreading the message of the importance of education while helping to guide students through the high school system and into post-secondary studies. She also played a key role in developing an Inuit Bachelor of Education program in collaboration with the Labrador Institute of Memorial University, which prepares teachers using curriculum infused with Inuit cultural content.

Erika Marteleira, Nunavut

Erika Marteleira is the manager of the Post-Secondary Education Secretariat, a body which is guided by the input of the Inuit Post-Secondary Steering Committee, composed of representatives from each of the 4 Inuit land claim organizations and the 3 Nunavut regions at Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami. She lived in Iqaluit for 7 years and served as an instructor at the Nunavut Arctic College. Prior to that, Erika worked as a senior environmental assessment coordinator in Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada's Nunavut Regional Office. She holds a master's degree in Environmental Sciences, Policy and Management and a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Sciences. She presently lives in Ottawa.

Rebecca Mearns, Nunavut

Rebecca Mearns is the Acting President of Nunavut Arctic College. She took on this role in September of 2020. Prior to this she also held the positions of Vice-President and the Dean of Education, Inuit, and university studies. Before joining the college, Mearns was an instructor at Nunavut Sivuniksavut, the Inuit impact and Benefit Agreement Manager at the Qikiqtani Inuit Association and a researcher at Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami. She was also a constable of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. She holds an undergraduate degree in Sociology with a minor in Law and Aboriginal Studies, and a Master of Arts in Geography and Environmental Studies, both from Carleton University. Her graduate research focused on the sharing of Inuit knowledge between Elders and youth and the use of land-based camps to facilitate learning.

Peesee Pitsiulak, Nunavut

Peesee Pitsiulak is Dean of the Nunatta Campus of Nunavut Arctic College in the Qikiqtani Region of Nunavut. She is from Kimmirut, Nunavut. She is one of the last generation who lived on the land before the relocation to settlements. Pitsiulak became a teacher's aide in 1975 before earning her teaching license. Pitsiulak has a Bachelor of Education degree from McGill University and a Master of Education degree from University of Prince Edward Island. Pitsiulak has worked at Nunavut Arctic College since 1990 in the capacity of instructor, chair, and dean over the years. She has held a variety of positions related to the field of education in Nunavut, including as a grade school teacher in Kimmirut, an instructor and principal at the Nunavut Teach Educator Program, the Director of Curriculum and School Services, and later the Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit Coordinator at the Government of Nunavut's Department of Education. Pitsiulak has a passion for keeping Inuit language and culture alive.

Angélique Ruzindana Umunyana, Northwest Territories

Angélique Ruzindana Umunyana is originally from Rwanda and has lived in Yellowknife for 14 years. She received her Ph.D. in Microbiology from the Université de Sherbrooke. She sits on the Board of Directors of the Collège Nordique Francophone and brings a francophone perspective to the task force on Northern Post-Secondary Education. She has focused her attention on bringing high-quality post-secondary education to the North since she moved to Yellowknife. She has raised her own family in the North, while having to send them to southern Canada to pursue their own educational aspirations.

Tosh Southwick, Yukon

Tosh Southwick belongs to the Wolf moiety and is a citizen of Kluane First Nation. She grew up in a small Northern community and is the mother to three children and auntie to many more. Southwick is a co-owner of IRP Consulting where her company focuses on inspiring reconciliation potential across sectors and supporting the self determination of Indigenous communities. Prior to opening IRP Consulting, Southwick was the Associate Vice President of Indigenous engagement and reconciliation at Yukon University. She has also worked in governance, education, human resources and health for various First Nations Governments and organizations. Southwick served as a youth councillor and deputy chief for her First Nation. She currently sits as the chair of the Yukon Training Policy Committee and is an active member of the Kluane First Nation Development Corporation. Southwick acquired her Bachelor of Arts from the University of Victoria with Honours in Psychology and completed a Master of Education from the University of British Columbia.

James Takkiruq, Nunavut

James Takkiruq is from Gjoa Haven, Nunavut and is currently studying in his final year of law at the Nunavut Law Program. Takkiruq is 21 years old and hopes to be a practicing lawyer by the time he turns 23. Takkiruq hopes that through the task force he is able to improve the post-secondary experience for those who are planning to study at Northern institutions. Studying at one himself, he hopes to provide useful input in task force discussions. Participating in the task force is a great honour for him, even more so due to the fact that he is still a student in a Northern post-secondary institution.

Kelsey Wrightson, Northwest Territories

Dr. Kelsey Wrightson is the Executive Director of the Dechinta Centre for Research and Learning. Wrightson grew up in Edmonton, Alberta, and completed her Ph.D. at the University of British Columbia in 2015 with a focus on Dene governance and cultural practices. In 2016 she held a post-doctoral research and teaching position at Queen's University in the Centre for Indigenous Arts, and then returned to the University of British Columbia, working in research grant administration before moving to Somba'ke to work at the Dechinta Centre.

Melanie Bennett, Yukon

Melanie Bennett is the Executive Director with the Yukon First Nations Education Directorate and is from the Tr'ondёk Hwёch'in First Nation. In her 30-year education career she has served as a First Nation liaison, teacher and administrator in First Nation schools and ministry-operated schools in British Columbia and Yukon. Bennett takes pride in our Yukon First Nations ways of knowing, Traditional Knowledge and strongly advocates that First Nations culturally relevant learning should happen for our students every day in every school. Bennett holds a Bachelor of Education from Malaspina University and a Master of Education from University of Northern British Columbia in multidisciplinary leadership.

Lisa Mesher, Nunavik

Lisa Mesher is an Inuk from Kuujjuaq, Nunavik, Quebec, and she currently resides in Montreal. She is a beneficiary of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement. Mesher is the Director of the Post-Secondary department with Kativik Ilisarniliriniq. In this role, her responsibilities include defining the objectives and services of the department and she is also responsible for planning, managing, organizing and the evaluation of the student sponsorship Program. She has held management positions in both the Education and Health and Social Services networks for over 14 years. Before joining Kativik Ilisarniliriniq in 2013, Mesher worked for 6 years in the Health and Social Services sector as the Associate Director of the Module du Nord Québécois and as the Director of the Inuit Values and Practices Department for the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services. She is passionate about the advancement and wellbeing of her people.

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