French first-language school -- finally
Heritage Canada to provide funds

Kerry McCluskey
Northern News Services

NNSL (Nov 23/98) - Someone let the cat out of the bag.

That's the only way to describe why so many Iqaluit residents are talking about a new French first-language school like it's a done deal when funding negotiations haven't even drawn to a close.

Daniel Cuerrier, the director of the association francophone du Nunavut, says last month's announcement concerning the allotment of about $4 million of Heritage Canada funds for the construction of a new school was premature.

He says the GNWT and the federal government are still hammering out the details and deciding exactly how much money there is and when it will become available.

"We don't have the money, they haven't approved it and it's not signed. Negotiations are not over and the news came out too early. Someone actually made a mistake on this thing...somebody from the government level," says Cuerrier.

While territorial government officials assure him the funding for the new five-classroom school will be approved by their federal counterparts by the end of November, all plans for design and construction proposal calls are on hold until the negotiations officially wrap up. Once everything falls into place, construction on the school should get under way next summer as a result of 16 years of hard lobbying by Iqaluit's francophone population.

Cuerrier says he can trace their attempts to secure French first-language education back to 1982 and he notes that they won their first victory in 1988 when a daily, 50-minute class at Inuksuk high school was started.

The implementation of a half-time, French first-language program at Nakasuk school followed in 1990 and in 1993, a full-time program was developed at the elementary level. Funding for the high school class was then cut and re-directed into the elementary program.

"Since then, the program has been increasing every year," says Cuerrier, noting that the new school will also include daycare space and pre-kindergarten up to Grade 9 classes.

He estimates that 33 children are currently enroled in the French first-language program and says while he would like to see Inuktitut first-language classes incorporated into the new school, the decision is not his to make.

"What we did push for is a joint project where there would be a French section with a French identity and another section for Inuktitut. These are two threatened languages and cultures and we could gain from one another, share experiences."

John Thomas, the chair of the Iqaluit District Education Authority (IDEA), who previously attempted to cut costs by incorporating the French school into the new middle school, says a joint French-Inuktitut project is not currently feasible.

Citing size, bussing issues and lack of Inuktitut teaching tools, Thomas adds that the top priority on the education wish list is just finding enough space for all of the students.

"The DEA will have to sit down and decide what are the priorities for other infrastructure projects," says Thomas, who believes one of the items near the top of the list is the future expansion of the middle school.