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 Minister 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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I couldn’t agree more with the listed recommendations. I immigrated to Canada in 1988 from a country in Europe that was not wealthy at the time but had universal free early childhood programs from age 3+ and it was mandatory to enroll your child by age 4. The rooms were always in a dedicated wing on the ground level of the local elementary school, and the staff were a grade below teachers and had benefits. Our language is unique in Europe and this one way we kept it alive although we were colonized by the British and subjected to all that colonialism brings with it.
The big question, who pays for all of this? Nunavut parents already pay some of the highest daycare fees in the country. Does Ms. Williamson really believe that the additional costs required to implement her recommendations will come out of the pockets of taxpayers? Daycares are operated by not for profit boards and any incremental investment by the GN in Ms. Wiliamson”s wish list will also be accompanied by increases in daycare fees which will be borne by the parents unless they are lucky enough to be entitled to hefty daycare subsidies.
Even as GN employees, there will still be staff shortages and closures.
So the writer is saying that this daycare pays higher wages than all the other daycares and STILL can’t find enough staff? That sounds to me like something more money and perks just won’t solve.
These suggestions are all good ideas. But how much will they cost? And more importantly, what will we have to give up to get them, since money doesn’t grow on trees?
Ah, the casual racism of the letter writer is certainly bracing in the morning. I’m not sure why we taxpayers would want our tax dollars supporting such a system as it exists now.
As for the rest of it, sadly the situation she describes is no different than daycares in most parts of the country. The are staff shortages everywhere. The low social-status, high turnover, and low pay and benefits are the rule across the country, not the exception I’d say. I am aware of a daycare in the town we summer in that closed because the owner couldn’t get staff. The daycare had nearly 40 children, so there was a healthy demand, the owner just couldn’t find staff who work at the salary she was willing to pay. Sounds like their business model is broken. One thing that is for, the letter writer was correct when described it as unsustainable.
Just curious . . . How much do Day Care workers make in Iqaluit generally? How much of a percent of operating funds come from various sources mentioned? How much come from parents?
The GN can’t find people to teach Inuktitut or to teach in Inuktitut. Where do you expect them to find the Inuktitut speaking early childhood educators you want them to hire?
It actually sounds like you have partially found the solution. You and the other parents are working at the day care center, taking care of your children. Who could possibly do a better job?
Also, the Premier and the Minister of Education both read Inuktitut. Why did you write this letter in English?