Inuit language nest in Iqaluit to shut down

Nunavut government denies funding to Aaralaat Uqariuqsajut


(updated 3:38 p.m.)

The free preschool language nest, Aaralaat Uqariuqsajut, is shutting down after six years of teaching Inuktitut to children in Iqaluit.

The language nest has been working out of a donated Nakasuk School space for years, that is until the Department of Culture, Language, Elders and Youth cut its funding earlier this month.

The reason behind the funding cut is that CLEY “cannot fund personal salaries according to our grants and contribution policy,” read a May 4 rejection letter sent to Aaralaat Uqariuqsajut and signed by CLEY administration officer Mialia Lyta.

The president of the not-for-profit language nest, Leslie Payette, said she was dumbfounded when she read this. In previous years it’s been a formality to ask for money from the GN and it’s always been granted.

“CLEY gives us about 90 per cent of our funding, and almost all our funding goes to salaries,” said Payette.

This is something Payette says CLEY has known about for years, but when she spoke with a CLEY spokesperson, they said that they had just been taking a harder look at their funding policies.

“I respect that they are trying to bring some rigor to their own processes. It’s just very unfortunate that they didn’t inform us,” she said.

Now it’s too late to apply for funding elsewhere, because most funding applications expire in late March for the upcoming fiscal year, which means three staff will have to be laid off and 32 children will go without preschool.

The preschool worked in two shifts of 16 kids at a time, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. This would run in parallel with kindergarten classes, so if one kid went to preschool in the morning they would attend kindergarten in the afternoon, or vice versa.

Now that Aaralaat Uqariuqsajut will be gone soon, Payette says it will put stress on an already strained daycare system in Iqaluit.

“It’s maybe alleviating the need for daycare, so without the kids going to this, working parents need some type of daycare spot,” said Payette.

She was also shocked at CLEY for not providing just under $150,000 — up more than $50,000 from the previous fiscal year — for the service, since the government department recently promoted the preschool in its 2010-11 annual report.

“This pre-school Inuktitut immersion program fosters language and culture and builds strong foundations in participants’ first language,” read the report. “It also equips parents with the means to support this approach in the home and in the community.”

“This success of bilingualism in Nunavut is dependent on the young population and this program is undeniably a step in the right direction,” the report said.

“With all due respect, I find it truly hypocritical,” said Payette.

“We know the reason so many organizations and governments are interested in language is the statistics of graduation rates, of literacy rates, and this program was assisting to help literacy development of children, particularly in Inuktitut,” said Payette.

She also said education minister and Premier Eva Aariak’s granddaughter attended the school last year.

“I see her as the leader for Tamapta, leader for early childhood education, and I kind of would like the government to put their money where their mouth is,” said Payette. The government said it will be looking into the matter further, according to press secretary to Eva Aariak, Emily Woods.

“Our officials are looking into the matter. Early childhood education and language are a priority for the Premier,” said Woods. “The deputy minister of CLEY has committed to review this specific case, and we look to have more information shortly.”

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