Here we go again

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Education Minister David Joanasie announced Sept. 4 that his department will consult the public on draft legislation to reform education and language laws.

The Taptuna government’s efforts to present similar legislation – Bill C-37 – in the last legislative assembly collapsed in the final days of the government’s tenure. It was an embarrassment.

The decision by Premier Peter Taptuna and Education Minister Paul Quassa to stand by an idea that would cancel any targets for Nunavut’s high school students to speak Inuktitut upon graduation – among other line items, such as the parental right to have a child be taught in the official language of their choice – became a badge of dishonour they seemed to wear with pride. It was our last memory of the Taptuna government, and the ensuing Quassa premiership was short-lived.

Joanasie, then a regular MLA, was an outspoken critic of Quassa’s proposed legislation. Quassa turned the tables in November 2017, making Joanasie his education minister. It was time for Joanasie to walk the walk.

So now the education department is drafting its legislation and appears to be using Bill C-37 as the template. The sticking points appear unchanged.

The primary contentious issue – delaying bilingual education until the Inuit Employment Plan can be implemented – remains, and Joanasie’s department will get an earful from Nunavummiut about this.

Admittedly, we’re not sure how the problem can be solved considering: a) Nunavut is unable to graduate enough Inuktut-speaking teachers to fill the need; b) even getting teacher positions filled at all seems to be an issue; and c) any delays in doing a or b could jeopardize the survival of Inuktut.

A second issue, largely overlooked in last year’s debate, is the suggestion students would be better served by having the regional and territorial coalition of district education authorities merge into one, with the Department of Education making significant decisions currently made by the local DEAs.

This includes, as we reported last week, the authority to choose the language of instruction for schools, establish school calendars, develop a registration and attendance policies, hire and fire teachers and principals and provide early childhood education programming that promotes Inuit culture.

This is apparently lifted from the original Bill C-37, and that isn’t sitting well with the current coalition, or with parents, according to the coalition’s executive director. They weren’t happy with it last year either.

The ideas that caused the bill’s rejection last year are coming back to the table for discussion. This is cause for apprehension but the difference this year is we do not have the same sense of urgency Quassa and Taptuna had to get the bill passed before the government’s tenure ended.

There is some time to do this right but we don’t have forever.

We have hopes that a new government – and new higher-ups at Education – might do a better job. Doing so means being ready to make substantial changes based on feedback from Inuit across Nunavut, and a true understanding that any language loss can be reversed – it’s been done in Hawaii, for example – before it’s too late.

The last government didn’t listen and suffered as a result. This is the Premier Joe Savikataaq government’s first real test. We’ll be watching, and hoping for success, simply because there’s so much at stake.