Proposed interim act delays Inuktut language instruction in schools

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Education Minister Joanasie’s proposed Interim Language of Instruction Act passed first reading Feb. 21. Joanasie says the act is temporary and would end either when the bill to amend the Education Act and Inuit Language Protection Act is passed by MLAs or is no longer on the order paper of the legislative assembly.
photo courtesy Nunavut Legislative Assembly

Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. president Aluki Kotierk is at her wit’s end with the Department of Education on the matter of language of instruction in schools and the language rights of Inuit parents and children.

Education Minister David Joanasie’s proposed Interim Language of Instruction Act passed first reading Feb. 21.

“The proposed Interim Language of Instruction Act (LOI Act) will be a temporary measure only delaying the July 1, 2019 implementation deadline for the delivery of bilingual education for Grades 4-12 until a decision has been made on the bill to amend the Education Act and the Inuit Language Protection Act (ILPA),” stated Joanasie by e-mail.

“It will not affect the implementation deadline for the delivery of bilingual education for kindergarten to Grade 3, which will remain unchanged.”

On Feb. 18, in advance of the first reading, Kotierk told Nunavut News she hadn’t been given the information on what exactly the interim act would entail.

“The frustration is we have Article 32 of the Nunavut Agreement, we’ve consistently said we want to work with you, and I don’t understand why, yet again, there’s a demonstration that the Government of Nunavut is comfortable and OK with making decisions that impact on Inuit in a social and cultural manner without having input from Nunavut Tunngavik. It boggles my mind,” said Kotierk about the proposed interim act.

Kotierk said though the GN did inform NTI it was considering an interim act, it did not reply to an NTI request for detail.

“We could not agree to such a thing without knowing what we’re agreeing to,” she said.

The bill to amend the Education Act and ILPA is scheduled to be introduced at the June sitting, Joanasie stated.

“The Department of Education is currently reviewing all the comments and feedback from the fall’s consultations. We will release a summary of the Report of the Education Act and Inuit Language Protection Act Consultation Findings in early May 2019,” stated Joanasie.

The current Education Act deadlines are legal requirements.

“This proposed LOI Act will provide continuity to Nunavut’s education system, keeping the Government of Nunavut in compliance with its own laws,” said Joanasie, declining to indicate who might bring legal action against the GN.

Asked if there’s a failsafe in the proposed bill to revert back to Inuit rights to a bilingual education, Joanasie replied:

“The measures of the proposed LOI Act are temporary and will end once either the bill to amend the Education Act and ILPA is passed by MLAs; or, will return to the previous July 1, 2019 implementation deadline once the bill to amend the Education Act and ILPA is no longer on the order paper of the legislative assembly.”

Joanasie stressed his department’s commitment to bilingual education in the territory.

“We are committed to providing a detailed, sustainable plan to ensure the language of instruction obligations are met moving forward. This plan will be presented in June 2019 when the bill to amend the Education Act and ILPA will be introduced in the legislative assembly.”

Meanwhile, Kotierk says the GN’s efforts are misguided and misplaced.

“Instead of focusing on how to increase Inuktut-speaking Inuit teachers, they’re continuing to focus on how to push back the date to which they have to comply,” she said.

“That’s a disservice to Inuit.”

She notes this year marks the 10th anniversary of the Inuit Language Protection Act coming into force.

“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.

“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.”

Kotierk added she’d have further comment Feb. 22, after Joanasie tabled his proposed interim act.