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Inuktitut ban never happened: Quassa
Education Dept. investigation ends; Cape Dorset DEA says it was blindsided by allegations

Beth Brown
Northern News Services
Monday, November 7, 2016

South Baffin MLA David Joanasie's claims that Cape Dorset students were barred from speaking Inuktitut are unfounded, Education Minister Paul Quassa said after his department investigated.

"I want to assure everyone that the events described last Tuesday were unfounded and that no student was discouraged from speaking Inuktitut or punished for doing so," said Minister of Education Paul Quassa.

The Cape Dorset District Education Authority issued a statement Oct. 31 that the DEA was not consulted prior to the announcement being made in the legislature, and thus to a national audience.

"We were shocked with the implication by MLA Joanasie that the DEA, our school or even a teacher has a policy to stop students from speaking Inuktitut or to discipline students from speaking Inuktitut," stated the release.

Joanasie apologized for not consulting with the DEA prior to making his statement at the legislature Oct. 25, saying he heard students had been told not to speak in their traditional tongue. He said English-speaking teachers were unable to monitor whether the language was being used for verbal abuse.

The DEA assured parents that its policies are developed in line with the Education Act.

"There are no such policies or practices of disciplining students for speaking Inuktitut in our schools."

While bullying was a problem in the school, the investigation allowed all parties to go on the record and provide additional context to the issue.

While Joanasie took full responsibility for the impact on the district due to his approach, he stressed the need to separate bullying problems from language use.

"Something has clearly gone terribly wrong when a student thinks they will be reprimanded or disciplined for speaking Inuktitut," he said. "Since making my statement last week, I have been contacted by other parents who have expressed similar concerns. Obviously there are some mixed messages being passed around and we need to work together to get the right message out there."

Joanasie is in talks with the chair of the DEA to address the issue of bullying in a way that will not impact language promotion efforts.

"Bullying in any way, shape, or form is not acceptable, whether it is in English, Inuktitut, French, or other languages. Speaking Inuktitut, as an activity itself, does not constitute bullying."

Kelli Gillard, chairperson for the Coalition of Nunavut DEAs, said she was attending a meeting in Arviat when she read about the allegations in the news.

"I see this as a miscommunication," Gillard said, and echoed the reality that both bullying and language education are a challenge in Nunavut schools.

"Currently we do have a lot of English speaking teachers that may not know all the words," she said.

As Nunavut News/North reported Oct. 17, there are approximately 453 non-Inuit teachers and 126 Inuit teachers educating an estimated 430 non-Inuit students and 9,300 Inuit students in Nunavut, according to Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated vice-president James Eetoolook.

Consider also that students and teachers in Kinngait have been coping with last fall's devastating fire at Peter Pitseolak School.

High school students and teachers have been working in the afternoon and into the evening at the elementary school. The high school has recently opened a set of temporary modular units to carry students through until a new building is built.

Attendance at the high school has suffered, though the new buildings do have students returning to class, Peter Pitseolak's acting principal Christa Borden told Nunavut News/North last month.

"Cape Dorset is doing the best they can right now, given that they are in a temporary situation. It is a challenging environment," said Gillard.

She said Cape Dorset actually has a strong language component in its schools compared to communities like Kugluktuk and Cambridge Bay, which are struggling to provide language education and support.

"We haven't yet met the expectations for language that we had hoped under the Education Act. Even the Government of Nunavut admits that the targets, we are not going to meet them," she said.

An Oct. 27 release by the Coalition of Nunavut DEAs following its annual general meeting says pending changes to the Education Act have regional DEAs concerned for their ability to control language instruction at a community level should the curriculum be centralized.

"Centralizing authority isn't an effective approach to empowering parents and communities, and parent and community involvement is critical to student success," it stated.

Gillard said when it comes to language, one problem with a centralized curriculum is that it leans toward the Baffin dialect.

"We have a language challenge," she said. "In some ways I would call it the perfect storm."

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