Decolonization will be long, expensive process

by Editorial Board- September 22, 2017

This week, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. presented a commissioned report detailing the lost wages from the territorial and federal governments’ failure to implement Article 23 of the Nunavut Agreement, which calls for government staffing ratios to match that of the population.
Nunavut is 84 per cent Inuit but Inuit make up only 50 per cent of Government of Nunavut employees. The federal government sits at only 41 per cent.

The new report updates one from 2003, which noted that Inuit employment had fallen from 1999 levels of 45 per cent down to 42 per cent in 2002.

That year, the Nunavut government and NTI agreed to a target ratio of 85 per cent Inuit employment for public service employees in Nunavut. A doubling of the 2002 ratio was ambitious.

A review of the Nunavut government’s own Inuit employment statistics, available for anyone to read on its website, shows the Inuit employment ratio surged to 50 per cent within a few years but has been stalled at that 50 per cent level for the past decade.

It’s no wonder NTI sued the federal and territorial governments for $1 billion, eventually settling for $255 million. But perhaps NTI’s new president (new since the settlement, anyway) is gearing up to fight for the rest, as $255 million won’t go very far to train Inuit to take government jobs.

Premier Peter Taptuna touts the Nunavut government’s success in doubling the number of Inuit working in the public service, but they have also hired a non-Inuit employee every time they’ve hired an Inuk. The size of government has certainly grown but not the percentage of Inuit employees.
Nunavummiut are fed up. It should be no surprise that MLAs, reflecting the mood, rejected the government’s last-ditch effort to make amendments to the Education Act and the Inuit Language Protection Act that would have relaxed timelines for language instruction in Inuktitut. The government is not hiring enough teachers who can teach Inuktitut to meet its own standards within the promised timeline, and Nunavummiut have heard enough excuses.

It will take a tremendous effort, and a substantial investment to achieve true parity, if that can ever happen. Where will these teachers come from? How do you train non-Inuit teachers to teach in Inuktitut if they stay a year, two, or three?

Housing, Environment, and Community and Government Services are all sitting well below 50 per cent Inuit employment. Education and Health, surprisingly, are actually fairly average by the government’s standards.

The government is top-heavy with non-Inuit, who take up the upper management and professional roles. It’s no wonder the government is investing in programs to train Inuit managers and professionals.

This top-down approach to government is a Western model that needs to be considered in any decolonization efforts.

In order to achieve parity, a Nunavut government must fully immerse itself in Inuit culture and traditions. This will remain a sticking point if education levels and cultural confidence don’t grow.

Which leads us back to NTI. The government either doesn’t have the money, the capacity, or the interest to get serious about training Inuit for the future of Nunavut’s bureaucracy. It’s time for NTI to push even harder, and aim for that $1 billion mark again.

It’s going to take that amount – or more – to do this right, before Inuit language and culture disappear.

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