Iqaluit’s Inuktut daycare calls for greater government support
“We must recognize how essential our early learning and child-care workers are to the Nunavut workforce”
Open letter to Nunavut Premier Joe Savikataaq and Education David Joanasie:
Dear Hon. Savikataaq and Minister Joanasie,
I am a part of a group of Inuit parents who care deeply about our language and culture. I am also the chair of the board of directors of Tumikuluit Saipaaqivik, the only Inuktut-immersion early learning and child-care facility in Iqaluit and the only institution in the capital city of Nunavut that sends children into the education system already speaking Inuktut.
Tumikuluit Saipaaqivik was closed from Aug. 21 until Sept. 12, 2019, simply because there was not enough staff to stay open and, moreover, it has been operating under capacity for nearly a year. Not many people apply to work at Tumikuluit because of the relatively low pay (though the highest of all daycares in Iqaluit), little to no benefits, no housing and because of the social system that sees daycare work as low status and female.
The daycare is now open again, but under a crisis regime: we have lost our long-time and amazing executive director due to burnout. We now have a part-time office administrator, a full-time daycare manager, two full-time caregivers, and each of the parents take turns to work at the daycare (all with cleared criminal record checks and vulnerable sector checks in hand), for a whole day each, while we continue to look for full-time, qualified staff.
It is an unconventional system, but as parents, we believe in giving our children safe and whole Inuktut spaces to our children, so we are making every effort to keep the daycare open. We are still at risk of closing permanently.
The Nunavut daycare system is not sustainable. Child-care workers are expected to take on one of the most important roles in children’s lives by providing quality early childhood education, grounded in Inuit culture and language while being undervalued and under supported.
Our non-profit society depends on many different and inadequate streams of annual funding programs and parent volunteers to govern and oversee the management of an early learning centre. Our child-care workers are often on the brink of poverty because of the low pay and benefits, the lack of training on the job and the lack of housing. Child-care workers are currently being asked to work for less than what is needed to support themselves or their family.
The adverse circumstances our daycare finds itself in are compounded by the unique skill set we require in order to promote and maintain Inuit language and culture during the most critical stages of our children’s lives; Tumikuluit only hires Inuit who can speak Inuktut fluently.
We have 100 per cent Inuit employment. But we struggle with chronic staff turnover because we are unable to offer competitive wages and benefits to retain valuable staff. In turn, this affects the quality of our early learning and child-care programming. Inuit must be sufficiently supported and valued to pass on our language and culture to our children.
The Government of Nunavut must consider how it can better support quality early learning and child care grounded in Inuit language and culture. We need to be able to offer our valued early learning and child-care workers competitive wages and benefits, which includes housing, vacation travel assistance benefits, and training–both on the job and in school.
Tumikuluit’s vision has consistently been to expand our reach and programming to accommodate more Inuit children. We have been actively seeking larger, more sufficient day care space to achieve that vision, insofar as to fundraise approximately $80,000 towards a new space.
We propose some of the following solutions to the Government of Nunavut:
- Integrate early learning and child-care workers as part of GN staff so that they are part of competitive salaries offered by the GN, following the GN’s eight pay levels, on par with all teachers working in the Nunavut school system.
- Incorporate operations and maintenance of all daycares in Nunavut into the existing school system.
- Offer comprehensive benefits to early learning and child-care workers, including but not limited to short-term and long-term sick leave, vacation pay, bilingual pay, parental leave and housing.
- Create a central body to support all daycares in Nunavut.
- Work with early learning and child-care centres immediately to address the crisis we collectively and currently face while we work together on a longer-term plan for systemic change.
We must recognize how essential our early learning and child-care workers are to the Nunavut workforce. Our daycares must be fully staffed and all staff need sustainable employment. We must keep our daycares open.
With the necessary systemic change, Nunavut’s early learning and child-care professionals will value their employment and that will be a significant step towards achieving an early learning and child-care system that provides the best possible start to life for Inuit children, including the opportunity to learn and speak Inuktut, to grow up prepared to live a harmonious life rooted in Inuit ways of knowing, and to be equipped to participate in Canadian society.
Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory
Chair, Tumikuluit Saipaaqivik (Iqaluit Inuktitut Daycare Society) Board of Directors
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