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Inuit language cannot be neglected

Nunavut Day was celebrated on Tuesday and we're 20 years into the creation of a territory with tremendous promise.

Much has been accomplished over two decades and much remains to be done. Among the priorities is – or should be – the establishment of Inuktut-based education from kindergarten to Grade 12.

There's no question that the Inuit language is integral to the identity of our territory.

“That’s the reason we established Nunavut,” former premier and education minister Paul Quassa said of the importance of a full Inuktut education.

Yet Quassa didn't have a plan to get kindergarten to Grade 12 Inuktut education in place by 2019, which was the GN's original goal. His proposal, the rejected Bill 37, would have delayed Inuktut lessons for grades 4-9 until 2029 and didn't have a defined date for grades 10-12.

David Joanasie, who's now at the helm of the education department, is responsible for an amendment to the Education Act that won't see full Inuktut education offered through to Grade 12 until 2039.

One of the challenges facing Joanasie, and formerly Quassa, is the lack of qualified Inuktut instructors. The government has been attempting to retool its Nunavut Teacher Education Program (NTEP) to address this shortfall of Inuktut educators but a recently leaked report, commissioned by the GN, indicates that not enough is being done. Previous reports and their recommendations haven't led us to where we need to be, for one reason or another.

The turnover among senior Department of Education staff hasn't instilled much confidence either. Pujjuut Kusugak, a teacher, was brought in as deputy minister of education in late 2017, while Quassa was in office. Last December, Kusugak was shuffled over to the Department of Culture and Heritage and Louise Flaherty was installed as education's deputy minister. Then word came in June that Flaherty is resigning. This cannot help matters.

The GN's failure to make a full Inuktut education a reality has infuriated the leadership at Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated. It also spurred some accomplished Nunavummiut, as well as Canadian and international scholars, to make a written appeal to the world's languages commissioners to devote some of their resources to strengthening Inuktut.

Law student Lori Idlout, one of the signatories of the letter to the languages commissioners, made a powerful and eye-opening statement: “Canada contributes $1.4 million annually to a French language school in Iqaluit — for 90 students at one school; that’s equivalent to $15,555 each. How much money does Canada transfer to Nunavut's 42 other schools for Inuktut? Zero.”

That's unacceptable.

We need the language commissioners to assert pressure on the Canadian government to give Inuktut equal status in Nunavut. Our MLAs, ministers and premier should do the same, and redouble their efforts to kick Inuktut education into higher gear.

In the meantime, everyone who speaks and writes the Inuit language can help out by making it the predominant language in the home and in places of business.

We know the government is not meeting expectations to ensure Inuktut will thrive in the future, and that must change. But until it does we need every helping hand – and tongue – available to ensure today's students and graduates get the language instruction they deserve and have a right to.