Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut October 26, 2016 - 4:00 pm

I won’t allow any ban on Inuktitut at school: Nunavut education minister

“I went through it. I was told not to speak Inuktitut and I was hit with sticks"

JIM BELL
Education Minister Paul Quassa speaks Oct. 25 at the legislative assembly in Iqaluit. (PHOTO BY JIM BELL)
Education Minister Paul Quassa speaks Oct. 25 at the legislative assembly in Iqaluit. (PHOTO BY JIM BELL)
South Baffin MLA David Joanasie said a teacher in Cape Dorset told a Grade 8 student to stop speaking Inuktitut and threatened to discipline the student with a suspension if they broke that rule three times. (PHOTO BY JIM BELL)
South Baffin MLA David Joanasie said a teacher in Cape Dorset told a Grade 8 student to stop speaking Inuktitut and threatened to discipline the student with a suspension if they broke that rule three times. (PHOTO BY JIM BELL)

(Updated Oct. 27)

Nunavut Education Minister Paul Quassa, a survivor of the notorious Sir Joseph Bernier residential school in Chesterfield Inlet, said Oct. 25 that teachers must not punish students for speaking Inuktitut in Nunavut schools.

“I went through it. I was told not to speak Inuktitut and I was hit with sticks. I went through that and experienced it,” Quassa said in reply to a question from Iqaluit-Sinaa MLA Paul Okalik.

The issue arose when South Baffin MLA David Joanasie, in a member’s statement and questions, complained that a teacher had ordered a Grade 8 student in Cape Dorset not to speak Inuktitut and threatened to discipline the student.

“We seem to be regressing to that era where colonial practices resulted in the large-scale destruction of many cultures. The impacts are still being felt to this day,” Joanasie said.

And the teacher told the student body that if students received three disciplinary notices, they would be suspended, Joanasie said.

“All this predicated on the student using their traditional language,” he said.

Joanasie said the school policy appears to have arisen from a situation where some students were bullying or threatening other students in Inuktitut, which most English-speaking teachers can’t understand.

Although he opposes a policy that forbids the use of Inuktitut by students, Joanasie said he’s also concerned about bullying.

“Mr. Speaker, anyone who bullies or uses scare tactics has to be dealt with immediately by looking into the reason, and to ensure that our language isn’t used as the reason,” he said.

The Inuit Language Protection Act guarantees the right to speak Inuktitut in the workplace and in Nunavut schools.

And the residential and federal day schools have long been blamed for traumatizing Indigenous students through the suppression of Inuktitut and other languages.

“Can the minister explain to the teachers that we are living in 2016? It’s not the era when people tried to end the Inuktitut language,” Okalik said in a set of his own questions on the issue.

Quassa replied by saying he’s “shocked” by the situation and he promised to direct his staff to look into it.

“Currently, I would like to see these allegations investigated by departmental officials. Once we learn of the actual details, we will review the case with the teachers to ensure that language is not used for this type of disciplinary action since language should not a reason,” Quassa said.

He also said the Nunavut education department does many training sessions on bullying as part of its safe schools strategy and that the Canadian Red Cross and the Embrace Life Council works with the GN on anti-bullying promotional activities in the schools.

Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. weighed in Oct. 27, calling for a “full and prompt review” of the incident and any government policy on Inuktut language use, and the results of that review made public.

But until the territory has fully bilingual teachers and classes where the majority of educators speak Inuktut, NTI said language and cultural conflicts could continue.

“To prevent this from happening across Nunavut, we need an education system and strong legislation that are built upon fully effective bilingual Inuktut and English instruction in our schools,” NTI said in an Oct. 27 release.

 

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