Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut March 09, 2017 - 10:00 am

Inuktut language decline in Nunavut spiralling into free fall: report

“The vested interests of non-Inuit teachers and administrators trumped the land claim-mandated rights of Inuit”

An Iqaluit iPad user looks at an app that displays Inuktut syllabics. The Toronto-based researcher, Ian Martin, says the use of the Inuit language at home in Nunavut is declining so rapidly, only four per cent of Inuit may be using Inuktut at home by 2051. (FILE PHOTO)
An Iqaluit iPad user looks at an app that displays Inuktut syllabics. The Toronto-based researcher, Ian Martin, says the use of the Inuit language at home in Nunavut is declining so rapidly, only four per cent of Inuit may be using Inuktut at home by 2051. (FILE PHOTO)

The decline of Inuktut language use in Nunavut is spiralling into an ever-quickening free fall and the Nunavut government’s education system, dominated by non-Inuit teachers and administrators, carries a big share of the blame, Ian Martin, a Toronto-based academic said in a report March 7.

“My personal belief is that the vested interests of non-Inuit teachers and administrators trumped the land claim-mandated rights of Inuit,” Martin said in his report.

The impending demise of the Inuit language in Nunavut is a “personal and collective tragedy” and “younger Inuit are being denied their birthright: an education in their mother tongue,” Martin said.

“Difficult as it may be for outside observers to believe, there has been no increase in the presence of Inuktut in the schools since before Nunavut was created,” he said.

Martin, an assistant professor in the Department of English at York University’s Glendon College, appears to have timed the release of his report to coincide with the tabling of the Government of Nunavut’s long-awaited amendments to the Education Act and the Inuit Language Protection Act.

Bill 37, which contains those amendments, received first reading March 8.

In his report, Martin said the number of Inuit who use mostly Inuktut at home is falling rapidly, at a rate of about 12 per cent per decade.

At the same time, the proportion of Nunavut Inuit who use mostly English at home rose to 46 per cent in 2011 from 28.5 per cent in 1991.

“This steady increase in the percentage of Nunavummiut homes in which English is the most used—means that the percentage today is probably over 50 per cent,” he said.

And the use of Inuktut in Nunavut homes dropped to only 61 per cent in 2011 from 76 per cent in 1996.

“If the home language loss rate of Inuktut is 12 per cent per decade, then, by 2051, a mere 34 years from now, the Inuit language will be spoken at home by only 4 per cent of Inuit in Nunavut,” Martin said.

But he said that estimate may be too generous. That’s because of a phenomenon called “recursion,” a negative feedback loop that increases in speed over time.

“That is, the wheel of language loss accelerates as the number of speakers declines and the arenas of Inuit language use inside and outside the home dwindle,” he said.

He pointed to a Nunavut official languages report for 2015-16 that showed only 11 of 27 primary schools offered Inuktut as a language of instruction up to Grade 3 and only one school offered Inuktut as a language of instruction up to Grade 5.

And in high school, Inuktut as a language of instruction in Nunavut is non-existent.

“By way of comparison, zero per cent of the Nunavut high school curriculum is offered in Inuktut; the percent of Inuktut spoken in hallways has not been measured, but there is not a single school in Nunavut which would qualify as a ‘totally Inuktut environment,’” Martin said.

He said the 2008 version of the Nunavut Education Act has been little more than a “legislative dead letter” and that virtually nothing has been done to train more Inuit language teachers and that Inuktut instruction in the schools is declining.

“In the years following 2008 there have been no major efforts to increase the numbers of Inuit teachers; meanwhile the reduction of the use of Inuktut in the schools and the absence of Inuktut as a language of instruction has reinforced an English-dominant education system—not a bilingual one,” Martin said.

The GN did not create an Inuit Employment Plan for the Department of Education after 2008, a situation that Martin said is “scandalous.”

That, in turn, means that within the school system in Nunavut “a disproportionate number of (monolingual-English-speaking) non-Inuit are occupying senior administration positions and teaching positions.”

He estimates that right now, Nunavut needs at least 306 more teachers capable of teaching in Inuktut.

But at the current rate at which the Nunavut Teacher Education Program turns out graduates—about nine a year—it will take 34 years to train that many people, by 2051.

“However, with the bulk of the current 125 Inuktut-speaking teachers reaching retirement age before 2051, the actual date of reaching this target is more likely to be 2071 than 2051,” he said.

In addition to blaming a GN administration that is dominated by non-Inuit educators, Martin also blames the federal government, which in 1998, refused to fund the use of the Inuit language in government.

Money for that purpose was supposed to have been included in the Nunavut territory’s first budget, which Paul Martin, then the federal finance minister, created in the fall of 1998.

But senior federal finance officials removed amounts dedicated to the Inuit language.

“However, behind closed doors, senior officials in the federal finance department decided to remove Inuit language of government from discussions and “address these issues at a later date.” That “later date” never arrived,” Martin said.

Martin now says that a $50-million spending item that the federal government agreed to in the 2015 agreement with Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. that settled NTI’s lawsuit with Ottawa should be spent on language development in government.

“There is a good argument to be made for the majority of the $50 million to be assigned to Inuit educator IEP and training as the multiplier effect would be felt throughout the public service,” Martin said.

Nunatsiaq News attempted to contact Martin for this story, but he was not immediately available for comment.

  Inuit Language Loss in Nunavut — Martin Status Report, March 7, 2017 by NunatsiaqNews on Scribd


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(34) Comments:

#1. Posted by Nunavut on March 09, 2017

There is no real Inuktitut instruction in school. The students practice converting between roman and syllabics. They do not learn what the words mean and they do not practice speaking Inuktitut.

#2. Posted by Scandalous on March 09, 2017

I confess to not having read the whole report yet but what I think is scandalous is the author’s interjection of personal opinion into the debate.

Nunavut teachers and administrators do not train and certify new teachers. For that matter, neither does the Department of Education.

Certainly there has been a failure to properly train and support Inuit educators within the Nunavut school system. However, it is not the Department of Education (or the teachers and administrators in the schools) that alone bear the responsibility for the failure.

Also, though it could be true (I don’t know) that there was no IEP for Dept. of Ed in 2008 - check the figures: Dept. of Ed has THE highest capacity (positions actually filled) AND one of the highest levels of Inuit employment of any department in the GN.

Flinging unsubstantiated and unfair accusations of racism across the territory like feces from an academic tree in Toronto seems awfully dangerous and intentionally inciting to me…

#3. Posted by Life is hard, in the ghetto on March 09, 2017

#2 It’s called activist journalism, we see it all the time here. Yet, one wonders why the local paper only appears in English online and never once have I seen an Inuit name attached as an author. Weird.

But yea, keep flinging that poo.

#4. Posted by Look to the Top on March 09, 2017

I think that the role of top administrators within the department needs to be strongly looked at.  In recent years there has been very little regard for Inuktut curriculum development.  What was done in the past has been actively disregarded. Who are the real powers within the department?  They are not educators nor are they Inuit.

#5. Posted by Want to Learn on March 09, 2017

Comprehensive Inuktut curriculum development and actual classes that teach the curriculum with trained instructors would help at any level.

Not much seems to be happening in many schools or outside of schools. Been trying to learn Inuktut but the opportunities to take any sort of formal course or learn are rare. Mostly it requires getting someone to help you out or try to teach a little bit here and there.

#6. Posted by Mark McAndrews on March 09, 2017

Hi #2, could you quote the sentences from the article that blame the lack of Inuit-speaking teachers on Nunavut teachers and administrators or the Department of Education? Could you explain why it is inappropriate for an expert to voice his personal opinion regarding his area of expertise in a newspaper article? Could you quote the sentences from the article you consider racist?  Thanks.

#7. Posted by Pootoogook on March 09, 2017

The headline says it all.

Get real with NTEP students, don’t cater to every whim.

Insist on improvement of attitudes, language use enthusiasm and committment!

#8. Posted by Listen Up on March 09, 2017

All those who can speak Inuktitut and do not regularly do so at work, at home, to their kids are killing this language as fast as possible.

Yes, you!  You are killing it in one generation!

Do something before it is too late.

Start using it everywhere.  Ask for help if you need to learn how to say some things, but don’t switch to English and disrespect Inuktut.

#9. Posted by Almost too late on March 09, 2017

This guy comes across as an NTI pawn so NTI can later tell the GN “See what you did wrong!”

The major problem is that the language isn’t standardized. People continue the fight to compartmentalize it in regional dialects. Everyone has to come together to standardize the Inuit language for Nunavut, while still respecting its regional dialects. Everything else is a waste of time if you don’t follow through on this crucial process. The language needs to evolve if it wants to survive in the 21st century.

IUT: what’s your stance on this issue? What’s your plan?

#10. Posted by Mother Tongue on March 09, 2017

Some Teachers do announcements on local radio and both their Spoken English and Inuktut are very poor, and we wonder why our children are not properly educated.

#7 I like your comment, reminds me of my Inuktitut Teacher from way back, we were lucky I guess.

#11. Posted by Putuguk on March 09, 2017

The average number of accredited, trained and functioning primary teachers in Canada is 4.58 per 1000 people.

For Nunavut, that would equate to around 150 primary teachers.

Given how many people want and are able to become teachers in this country including Nunavut, is adding another 300 reasonable and achievable?

No argument on the need, but if we are never going to get to this target based on the labor market, we really need to start looking at other language protection measures besides the schools.

#12. Posted by Warpaint on March 09, 2017

#8 That’s what we call victim blaming and shaming. In reality it’s not the “fault” of the remaining Inuktitut speakers at all.

Either way, your strategy never works. I believe it usually has the opposite effect.

#13. Posted by Qikiqtani on March 09, 2017

Part 1-
Inuktitut in schools is not as strong is it could or should be.

Strong Inuktitut language skills are extremely important as is, one could argue, being bilingual.  There is a world outside of Nunavut after all, & strong language skills in one of Canada’s official languages would also be very important . . . wouldn’t it.? There are fully bilingual children across the globe—why not here too?

How much are young children being encouraged to read & write in Inuktitut at home?  How many homes have books in Inuktitut for young children?  What percentages of parents are truly invested in their children developing skills and interest in Inuktitut early in life.  The development of strong language skills for young children in any language begins in the home.

Lots of time is wasted in Inuktitut courses at the high school in this community.  I’ve heard about it & occasionally see it when I visit the school – a lackadaisical attitude on the part of the teacher is what it comes down to.

#14. Posted by Qikiqtani on March 09, 2017

Part 2-
It’s my understanding that in most prov./terr., to teach high school courses in a particular subject, one has to have completed a number of university courses & even a degree in that subject.  A general B. Ed. from NTEP doesn’t cut it.

Qualified Inuktitut speaking teachers are needed to teach these subjects (along with huge amounts of resources in Inuktitut for these subjects), but until then . . . .

#15. Posted by Qikiqtani on March 09, 2017

Part 3-
Why does the GN not offer ISL (Inuktitut as a Second Language) courses for non Inuktitut speakers in communities?  It does happen in some places, occasionally, but not nearly at the frequency that it should.  In this community, despite repeated requests from many individuals, it took 6 years to get a course here and there has been nothing since then.  I’m far from proficient in Inuktitut, but at least that course served as a starting point.  I’ve continued to learn more Inuktitut on my own since then.  I completed that course, a basic or introductory Inuktitut course, & would like to have been able to continue to take such courses.

#16. Posted by Standardize on March 09, 2017

Any efforts will fail unless we standardize the language. This is not just my personal opinion - this is the only logical first step.

Once the language is standardized we can discuss developing school resources, adult training programs, digital training apps (Rosetta Stone, Babble, etc.), and begin building Inuktitut training capacity.

But until we have a standard to work from, we will not reverse this trend.

Innuinaqtun inevitably comes up during discussions like this. Unfortunately, it’s going to have to accept a standardized Inuktitut as well, just like everyone else. This isn’t about promoting linguistic diversity - this is about the survival of the language.

#17. Posted by Standardize on March 09, 2017

#11 Putuguk - we have a much younger population than the Canadian average. Our birthrate is also much higher. This, we have proportionally more primary school aged children who require instruction.

The IUT also needs a serious review. People I talk to have generally low expectations of the IUT - it’s seen as another body to make work for people. Give it a serious overhaul, stop appointing people to the board who have no business being there, and get serious about it.

What we REALLY need is for the GN and NTI to jointly appoint a single person who is responsible for language revitalization. Empower this person to get the job done, and support them with the considerable resources required to do so. Look up the origins of the word ‘Dictator’ and you’ll understand what I mean.

Some names that come to mind are the current Mayor of Iqaluit, the former Language Commissioner, the current COO of NTI, or the current head of NHC. Someone who can wade through the politics and get results.

#18. Posted by Mr. Scruff on March 09, 2017

A dictator is a terrible idea, #17.

There should be more than one person responsible for this, there needs to be a whole team of well educated, experienced people working together.

Yet, none of that matter if there is no will on the part of the government.

I agree with your other points, especially regarding standardization. Isn’t Innuinaqtun considered a separate language, though we know it is a very closely related one which some might call a dialect, in the way Dutch is considered a German dialect?

#19. Posted by inuk parent on March 09, 2017

If you start speaking in Inuktut to your infant child and continue while he/she is growing up,they will be fluent when they grow-up.

And, if you don’t, they may not be as fluent.
It’s completely up to us parents.

Learning starts at home.

#20. Posted by Standardize on March 09, 2017

#18 - I do not mean a dictator to take over government, don’t be silly. I mean in the sense that you see used in the US (a “Drug Czar”, etc.) -

Contrast that approach with what is likely to happen: a committee of old, opinionated people from communities who helped their MLA get elected receive patronage appointments to attend meetings and issue the occasional news release. Such a committee will inevitably devolve into infighting and dialect protectionism.

Give me a capable, educated, driven lead any day. Someone who can marshall the necessary political will and administrative capability to get it done.

#21. Posted by Concerned Parent on March 09, 2017

# 19 you are right.
Over thirty years ago when they said Inuktitut would be taught in schools
that is when children started losing their language very rapidly.
It is our own fault, and ours only.
If it were up to me I would take it out of the schools and arrange a
program with community elders.

#22. Posted by Iqaluitian on March 10, 2017

12 years ago I took Inuktitut level 1 then followed up with Mick Mallon (brilliant guy) in a course he called “Inuktitut the Hard Way (There is no easy way)”
We were given a text book which I keep close by and still I haven’t been able to speak Inuktitut well enough to converse confidently.
My mother is French and she said that the only way to learn a second language in adulthood is to immerse yourself. This means live with a family that speaks Inuktitut only in the household. Schools are no place for learning to speak a language but only to pick a language apart after the fact. It amounts to throwing good money after bad. Smarten up GN.

#23. Posted by Mr. Scruff on March 10, 2017

#20 I took your point to be in reference to personality and leadership style. There aren’t really any positive connotations to the word dictator, and though it did not originate that way, as you said, it changed for a reason. It’s unlikely to change back.

My point was that a capable team is to be desired, over a capable dictator. There are pros and cons to each of course. The problems you posed are certainly real, I agree.

#24. Posted by Standardize on March 10, 2017

#23 - A Dictator or Czar is certainly less then perfect. In an ideal world, a team of educated, capable, motivated people is preferable.

Where would that team come from in this context though? I certainly would like to see a lead with capable staff, but we’re reaching a tipping point in Inuktitut use. The longer we drag this out, the harder it gets to reverse the trend.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. IMHO a single person can sometimes get more done in a faster time than a committee.

#25. Posted by Righton on March 10, 2017

Your comments are right on,if only the GN would listen.
It makes you wonder if they are doing it this way to destroy the
Give me the old ways with elders teaching the language, after all it
survived 5000 years so we are told.

#26. Posted by Mr. Scruff on March 10, 2017

#24 I wish I had a good response to your question, in lieu of that here are some thoughts.

I think it would be extremely helpful if there were more Inuktitut courses being taught through the College, or even through private organizations or citizens.

The article suggests that because the upper levels of the GN, as well as educators are most often unilingual English speakers, priority for Inuktitut preservation and instruction is just not there. I think there is some truth to this, and also think there is a bit of scapegoating going on too. Isn’t the legislature comprised mostly of Inuit? Don’t they set policy?

Either way, enlist their aid by bringing them into the community of people who appreciate your language, by teaching it to them, rather than judging and blaming them.  They may not become Inuktitut teachers, but they may just rally to your side. Many of them are well educated and love learning.

A small piece to the puzzle, to be sure. But it could prove very helpful.

#27. Posted by Inuk on March 10, 2017

#5 hit the nail on the head! There is no Inuktitut curriculum in Nunavut, it’s been more than a decade and the department of education has not done anything to address that.
It’s sad that we are loosing our language, it only takes one generation to loose a language and the way it is going we will loose Inuktitut in the next generation of kids.
The GN needs to make Inuktitut a priority just as much as English, a Inuktitut curriculum is needed!

#28. Posted by The Old Trapper on March 11, 2017

As far as teaching Inuktitut in schools, there are not enough qualified teachers, and will not be enough in the foreseeable future. You also cannot teach all subjects in Inuktitut, there is no curriculum, and for some subjects no words in Inuktitut to describe the concepts needed. Also as mentioned above there is no standard dialect.

It would be possible for the GN to use Inuktitut as the primary language of government, but if rigidly enforced it is going to drive most of the non Inuit out of the territory. This would necessitate the promotion of Inuit, which would be welcomed by many. That the promoted people may not have the education or skills necessary to perform the job is probably of little importance!

Here’s an idea. Teach school in English so kids can get a decent basic education, and have an opportunity for post secondary education as well. Have mandatory Inuktitut classes K-12 to teach the language.

#29. Posted by Pragmatic on March 11, 2017

K-12 in Inuktut matters, but I think the real emergency is in the early years. If we are serious about Inuktut, we must establish a range of supports for Inuktut acquisition from birth to age 5, including supporting young parents who need to strengthen their Inuktut at the same. Conveniently, parents and tots learning programs are a great way to achieve many other desired socio-economic outcomes. Let’s get ILPA Section 9 into force and stop playing catch up! We need to start language nests and parents and tots programs. We need these programs anyway and there is a plethora of evidence about the benefits of learning in your mother tongue and culture in the early years, so let’s focus ECD, make it in Inuktut, and help young parents’ strengthen Inuktut along the way. Don’t spend 50 million on adults in the GN. Frankly, it’s too expensive to train adults alone. That same 50 million spent on young children and their parents could actually stabilize Inuktut. IT IS POSSIBLE.

#30. Posted by Less Angry, More Practical on March 11, 2017

For a more holistic analysis of supporting bilingualism in Nunavut, check out Dr. Shelley Tulloch’s 2009 report called Building a Strong Foundation: Considerations to Support Thriving Bilingualism in Nunavut ( Still relevant 8 years later.

#31. Posted by agree on March 13, 2017

I agree with #4.

#32. Posted by 100% inuk blood on March 13, 2017

all english eh ?  lack of inuktitut. 

how about convert the word ‘Nunavut’ with ‘our land’.

#33. Posted by Parent on March 15, 2017

We speak Inuktitut at home, but it’s getting much more difficult as my kids only speak English at school, Inuktitut is so weak in the schools.
Department of Education has to do more.
I agree with #27

#34. Posted by Gjoa Havenmiut on March 15, 2017

“Fire” all non Inuktitut speaking teachers right now or give them incentives to learn or burn, go home and stop killing our culture/language or embrace it and stop trying to change it…

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