Arctic Canada: Proposed bill won’t uphold Inuit language rights in Nunavut, education board says

James Arreak and Jedidah Merkosak represent district education authorities in Nunavut. The Coalition of Nunavut DEAs will speak at public hearings coming up in Iqaluit about its hope to see Inuktut language education laws made similar to French language education laws. (Dave Gunn/CBC)
A Nunavut, Arctic Canada education group is calling out a “huge inequality” between language groups in Nunavut’s current education act, and saying a proposed amendment won’t improve the situation.

In preparation for coming public hearings on Bill 25, an act to amend the Education Act and the Inuit Language Protection Act, the Coalition of Nunavut District Education Authorities worked with lawyers to create its own proposed changes to Nunavut’s existing education act, which has been in place since 2008.

Those suggested amendments mirror existing legislation used in Nunavut for French language education.

“If the government is not going to deal with this language imbalance, and if Bill 25 won’t address the language concerns then here is something they could consider weighing as they consider what is the best way to address education in Nunavut,” said James Arreak, interim executive director for the coalition.

It submitted its proposal to the standing committee on legislation in September, as part of public submissions on the new law.

“We are beyond disappointed,” said Jedidah Merkosak, chairperson for the Coalition of Nunavut DEAs in a letter to the standing committee. “Bill 25 is basically a carbon copy of Bill 37 [the Nunavut Education Act] … key community concerns are not addressed.”

Bill 37 was a bill from Nunavut’s previous government to amend the education and language protection acts. That bill was rejected in 2017.

Merkosak said the bill doesn’t reflect what the government heard during its community consultation tour.

The coalition will soon speak at public hearings on the bill, which are scheduled for later this month.

“We want all Nunavummiut [residents of Nunavut] to understand what is being proposed and why we are saying that this bill 25 doesn’t meet the need of the education system,” says Arreak. “It would be erroneous on the part of the legislative assembly to pass this legislation at this time with the existing proposal.”

Language education bill sees public feedback

Public submissions on the amended act were tabled during the recently ended fall sitting of the legislative assembly. Nunavut district education authorities were heavily represented in those submissions.

Iqaluit resident Lori Idlout submitted a letter as a member of the public. She was later elected to the Iqaluit District Education Authority.

“Not being able to teach our children in Inuktut is a huge concern for me,” said Idlout.

The bill proposes a phased roll out of bilingual Inuktut education for higher grades. The Nunavut government says this reflects its ability to teach students in Inuktut, while it trains more teachers.

The bill also changes the roles of community education boards.

“DEAs are the ones that know their students and their parents and make sure students can succeed in their communities,” Idlout said.

The Coalition of Nunavut DEAs is proposing its own amendments to the 2008 education act. The coalition says bill 25 to amend Nunavut’s language protection and education acts falls short. (Dave Gunn/CBC)

There are fewer submissions on bill 25 from the general public than there were for past education reforms in Bill 37. Besides district education authorities, many submissions come from Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated.

“It’s good to see that communities are being consistent about the need to have language of instruction be a priority and to have DEAs have authorities within their communities,” Idlout said.

The Coalition of Nunavut DEAs wants to see more funding for quality Inuktut curriculum and better support for already trained Inuktut educators.

The public hearings on the bill start Nov. 25 in Iqaluit.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Organization representing Canadian Inuit adopts unified Inuktut orthography, CBC News

Finland: Finnish gov agrees to formation of Sámi Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Yle News

Norway: BBC lists Sami journalist Sara Wesslin among world’s 100 most influential women, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Calls for more Indigenous protection in Sweden on Sami national day, Radio Sweden

United States: Indigenous leaders at UN meeting push for decade dedicated to language revitalization, CBC News

Beth Brown, CBC News

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