NTI court claim demands 5-year plan to deliver Inuit language education
NTI takes Government of Nunavut to court over alleged failure to provide Inuktitut instruction
Updated Friday, Oct. 15, 2021 at 2 p.m.
Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. has filed a lawsuit against the Government of Nunavut, claiming the government has failed its legal obligations to ensure Inuktitut language education throughout the territory’s public school system.
“This claim is all about discrimination based on race and ethnicity — the fact that we are Inuit,” NTI President Aluki Kotierk said during a news conference in Iqaluit on Wednesday.
Inuit in Nunavut, who form a majority in the territory, have a constitutional right to receive education in all grade levels and subjects in Inuktitut, Kotierk said.
“That would help young Inuit students feel proud of who they are … so that they don’t feel any shame for speaking Inuktitut, for being Inuk, and having their own cultural practices,” she added.
The claim calls for a court order compelling the GN to come up with a five-year plan to deliver Inuit language education from Kindergarten to Grade 12.
The 28-page claim, filed Wednesday at the Nunavut Court of Justice in Iqaluit, outlines NTI’s allegations of the government’s long historical failure to implement its own legislation. These claims have not been proven in court and the government has yet to respond to them in court documents.
NTI claims that shortly after forming, in 2000, the GN dissolved elected Inuit supervision of local education boards set up by the Northwest Territories in the 1970s.
In 2006, retired judge Thomas Berger said the leading cause for the failure of Nunavut’s education system was the failure to provide Inuit language education, NTI pointed out.
In 2008, the Nunavut government confirmed its commitment to that education by amending the Education Act and by passing the Inuit Language Protection Act, NTI said.
Those moves committed the government to rolling out Inuktitut-language instructions by 2019-20, the court document said.
But instead, the number of primary schools that offered Inuit language education dropped to 10 from 16, NTI said.
A report by the auditor general in 2013 found the GN was failing to meet its Inuit language targets, including failing to train enough Inuit teachers.
The government then rolled back its obligations in 2020 through legislative amendments, the court claim said.
Those amendments replaced the government’s obligation to provide Inuit language education in all subjects with a single course called Inuit Language Arts.
It also pushed the government’s deadline to incorporate Inuit languages to some degree in all grade levels by 2039.
Currently, teachers and principals in Nunavut are about 75 per cent non-Inuit-language speakers, NTI said.
And the government has undermined implementing Inuit language education by hiring non-Inuit educators, the organization said.
“Many Inuit employed in the education system are hired as substitute teachers or as relief or casual employees,” the court document said.
The government’s approach perpetuates historical wrongs and stereotypes, including that Inuit language and culture is inferior and less deserving of protection than non-Inuit languages, NTI alleges.
Many Inuit don’t graduate from primary and high schools, have low proficiency in both English and Inuit languages and face significant barriers to employment and cultural connection after school, said NTI.
Kotierk said the current education system in some ways replicates the experience that many Indigenous people faced in residential schools.
“Although it’s our own government, it’s set up in a way that diminishes and degrades who we are as Inuit, and that plays into inter-generational trauma of residential schools,” she said.
The claim asks the court for an order compelling the government to implement Inuit language education throughout the public school system within five years, in consultation with NTI.
Alternatively, the claim asks the court for an order giving the government six months to come up with its own plan.
Correction: This article was altered from a previous version to correct a description of the government’s obligation to provide Inuit language education.