By Gabrielle St-Cyr

Understanding the differences and adapting to clients for better career counselling

According to the 2011 census, 59,000 Inuit live in Canada, making up 4.2% of the country’s Aboriginal population and 0.2% of the total population nationwide. Three quarters of the Inuit population live in Inuit Nunangat, a vast northern region that stretches from Labrador to the Northwest Territories. With a median age of 23, as compared to 41 for Canada’s non-Aboriginal population, the Inuit have the youngest population of the country’s three Aboriginal groups (First Nations, Métis and Inuit) (Statistics Canada, 2013). As of 2012, only 42% of Inuit across Canada had completed a high school diploma or the equivalent, which represents about half of the non-Aboriginal population (Bougie, Kelly-Scott and Arriagada, 2013). Aboriginal communities are also some of the poorest in Canada, mainly due to their low level of education, a salary gap vs. their non-Aboriginal peers and the exorbitant cost of life in remote areas (Wilson and MacDonald, 2010; Duhaime, 2009; Pendakur and Pendakur, 2008). Despite these challenges, the context of labour shortages and demographic challenges will propel an increasing number of young Inuit – and more generally, Aboriginal – workers into the labour market over the coming years. It is therefore important to provide them with career development services adapted to their culture and needs.

Culture-infused career counselling

Career development affects all aspects of an individual’s life, including training, work, family life and leisure activities. In this regard, it is infused by the culture, values and ways of thinking of each human being. According to the culture-infused career counselling approach, developed by Nancy Arthur and Sandra Collins among others (see the book Culture-Infused Counselling), it is essential to adapt career development strategies and intervention techniques to the sociocultural particularities of the target clientele. For Inuit communities, these cultural particularities are varied and rich, and include the relationship to time, closeness to the land and the importance of relationships with others. Based on oral tradition, the Inuit culture is also focused on observing and imitating desired behaviours, a learning method that applies to technical and personal skills equally – to both “hard” and “soft” skills. For example, Inuit youth learn the use of traditional hunting, fishing, sewing or cooking tools very quickly through observation and manipulation (RQuODE, 2016a, p.82).

Adapting interventions, a new method for counsellors

Employment counsellors who work with Inuit clients are faced with special challenges, whether they are Inuit or not. It is relevant for them to adapt their practices (generally based on Western representations) in accordance with the sociocultural particularities of the Inuit culture. But how can a strong cultural presence be ensured in individual and group interventions? Which strategies should be used with Inuit clients who have addiction problems or a weak educational background? How do you adapt one’s communication style and reduce one’s cultural filters in a context of culture-infused bilingualism (Inuktitut and French/English)?

In order to support counsellors working with Inuit clients, a reference guide was developed in 2016 in collaboration with Inuit representatives: the PINASUUTITSAQ guide (which means “working with” in Inuktituk) (RQuODE, 2016b). This CERIC-supported guide is based on two sources of data: literature review and industry professionals’ expertise, through focus groups and individual interviews with stakeholders based in Nunavik and Montreal (for instance, local employment agents, employment counsellors, career development professionals and professors).

The PINASUUTITSAQ guide suggests 50 intervention strategies, in addition to discussing the most frequent challenges for these clients. The areas of adaptation are many: developing relationships with clients, transitioning to a community-based approach, paying attention to self-confidence and empowerment, and diversifying the types of learning and communication. As an example, the following excerpt from the guide describes how the counsellor should interact with the client.

Prioritize developing and maintaining a trusting relationship with your client

Inuit society is based on human relationships and sharing. As in any support relationship, the working alliance must be a priority. For the Inuit, trust is earned over time through the demonstration of know-how. Given the high turnover rate of personnel, however, building trust may take longer in northern communities. Building a personal relationship with the client first, rather than focusing on the creation of a productive professional relationship, may be a useful approach.

– When possible, refer to “us” (e.g. we are going to do this together).
– Put aside more “conventional” approaches (e.g. take the time to talk about lighter topics, offer the client a coffee or water).
– Don’t try to rush the relationship or the working alliance. The Inuit are known for their patience and their keen sense of observation. They notice efforts, intentions and interests, even if they don’t mention them directly.
– Democratize the client–counsellor relationship. Despite your role as an “expert,” demonstrate humility and openness because, after all, the client is the expert when it comes to their own life. Remember: it is all about sharing knowledge.
– Speak about personal and professional experiences with the client (self-revelation), while taking care to respect boundaries

Download the free PINASUUTITSAQ guide (available in both English and French) at

Culture-Infused Career Counselling: An Approach Applicable to Other Realities

The culture-infused career counselling approach is also relevant for counsellors who work with immigrants or clients from other Aboriginal communities. Many cultural references transcend ethnic groups, especially as they relate to the community dimension and oral communication, so career counsellors can also use the adaptations proposed in the PINASUUTITSAQ reference guide. Since each individual and each situation is unique, it is up to counsellors to select and tailor the strategies set out in this guide by taking into account the local realities (e.g. northern communities, rural regions, metropolitan areas), the particular needs of each client, and their own strengths and needs as professionals.


Gabrielle St-Cyr is a Researcher and Project Manager at the Regroupement québécois des organismes pour le développement de l’employabilité (RQuODE). Since 2011, she has worked as lead researcher on several projects aimed at facilitating the employment integration of underrepresented groups, including new immigrants and Inuit adults.


ARTHUR, Nancy and Sandra Collins (2010).Culture-Infused Counselling, 2nd edition. Calgary, Counselling Concepts.

BOUGIE, Evelyne, Karen KELLY-SCOTT and Paula ARRIAGADA (2013). The Education and Employment Experiences of First Nations People Living Off Reserve, Inuit, and Métis: Selected Findings from the 2012 Aboriginal Peoples Survey (Catalogue No. 89-653-X — No. 001). Ottawa, Statistics Canada.

DUHAIME, Gérard (2009). La pauvreté au Nunavik – État des connaissances. Québec City, Université Laval – Canada Research Chair in Comparative Aboriginal Conditions.

PENDAKUR, Krishna and Ravi PENDAKUR (2008). Aboriginal Income Disparity in Canada. Metropolis British Columbia.

Regroupement québécois des organismes pour le développement de l’employabilité (2016). PINASUUTITSAQ. Reference Guide for Career Development Counsellors Working with Inuit Clients. Montréal, RQuODE.

Statistics Canada (2013). Aboriginal Peoples in Canada: First Nations People, Métis and Inuit. Analytical product – National Household Survey 2011 (Catalogue No. 99-011-X2011001). Ottawa, Government of Canada.

WILSON, Daniel and David MACDONALD (2010). “The Income Gap between Aboriginal Peoples and the Rest of Canada,” Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Ottawa, 34 pages.