Education in Nunavut needs a big fix, Nunavut Tunngavik says

“The GN has jeopardized our children’s internationally recognized human right to receive an education”


Nunavut Tunngavik Inc.’s  2010/11 Annual Report on the State of Inuit Culture and Society was released Nov. 20.

Nunavut Tunngavik Inc.’s 2010/11 Annual Report on the State of Inuit Culture and Society was released Nov. 20.

In its 2010/11 Annual Report on the State of Inuit Culture and Society, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. takes a strong, well-documented stab at the federal and territorial government educational policies that it says breach the human rights of Nunavut children and put the future of the Inuit culture, language and people in peril.

NTI released the report Nov. 21, on the same day that the Government of Nunavut announced that its education department will host a circumpolar conference on education for indigenous people next week in Iqaluit.

In its harsh criticism of the delivery of education in Nunavut, NTI says too many decisions are made on “the basis of Eurocentric conceptions of health and social progress.”

To find out what Inuit think, NTI says it wants to organize a series of “territory-wide dialogues” on wellness.

“The product of these dialogues will become a useful blueprint that policy-makers can use to include the values and vision of our people in the work that we do,” NTI says.

In the report, NTI says “formal schooling has, from its inception, formed an integral part of an assault by Euro-Canadians and their culture on Inuit culture and society.”

Education has remained a “flashpoint of contention and mistrust between Inuit parents, communities and the government that has serious health implications for Inuit children and youth,” NTI says.

NTI says that Nunavut Inuit parents have been marginalized from decision-making about the schooling of their children.

“This has led to a widening gap in trust between communities and schools that must be closed if our children are to experience the benefits associated with educational attainment,” says NTI.

NTI also condemns the GN for prolonging that situation by “the ethnic composition and manner in which the GN operates” and the nature of its educational policies.

“By dismissing Inuit concerns, the GN has jeopardized our children’s internationally recognized human right to receive an education in a culturally and linguistically appropriate context,” NTI says. “This is a failure of the system that can place Inuit children and youth at an academic disadvantage.”

But while there’s “no quick fix exists that will immediately improve the health and well-being of Inuit children and youth overall” NTI says ensuring access to high-quality education is “an excellent and defensible place to start.”

The report also offers up evidence on how improving Nunavut’s education system could be “a preventative health care measure that is cost effective and can improve the well-being of our society.”

As an example of the failures in Nunavut, NTI notes that 88 per cent of Inuit scored below level three on the prose literacy scale, “the desired threshold for coping with the increasing skill demands of a knowledge society.”

This compared with 45 per cent of the non-aboriginal population of Manitoba, and 39 per cent of the non-aboriginal population of Saskatchewan.

And NTI points to studies that shows “more education generally leads to more intelligent lifestyle choices in which people are less likely to engage in risky or unhealthy behavior.”

It also says Nunavut has lagged in bilingual education and that Nunavut should provide 80 per cent of K-12 language of instruction in the Inuit language and 20 per cent in English or French.

The childcare in Nunavut system is inadequate, reaches too few children, and needs higher standards, NTI says.

Among its recommendations:

• the GN and federal government must ensure the human rights of Inuit in Nunavut are respected and live up to the United Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement;

• the GN revise and reform the Nunavut education act by working in equal partnership with NTI and regional Inuit organizations; and,

• the federal government work with the GN to fully finance development and implementation of a full bilingual, K-12 education system.

NTI also calls for more mental health services, territory-wide access to country foods and more and better housing to improve the well-being of Inuit in Nunavut, and especially that of children and youth.

Overall NTI concludes that “the basic needs of Inuit children and youth aged two to 18 in Nunavut are not being met by the GN and Government of Canada.”

“These needs include adequate housing, food security, reliable social services, childcare, and access to equitable, Inuit-specific education developed in equal partnership with Inuit communities.”

It calls on the GN “to facilitate a more cooperative working relationship with Inuit organizations, communities, and the Government of Canada.”

The NTI report is an annual obligation of NLCA 32.3.4. As required by Article 32, the report will be tabled in the Nunavut Legislative Assembly, and the House of Commons.

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