Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut March 17, 2017 - 7:00 am

Ottawa should recognize Anglophones as linguistic minority in Nunavut: language expert

Shift could trigger federal funding, free up more money for Inuktut-language education

SARAH ROGERS
John Arnalukjuak School in Arviat. Like nearly all schools in Nunavut, its student body is overwhelmingly Inuit. To free up more money to pay for Inuit-language education, a Toronto professor suggests declaring Anglophone students a minority to gain access to federal government minority language education funds. (FILE PHOTO)
John Arnalukjuak School in Arviat. Like nearly all schools in Nunavut, its student body is overwhelmingly Inuit. To free up more money to pay for Inuit-language education, a Toronto professor suggests declaring Anglophone students a minority to gain access to federal government minority language education funds. (FILE PHOTO)

English-speakers in Nunavut don’t likely consider themselves a minority, but a language researcher suggests perhaps they should, for the sake of strengthening Inuktut.

Ian Martin, an assistant professor of English at York University, released a paper last week warning of the steady decline of Inuktut in Nunavut and placing at least some of the blame on the territory’s education department.

With no more Inuktut taught in Nunavut’s schools now than when the territory was first created in 1999, Martin said education officials are creating an English-language bureaucracy by continuing to hire teachers and administrators from outside Nunavut.

Among the seven recommendations he makes, which include a well-funded Inuit employment plan for educators, Martin argues that Ottawa should recognize English-speakers in Nunavut as a minority language group, eligible for federal funding.

Nunavut is unique in Canada as the only jurisdiction home to two official language minorities, English and French, both of whom ought to be eligible for minority language support, Martin said

“Canada should identify and separate funding for schooling for the Anglophone [English-speaking] minority population in Nunavut, as it does for Francophones [French-speaking],” Martin said.

“This would allow for the bulk of the territory’s education funding to be devoted to Inuit language schooling.”

It’s not clear exactly what this could mean for Inuktut-language funding.

Nunavut’s Francophone community already benefits from official language minority education, with the creation of its own school board, Commission Scolaire Francophone du Nunavut, which runs Iqaluit’s École des Trois-Soleils.

French-language schooling is funded in part by the Government of Nunavut—based on a funding formula applied to all of Nunavut’s schools—as well as through Heritage Canada at a rate of $1,422,631 per year under the current agreement.

But École Trois-Soleils’ student population sits at roughly 100. Compare that to the territory’s overall student population of 10,039, 93.5 per cent of whom are Inuit.

Across the territory, 2011 census data shows that 28.6 per cent of Nunavummiut identify English as their mother tongue, compared to 70 per cent whose mother tongue is non-official (Inuktut) and just 1.4 per cent who identify French as their first language.

Those statistics aren’t quite reflected in the classroom, when you consider that only 11 of Nunavut’s 27 elementary schools offer Inuktut as a language of instruction up to Grade 3.

With English so widespread at home and throughout the education system, Martin said there doesn’t appear to be an appetite for English-speakers to define themselves as a minority.

“It goes to show that the system is already supporting them,” he said. “They certainly don’t feel like they’re under some kind of oppression.”

Martin goes farther, suggesting that the federal government support Inuktut as an official language of the territory.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report noted that Canada spends about $14 million each year for the preservation and revitalization of the country’s 90 Indigenous languages, compared to the $350 million earmarked for official minority language communities.

“They wanted really strong Inuktut”

During the 17 years Martin has studied language development in Nunavut, he said he’s seen a “complete dropping of the ball” on the part of education officials.

Martin first came to Nunavut in 2000, to prepare Aajjiqatigiingniq, a language of instruction research paper for the then-new Government of Nunavut.

The report surveyed Nunavummiut across the territory to determine what kind of language instruction they wanted to see in schools and set out a plan for the different models implemented in each region, including bilingual education.

“They wanted really strong Inuktut,” Martin said of Inuit he interviewed. “They wanted English to be available. And they saw French as increasingly important.”

In 2008, the GN introduced its Education Act, which pledged to deliver a fully bilingual, Inuktitut-English school system by 2019-20.

But, by 2013, an Auditor General’s report found that wasn’t likely, due to a lack of bilingual teachers and slow production of curriculum and teaching resources.

Amendments to the Education Act, tabled in the legislature last week, now set 2030 as the new target to implement fully bilingual education up to Grade 9.

“I don’t even think they tried,” Martin said.

Meanwhile, the Department of Education has continued to recruit a majority of its teachers, principals and senior administrators from outside Nunavut, Martin noted, which has entrenched the education system in the English language.

Among his recommendations, Martin is calling on the GN to develop and implement a robust Inuit employment plan for its educators, with the $50 million included within the lawsuit settlement agreement that Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. secured from the federal government in 2015.

Martin also recommended the GN and Nunavut Arctic College establish a research and development curriculum body to produce Inuktut-language resources and instructional units.

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