Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated is taking the Government of Nunavut to court over a failure to make full Inuit language education — from kindergarten to Grade 12 — a reality in the territory.
The land claims organization is giving the territorial government five years to meet the goal and six months to come up with a plan, in consultation with NTI.
“The Government of Nunavut failed to implement Inuit language education for all grades by 2019-20, as legislatively required, including failing to appropriately implement strategies and plans for achieving Inuit language education,” NTI states in its legal claim, filed on Oct. 13. “Thirteen years after the legislative guarantee of Inuit language education in Nunavut was established, Inuit language education in Nunavut has been reduced, not increased. During this period, rates of Inuit language use by the Inuit of Nunavut have declined.”
The GN has delayed the target date to deliver a full Inuktitut education to 2039.
This is “causing Inuit students’ loss of the Inuit language and Inuit culture, and undermining Inuit students’ ability to achieve their educational potential and perpetuating historical disadvantages. These harms will likely continue and worsen for generations of Inuit students, threatening the existence of the Inuit language in Nunavut,” according to NTI.
The land claims organization is alleging the GN has breached the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which states that “every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.”
NTI is calling on the Nunavut Court of Justice to declare that “the minimization and postponement of Inuit language education across all grades in Nunavut causes unjustified discrimination and is therefore unconstitutional.”
“In today’s schools, like residential schools of the past, Nunavut Inuit are prevented from learning Inuktut in favour of English or French,” said NTI President Aluki Kotierk. “Linguicide by any other name is just as damaging. Rather than proactively empowering Inuit students at every level and investing the resources based on Inuit priorities, our government has diminished the existing language rights of Nunavut Inuit. Nunavut’s current education system does not meet the needs of Inuit students or equip them to succeed in post-secondary education or thrive in employment and economic opportunities.”
Inuit comprise approximately 94 per cent of the student body in Nunavut. However, 72 per cent of teachers and 77 per cent of principals in the territory are not Inuit nor Inuit language speakers, according to NTI’s claim. The relatively small number of Inuit primarily teach elementary grades, it adds.
Also named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Bernice Tujjaaqtuqaq Clarke, a 46-year-old Inuit language instruction student, mother, entrepreneur, and a beneficiary under the Nunavut land claim, and Lily Anne Maniapik, a 33-year-old Qikiqtani program manager with Ilitaqsiniq (the Nunavut Literacy Council), also a student, a mother and an Inuk enrolled under the Nunavut Agreement. Both women have been teaching the Inuit language to their children and they want them to be able to pursue the language at higher grade levels in school.
The Auditor General of Canada found in 2013 that the GN was not meeting targets for implementing Inuit language education, “including failing to train sufficient Inuit Language-speaking teachers and language specialists,” NTI’s claim reads.”The audit found that the pace of the development of Inuit language curriculum and learning materials over a 10-year period was only at 50 per cent of what was expected. The Government of Nunavut committed to take steps to address its failure and to facilitate implementation of Inuit language education in accordance with the Education Act’s mandated schedule. It failed to do so.”
Nunavut Tunngavik also cites a 2006 report by the late Justice Thomas Berger that informed the GN of the harms caused by a lack of Inuit language education.
Attendance, graduation affected: NTI
NTI asserts that the territorial government’s failure to provide Inuit language education across all grades contributes to higher non-attendance and non-graduation rates among Inuit, Inuit students leaving school without proficiency in the Inuit language or English and poorer educational outcomes, as well as Inuit students facing “greater challenges” in school from barriers to a full Inuit language education. Furthermore, Nunavut Tunngavik asserts that this issue creates or worsens “the gaps in socio-economic indicators, representation in public employment, and income between Inuit and non-Inuit in Nunavut.”
“Loss of the Inuit language and Inuit culture leads to a range of further harms to the plaintiffs, to many Inuit individuals and Inuit as a people, including to their senses of individual and collective identity, cultural vitality and belonging as Inuit of Nunavut,” NTI states in its claim.
Nunavut Tunngavik points to successes in Nunavik (northern Quebec) and in Greenland, where the Inuit language is delivered more broadly to students. The GN could make progress by “recruiting, training and retaining Inuit language-speaking teachers, developing appropriate curricula, more broadly including Inuit in education governance in the territory and investing in infrastructure,” according to NTI.
Nunavut’s population comprises 85 per cent Inuit, but only 64 per cent of them reported using Inuktut in the 2016 Canadian census, and that is “further declining at an alarming rate,” according to NTI.
The GN has 30 days from being served the statement of claim to file a defence or make an appearance in court.