‘Why have Nu­navut?’ Bat­tle over ed­u­ca­tion bill goes to heart of ter­ri­tory

The Niagara Falls Review - - NATIONAL -

IQALUIT, Nu­navut — To the Nu­navut gov­ern­ment, it’s an up­date to old leg­is­la­tion that needs to ac­knowl­edge re­al­ity. To oth­ers, it’s a dag­ger to the ter­ri­tory’s heart.

“Why­haveNu­navut?”asksSan­dra Inu­tiq, the ter­ri­tory’s for­mer lan­guage com­mis­sioner. “Why have we cre­ated the ter­ri­tory if we’re not go­ing to pro­tect Inuit rights?”

Her anger is over pro­posed changes to the Ed­u­ca­tion Act, passed in 2008, that prom­ises all Inuit chil­dren guar­an­teed ac­cess to bilin­gual ed­u­ca­tion by 2019 so as to pro­duce grad­u­ates equally flu­ent in Inuk­tut and English.

Inuk­tut refers to all lan­guages spo­ken by Inuit, in­clud­ing the Inuk­ti­tut di­alect spo­ken on Baf­fin Is­land.

Amend­ments to the act that have been tabled in the leg­is­la­ture would de­lay that prom­ise by 10 years for stu­dents up to Grade 9 and in­def­i­nitely for high school­ers.

Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Paul Quassa has dis­missed the ear­lier tar­get as “aspi­ra­tional.”

“We grossly over­es­ti­mated our abil­ity to im­ple­ment some of the pro­vi­sions of the Act,” says Kathy Okpik, deputy min­is­ter of ed­u­ca­tion.

That angers those who see schools as a ma­jor bul­wark of Inuit lan­guage and cul­ture.

“It goes against what was the vi­sion and mo­ti­va­tion to cre­ate Nu­navut,” says Aluki Kotierk, pres­i­dent of Nu­navut Tun­ngavik Inc., which mon­i­tors the Inuit land claim.

“Peo­ple en­vi­sioned we would be able to re­ceive all pub­lic ser­vices in Inuk­tut.”

The gov­ern­ment’s move comes amidst in­creas­ing fears about Inuk­tut’s future.

Sta­tis­tics Canada re­ports the num­ber of Inuit in Nu­navut whose mother tongue is Inuk­tut dropped to 80 per cent from 88 per cent be­tween 1996 and 2011. Use of the lan­guage in homes fell to 61 per cent from 76 per cent and English grew to 46 per cent from 29 per cent.

Ian Martin, a York Univer­sity pro­fes­sor with long in­volve­ment in Nu­navut, says English is prob­a­bly the lan­guage in most Nu­navut homes now. He says present trends sug­gest Inuk­tut will be spo­ken in fewer than one in 20 homes by 2051.

Most stu­dents up to Grade 3 are taught in Inuk­tut. Later grades use both English and Inuk­tut, but English grad­u­ally be­comes pre­dom­i­nant.

Class­room ma­te­ri­als in Inuk­tut are hard to come by and are of­ten pro­duced by teach­ers them­selves.

The cur­rent teach­ing model has re­sulted in what Sta­tis­tics Canada has said is a 65 per cent dropout rate and stu­dents, ac­cord­ing to other stud­ies, who are com­fort­able in nei­ther lan­guage.

Teach­ing stu­dents in a tongue other than the one they speak at home is tough on kids, says Paul Berger, a Lake­head Univer­sity pro­fes­sor who has taught in Nu­navut.

“That tran­si­tion is ex­tremely dif­fi­cult for stu­dents aca­dem­i­cally,” he says. “Re­searchers talk about it tak­ing six or seven years to catch up in the best of cir­cum­stances.”

Berger is one of 16 aca­demics from across the coun­try who have writ­ten to the gov­ern­ment of Nu­navut to protest the pro­posed changes. The Cana­dian Press

NATHAN DENETTE/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS FILES

Nu­navut’s for­mer lan­guage com­mis­sioner is ex­press­ing anger over pro­posed changes to the Ed­u­ca­tion Act, passed in 2008, that prom­ises all Inuit chil­dren guar­an­teed ac­cess to bilin­gual ed­u­ca­tion by 2019 so as to pro­duce grad­u­ates equally flu­ent in Inuk­tut and English. Stu­dents board a school bus at the Naka­suk Ele­men­tary School in Iqaluit, Nu­navut, in 2009.

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