Nunatsiaq Online
EDITORIAL: Nunavut September 07, 2017 - 12:01 pm

Nunavut schools face a dark future

"Nunavut’s purported leaders have proven themselves incapable of forming a rational, coherent, evidence-based policy on Inuit language education"

Inuksuk High School in Iqaluit. Will Nunavut leaders ever be able to develop a coherent, evidence-based policy on Inuit language education and the use of the Inuit language in school programs from kindergarten to Grade 12? (FILE PHOTO)
Inuksuk High School in Iqaluit. Will Nunavut leaders ever be able to develop a coherent, evidence-based policy on Inuit language education and the use of the Inuit language in school programs from kindergarten to Grade 12? (FILE PHOTO)

There are few forms of decline more painful to observe than the death of a language.

When a once-healthy language withers and dies, it’s an unmitigated loss, not only for those whose ancestors spoke it, but for the entire human race.

So even if the demands of those who oppose the Government of Nunavut’s Bill 37 are often silly, naïve, and incoherent to the point of being self-refuting, it’s clear they flow from an urgent desire to avert a perceived disaster. Good intentions, however, don’t compensate for sloppy thinking.

The use of the Inuit language in Nunavut really is declining. You can’t dispute the accuracy of the Statistics Canada numbers that language researcher Ian Martin cited this past March in a widely-circulated polemic timed to coincide with the tabling earlier this year of Bill 37.

Between 1996 and 2011, the use of Inuktut within Inuit homes in Nunavut dropped from 76 per cent to 61 per cent. Over the same period, the proportion of Inuit homes where English is most often spoken increased to 46 per cent by 2011.

It’s no wonder so many young Inuit now speak English with a modified Valley Girl accent, almost indistinguishable from their peers in Toronto, Edmonton, Seattle or southern California. Standard North American English is becoming their mother tongue.

So if it’s the case that the people of Nunavut now find themselves in the midst of a linguistic crisis, shouldn’t the GN receive whatever legislative authority it needs to act decisively?

“Currently schools do not have the direction they need to effectively implement the bilingual education models,” Education Minister Paul Quassa said this past June 7, in a defence of Bill 37. He said the bill, among many other things, would give the GN the power to ensure all Nunavut schools operate consistently, teach a standardized version of the Inuit language and ensure all Nunavut pupils get quality schooling no matter where they live.

Well, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. and its three regional subsidiaries, along with other stakeholders, say no. In a written submission to the MLAs on the legislative assembly’s legislation committee who pretended to study Bill 37 earlier this year, NTI actually said the Department of Education should get weaker, not stronger.

And they would do that by having the GN continue to surrender its authority to district education authorities, or DEAs.

“NTI does not support DEAs losing authority over areas including school and education programs, choice of LOI models, inclusive education oversight and reviews, authority to ensure annual assessments of individual education plans…,” NTI said.

They base this position on a false premise: that by surrendering its authority to DEAs, the GN would carry out the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s call to action number 10, which deals with Indigenous education.

But DEAs are not Indigenous bodies. They’re public government bodies. And some DEAs are dominated almost entirely by non-Inuit.

For example, the GN’s most current membership list for the Iqaluit District Education Authority shows that as of April 2017, six of Iqaluit DEA’s seven members are non-Inuit.

We rather doubt this is what the TRC had in mind. Also, call to action number 10 is not aimed at territorial governments anyway. The TRC aimed it specifically at the federal government, asking Ottawa to draft new Aboriginal language education for First Nations people. It’s intellectually dishonest of NTI to suggest otherwise.

This is just one small example, and there are others, that illustrate the well-intentioned nonsense found in many of the written submissions that the Nunavut legislative assembly’s standing committee on legislation received earlier this year.

At the same time, many other critics raise objections that have more to do with GN fiscal policy than with Bill 37.

For example, NTI and others want the GN to develop an Inuit Employment Plan for the Department of Education and then spend loads of big bucks to carry it out. Their wish is to have the GN train about 300 more Inuit teachers and hundreds of “language specialists.” In theory, they claim this would make it possible for most of the Nunavut education program to be taught in the Inuit language from kindergarten to Grade 12 sometime soon.

In spite of its utopian assumptions, there’s some merit to this position. But an IEP is just a big bureaucratic document. You can’t nail an IEP to the front of a classroom and order it to teach a Grade 11 social studies class in the Inuit language. You need a qualified human being to do that.

Nunavut must find hundreds of recruits willing to study—for years—to acquire university degrees and teaching certificates. But existing qualified Inuit teachers are either retiring or fleeing in droves to take less demanding jobs. So even if the GN were to risk spending of millions of dollars more each year on new teacher education programs, there’s no guarantee the recruits would ever materialize, and no guarantee they would remain within the teaching profession..

As to where the loads of big bucks would come from, NTI is mostly silent about the $175 million training fund that its Makigiaqta Inuit Training Corp. has been sitting on since 2015. They do call for the spending of a separate $50 million fund that Ottawa controls. But that money appears to be aimed at increasing Inuit employment at the Government of Canada, as well as the GN.

At the same time, the GN will have less money to work with after this fiscal year. Thanks to new policies from Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government, the territorial Financing Formula and the Canada Health Transfer will now grow by only three per cent a year. So to find the money to pay for more teacher education, what essential social programs does NTI propose robbing?

All these, and other public issues ought to receive some semblance of public debate. Unfortunately, the MLAs who sit on the standing committee on legislation, all of whom now rake in pay packages in excess of $100,000 a year, have been apparently too lazy to study the issue and too cowardly to talk about it in public. After hiding behind closed doors for a week this past May, they pumped out a two-paragraph press release and fled from the issue as fast as possible.

For the past 18 years, Nunavut’s purported leaders have proven themselves incapable of forming a rational, coherent, evidence-based policy on Inuit language education. The GN’s Department of Education and its unfortunate employees and students face a dark future. JB

Email this story to a friend... Print this page... Bookmark and Share Comment on this story...

(46) Comments:

#1. Posted by Good Inuk in Inuttitun Language on September 07, 2017

I am pushing 62 and hire me immediately as Inuk Inuttitun teacher for Inuit. I speak and understand my mother tongue language very well. There is still time should I exist a little longer, I am an asset for this very issue

#2. Posted by DAILY NN READER on September 07, 2017

Yeah, Inuktitut Language is A problem here in Nunavut the headquarters choose to use other settlement to have for Options…Directions as well!

#3. Posted by Sam on September 07, 2017

Right on again JB

#4. Posted by Afraid of truth on September 07, 2017

You can understand politicians not wanting to touch the issue, and other politicians (looking at you, NTI) not wanting to be entirely honest about it either: standardization means some of the politicians telling their constituents “Sorry, but to preserve the language effectively we need standardization so we can’t teach all the dialects and, yeah, so we’re not going to be teaching yours.”

You can see this with the whole syllabics/alphabet mess. Using the alphabet would make it easier to use Inuktitut online, and texting, and all the other ways people communicate these days. And yet even that change, simple as it is, can’t get done because politicians are too afraid to take a stand on it.

#5. Posted by Good points on September 07, 2017

Great editorial. Sums up my thoughts exactly.

I’m firmly in the “save Inuktitut now!” camp, but I’m so discouraged with the way NTI and it’s little army of social justice warriors have positioned themselves as obstructionists rather than leaders. I don’t believe they offered any solutions other than “make 1000 inuktitut teachers appear out of nowhere now”. Why would a young and bright Inuktitut speaker want to become a teacher when the political leaders and DEAs have turned schools into a toxic battlefield?

#6. Posted by Ilinniaqtuq on September 07, 2017

I agree with Afraid of truth. The most logical thing to do is follow Greenland’s example: standardize the language + adopt roman orthography.

But this would upset many elders who prefer syllabics. There is a conflict between what many Elders want, and what is best for youth and the survival of the language. Sometimes adapting means doing things differently than the Elders who came before you.

#7. Posted by Better than the CBC on September 07, 2017

Nunatsiaq is the only media outlet that bothered to even give a breakdown of what was in Bill 37.  The only reporting CBC did was what NTI fed them - at no point did they ever actually report on the contents of the legislation.

The irony of the MLAs on Standing Committee shooting down Bill 37 is that these were some of the same MLAs who gave recommendations on what Bill 37 should contain (as part of the Special Committee to review the Education Act).  They backed away from their own recommendations based on politics.

#8. Posted by IUT on September 07, 2017

@4 exactly! so much of this issue would be null if there was a standardized language. without it, this is all a waste of time and money.

IUT: where are you? it’s time to take action and stop twiddling your thumbs!

#9. Posted by Sigh on September 07, 2017

#8 who are you to blame IUT! Learn to point a finger at yourself. Learn your life morals & values, Than culture will live. You state your name is IUT and yet you blame IUT?! (senseless)

#10. Posted by Diana on September 07, 2017

Nowadays, Self abuse is ruling our will power. No one wants to learn life morals. This is where we point the finger at ourselves, step up, heal and move forward. It’s easier than expected but it can be done.

#11. Posted by Just My Opinion on September 07, 2017

Cultures and languages change over time. Sometime they disappear. Sometimes change so much they bear no resemblance to what they were decades ago. I do not speak the language of my grandparents nor does their culture enter into any aspect of my daily life. I’m ok with that.

I think the Inuktitut language issue is one the gov’t is incapable of solving. Not because they are incompetent, but because of the very nature of the problem and the fact that those who say they value the language so much aren’t acting to solve the problem.

In Canada’s large cities, many ethnic groups have founded their own Saturday schools that teach their ethnics groups’ language and culture. They do not rely on the government to protect their culture. These schools were founded by members of these ethnic groups in an effort to preserve their culture. I understand that the Inuit are not in the same position an immigrants, but the same solution could be applied if there truly was the will to save the culture.

#12. Posted by #5 on September 07, 2017

What would this world be without armies of social justice warriors? More white and christian than ever.

Inuit would have no rights and Nunavut would not exist. Thank you to all social justice warriors out there.

#13. Posted by Sue on September 07, 2017

Maybe a shuffle in the dept of education DM and ADM would help move this forward.

#14. Posted by Curious Cat on September 07, 2017

#1 What are you doing now to pass on your language? Anything, or nothing?

Curious cat wants to know.

#15. Posted by My opinion on September 07, 2017

I think there has been too much incompetents in the dept of education with social passing, lack of learning materials and losing the materials that were there for Inuktitut.
Not doing enough to build a Inuktitut curriculum, build more learning resources/materials to teach with. Standardizing the Inuktitut language to teach in. Exploring how to standardize the language, there could be one, two maybe three standard of Inuktitut language to use. Who knows because this has not been worked on. Learning from another place where standards are in place and working in the schools would help too. Take a page or two from them.

#16. Posted by Missed point on September 07, 2017

Dear “Sue”,

Either you totally missed the point of this, or you purposefully wait for any article that deals with schools to troll the adm and DM. It’s not a good look and this type of uninformed comment does nothing to move the conversation forward in a positive way.

#17. Posted by Naivete on September 07, 2017

@Sue - a new DM and ADM will quickly find out that regardless of what they do, NTI will be there to make sure no progress happens under their watch.

#18. Posted by Absolutely on September 07, 2017

JB is correct, NTI will continue their political posturing without offering anything pragmatically valuable.

Unless/until Inuktitut is standardized (like Greenland) it will continue to decline; at least Minister Quassa is attempting to do something….

#19. Posted by Show us the stats on September 07, 2017

Can someone tell us the stats on numbers of teachers willing to teach in Inuktitut beyond 5th grade?  If the human resources do not exist to provide the education, how is the education expected to happen?

#20. Posted by Research on September 07, 2017

#19 the GN has done a terrible job in building the capacity of Nunavut teachers and the teachers they did graduate got burnt out after a few years due to lack of Inuktitut material and resources to use and no curriculum.

What are their plans to improve this?

#21. Posted by Naive on September 07, 2017

NTI can only do so much, I think when you try to deflect the incompetence of the department of education, that does little to improving the current situation.

I am hoping once the elections are done we will have stronger leadership to make some changes and move forward.

#22. Posted by before the birth of Nunavut on September 07, 2017

To JB….in other words, before the birth of Nunavut the language of Inuktitut was spoken more than English and the language of Inuktitut would have continued to be passed on for generations.

Québec has a template for keeping their language alive.  Ask for ideas.  What is there to loose?

Inuktitut is alive.

#23. Posted by Colin on September 07, 2017

Inuit leaders sentenced Inuktitut to death decades ago, by failing to get children educated for university and then for the managerial and professional jobs in Nunavut.

Inuktitut could then have survived by way of full-fledged bilingualism even as English is the language of Canadian business and commerce.

In Singapore, for example, they maintain three languages in addition to English—Chinese, Tamil and Malay. Similarly, in India sixteen official languages thrive alongside English. But it’s now too late to standardize Inuktitut’s language and writing, and to invent abstract and technological vocabulary for the modern world.

Preserving Inuktitut will soon be like doing taxidermy, stuffing a dead animal. For rewarding jobs, as in mining and aviation, young people need chemistry and calculus. Starting with learning English intensively in pre-kindergarten.

#24. Posted by Ivalu on September 08, 2017

What is also sad to see is the fact that more English words are being used by making them sound Inuktut, dropping or refusing to use the proper word with the excuse “languages are always changing”. Yes, languages are always changing because there are now a lot of words in English being introduced which we have no words for. Inuit have always been adaptable to changes and had always been inventive in coming up with proper Inuktut words to use for such words. In order to keep our language alive, we need to keep doing that and at the same time learn to understand each other’s dialects like our ancestors did in the past. We have more resources now than they did that it would be easier for us to learn from each other instead of fighting over who’s dialect should be the dominant one.

#25. Posted by Hmmmm on September 08, 2017

A motivated Inuktitut-speaking beneficiary with undergrads in education and another field (which is pretty much required to teach highschool) can pretty much choose whatever job they want within Nunavut.  So unless they’ve also got a burning desire to teach, chances are they’ll land in a higher-paying job with less stressed than a teacher.

#26. Posted by Inutuinnaq on September 08, 2017

“NTI and others want the GN to develop an Inuit Employment Plan…”  “Their wish is…” - are we forgetting that this is actually a legal obligation on part of government and not just a pie in the sky dream held by naive well intentioned organizations and people who whine about Inuit participation and Inuktut language needs? 

Inuit Employment Plans may some day be “a big bureaucratic document”, but in the absence of any clear and comprehensive plan on part of government and Inuit to address such issues, it is easy to dismiss the dreams held by many, and promised by leadership, as utopian or idealistic. 

It seems apparent that many agree changes are required.  But it is also obvious, as evidenced by ongoing and recent public engagement, discussion and debate, that changes and direction recently proposed by the Department of Education are contrary to the types of changes envisioned by parents, community members and other levels of leadership.

#27. Posted by spend what you have on September 08, 2017

NTI has hundreds of millions of dollars. They want self-government and self-determination. Well, that starts with taking care of themselves and their people. They have the money to fund a lot of things. Perhaps they should focus less on mining and money and turn towards culture and language. No one to blame but themselves for the decline.

Language begins at home. That’s not government, that’s the people. Push NTI to pay and use their settlement money. GN Education, like the rest of the government, is a sad example of how not to do things. Nunavut needs educated people. Period.

#28. Posted by Nunavut on September 08, 2017

there are Inuktut speaking teachers in Nunavut, we should praise them for their continuing work and recognize their ability to teach the youth of our communities.

#29. Posted by Third Largest on September 08, 2017

What the editorial does not mention is that the Department of Education has the third largest budget of the Government of Nunavut, for fiscal year 2017-2018.  Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent each year for salaries of teachers and other staff - more than $120 to $150 million, each single year.  Less than a quarter of the teachers are Inuit.  The turnover rate of teachers is one of the highest of all positions, as high as 43% in Iqaluit.  The GN spends more money importing and exporting teachers annually than it does on the Nunavut Teacher Education Program.  The one-time $175 million fund is peanuts compared to the whopping annual budget of the Department of Education who has no political will to value and increase Inuit teachers.  The DEAs, who have that political will, are too disabled and fragmented by the current legislation (they have no power to hire superintendents, principals and teachers or have authority on curriculum development) to build up on that political will.

#30. Posted by Free on September 08, 2017

Just a few months ago, this very newspaper praised Minister of Education Paul Quassa as being a star in the Legislative Assembly

#31. Posted by Sam on September 08, 2017

Look at Arviat,they have a simple plan in k-3 that works at preserving the language,and we do not promote it enough,

#32. Posted by Piitarsuaq on September 08, 2017

#6 has nailed it perfectly, succinctly.  Therein lies the problem, and people/politicians either do not understand it, and if they do, are afraid to speak the truth.

#33. Posted by Misplaced Responsibility on September 09, 2017

The point that many in this discussion are missing is simply this.  If Inuit language is in decline, it’s because it’s not being used or refined in the home.  People have this misdirected notion that the school is responsible to teach their child everything - including making them fluent and functional bilingual speakers. That’s wrong.  In the same way, parents need to play a role in their child’s education in Math, English and other subjects, they need to take an active role in the language they speak. If language is in decline in the home, it’s because it’s not being taught to children in the home.  Period.  If parents want their children raised to speak fluent Inuktitut, they need to take an active part in making that happen.  Not relying on educators to do their job for them.

#34. Posted by Darryl Andre on September 09, 2017

What is missing, starkly, from this narrative is capitalism. Consumption consumes lots of things, including native language.

#35. Posted by Inuk on September 10, 2017

The Education Act is seriously flawed. The Minister of Education has too much power, the three Regional School Operations set us back 60 years.Take a look, how much it is to operate them. The cost is more than enough to have Nunavut Education Board.  Nunavut is only one jurisdiction in Canada without Education Board. It’s called dictatorship. I am happy Bill 37 was not passed.

#36. Posted by Skwaddy on September 11, 2017

I have tried to learn Inuktitut, but I keep getting ripped off.
The GN has to get serious about establishing classes for
non Inuktitut speakers in each community of Nunavut.

#37. Posted by Unfortunately.... on September 11, 2017

Unfortunately, in order to succeed in school you need the following;
-Strong parental support
-A stable home where your child is safe, and gets a good nights sleep
-Food in their belly
-Structure and routine

Those are the main things a student needs to be successful. Of course, a home where you learn and speak Inuktitut. Remember, the first 5 years of a childs life is learning from mom and dad AT home, and in this case. If you assume that your child is going to learn Inuktitut starting in kindergarten, he/she will grow up with 2 second languages- poor Inuktitut and poor English.

Like all learning, learning begins at home, from the day you’re born.

#38. Posted by Parent on September 12, 2017

When the education act was passed ten years ago what has the department of education done to use the act and move it forward?

What has the department of education done to build capacity of Inuktitut teachers in Nunavut for the last ten years?

When you look at the warnings NTI gave the Department of Education the last ten years it’s easy to see why our education system is the way it is today.

We speak Inuktitut at home, most Inuit do, but our children are losing our language because it is so weak and not used very much in the school system and the government has a obligation to make sure Inuktitut is used and thriving here in Nunavut. For those of you saying it’s not the governments job to make sure Inuktitut is used you are completely wrong and so disconnected to Nunavut.

#39. Posted by Parent on September 12, 2017

Also this notion of us Inuit parents not speaking and teaching our kids at home is somewhat offensive and insulting. Where we have to defend ourselves by trying to explain to you that we speak and teach our kids at home, that is not the point here, the point is the education system has been doing a terrible job at teaching Inuktitut, not the teachers fault due to lack of structure and resources from the department of education.

When you see Inuktitut working in other educational institution and within the government, it makes you think why it is so limited here in our education department and our government, why can’t it work here in Nunavut? Is it that we follow too much of how it is done in the south, most people outside of Quebec only speak one language, not a great example to follow for Nunavut.

#40. Posted by Misplaced Responsibility on September 12, 2017

#39 Parent - please do not misunderstand my post.  I am not deflecting blame to parents.  I know there are many parents, like you, who teach their children and ensure they speak Inuktitut well.  Sadly, many parents, don’t follow your good example.  Otherwise, fluent Inuktitut would not be in decline.  With English, children are taught to speak at an early age.  All school does is provide them with the rules around the language.  Which is what should happen with Inuktitut.  Students should come to school with strong conversational Inuktitut skills that would allow the schools to pick up and make them even more skilled.  The biggest issue is, there is no consistency in Inuktitut. There are two parallel writing styles, dozens of dialects and people who have the will to create a common language, but that work never seems to progress.  You also have regions that squabble about whose dialect should rule.  At the end of the day, creating a common language will preserve the language.

#41. Posted by Parent on September 12, 2017

Again you seem to be deflecting the true issue here, most Inuit kids speak Inuktitut at home very well before they start school, but once they are in the school system the language starts a steady decline, Even with the parents still trying to speak and teach their kids Inuktitut plus helping with other subjects.
It is definitely not a priority in the schools and with the department of education to teach a strong, structured stream of Inuktitut with a curriculum to follow and resources to use.
For the last ten years the department has not really worked on standardizing Inuktitut, it does not have to be one dialect it could be two or three, but we don’t know if this could work because of the lack of commitment and work the department of education has done to date. Again when other places have shown us that Inuktitut can work but for some reason not here in Nunavut. Something is not right with that and most of you point to parents to teach and take responsibility over dept of Education

#42. Posted by Observer on September 12, 2017

#24 “Yes, languages are always changing because there are now a lot of words in English being introduced which we have no words for.”

You mean like what happens all the time in English?

Kayak, igloo, malamute, anorak, and mukluk. Muskeg, moose, husky, muskrat, pemmican, raccoon, quonset, toboggan, tomahawk, totem, woodchuck, chocolate, coyote, guacamole, tomato, jerky, condor, llama, coca, barbecue, canoe, hurricane, potato, tobacco, cashew, tapioca, chinook, bayou, potlatch, sockeye, squash, pingo, nunatak…and those are just some of the words adopted by English just from native languages in the Americas.

It happens as well in other languages, but English is noted for it. Only 20-33% (estimates vary) of the words used in English today are actually English in origin. All the rest are borrowed or adopted from other languages.

#43. Posted by Parent on September 12, 2017

Maybe if I put it this way, if you were back in your home town or city and you spoke English at home but your school only taught another language 90-95% of the time, you see your child not speaking English as much, the language is not as strong anymore, you still work hard to speak and teach your child, but this other language is used most of the time. But the schools are supposed to teach English but they really don’t put in the priority or resources into it.
Than you have people saying you should be teaching your child at home, it’s not the schools that should make sure your language doesn’t disappear.  It’s not a great feeling to have people say that to you but you still try to make sure the government does its job to improve the level of education. It boils down to the department of education not getting their things in order and people deflecting that responsibility.

#44. Posted by Tom on September 12, 2017

I agree with this, Inuktitut faces a dark future. I hope it will improve and my great grandkids will continue to use Inuktitut.

#45. Posted by Stephen on September 12, 2017

#42 that might be the case for English, but usually Inuit created new words in Inuktitut. Places like Iceland do the same, instead of adopting English words into their language they have a department in their government that works to create new words in Icelandic.
But because Inuktitut is in such a decline we see or hear words in English mixed into Inuktitut. More work needs to be done in our government to improve this.

#46. Posted by Teacher on September 14, 2017

It is also very difficult to teach when you do not have a proper curriculum to use. Every class is different because the curriculum is from all over, parts of it from Alberta, BC and other places. Then for Inuktitut there is no curriculum at all, how can you teach Inuktitut without a curriculum to guide you? Resources amd materials are lacking so most of your time is spent on building materials to teach with.

Remember my personal information

Notify me of follow-up comments?