Nunavut’s amended Education Act lays a foundation for Inuit-language instruction, legislators say

·4 min read

Recent amendments to Nunavut’s education and Inuit language protection acts set “achievable and realistic” timelines for Inuktut to eventually be the language of instruction in schools across the territory, legislators say.

Bill 25, which got unanimous consent on third reading in the legislature on Nov. 5, sets a phased schedule for language arts to be taught in Inuktut to students in all grades by 2039.

The previous Education Act, in place since 2008, aimed to have teachers using Inuktitut as the language of instruction by 2020, which Adam Arreak Lightstone, the member of legislative assembly representing Iqaluit-Manirajak called “unrealistic.”

“Some might say it was overly ambitious and is probably part of the reason why we are in the position we are in today,” Lightstone said in the legislature on Nov. 5, before MLAs went through Bill 25, clause by clause.

Lightstone said he was initially shocked by the timelines in the amended legislation.

“I’ve come to realize that the timelines that were presented are achievable and realistic,” he said.

The day before legislators passed Bill 25, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. called on MLAs to reject it.

In a letter, NTI wrote that Bill 25 “sidesteps accountability for a decline in attendance and student achievement rates and its lack of services for inclusive education.”

In an interview before the bill passed, NTI vice-president James Eetoolook said it will lead to cultural genocide for Inuit because it will result in more language loss.

John Main, MLA for Arviat North-Whale Cove and the chair of the standing committee on legislation said members of that committee have a duty to review, revise and amend bills introduced by the government.

“It is not always easy to fulfil that duty,” he said.

“The standing committee was initially pressured to reject Bill 25 in its entirety,” Main said. “However, our duty required us not to rush judgment.”

The standing committee took concerns around how long it will take to have lessons taught in Inuktut to heart, Main said.

“There are strong expectations from Nunavummiut in this area and there is a very real fear of language loss and the feeling that we are running out of time,” he said.

David Joanasie, the minister of education, responded to questions from MLAs as they went through each clause of the bill. Main asked him why he thought language of instruction was garnering attention and debate from NTI and Nunavummiut in general.

“It’s in relation to the thought of losing our language, and how personal that is,” Joanasie said.

“If I pick up this bill and I’m somebody from the public and I look at it and I say, ‘Oh my goodness! That’s all they’re going to do for Inuktitut language is language arts, language arts and language arts?'” Main said.

He went on to ask Joanasie if it’s accurate to say Bill 25 means language arts will be the only subject taught in Inuktut by 2039.

“That’s inaccurate to say,” Joanasie said. “We are focusing heavily on the Inuit language arts component because a student really needs to know the language in order for them to learn a different subject.”

Focusing on Inuktut instruction in language arts initially will give the department time to continually develop and build curriculum, Joanasie said.

MLAs emphasized that they see Bill 25 as a foundation, meant to be improved over time. In fact, it’s written into the legislation that the legislative assembly or a committee must review the provisions and operations of the act every five years.

Pat Angnakak, who represents Iqaluit-Niaqunnguu and has experience reviewing previous education acts, said, “We must allow time for the legislation to be implemented and to achieve results in due course.”

Eetoolook said NTI would not sit passively if Bill 25 were to pass third reading, but he did not say what action it would take.

Nunatsiaq News contacted NTI after Bill 25 passed, but the organization was not ready to comment before our deadline.

Bill 25 received assent on Tuesday, Nov. 10. Joanasie said the Department of Education will immediately work on its implementation.

“It feels like the work is just starting,” Joanasie said.

He added that the Department of Education will work with NTI, district education authorities and “other stakeholders” to implement the bill.

The president of the Nunavut Teachers’ Association wasn’t able to comment on the bill until he had more information about the implementation process. Nunavut’s language commissioner said she would distribute a news release about the bill soon.

Meagan Deuling, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Nunatsiaq News