Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut March 17, 2017 - 1:10 pm

Group of academics protest Nunavut’s Education Act amendments

GN's Education Act amendments could violate UNDRIP, researchers say

A group of academics who work at universities across southern Canada says that the Government of Nunavut's proposals for Inuktut language development may violated the United Nations Declaration on Indigenous Rights. (FILE PHOTO)
A group of academics who work at universities across southern Canada says that the Government of Nunavut's proposals for Inuktut language development may violated the United Nations Declaration on Indigenous Rights. (FILE PHOTO)

In an open letter to Premier Peter Taptuna and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a group of Canadian academics has sounded the alarm over what they call a “language crisis” in Nunavut, triggered by the territory’s newly-tabled amendments to the Education Act.

Bill 37, introduced March 7 in the Legislative Assembly, proposes amendments to the 2008 Nunavut Education Act and Inuit Language Protection Act.

They include completing the implementation of Inuktut as the language of instruction from Grade 4 to Grade 9 by 2029, and introduce Inuktut as the language of instruction for Grade 10 to Grade 12 when the minister is able to certify that Nunavut’s teaching capacity is able to allow it.

The group of 16 academics, who include anthropologists, linguists, educators and social researchers, demand that the Government of Nunavut revise on those plans and instead beef up its spending on Inuktut-language education across the territory.

“Bill 37 would remove the right to K-12 schooling in Inuktut, replacing it with a much delayed and watered down right to a ‘majority of instruction’ in Inuktut, and only from K-9,” the group wrote in an open letter to the GN and federal senators, written March 16.

“Perhaps as troubling, the Government of Nunavut has offered no plan to meet even this goal.”

The letter alleged the proposed amendments are a breach of international human rights case, given the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is supposed to guarantee Indigenous people a right to education in their own language.

One of the letter’s signatories is Fiona Walton, a retired professor of education at the University of Prince Edward Island, where she used to coordinate a Master of Education program in collaboration with the GN. Between 2006 and 2013, that program saw 38 Nunavummiut graduates.

“There have been tremendous gains in developing Inuit teachers,” she said.

But the territory’s flagship training program, the Nunavut Teacher Education Program, must strengthen its model, she said, by offering a wider range of courses, made available in the communities and launch a vigorous recruitment campaign at attract new students.

When Nunavut’s Education Act was first introduced in 2008, the territory counted 246 Inuit teachers, the letter noted. Today, there are 45 fewer, 201 Inuit teachers for 9,300 Inuit students, while the territory employs 453 non-Inuit teachers.

While the letter urges the GN to take action on bilingual education, Walton and her colleagues say Nunavut cannot do all this alone—much of the pressure should be applied to the federal government to make good on its commitment to reconciliation.

The group calls on Ottawa to re-think how its finances education in the official language of Nunavut’s majority—Inuktut—to provide support “commensurate with the challenge at hand.”

“I think it’s time to ramp up, with reconciliation being on the horizon so clearly,” Walton said.

“The Inuktut language carries incredibly valuable Inuit knowledge,” she said. “The depth of the loss is often only realized later.

“If there’s no movement, it will be swept away.”

  Inuktut in Nunavut Open Letter March 16th, 2017 by NunatsiaqNews on Scribd


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(29) Comments:

#1. Posted by Perfunctory Pete on March 17, 2017

The irony here is that most people in Nunavut are so phobic of academics, academia and research that they will slit their own throats before listening to any recommendations or solutions from such sources.

The “our land, our way” crowd have proven to be complete failures.

But that’s okay, at least we’re going down the toilet “our way”!

#2. Posted by Egerton Ryerson on March 17, 2017

I think the GN will be able to knock this one down pretty quickly and just ignore it.

Like, just listen to Fiona Walton - “There have been tremendous gains in developing Inuit teachers.” Then right underneath it says there were 246 Inuit teachers in 2008 but only 201 Inuit teachers now. This sounds like a tremendous loss, not a tremendous gain.

But I guess if you have a vested career interest in hustling the GN on behalf of UPEI, you have to keep on bragging about the failed NTEP program to keep those dollars flowing into UPEI.

I agree with #1 though. Nunavut is so anti-intellectual nobody will pay much attention to this anyway. The irony is delicious.

#3. Posted by Knockout Ned on March 17, 2017

This is the problem with the Education Act debate today.

Everyone wants K-12 Inuktitut language instruction, me included. But no one will propose a realistic way to get there any time soon.

Academics complaining about this won’t help. Decrying Bill 37 on FB won’t help.

You know what would help? People going through NTEP and becoming teachers - and STAYING teachers. GN Departments should refuse to hire NTEP Grads for anything other than teaching.

Perhaps the FB critics should consider encouraging people to become teachers, or even becoming teachers themselves if they feel so passionately about Inuktitut education.

There’s an old saying - you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. We can offer NTEP for a thousand years, but if folks aren’t going to complete the program and begin teaching, no amount of ILPA or UNDRIP protections are going to help.

Maybe the leaders of NTI/RIAs began encouraging Inuit to become teachers, or offering Inuktitut lessons.

#4. Posted by Vultures! on March 17, 2017

Thank you.  We are aware how this will hurt the Inuktitut language programming in Nunavut and have opposed it since we first seen the proposal.  It’s the staff, not the Minister, who have been the driving force for this amendment and they are very keen on imposing it upon us, lifetime Nunavut residents.  They don’t care about the Inuktitut language being lost, they only care about advancing their own personal career and seeing this system going back 50 years.  Thank you so much for this back up, Canadian researchers.

Amazing how vile the first 3 commenters are about Nunavummiut.  If you don’t like it up here, maybe time to go back to where you were a nobody - before you came up here to make a name for yourselves!

#5. Posted by Pistol Pete on March 17, 2017

This is so embarrassing for the GN and the department of Education!
How can this department continue to function so incompetently for so long without any changes?

Scandalous and embarrassing!

#6. Posted by Teacher on March 17, 2017

#3 how about encouraging the GN to follow through with the education act instead!
That is where the problem lies, the NTEP program needs to proper tools and resources to produce Inuit teachers, working with language specialists and creating resources and teaching manuals and a curriculum to use for these teachers.
What have the department of Education done the last 10 years?  None! A big fat 0!
Since 2012 this department has been warned that they are not implementing the education act and now 2017 they want to amend the act because they cannot do their job or do not want to do their job. The Minister of Education is not in control and he needs to step up and do the right thing.

#7. Posted by UNDRIP on March 17, 2017

Not one of those academics is a lawyer/law professor, yet they write pretty confidently that Canada/the GN is breaking international law.

Except that UNDRIP isn’t the law in Canada. It’s been signed, and the Harper and Trudeau Governments have said nice words about it, but it’s never been implemented by Parliament as required to become law.


#8. Posted by Egerton Ryerson on March 17, 2017

#7 I noticed that too. There is no evidence that these self-appointed experts bothered to consult a lawyer or law professor with knowledge of international law or the Constitution.

This is an issue that no Canadian court has ever adjudicated. If any court were ever asked to do so, it’s likely any case based purely on UNDRIP would be dismissed summarily, on the grounds that UNDRIP is not the law in Canada, as you say.

Their claim about UNDRIP is simply pompous, uninformed bloviation. Oops indeed!

#9. Posted by Putuguk on March 17, 2017

UNDRIP was adopted by the UN in 2007, a year before our existing Education Act with a K-12 Inuktun education.

For the past decade, GN has been in violation of UNDRIP, even though the declaration is non-binding.

The Government of Canada, through insufficient territorial transfer has abetted in this violation.

For the past 9 years, GN has been in violation of its own Education Act.

During that period, GC has been an accessory to this violation in ignoring this need within territorial transfers.

All this before Bill 37.

If history is any lesson here, it is that what is stated internationally or written in law is a fairly poor indication about what actually gets done.

That is, unless you are a Prof in a letter writing mood.

Therefore, whatever the future Ed Act says seems to be pretty well immaterial in relation to the supply of Inuktun teachers. 

When our Grade 12 grads make career choices based on international resolutions, maybe times will change.

#10. Posted by Hmmm2 on March 17, 2017

So, it is always nice when people who dont live here, wouldnt move to Nunavut and would never offer to teach here, let alone raise their children here have such informed positions. When they are prepared to do that, the territory may have qualifed language instruction support.

But i am guessing that the members of that academic report are not going to risk their children on the great Nunavut education experience in any language. Quality instruction with an emphasis on language development would be great, but you cannot force all the ntep grads to maintain careers in the most thankless, illsupported career in the territory.

Heck we struggle to keep any consistent teachers that are under the age of 30. Move here, put your family where your report is, that might explain everything.

#11. Posted by Gyges on March 17, 2017

#7 UNDRIP is an aspirational statement of goals and principles, without any legal weight behind it. It is not the ‘law’ anywhere and may never be. All these comments about the legal implications of Bill 37 in relation to it are meaningless.

#9 Your suggestion that the GN has been in violation of UNDRIP for ten years is an odd one, partly because you recognize that it is non-binding and also because the Government of Canada has only been party to the agreement for about a year.


#12. Posted by Jay Arnakak on March 17, 2017

wow. the trolls are out tonight. must be Halloween in March or something.

Inuit, by and large, are not anti-intellectual; it is the mandarins from HQ that are (calling them racist would be too generous so let’s call them trumps brachydactyly (ie, people with stubby little fingers that are barely bigly enough to press calculator buttons - just like the trolls methinks))

#13. Posted by Brenda Jancke on March 18, 2017

Hello all if you scroll down and read the advertisement that this bill has had 2nd reading, and that there is an invitation for written recommendations if you want to see changes in the proposed act. The deadline is April 21, 2017 at 5pm. The rest of the details are on the add.

#14. Posted by Englis on March 18, 2017

“We are educational researchers with experience living, working, and researching educational and language-related issues in Nunavut. Like you, we are committed to seeing the Inuit language, Inuktut, flourish as a foundation of Inuit culture in Nunavut.”

If you are experts, surely you know that it is “Inuktitut”, not “Inuktut”.

#15. Posted by Aware of Vacuity on March 18, 2017

@#12 I have to disagree, although of course there are numerous exceptions and you may well be one. Not that Inuit have a monopoly on anti-intellectualism around here.

@#14 The term Inuktut has been used for the last few years or longer by Culture and Heritage and others. I couldn’t explain its evolution but it certainly does have currency.

#16. Posted by North on March 18, 2017

Hmm let’s see one of the few departments that staffs fully, operates every day. How ever more more NTEP and LOI hires in the last 10 years not a complaint just a point.

Another attendance is going downward you can see where I am going

By the time kids reach middle and high school they are already behind. Maybe the sole focus should be proper K-5 instruction Inuktitut and English we all need to face the reality that some students may need to leave in order to come back and serve Nunavut

Dept of Ed is guilty of trying to do too much get back to teachers teaching force parents to parent. At some point tough love is going to be the only answer

#17. Posted by ? on March 18, 2017

Hey Fiona, Sandy and Joanne - why don’t you move back to Nunavut and show us how to do it? As I recall you all moved South before Nunavut split from the NWT and before your kids had to actually attend school here. It must be great building your academic careers on research in Nunavut and the UPEI MEd cash cow and then veiling all that personal gain behind the cloak of advocacy and alliance from your priveleged southern university perches, you hypocritical armchair missionaries.

#18. Posted by True on March 18, 2017

#11, your description of UNDRIP is accurate, and also sounds a lot like a description for the Nunavut 2008 Education Act:

an aspirational statement of goals and principles, without any legal weight behind it

#19. Posted by Dialect Dors on March 19, 2017

sounds like the linguistic battle between north and south baffin rages on, with arms coming in from southern canada. good point #17.

nothing about the dialects west of that fractured island. We’re lost in standardization.

Kiss the languages in the Keewatin and Kitikmeot good bye, we’re not even in this fashionable debate.

meanwhile, most of the teachers aren’t even inuit

Please shut-down Nunavut and send the politicians and bureaucrats to pre-school

#20. Posted by haha on March 20, 2017

I’m going to bet that 90% of comments on this thread are GN staffers that pushed for the bill amendments.

The UNDRIP isn’t law in Canada. These academics don’t live in Nunavut. These academics are not teachers. Blah blah blah. None of that is the point.

The point is, a territory was created for the specific purpose of protecting the culture, language, and land base of Inuit.

Instead, Inuit got a government that seems much more content to promote uranium mining and oil development, and sit idle while the language disappears.

#21. Posted by Mainlander on March 20, 2017

#20 - I haven’t heard “Keewatin” in over 30 years!  Only Baffin Islanders still use that smile

#22. Posted by Keep it simple on March 20, 2017

1.Take the current English curriculum for each grade, translate it.
2.Create text books from this translation then teach it.
3.Ensure teachers are not speaking English in Inuktitut class.

#23. Posted by Colin on March 20, 2017

When I arrived in Iqaluit years ago, I asked a senior civil servant what the objective of education was. Answer; “Well, I suppose he’d be a better Eskimo if he could read Shakespeare in his snowhouse.”

Inuit leaders and romantic do-gooders continue to inflict similarly half-baked answers on children and youth.

Bilingualism is a plus and it enhances cognitive ability. But language is a tool, not an end in itself, Absent the vocabulary and books, especially textbooks, education in maths, science and other subjects for the modern world can’t be made to happen in Inuktitut.

Sad as it may be for romantics, children are smart enough to know that education short-changes them on all fronts for the opportunities of the modern world. It needs to be in English for rewarding well-paid jobs, like geologists, doctors and engineers.

There are good reasons, for example, why English is the only language of international aviation.

#24. Posted by Tower of Babble on March 20, 2017

@#23 I think I mostly agree with you, at least as far as short to medium-term planning goes.

Until you have a cadre of people who are 1) teachers, 2) fluent Inuktut speakers and 3) experts in math, science, etc., you can’t have bilingual education.

I disagree with your fatalism around education in specialized fields needing to be in English forever (a la international aviation).

#25. Posted by Detailer on March 20, 2017

Is anyone concerned about the Department of Education’s choice to create all the new k-3 Inuktut materials in one dialect (a combination of north and south Baffin), plus a special version for Inuinnaqtun? I think this makes sense… could it also be the beginning of moving toward one dialect for government, too? Will teachers be willing to use the new materials if they are not in their local dialect? We need to talk about these practical questions, too, not only the big picture questions. If we are going to make this work, we need a real plan, a plan that probably includes more standardization.

Second difficult question: Is it worth considering teaching Roman orthography in the early years instead of syllabics so that children only need to learn one writing system at first? It would be easy enough to introduce syllabics in later years once there is a strong foundation of literacy in one system.

#26. Posted by Inuk on March 20, 2017

#22 even by keeping it simple the department of education either cannot do the work or it is unwilling to do the work.
Plain and simple.

#27. Posted by Teacher on March 20, 2017

#23 I disagree with you where Inuktitut can’t be taught in school. In Greenland they have text books for math, science and so on and it is taught right up to high school and the students go to trades schools or Universities from there.
It works very well over there and it has yet to be tried here in Nunavut but before we can even take the steps to try it seems road blocks are put in place and we are told it cannot work here in Nunavut for some reason.
It starts with the department of Education, the lack of implementation of the education act hurts Inuktitut and the lack of work the department has done hurts and erodes Inuktitut. That is where we are getting short changed. It works in other places where English is their second or third language but we can’t seem to make it work here let alone take the first step to really start.

#28. Posted by Greenland fan on March 20, 2017

One reason it has been easier in Greenland is the single dialect for education, making it much simpler and less expensive to create a large body of learning materials. In Nunavut, expensive Inuktut books are left in storage rooms because they aren’t in the right dialect or dedicated staff spend countless hours changing Inuktut materials into the local dialect. All of this talent and precious human time going into sorting out the complexity of dialects! I can appreciate wanting to teach in one’s own dialect and how heartbreaking a change would be… but I think it is time to make the difficult decision to teach in a single dialect. I believe that will give Inuktut a strong foothold. Then we can spend all our energy developing math and science resources and so on like Greenland.

#29. Posted by Research on March 21, 2017

#28 it’s also interesting to note in Greenland that they do not loose their dialects by using one standard dialect for education and the government.
It seems to strengthen their language instead by using more in everyday life.
It’s always interesting to see this when you travel there and see even the youth speaking their language everywhere even in a large centre like Nuuk.
Lots of pride in their language and it shows.

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