Berger urges big, bold fix for Inuit educatio

Leaked conciliator’s report recommends $20 million a year now for Article 23, millions more later


Throughout Thomas R. Berger’s long and distinguished career as a lawyer, politician, and judge, no one ever accused him of being faint-hearted.

His big, bold plan for fixing Nunavut’s education and training systems to implement Article 23 — leaked last week to Nunatsiaq News — shows why.

Declaring that Nunavut now faces a “moment of change, a moment of crisis,” Berger says Ottawa must pay for Article 23 in two ways:

* an extra $20 million a year now to fix the territory’s failed training system and recruit more young Inuit into Government of Nunavut jobs;
* many millions more to create a fully bilingual program from kindergarten to Grade 12, a recommendation whose price-tag should be worked out in new talks between Nunavut and Ottawa.

It’s all set out in his final conciliator’s report on the stalled negotiations aimed at producing a new contract to implement the Nunavut land claims agreement for the period between 2003 and 2013.

Berger submitted the 74-page document to Jim Prentice, the northern affairs minister, on March 1, but it has yet to be released to the public.

In it, Berger asserts that only a massive overhaul of Nunavut’s school system, combined with large annual injections of new cash from Ottawa, will give large numbers of Inuit a chance to qualify for Nunavut government jobs.

“The Government of Nunavut has strived mightily to provide opportunities for virtually all qualified Inuit. The problem is that the supply of qualified Inuit is exhausted,” Berger said in a 6,000-word cover letter addressed to Prentice and attached to the report.

Calling his plan “The Nunavut Project,” Berger appeals to statistics, law, history, the honour of the Crown, and the rhetoric of Canadian nationalism to make his case.

“Our ideas of human rights, of strength in diversity, of a northern destiny merge in the promise of Nunavut. It is a promise that we must keep,” Berger told Prentice.

Talks on a new implementation contract started in 2001, but collapsed in 2004. Though negotiators from the GN, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. and the federal government failed to see eye-to-eye on numerous petty issues, it was disagreement on two big questions that caused their talks to founder:

* a joint proposal from NTI and the GN that Ottawa spend $10 to $20 million a year more on Inuit training to carry out Article 23;
* new budgets for Nunavut’s family of environmental management boards, such as the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board and the Nunavut Impact Review Board, known to bureaucrats as “IPGs,” or “Institutions of Public Government.”

In May of 2005, Andy Scott, the ex-DIAND minister, appointed Berger as a conciliator to help get the three sides talking again.

Last fall Berger issued an interim report that focused mostly on the IPG funding issue.

His recommendations led directly to a deal, which has yet to be ratified by the three parties. Under it, the federal government will spent $15 million a year to pay for the IPGs, about $2 million more than they had been spending.

That means all eyes will now focus on the deal-breaker: a new way of implementing Article 23, which Berger says “lies at the heart of the promise of Nunavut.”

To reach an agreement, negotiators will first have to accept Berger’s initial premise, that Nunavut’s school system has failed.

“The schools are failing. They are not producing graduates truly competent in Inuktitut; moreover, the Inuit of Nunavut have the lowest rate of literacy in English in the country.”

Then they’ll have to accept the logic that leads Berger to conclude that only massive federal spending combined with a new bilingual school program will ensure the success of Article 23.

To build his argument, Berger relies on material that’s familiar to readers of Anaumaniq, a study on Inuit employment in government done by the PricewaterhouseCoopers accounting firm that was released in January 2003.

This includes some common statistics well-known to many Nunavummiut:

* Inuit employment at the GN is stuck at 45 per cent, with few Inuit qualified for executive, management and professional jobs;
* only about 25 per cent of Inuit children graduate from high school, and not all go on to college or university;
* about 75 per cent of Nunavut Inuit speak Inuktitut as their first language, and about 15 per cent of Inuit have no other language;
* Inuit in Nunavut lose about $72 million a year in lost wages and benefits because of the failure to carry out Article 23.

But Berger cautions officials against getting caught up in a “numbers game.” The fierce competition for Nunavut’s limited pool of qualified Inuit is forcing GN departments to lure Inuit employees away from each other, he said, a practice that’s bad for Inuit trainees and which hurts the quality of government services.

This, for example, explains why the proportion of Inuktitut-speaking teachers in Nunavut is dropping rapidly. As GN departments lure teachers into non-teaching jobs, the quality of Inuktitut language education declines.

He even warns that in the short-term, the full implementation of his ideas would likely lead to a temporary decline in the GN’s Inuit employment numbers. That’s because many Inuit would have to be pulled out of active service to either act as trainers, or to take more training.

And he says that, right now, the GN’s actual working language is English, not Inuktitut, a situation that must change over time.

“Bringing up a new generation of English-only public servants would effectively deny or severely limit access to government for many, if not most, of the citizens it is meant to serve,” Berger said.

To head that off, Inuktitut must evolve to become Nunavut’s principal language of government, Berger said.

And that can only happen if Inuktitut becomes a language of instruction for most school subjects between kindergarten and Grade 12, as part of a revamped and reinvigorated bilingual school program.

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