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Education Act amendments blasted
Changing Act's deadlines 'an international human rights case' in the making says letter signed by 16 education and language researchers

Michele LeTourneau
Northern News Services
Monday, March 20, 2017

A group of 16 education and language researchers who have worked in Nunavut are warning the Nunavut government about planned amendments to the Education Act.

In a letter, the group cites Article 14 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, to which Canada is a signatory.

That article guarantees indigenous peoples the right to an education in their own language.

The 2008 Education Act requires a bilingual education - an Inuit language and either English or French - for all students by the 2019-20 school year.

The proposed amendment gives the GN more time for achieving bilingual education - until the 2029-2030 school year for Grades 4 to 9. As for Grades 10 to 12, according to the amendment, "the Minister shall monitor the teaching capacity in Nunavut that is able, available and willing to provide the bilingual education program."

The proposed amendments, they say, would create an international human rights case.

"Delaying the phased-in implementation date by 10 years would renege on the commitment made in the Nunavut Legislature in 2008 and in the Canadian Senate in 2009. Nunavummiut deserve to have their linguistic human rights upheld," the March 16 letter states.

"There is a language crisis in Nunavut, and in many real ways the success of the language equals the success of the territory," they write, addressing Premier Peter Taptuna and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The authors are Paul Berger (Lakehead), Fiona Walton (UPEI, retired), Joanne Tompkins (St. Francis Xavier), Shelley Tulloch (Winnipeg), Alexander McAuley (UPEI), Louis-Jacques Dorais (Laval), Frederic Laugrand (Laval), Helle Møller (Lakehead), Thierry Rodon (Laval), Martha Crago (Dalhousie), Ian Martin (York), Fred Genesee (McGill), Shanley Allen (Kaiserslautern), Lynn Aylward (Acadia), Diane Pesco (Concordia), and Nina Spada (Toronto).

"Reneging on the commitment to implement official language rights in a territorial public government within the established timeframe has many consequences beyond schooling that negatively impact Inuit identity and the survival of Inuit culture. A substantial body of evidence, some of it from Inuit Nunangat, shows that academic achievement suffers when Indigenous students are forced to learn in their second language from unilingual English-speaking teachers," the letter states.

"The impact ripples out across society, preventing a representative number of Inuit in the workforce, including schools, and preventing Nunavummiut from receiving services in Inuktut in all sectors from healthcare to policing."

The group also cites the 2006 Conciliator's Report to the Government of Canada by Justice Thomas Berger on the state of the implementation of the Nunavut Agreement, in which he wrote that the success of Nunavut is a test of nation-building for Canada.

"When 70 per cent of Inuit children fail to graduate from schools run in English by majority non-Inuit staff, Canada is failing that test. When there are 453 non-Inuit teachers with just 430 non-Inuit children in the system, and 201 Inuit teachers for 9,300 Inuit students, Canada is failing that test," states the letter.

After providing example of other jurisdictions who are seeing some successes, such as the Mi'kmaw in Nova Scotia and the Inuit of Nunavik, the letter suggests that the federal government must do more.

"We call on the Government of Canada to provide support to Nunavut commensurate with the challenge at hand. We call upon the Government of Nunavut to cancel the roll-back of the Inuktut language of instruction in Nunavut schools and to create a roadmap, with commitments, that will see Nunavut move rapidly toward a fully bilingual education system."

The authors recommended a serious recruitment drive for the Nunavut Teacher Education Program.

But teachers recruited into that program now would not make it to the classroom until several years down the line. Besides which, the current Nunavut Teacher Education Program (NTEP) only has the capacity to train future educators to teach to Grade 3 in the Inuit language.

Paul Berger also co-authored a report about the NTEP program with students Karen Inootik, Rebecca Jones and Jennifer Kadjuk. They interviewed 128 Nunavut high school students and found that young Inuit have a high interest in the teaching field but struggle with obstacles such as housing and financial support, among other issues.

That report was tabled in the Legislative Assembly last week by South Baffin MLA David Joanasie.

With the GN's failure to implement the 2008 Nunavut Education Act now making national headlines, Education Minister Paul Quassa released a statement late Friday saying while he appreciated input and dialogue on the proposed amendments, they are now before the Standing Committee on Legislation to be reviewed and discussed by members of the Legislative Assembly.

"The Government of Nunavut is supportive of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Department of Education takes its obligations to revitalize and teach Inuit language very seriously," he said.

"The department has consistently communicated its concerns with its current lack of capacity to support Inuktut as a language of instruction. This is the very reason that the proposed amendments to the Education Act allow for a realistic assessment of current instructional capacity, as well as the re-direction of resources to have the most impact in supporting high quality Inuktut language instruction."

He also remarked, as a result of consultations, the these proposed amendments are substantially different from those proposed in 2016.

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