Lack of planning for Inuit staff in Education Act 'nothing short of scandalous,' says Toronto prof

Lack of planning for Inuit staff in Education Act 'nothing short of scandalous,' says Toronto prof

Ian Martin was one of many people who celebrated the 2008 Education Act and Inuit Language Protection Act.

Together, the acts guaranteed an Inuit language education for Nunavut students by 2019, a goal that would mark the fulfilment of the original goal of the Nunavut Land Claim — to preserve and protect the Inuit language and culture. 

"What I had forgotten was that there was no plan in the government to train Inuit teachers to take over the role of what had been southern teachers," Martin told CBC News Friday from Toronto, where he lives and works as an associate professor of English at York University.

His wakeup call came in 2013 when the auditor general first reported that the Education act would not be fulfilled, and called into the question, he says, "the ability and the will of the Department of Education to take bilingual education seriously."

In a new report timed to coincide with proposed changes to the Education Act, Martin predicts only four per cent of Inuit will speak Inuktitut at home by 2051, and says even that "may be too generous." (Scroll down for the full report.)

He suggests that at the current rate, the territory won't train enough Inuit-language-speaking teachers until 2071.  

Martin pins some of the blame on the "vested interests of non-Inuit teachers and administrators."

But he reserves the most serious blame for the Department of Education itself.

He recalls the department's 2006 Qalattuq 10 year Educator Training Strategy, which envisioned training 304 Inuit teachers by 2012, and for which "no action was ever taken."

He calls the lack of a detailed and funded plan to employ Inuit within the department "nothing short of scandalous."

The road not taken

Martin's report — Inuit language loss in Nunavut: Analysis, forecast and recommendations — cites several points in the past where things could have turned out differently.

He particularly laments the fact that a 1984 report, The cost of implementing Inuktitut as an official language in Nunavut, which gave detailed estimates of costs and staffing required to create a public service that could function in the language, was ignored.

The end result, he said, was to save the federal government about $300 million, "however the costs to the Inuit language and culture may prove to be fatal."

He also notes the lukewarm response to Thomas Berger's 2006 conciliator's report (for which Martin served as an advisor) that said Inuit-language instruction was essential for the fulfilment of the land claim.  

Reason to hope: $50M

But Martin finds one reason to be hopeful.

He points to $50 million in the 2015 settlement agreement between the federal government, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. and the Nunavut government. NTI has said it would support spending that money on teacher training to address the "crisis in Inuit education."

The Department of Education says it expects to receive priority in that funding and is working on new staff training.  

Martin also makes another radical suggestion: that anglophones in Nunavut be defined as an official language minority — like French is now — triggering direct federal funding for the minority of anglophone students.

That, he says, would allow Nunavut's education funding to be dedicated to Inuit-language teaching, "where it is desperately needed."

But, he notes, "there is little incentive for Nunavut anglophones to self-identify as a minority, since English-speaking students are well-served throughout the territory."