Arctic Canada: Nunavut legislature to see temporary law to suspend bilingual education deadline

Government house leader Elisapee Sheutiapik says an Interim Language of Instruction bill will be tabled and passed during this sitting. (David Gunn/CBC)
The right to bilingual education in Nunavut schools (east-Arctic Canada) will likely be temporarily suspended during the winter sitting of the territory’s Legislative Assembly.

Nunavut’s government begins sitting Tuesday afternoon and MLAs will be in Iqaluit, the territorial capital, until March 12.

Government house leader Elisapee Sheutiapik says an Interim Language of Instruction bill will be tabled and passed during the sitting.

The temporary legislation will suspend Section 8 of the Inuit Languages Protection Act and Part 4 of Nunavut’s Education Act, which mandate the 2019 deadline, until a new act can be put in place.

The current laws — passed in 2008 — require the government to offer bilingual English-Inuktut (a term for all Inuit dialects) education for Grades 4 to 12 starting on July 1, 2019.

Since the government can’t deliver that right now, it needs to protect itself from legal action, which is why it’s introducing the temporary legislation, Sheutiapik said.

“This is to ensure we’re in compliance with our own acts, so recognizing that we’re not going to be ready that’s why we’ve prepared an Interim Language of [Instruction] Act.”

The deadline for Grades 1 to 3 was in 2009 and will not be affected by this interim legislation.

Previous attempt failed

The previous government tried to amend the Education and Inuit Languages Protection Acts, but the move was controversial and eventually the legislation died with the end of the government’s term.

Nunavut’s fifth Legislative Assembly ran a series of consultations about how to update the Acts, but Sheutiapik says it’s not ready to introduce legislation yet — it’s still working through the feedback.

Sheutiapik says she expects there to be debate when the Minister of Education David Joanasie introduces the bill, but says everyone in government is aware of the need for this legislation.

Also in this sitting, Minister of Finance George Hickes will table his first budget.

The first budget for the fifth assembly was tabled by then-finance minister David Akeeagok and was just over $2 billion, with a small deficit.

The winter sitting will see an act to amend the Income Tax Act passed to bring the territory’s laws in line with updates to federal laws.

Correction: Inuktut is a term encompassing all Inuit dialects. A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Inuktut was a term for all Inuit languages, not dialects. This article has been updated accordingly.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Preschool in east-Arctic Canada wins $1M Arctic Inspiration Prize, CBC News

Russia: Norwegian-funded school in Northwest Russia inspires cooperation, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Inequality a problem in Swedish schools: UNICEF report, Radio Sweden

United States: ‘Every year it’s harder’: Hiring teachers gets increasingly difficult in rural Alaska, Alaska Dispatch News

Sara Frizzell, CBC News

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