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NNSL Photo/graphic

In Taloyoak, the students learn Inuktitut at a very young age. These Grade 1 students sing, chant and play in Inuktitut. From left are Monica Kayaksark, Peter Neeveecheak, Inuktitut instructor and Grade 1 teacher Sarah Takolik and Linda Charlie. A report by Thomas Berger on the Nunavut Land Claims agreement calls for more money and time to be spent on teaching Inuktitut. - photo courtesy of Gina Pizzo

Teachers back Berger report

Kent Driscoll
Northern News Services

Taloyoak (Apr 17/06) - Educators in Taloyoak say Thomas Berger is on the right track.

Berger's report on the implementation of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement calls for extra time, money and resources to teach Inuktitut to Inuit kids. Educators think they are getting there slowly but surely.
The Plan

In his still unreleased final report on the Nunavut Land Claims agreement, Berger outlines the steps he sees as critical to the territory. they are:

  • Bilingual education from kindergarten to Grade 12
  • The pillars of bilingual education: recruiting and retaining Inuit teachers, developing a Nunavut specific curriculum, the evolution of Inuktitut as a functional workplace language, and standardized language testing.
  • Supporting programs: Including pre-school skills, trades, vocational and cultural instruction, post-secondary initiatives, and daycare programs.

Immediate concerns: Berger lists a number of items he would like to see addressed immediately, at a cost of approximately $20 million a year:

  • more funding for Nunavut Sivuniksavut
  • an expanded government of Nunavut summer student program
  • an internship program
  • community career development officers
  • a program for mature and returning students
  • more scholarships

Netsilik school in Taloyoak is a prime example. Right now, the school offers Inuktitut immersion for kindergarten to Grade 3 students. Grades 4 to 6 are 60 per cent Inuktitut, and after that they still have an Inuktitut class a day.

Sarah Takolik is one of the Inuktitut instructors at the school. As she talks, you can hear the chatter behind her. Her Grade 1 students are a handful, but they are eager to learn.

"We use a lot of singing and a lot of chanting. That really helps (them learn Inuktitut). Some of the bone games and string games have chants. Plus, they help the students calm down." said Takolik.

Takolik is a perfect example of what Berger is calling for: more community members teaching their own language in schools. Takolik took the Nunavut Teacher Education Program (NTEP) and qualified to teach at Netsilik.

"They need quite a bit of instruction (in Inuktitut). These kids have younger parents, who don't use Inuktitut at home. We are trying, but with the parents and TV, it is tough. We need more Inuktitut programs, cartoons even. That's what they watch," said Takolik.

"It was working well in the 1980s, because more parents spoke Inuktitut at home. I want to see that again," said Takolik.

Even though the Berger report has not been officially released, every educator and education bureaucrat that Nunavut News/North contacted had read parts of the report.

Gina Pizzo is the principal at Netsilik school. She agrees with what she has seen already.

"I was looking at the part about bringing back Inuktitut, and we are in line with the suggestions. We started with pre-school years ago and the program is growing up with them. Those kids are in Grade 5 today," said Pizzo.

In the halls of Netsilik school, you can hear the students chattering away in both English and Inuktitut.

It wasn't always this way, she said.

"When we first started, the kids wouldn't speak Inuktitut. Now, we hear both. It doesn't change overnight, it takes a generation to see any sort of change take place," said Pizzo.

Pam Hind doesn't want to jump the gun and comment on the Berger report before it is all made public, but she has read it and likes what she has seen.

Hind is the deputy minister of Education, and got to work with Berger as he prepared the report.

"I had the opportunity to meet with him. He always calls back for clarification, and gets it right. It is a very true picture," said Hind.

She said she would love to rave about the report, but with federal Indian and Northern Affairs minister Jim Prentice scheduled to touch down in Iqaluit on April 17, she can wait a few days.

"He is endorsing the direction the legislature is moving in. We're one and a half years into implementation," said Hind.

Berger and Prentice were unavailable for comment.

Berger's recommendations

In his still unreleased final report on the Nunavut Land Claims agreement, Thomas Berger concentrates on bringing more Inuit into government positions and improving Inuktitut education. Some of his recommendations are as follows, in his own words.

"The need for educational and career opportunities for Inuit is pressing. The prevalence of Inuktitut as a first language of most Inuit, and the fact that 15 per cent of Inuit have no other language, limits Inuit opportunities in government."

"Inuit representation calculated as a percentage of employment has stalled at around 45 per cent. That shortfall is especially apparent in the executive, management, professional and para-professional positions.

"I believe that a new approach requires a greater regard for objectives and less for the fine print of (federal) obligations.... If land claims implementation in Nunavut is to be anything more than a barren search for avoidance of responsibility, the 'broader issues' must be addressed, not only by Nunavut, but by Canada.

"When I emphasize the importance of producing bilingual high school graduates, it is not only their skills in Inuktitut that matter.

"The main reason why English cannot be the single language of instruction is that the Inuit do not want it to be. There is almost universal desire among the Inuit to avoid loss or extinguishment of their language.

"In Nunavut today, the schools in Kugluktuk and Cambridge Bay have an all-English program and graduation rates there are no better than in the other regions of Nunavut.

"There is one thing to add about educating aboriginal children in English only. We have tried it and it doesn't work. The Indian residential schools were established in order to detach aboriginal children from their own culture... it led to tragedy.

"I am convinced that only a robust and effective system of bilingual education can provide the foundation for the fulfillment of the objective of Article 23.

"The most critical component of the program will be the development of a strong new generation of Inuit teachers.

"It is no exaggeration to say that very little that I am proposing regarding bilingual education and a representative public service in Nunavut can succeed without a comprehensive social housing program.

"Despite our attempts to separate Inuit from their language, history and culture, their determination to retain their distinctive identity has sustained them.... I believe the Inuit are prepared for the challenge."