Nunavut’s education minister seeks 20-year delay to delivery of Inuktut education

Original goal was to offer K-12 instruction in the Inuit language by 2019-20

Nunavut Education Minister David Joanasie speaks about Bill 25, which proposes amendments to the Education Act and the Inuit Language Protection Act, on Wednesday, June 5, in the foyer of the Nunavut legislature as his deputy minister, Louise Flaherty, looks on. Joanasie said the bill seeks to fulfill the Government of Nunavut’s commitment to improve the education system and preserve and strengthen the Inuit language. (Photo by Jane George)

By Jane George

Nunavut’s education minister says that it will take 20 years longer than originally expected to bring Inuktut instruction into the territory’s schools from kindergarten to Grade 12.

That new goal is included in Bill 25, “An Act to Amend the Education Act and the Inuit Language Protection Act,” which was tabled in the Nunavut legislature yesterday.

“I believe Bill 25 strikes this balance between promoting and strengthening our Inuit language and culture, while preparing young Nunavummiut for a prosperous future, said Education Minister David Joanasie during a news conference today in the foyer of the Nunavut legislature.

Bill 25 also rolls back the Government of Nunavut’s goal to operate, at every level, in Inuktut to 2040. That’s also 20 years later than a target date set by the Bathurst Mandate when Nunavut was created in 1999.

After a second reading in the legislature, the bill will head into the standing committee of MLAs. Because the legislature adjourns its spring sitting tomorrow, that pushes discussion of the proposed act to the fall sitting, set to start on October 17.

At the heart of the bill, now online, there’s a recognition that it will take much longer to put Inuktut into the territory’s schools than the original deadline of 2020.

This delay is needed to look at issues like teacher shortages and lack of teaching materials, said Joanasie.

Bill 25 calls for a phased implementation of Inuit-language instruction over a 20-year period. This means it will take until July 1, 2039, for Grade 12 students to have Inuit Language Arts taught as a first language.

For the earlier grades, such as Grade 4, the phase-in dates are from July 1, 2026, to July 1, 2030.

To make this happen, the proposed act says the education minister will develop and maintain a strategy for the retention and recruitment of Inuit-language teachers and provide the Nunavut Arctic College “with any reasonable assistance it requires with respect to its Inuit Language teacher education programs.”

The act would also aim to change the role of the district education authorities, putting them more in charge of what is now called “local community programs” instead of “education programs,” although Joanasie said some of the details of what the DEAs will or won’t do are yet will be discussed in the standing committee.

The proposed changes, Joanasie said, are designed to put in cross-Nunavut standards.

But Doug Workman, the president of the Iqaluit DEA, who attended the news conference, said he was disappointed that Bill 25 didn’t appear to take into account more of the feedback offered by DEAs.

The changes to the acts, contained in 10 amendments, are supposed to be based on consultations, which started last September. During these consultations, Government of Nunavut officials heard from more than 800 Nunavummiut, including representatives of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., the Coalition of Nunavut DEAs, the Commission scolaire francophone du Nunavut, the Nunavut Teachers Association, the Office of the Languages Commissioner and four student groups.

The GN has known since 2013 that, due to a severe shortage of Inuit-language teachers and other capacity problems, it cannot meet the bilingual education goals set out in its 2008 Education Act.

The late Michael Ferguson, then the auditor general of Canada, told the GN that in a report tabled in November of that year.

Those original goals would have seen Inuktut and English used as languages of instruction all the way from kindergarten to Grade 12 by the 2019-20 school year.

Unless the dates set out in the Education Act were amended, the GN would have found itself in breach of its own law.

The GN’s first attempt to amend the act fizzled in 2017, when regular MLAs refused to move a set of amendments into committee of the whole for third reading.

So, in February of this year, the GN introduced an interim act to tide them over until MLAs could make more changes, now found in Bill 25.

The Interim Language of Instruction Act suspended the coming into force of certain sections of the Education Act and the Inuit Language Protection Act with respect to Grades 4 to 12, grades in which the GN faced difficulty over the years in extending Inuktut as a language of instruction.

But even with the 20-year reprieve, the challenge of revitalizing the Inuit language in the schools is huge.

Overall in Nunavut, the transmission rates of Inuktut as a mother tongue to Inuit children up to 14 years of age have fallen, said a Statistics Canada study that has not yet been officially released.

In 2016, fewer than seven in 10 Inuit children up to four years old spoke Inuktut as their mother tongue, down from eight in 10 children in 2001.

Overall, 26,270 people in Nunavut still reported speaking Inuktut at home on at least a regular basis in 2016—an increase since 2001.

But while Inuktut is being increasingly used in the home, for many it has shifted from being the main language to the secondary language, Statistics Canada found.

Meanwhile, Nunavut residents with a knowledge of English have grown in both number and proportion: in 2016, 94.1 per cent of Nunavut’s population, or 33,485 people, were able to conduct a conversation in English. That’s up from 86.7 per cent of the Nunavut population, or roughly 23,000 people, in 2001.

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(39) Comments:

  1. Posted by Anomak Niptanatiak on

    I agree with the Minister of Education, so many of our schools do not have enough Inuit presence in the schools, much less as teachers. Whatever happened to the Teachers Education Program??? We had more Inuit Teachers then, now the majority are other/white teachers and if they are in there, they are promoting other/white culture. I am retired and healing from the abuse I received in Residential schools. Our children and grandchildren are still carrying these effects for what we do not heal, we pas down to the generations. If many of our Elders had to re-learn our own Traditional Languages, we as the third or fourth generation of residential school survivors, are in the midst of no only healing, but re-learning the depth of our languages. Many original speakers of my dialect are now walking the spirit path and you can be sure that they did not pass on the whole depth, scope, as well as traditional words and phrases that are no longer used. I know, I was a substitute for nine months and found out that over a third of the children I taught, did not know about 10% of our cultural teachings. Put healing in the education system. Then look out for these kids will take of in learning our language and cultural values. .

    • Posted by SMH on

      The majority of teachers have always been white, this is not something new.

  2. Posted by to be or not to be teacher on

    They had a DM who was a teacher before? What did they miss? All those meetings with people that could change things, what were they doing?

  3. Posted by Death of Inuktitut on

    Clearly, with this bill the GN has no intention of preserving Inuktitut. This delay and inaction of another strategy will fail immensely. Even more alarming is the Inuit leaders are presenting this as a good choice. How can this happen…. It’s shameful. Inuit need to take action as this public government is failing.

    • Posted by Point missed on

      Laws, bills, acts… none of these will preserve Inuktitut. If they did, we wouldn’t be reading this article. Wake up.

  4. Posted by Peter on

    With the Auditor General giving the GN a failing grade in education not the first by the way. This is truly pathetic and downright embarrassing.

    I just don’t understand why in the decade that the GN had to work with the education act the GN did absolutely nothing? In fact the opposite, where is the Inuktitut curriculum? Where is the training and support to build capacity for Inuit teachers?
    The ntep has not been working and needs a overhaul but again the GN does not do anything about it.

    Continually hiring consultants over and over again, coming up with all kinds of excuses, reports after reports from the Auditor General falling on deaf ears and nothing being improved.

    Drastic changes are in order to eight the ship.

  5. Posted by Sam on

    Death of Inuktitut…The MLAs in your public government are Inuit. It’s the Inuit that’s failing in maintaining Inuktitut. In 20 years most of the elders will be gone taking the Inuktitut and Inuit culture with them.

    • Posted by Uncle Bob on

      you are right Sam: a further twenty years of not teaching Inuktitut will create an language abyss that will never be crossed years down the line.
      I think that communities should as a desperate measure run Saturday morning Inuktitut classes to teach the children their language.
      Obviously your child’s fluency in Inuktitut is not going to come from the Education Department at this point of time.

      • Posted by Hmmm on

        That’s a great idea to have Saturday Inuktitut classes. But if you can’t find people who want to be paid to teach Inuktitut during the week, how are you going to find people who want to volunteer to do it on Saturday mornings? If you can’t get your kids to school during the week in the mornings, how many will get to Saturday morning Inuktitut classes?

        The big point that everyone seems to be missing is that there aren’t enough Inuktitut-skilled people wanting to be teachers.

        • Posted by Israel MacArthur on

          Exactly! In addition, the idea that just because a person speaks a language doesn’t in any way mean that they know how to teach it, even if they wanted to.

          • Posted by Uncle Bob on

            Teaching a language is a skilled profession, Chucking unlinked words out does not a language teach.
            In New Guinea in the 60’s they recruited people into a special six months teaching program and they were called E course teachers. They were taught how to teach English as a foreign language . With plenty of prac teaching sessions behind them they were posted off to remote schools armed with printed daily programs.
            This was a great emergency system and to see the quick development of the children
            learning the new language had to be seen to be believed.
            I have suggested before a similar programme should be developed for teaching Inuktitut in Nunavut.

        • Posted by Uncle Bob on

          I based my comment f the awareness of Greek Immigrants to Australia in the 50’s who were worried that their children would lose their Language.
          So they ran Saturday morning Greek classes to the children at their church on Saturday mornings.
          I must say the kids hated it , but all speak Greek today

          • Posted by Israel MacArthur on

            Unfortunately, language teaching is widely believed to be something that anyone who can speak the language can do with no training.

  6. Posted by Taima on

    If you are not happy with this, join me in starting today to plan a campaign for the next election.
    Each of us has to plan how to get elected.
    Each of us also has to plan what to do and how to do it after getting elected.

    • Posted by Populism on

      Elect me! I have no plan, but lots of emotion! What could go wrong?

    • Posted by Oh please on

      Taima, why would anyone vote for you when you admit you have plan? LOL. People wonder why education is valuable. This is why, right here.

  7. Posted by Bert Rose on

    There is a rather simple solution to this language loss conundrum.
    Speaking Inuttut to your children and shut off the eniglish language television.
    Legislation will never save a language.
    Don’t blame schools for language degredation when the model children hear from their parents is English.

    • Posted by John on

      I agree to a point, speaking Inuktitut at home helps but I do blame the schools also for not doing enough, department of education.
      If you have a strong foundation, a curriculum and standards to follow, the right teaching materials to use and a system that works, the schools would greatly enhance Inuktitut being learned and used by students.
      Great examples in Greenland and other parts of Europe where a number of languages are learned and spoken thanks to their education system. If it can work over there I’m sure it could work here too. Our problem is we use Alberta or another part of Canada as a standard to Nunavut’s education and that is not working.

      • Posted by Greenland standardized their language on

        Greenland has a standardized language- makes it much easier to support with curriculum and other resources, setting standards and expectations…

        • Posted by John on

          The GN then need to really start working at standardizing Inuktitut or something similar to get a curriculum in place to use. They had a decade to implement the education act now they want another 20 years, with the GNs track record it will be the same song being played after 20 years.

  8. Posted by Jobie Tukka on

    They need to start training facility here in Iqaluit to do the language. Then have tutors travel to the communities. Also start like cable TV with Inuk. Could also have language get together over coffee. We will succeed where others have failed is my motto.

  9. Posted by Suggestions ! Suggestions ! on

    My compliments to everyone on their comments.
    Uncle Bob you have a good grasp of what is needed, may you
    waltz with Matilda and be happy.
    I think the elders had the best way, and why not ?
    They had been doing it for over 6,000 years.

    • Posted by Israel MacArthur on

      As they say:

      ‘Past performance is no guarantee of future results’ – those days are (almost) dead and gone. A new way of being needs to be found.

  10. Posted by Israel MacArthur on

    While I don’t disagree with many of the comments above, the positive thing of Bill 25 is that it acknowledges reality – Nunavut does not have the HR capacity to staff the schools in the way needed to provide this sort of instruction, and it won’t for another generation.

    Previous laws and plans have been based in fantasy and showed no understanding of the personnel shortages and capacity in Nunavut. At least Bill 25 has looked at Nunavut HR’s capacity with clear eyes and planned accordingly.

    Will it be soon enough help slow the language replacement in Nunavut? Maybe/maybe not, but at least is is not based on a pipe dream.

  11. Posted by Inuk parent on

    For those of you saying to speak Inuktitut at home and it’s Inuit that are failing have to look further instead of down your nose.

    Most of us speak Inuktitut at home, the problem is in the school system Inuktitut does not have the same priority as English, Inuktitut does not have a curriculum to follow, each school in Nunavut is on their own to teach Inuktitut in anyway fashion with limited teaching material, most of these teaching materials are photocopied and made by the individual teachers, it’s different from school to school. No standard to follow no curriculum.
    Our kids are subjected to poor quality of education even more so in Inuktitut, our kids spend most of the day at school just from k to grade 3 in Inuktitut and it’s pretty much nonexistent after grade 3. So it’s easy for you to say just speak at home when the true issue is the education dept. let’s turn this around and have the same quality in English and you would demand things be changed. Perspective, the GN had more then 10 years to work with this education act and it went nowhere, now they want 20 years and I’m sure it will not go anywhere after 20 years also. GN needs to make this a priority and actually start being productive and get things done instead of deflecting and making excuses.

  12. Posted by Glen on

    I don’t understand why the Nunavut government puts so much effort and resources on the law program when they should be focusing on producing teachers instead.
    The focus needs to be changed and start working on producing teachers more then what is going on now.

    • Posted by Quality teachers, not quantity on

      If you established a teacher education program ( similar the Law program) and paid salaries to attend etc. then you might get some stronger applicants etc. but how do you ensure that they’ll stay in education ? Perhaps establishing better support similar to how the Armed Forces supports people becoming doctors etc. ad then require an eight year commitment ? Who knows, but the question of the day is that you want quality teachers, not quantity….

    • Posted by over and over again on

      Posted by John on June 6th: My sentiments exactly. They had 20 years to all of those things – teachers to teach Inuktut, materials that should have been produced, but having been there, the argument has always been that there was no money for this type of work. Instead, the government spent those years to consult, travel, meet, and conference all over Nunavut trying to figure out how to do this at a huge cost! Go figure.

  13. Posted by The fault lies with the 1970s generation on

    Canadian Inuktitut will not survive without standardization. There was a golden opportunity to standardize Inuktitut in the 1960s and 1970s. But the people of that generation turned it down. I don’t blame the current generation for this situation.

    “That’s because, many years ago, Erkloo worked with Raymond Gagné, a linguist who the federal government hired in 1960 to develop a new writing system for the Inuit language. Gagné devised a Roman orthography and recommended its use, but the Inuit of the eastern Arctic rejected it, as did the Anglican church, whose missionaries first developed the syllabic system in the 1800s.”

    https://nunatsiaq.com/stories/article/15021_one_inuit_language_many_inuit_dialects/

    • Posted by Karen on

      I agree, with social media and the internet and cell phones being used more and more the youth could be speaking and writing more with Roman orthography, it is also easier to publish books in Roman orthography then syllabic.
      To keep our language and make it stronger I think we need to standardize Inuktitut, the current system is not working.

  14. Posted by Paul Murphy on

    Very interesting that not one, NOT ONE post here is inuktut (syllabics or roman Orthyography). If you care, start writing and posting in Inuktut my Inuk friends. I envy those of you who communicate in more than one language.

  15. Posted by Paul Murphy on

    Note that not one post/comment here is in Inuktut. Why? If you care, don’t write to me in English or French. Write to me in Inuktut. If it is important to me I will learn or ask someone to translate for me. But if you don'[t insist, then yes YOU will lose your language for not insisting.

    • Posted by Ted on

      That’s all good and fluffy but majority in control of the GN and the ones who write the recommendations do not understand Inuktitut or give it any weight.
      Also with all the decades of subpar quality of education in Inuktitut this makes it easier just to write in English where we have mostly been taught in our own backyard.

      So you see how far this has gone, posting in English instead of Inuktitut, decolonization and working towards having Inuktitut being more of a priority then what it is today would start making changes in a broken system. Have Inuktitut in the same level as English in all aspects in the school then you will start seeing changes.
      20 years from now these poor students who do not know their own language will have their own kids in school where the GN will have something in place by then, I am not too optimistic there will be much change, with the track record of the GN this will only get worse. Drastic changes are in order to make meaningful changes.

  16. Posted by Crystal Clarity on

    Passing this Bill would be a big mistake. It will ensure that schools stop current efforts and the loss of language will be even more pronounced. Kill this Bill for God’s sake.

    • Posted by Peter on

      I agree, they have already had 20 years to work on this, another 20 years because the GN failed to really do much and now asking for another 20 years I don’t see how this will be any different.

  17. Posted by Sled dog on

    28 prior comments.
    All in English.
    Future Choice seems to be made.

    • Posted by Uncle Bob on

      A lot of those 28 comments come from people who care that positive steps are made to see that Inuktitut is saved for future generations.
      They may not speak Inuktitut as they may not live in Nunavut, for instance I have never been to Canada!
      But I have put my money where my mouth is by donation money to Language competitions and prizes to schools encouraging language preservation over a ten year period. I am sure that there are other like people in this group. To cap it off, I have never met an Inuk, although I have an Abaaq in Nunavut who I am very proud of plus many Inuit I regard as friends.
      Ulluqatsiarit

  18. Posted by Oracle on

    Come on – let”s really kill this Language! Are you kidding?
    Who will be speaking it in 20 years?

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