Parents object to how Iqaluit francophone school runs outdoor program

“Why not honour and respect Inuit by listening?”

Signs in three languages and two writing systems welcome visitors to École des Trois-Soleils in 2003, about a year after the school opened in Iqaluit. (File photo)

By Nunatsiaq News

We write as concerned parents of children attending École des Trois-Soleils (ÉTS) and not as employees of Qulliq Energy Corp. or the Government of Nunavut, respectively.

The article, “Iqaluit’s French students take classes out on the tundra,” on Iqaluit’s francophone students doing outdoor activities on the tundra, is biased.

It presents overwhelmingly positive and privileged Qallunaat perspectives of the Sila land-based education program. It describes some of the context of the program, yet masks concerns some parents have raised about Sila since its inception two years ago.

As Qallunaat parents of French-speaking Inuit children, we have written letters to the Commission scolaire francophone du Nunavut (CFSN) and the GN Department of Education since the fall of 2017 to make clear our objections to the local francophone school leadership promoting the appropriation of Inuit culture and knowledge.

Following his participation at the CSFN annual general meeting in October 2017, Derek wrote a letter to the CSFN about its lack of transparency in using GN funds to hire non-Inuit for Innait Inuksiutilirijiit (Inuit Elders in Schools) for the Sila program at ÉTS. The CSFN has yet to respond.

ÉTS refuses to teach Inuktitut or hire Inuit elders and guides as cultural teachers for two main reasons:

1. Inuit elders and guides do not speak French.

2. ÉTS has “to follow the school’s language mandate,” which is to promote, preserve and protect French.

But at what cost? Must ÉTS take such a firm stance on the exclusion of Inuit when teaching and learning on Inuit land?

Trying to connect to Inuit land without truly connecting to the people of this land (that is, Inuit) is an example of colonialism. It is also an example of conflicting educational policies and practices at École des Trois-Soleils, which is a GN institution.

Why not honour and respect Inuit by listening?

Derek Allerton
Laura Thompson

Note: Nunatsiaq News thank Derek Allerton and Laura Thompson for their letter. It was never our intent to “mask concerns” that we could not possibly have known about in advance. When the imputed article was published, we had no inside knowledge of any letters of concern that parents may have sent to the CFSN, or any inside knowledge of the CFSN’s alleged use of GN funds.

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(37) Comments:

  1. Posted by lou on

    You’re right in principle but I disagree with your choice of dragging the administration through the mud over this and making this a bigger issue than it is.

    • Posted by 123 on

      They’ve been writing letters for a long time and nothing has been done so if a news article makes a difference then great. Also confronting cultural appropriation is never “making a big deal out of nothing”

      • Posted by michele on

        confronting cultural appropriation…this is not what this is about
        if you knew I mean really knew….you would never say that
        again totally saddened
        my understanding is that a community works together…let’s work together to understand instead of pointing fingers and fear mongering and playing the race card
        let’s be a community who cares and makes a difference….but some just need to be right at any cost

        • Posted by 123 on

          You have persuaded me to learn more about this and the school, I may have commented without enough knowledge, only what was presented in this article.

        • Posted by Oh Ima on

          It;s not about being right at any cost! It’s about doing the right thing in our territory. I am pretty sure if an English Speaker talked about French Culture and started french cultural practicum or field trip on Quebeque culture without a Quebecque there be a constitutional.
          crisis! This whole thing is backwards in respecting and teaching Inuit culture which just then about the physical aspect of hunting, it’s about social, economic and spiritual aspect of hunting that an Inuk traditional hunter or an elder can provide

          • Posted by Michele on

            That is not what is happening at all!

          • Posted by iRoll on

            Oh Ima, I disagree, there would be no “constitutional crisis” in the situation you described. None.

            Prove me wrong okay.

            Also, to those who say this is cultural appropriation, are you suggesting that no other culture has ever hunted before? Or used land skills? This is why the term has lost it’s usefulness and meaning, overuse by overzealous cultural puritans seeking to weaponize it against less ostensibly progressive people.

    • Posted by MIchele on

      Hi I truly didn’t want to get involved in this discussion
      what I see happening is so sad and so disheartening
      it is obvious that there is misunderstanding and misrepresentation
      a good news story where intentions are good and efforts are being made to incorporate Inuit truly
      great respect from Benoit regarding Inuit culture and in no way appropriation
      He is advocating for Inuit resources actively but this should not preclude his involvement or his good work getting the kids outdoors!
      He sadly is collateral damage in this whole thing…as are the children from all of this…many kids love the program and many parents do. It is like anything nothing is perfect but we could all come together French, English, Inuit at the school and build on what Benoit has done…why couldn’t it be like this? why does it have to be this way?Open transparent conversation together to make the Sila program the best it can be! aren’t we all lucky to have opportunities to work together to build community like this…I am very sad and yes hurt by the actions taken by some….

      • Posted by John on

        Good intentions doesn’t mean it’s not problematic. If the school and the school board aren’t willing to listen to parents (esp. parents of Francophone Inuit children), this is an issue.

        As an outside observer, I don’t read their letter as an attack on Benoit (your husband, right?), which you do. If you read the letter, these people are saying the money intended to hire Inuit should be spent to hire Inuit elders, and that the reason the school does not do so is because the Inuit elders don’t speak French. Benoit is a talented outdoorsman but I am assuming he is not an Inuk.

        The principal freely appropriates other cultures and claims French Canadians are equally victims of English colonialism (seriously?) as his excuse for appropriating Inuit culture. From where I sit, Francois and the school board are the problem here, and it appears some parents aren’t satisfied with the status quo.

        Benoit may be getting caught in the crossfire, but I doubt he was clueless about where the money he took home was supposed to go.

        • Posted by Michèle on

          Maybe you are right but what is you don’t have the facts and what if you are wring? and it was and always is about just getting the kids outside that is the true fact!

          • Posted by Joamie Dad on

            What these people are saying is this: The government gave the French school money for Inuit elders to be hired to teach Inuit land skills on Inuit land.

            Is this not a fact? If it’s a fact, the school is failing its students, its parents, and the community of Iqaluit. I hope the Finance Minister, whose kids go there, has the good sense to look into how this money was spent.

            Also, we considered sending our kids to Trois-Soleils, but saw how the principal conducted himself regarding Inuit culture on social media – making art using Inuit legends and talking about how cultural appropriation is a wonderful thing that has pushed civilization forward – and know we made the right choice by sending our kids elsewhere.

            • Posted by Fake Plastic Tree on

              Cultural appropriation has pushed civilization forward.

              You don’t agree?

              It’s an interesting topic that often takes place without a clear definition of terms. That’s a problem.

              I often wonder at people who deride ‘appropriation,’ do they think cultures should be either frozen in place, or make no material or intellectual advancements except on their own? This has never been the pattern of historical change and the idea that it should be is strange and counter productive.

        • Posted by Michèle on

          Actually the money is not from the Inuit Elders fund – this in not an Inuit land program but plen air and lots of outreach has been done to engage Inuit and will continue
          The discussion is off track – most people commenting have no real knowledge of the situation
          IQ principles , each word expresses tolerance, sharing , consensus , love for the land , inclusion ! How is any of this in that spirit? As for appropriation – in what Benoit does each day with the kids …he tells them of his experience his love and speaks with great respect for the tundra and it’s people he does not appropriate in any way…the kids see the program as fun and that’s what they should do at their age enjoy the land and have fun!

    • Posted by michele on

      I honestly don’t think any of this is helpful
      I am certain everyone wants to work it out….for the good of the kids
      we all have a place and can make room for everyone – that is what Nunavut is isn’t it?
      that is why we love it here
      this is not the forum to work for a better day
      lay down your burden and be kind to each other

  2. Posted by Are you aware on

    Laura, I’m sure you are aware of the initiatives that were completed at the ETS.
    Troath singing
    Igloo building
    Arctic games skills
    Inuktuk speaking skills
    These were thought my Inuit and were a great success. I don’t believe I have seen you during the events, but this does not matter now.
    You and Derek are unhappy that the connection to the land that is offered by the school does not involve Inuit, but I’m sure you are aware that there are many Qallunaat in Nunavut that have the same, or even more skills. What are you afraid of? That students are getting a good education that expands beyond the classroom? Maybe you are just on a mission to distribute another disturbance that will involve the CSFN, the Department of Education and of course the school and its staff. The only one suffering out of this letter are the students. Well done Laura and Derek, just line up with the other guys (although they left already mostly) and spread unjustified arguments that hurt the students. I call this bullshit!

    • Posted by John on

      You’re saying that there are Qallunaat in Nunavut with the same or more Inuit land skills as Inuit elders. And yet you wonder why “the other guys” are leaving the school?

  3. Posted by Abc on

    Dont these people have anything better to do than to create strife and division? This is a wonderful program that should be supported and encouraged. Let’s stop with the negativity and try to make a healthy community with healthy, active kids!

  4. Posted by iThink on

    The writers suggest “overwhelmingly positive and privileged Qallunaat perspectives”

    I counter suggest: relativistic, postmodern verbal diarrhea, void of actual content or meaning.

    • Posted by John on

      Bonjour, Francois!

      • Posted by Jien U. on

        Bonjour Francois x2

        • Posted by iThink on

          Oh yea, bonne journée?

    • Posted by Yup… nope on

      To be clear, the above comment by iThink was not made by François. Hi, trolls!

  5. Posted by What does “Nunavut” Mean? and funded by GN on

    Take back the money, as it is not being used accordingly. How dare they use the funds for your own gain, don’t you know, you are in a place called Nunavut? you know what that means. You’re not in Quebec anymore, or Ontario, follow the guidelines of the people who fund you, this money could have gone to a better use somewhere in Education

    • Posted by dont blame french speakers on

      Official languages of Nunavut: English, Inukitut, Inuinnaqtun, French. They’re all equal in the eyes of the law.
      Inuit leaders agreed to this when they created Nunavut. If you’re angry at people for speaking French, then you should redirect that anger towards your leaders who agreed to it.

  6. Posted by let the kids have fun on

    I’m sure the kids had a lot of fun, and I bet they wouldn’t care if it was in French, Inuktitut, English or Chinese.

    I bet they’re wondering why the adults are getting so worked up over this. Hopefully the adults do the right thing and let the kids have fun.

    • Posted by John on

      Are you suggesting the kids couldn’t have had as much fun if they were taught land skills by an Inuk elder instead? They’re the ones who the government wanted the French school to hire.

  7. Posted by yikes on

    The problem I have with this letter is that it makes the school appear anti-Inuktitut when it does just as good of a job at promoting Inuktitut as the other Iqaluit schools, maybe even more. They definitely did botch this feel-good story, but what about everything else that the authors chose to omit?

    Sadly, Inuktitut is really just a token language in Iqaluit schools. It’s taught at a very basic level with no room for growth. We can point fingers at various agencies for allowing this to happen, but it’s the truth. Inuktitut education is a shell of what it could be. This story is just one of the many outcomes created by years of incompetence and stubbornness from various individuals and agencies.

    • Posted by Sans Inuit on

      Sadly some of us have sent our Inuk children to this school and the principals never worked hard enough to get an Inuktitut teacher for several years. There have been many Inuit kids who have gone through those doors yet their cultural identity was secondary. The staff and council refuse to accept that some of our kids are Inuk-French and have Nunavut roots. The kids learned mainly French history, language and culture. The curriculum refer to Quebec French culture. A Qallunaaq was brought into to butcher a seal with no Inuit history or customs taught. The French and especially the Quebecois are so unto themselves. Fellow Inuit moms and dads, avoid sending your kids there.

  8. Posted by Lucky Charms on

    On a more positive note, this past Friday ETS celebrated Robbie Burns Day and my children ate haggis for the first time – one loved it and the other hated it! But I’m just happy they had the opportunity to try it and I would like to thank ETS – principal and staff – for celebrating many cultures and for being inclusive!

  9. Posted by Northern Guy on

    I am reiterating some of things that I said about the original story. The Francophone community and especially the school remain profoundly tone-deaf to the very legitimate criticism of its land program. Allowing a non-Inuk to teach children about Inuit land skills is the height of cultural appropriation and flies in the face of everything Nunavut is supposed to stand for. I have seen a lot of very misplaced comments here about coming together as a community. When Ecole des Trois Soliels and its parents start realizing that “community” extends beyond their own culture, then we can start having a legitimate discussion until then everything they say is just lip service.

  10. Posted by Hmmmmm on

    There are always so many criticisms, but not much offered in the way of solutions. Why not provide the names of some of your Inuit elder friends who would like to support this program? Instead of dividing more, bring people together.

  11. Posted by Uvanga on

    What a great program and wonderful intentions! Do you see a spelling error in the Inuktitut welcome sign…

  12. Posted by Natsiq Kango on

    Laura and Derek, thanks for writing this letter. It feels good to be represented when we cannot speak for ourselves. I also read the responders comments. Your letter I find is about a mandate in regards to delivering traditional Inuit cultural ways to the kids in school. I don’t see aiming or attacking at someone in school, other than the officials ( Board of French school and GN not responding to the correspondence since 2017. for not responding.) Unfortunately, it has come to the public because the MANDATE is not supporting to hire Inuit to teach and deliver their IQ, wisdom and knowledge in this school. And this school is preventing to deliver the program, because Inuit don’t speak French so Inuit are being excluded from this school. At the same time, covering the so called outdoor traditional activity by a non Inuk. (apparently, funding is available to hire Inuk as teacher/instructor). I read too, responders says, kids are hurting the most, you will hurt them if you tell them what you are doing. The letter is not aiming the children directly. Don’t include them, instead make your school work better to deliver inuit ways content and include Inuit to deliver their knowledge, wisdom, and integrity. Stop this racist rule! And stop your racism towards Inuit. You are on our land for our people. We’ll appreciate your service without prejudice, once you include Inuit regardless of their lack of French language. When Inuit actions are used, the teachings will have a better result than just a French language. This French school is for all Nunavutmiut, not just Iqaluit. I am a grandmother with grandchildren in French School. Those children have Inuit parents, who believe in French school as well. We want to see more emphasis on improvement to have Inuit within the French school to preserve, protect and promote Inuit culture and traditions through Inuit.

  13. Posted by Inuktitut first on

    There is ONE official language in Greenland – Kalallisuut.
    There is ONE official language in Quebec – French.

    When Nunavut was made, there should have been ONE official language – Inuktitut.

    To quote the Bilingualism and Biculturalism commission report, “bilingualism in a country must be founded on two unilingualisms”, ie there must be regions of the country where ONE language is the official one, and where there is a significant population of unilingual speakers.

    An Elder also pointed this out at the time of the creation of Nunavut – why is there such a focus on bilingualism in Nunavut? Shouldn’t Nunavut be a society where there will always be some unilingual Inuktitut speakers? “Bilingualism” is the first step towards assimilation into English.

    That is what we should learn from the Quebec example. Quebec is not a bilingual province and neither should Nunavut be.

    • Posted by IronEEEE on

      How do you say ‘ironic’ in Inuktitut? Just wondering

      • Posted by Small towner on

        Ironic – itii pauq

        How do you say iqaluit in English? Same for English, there is no translation word for word, goes both ways. Nice try. Next!

  14. Posted by Putuguk on

    French Canadians have had separate school rights entrenched in the Canadian Constitution from Day 1 to protect and recognize their language and Catholicism. French and Catholic schools have been in place for hundreds of years.

    We have had an entire level of government plus some Constitutional recognition and protection of our Inuit language and culture for almost 20 years.

    Nonetheless, English is the lingua franca in Nunavut. Also, English is increasingly being used in Quebec.

    It is clear that rights and recognition is meaningless when it comes to language use. What language you use is much more about what you yourself decide.

    Seriously, French and Inuit now need government money to take kids out on that land to be spoken to and instructed to by whomever? What a joke.

    I bet you the funding agreement with the GN was written in English!

    That two language minority groups are squabbling in Nunavut is quite ironic and pointless.

    Spend the on the land money on housing instead.

    Fortunately, a roof over your head comes in English, Inuktun and French versions.

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