Entrench Inuit education rights, NTI says

“It uplifts the spirit when students have a chance to go out on the land.”

By JIM BELL

The Nunavut government’s amended Education Act must guarantee the right of Inuit students in every Nunavut community to receive instruction from kindergarten to Grade 12 in either Inuktitut or Inuinnaqtun, Nunavut Tunngavik delegates said in a resolution last week.

In their four-part resolution, passed unanimously at their annual general meeting in Iqaluit last week, NTI delegates also demand that the Government of Nunavut put words into the Education Act that will:

provide for the hiring of a “representative number” of Inuit teachers and other staff, including principals;
provide for a curriculum that “encompasses Inuit culture,” including land skills, Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit, and Inuit languages;
set up elected “Inuit school boards” to represent the district education authorities and give them “effective authority over regional school operations.”
NTI’s president, Paul Kaludjak, told delegates that NTI’s executive put forward the resolution because Nunavut’s education system is not effective in graduating Inuit students, and that to fix this the GN must create a new education law that gives Inuit what they want.

Jack Kabvitok of Rankin Inlet, who was once a land skills teacher at Leo Ussak School, told other delegates he likes the section of the resolution that calls for land-skills education.

“It uplifts the spirit when students have a chance to go out on the land,” Kabvitok said.

The GN will likely table a bill to create a new Education Act in March of 2007. Such a bill would likely amend the old education law that Nunavut inherited from the Northwest Territories.

The GN’s first attempt to create a new education act, through a bill introduced in 2002, failed after running into opposition from NTI, the official language commissioners for Nunavut and Canada, and Nunavut’s francophone association.

At that time, NTI made the demand that it’s making now: that a new education law create a legal obligation for the territorial government to offer instruction in Inuktitut to Inuit students.

But from NTI’s point of view, the first education bill did not contain words that acknowledged a right to Inuit language education.

The GN’s second attempt at creating a new education law began in earnest in May of 2005, when Ed Picco, the education minister, announced the creation of a steering committee to provide advice to the government on the new law.

After that, the Department of Education’s legislative specialist, former MLA Manitok Thompson, conducted public consultation meetings in communities and other consultation meetings with various interest groups, such as District Education Authorities.

But a draft bill that the GN handed out during those consultations got poor reviews, especially from those who want DEAs to get more power, and those who want a restoration of regional school boards.

This past summer, a coalition of DEA members called on the government to produce a new education law that gives more power and responsibility to local school committees. NTI responded by supporting the DEAs’ demand.

Last week’s resolution reaffirms positions that NTI has taken ever since public debate began on a new education law in 1999.

Responding to a question from Joe Ataguttaaluk of the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, Kaludjak said NTI supports the restoration of the regional school boards that the GN abolished in 1999.

“We are trying to establish regional school boards here,” Kaludjak said when Ataguttaaluk asked him about the meaning of the words “Inuit school boards” in the resolution.

Although GN and NTI officials often talk warmly about the close relationship between their two organizations, that’s one issue they do not agree on.

“When the premier [Paul Okalik] was here he said he was opposed to this,” Kaludjak said.

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