The Department of Education, in drafting Bill 25, An Act to Amend the Education Act and the Inuit Language Protection Act, has failed in one critical area – involving Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. (NTI), the protector of the Nunavut Agreement and Inuit rights, in the process of finding solutions to offer bilingual education sooner rather than later.
Citing Article 32 of the Nunavut Agreement, the Inuit organization says it should have been a full participant in the design of Nunavut’s education program, but it only saw the contents of the bill for the first time when it was tabled June 4.
“Nunavut Inuit have been clear in their expectations for the Education Act. Despite years of constructive contributions by NTI and other Nunavummiut, the Government of Nunavut appears to be offering very much the same repackaged amendments. This is not consistent with the responsibility entrusted to ministers of the legislative assembly by Nunavummiut,” stated president Aluki Kotierk June 5.
Aside from district education authorities, hiring principals and choosing school calendars, at the heart of the matter is the right of Inuit children to be educated in their mother tongue – Inuktitut or Inuinnaqtun.
“The government must be held accountable for the failure of Bill 25 to address NTI’s most important proposals on behalf of Nunavut Inuit in a meaningful way. On this slow a schedule, a child born today – who will be 20 years old in 2039 – will still not be able to receive Grades 9-12 instruction in Inuktut,” Kotierk stated.
With Bill 25, the department presented a phased schedule of curriculum, recruiting teachers, and resource development when it tabled Bill 25 on June 4 – delaying the date of bilingual education to Grade 12 from July 1, 2019 to July 1, 2039 for Inuktitut and 2037 for Inuinnaqtun.
In its news release, NTI explains that for more than a decade it has sought a partnership with the GN on education consistent with Article 32 of the Nunavut Agreement.
“Over a year ago, NTI proposed three joint initiatives as a path to Inuktut LOI (language of instruction),” states NTI.
The three initiatives are:
- Short- and medium-term implementation of targeted Inuit educator training programs.
- A new Department of Education Inuit Employment Plan (IEP), with a realistic timeline for representative Inuit employment in schools and the Department of Education.
- New timelines for Inuktut LOI, based on the IEP timeline for Inuit educator employment.
In an interview with Minister of Education David Joanasie, Nunavut News asked him what his department accomplished with Bill 25.
“The main thing is that we wanted to give it back to Nunavummiut and hear what they have to say, with the intent that it reflects what Nunavummiut have to say,” he replied.
Using the protection of caribou herds on the decline as a metaphor, Joanasie explained the new 20-year deadlines were necessary to build capacity.
But NTI’s position is clear: the GN’s approach is unacceptable. It calls on GN cabinet and members to show leadership, transparency and commitment to working with NTI on its suggested three-pronged solution to Nunavut’s education and language crisis.
A history of failure
The current language and education crisis is all the more galling because, while the Department of Education is embarking on consultant-led work for a 10-year strategy for education in the territory and a strategy for teacher retention and recruitment, that work has previously been done. A Bilingual Education Strategy for Nunavut: 2004-2008 exists, as does Qalattuq, 10 Year Educator Training Strategy 2006-2016.
When Nunavut News reported on the previous government’s labours with the failed Bill 37 in 2017, no one in government could recall these documents.
Further, the Government of Canada has responsibilities with regards to bilingual education for Inuit children. In the 2006 Nunavut Land Claims Agreement Implementation Contract Negotiations for the Second Planning Period 2003-2013, penned by conciliator Thomas Berger, the federal responsibilities are laid out.
“Neither in 1993 or in 1999 was there adequate attention given to estimating, and then meeting, the real costs that would be required for the development of a bilingual education system to address the objective of Article 23. They are only now beginning to be appreciated,” states Berger.
“If we are to achieve the goal of Article 23, a goal to which Canada has committed itself, can it be left to the Government of Nunavut? I think not. Nunavut does not, under Territorial Formula Financing, have the resources.”
Berger noted the GN had been seeking funds for bilingual education since 2002.
“There can be no doubt that what I propose will be costly. Equally there can be no doubt that Canada must provide the lion’s share of the funding,” he stated.
Read Thomas Berger on the importance of bilingual education in Nunavut (page 23):
As linguist Ian Martin has stated, “The federal government must contribute money to support Inuktut, the language of the majority of residents. Today, it directly supports the French language in Nunavut schools ($3 million/year) but not Inuktut.”
Meanwhile, an Inuk child who enters kindergarten in 2026, graduating in 2039, may – or may not, if history repeats – be a part of the very first cohort to graduate as an Inuit-language speaking young adult, with a sturdy education to see them succeed on an equal footing with their Canadian peers.
That’s 40 years after the formation of Nunavut, and several decades too late for thousands of Inuit right-holders.
Read Nunavut News coverage from 2017:
It’s not a surprise Kotierk has repeatedly expressed frustration to Nunavut News.
“What was envisioned in Section 8 was that Inuit parents would be able to have Inuktut-speaking teachers provide education in Inuktut and that Inuit children could go to school in Inuit languages, and be self-determined as Inuit in Nunavut,” Kotierk said in February.
“It just seems to be so backwards. I cannot fathom how I can articulate it in a clear way so that the Government of Nunavut would understand how frustrating this is for all Inuit parents.”
Bill 25 is scheduled for debate in the legislative assembly in October.