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Erosion of language and culture driving force behind NTI decision to support self-government

The NTI board of directors met on March 17 to discuss self-government in Nunavut. image via NTI livestream

Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated (NTI) board members are in discussions to see what self-government could look like in Nunavut as well as how the current public government system has served Inuit Nunavummiut.

In October of 2018 NTI passed a resolution seeking a study on self-government. Focus areas of study were around language and education.

The position of director of self-determination, currently held by Kunuk Inutiq, was created to take the lead in this study. Her presentation on these topics was made at the NTI Board of Directors meeting on March 17.

Since 2004, NTI has lobbied to have the language of instruction in schools be in Inuit languages with the language of administration being dependent on Inuit parents.

Bilingual education was promised in 2008 with the passing of the Official Languages Act and Education Act in the legislative assembly.

According to Inutiq’s presentation, this hasn’t been the case.

Although the original goal was to have Inuktitut as the official language of instruction by 2020, In November 2020 the Government of Nunavut (GN) passed Bill 25, An Act to Amend the Education Act and the Inuit Language Protection Act, amending its initial goal of bilingual education in all levels of schooling to 2039.

Elder Mary Nangmalik, quoted in Inutik’s presentation, said, “Many of our youth no longer speak Inuktitut, including children. We need help now as our Inuktitut language is disappearing.”

According to the Dept of Education, in 2016 only about 22 percent of Nunavut teachers were capable of teaching in Inuktut, all of whom were only instructing at early primary grade levels.

Elder Maurice Arnatsiq, quoted in the presentation, lamented the lack of Inuktitut schooling in Nunavut.

“Still, there is not an Inuktitut school,” Arnatsiq said. “We are expected to use the ways of another culture, but since it is not our own, we make mistakes. The non-Inuit culture is not ours.”

Education is not the only area NTI finds the actions of the GN lacking. Specific areas of study since the passing of the 2018 resolution have been broadened to include housing, health and welfare, as well as social and political development since the creation of Nunavut.

According to the Nunavut Hidden Homlessness Survey (2018), there are more than 400 people between the communities of Pond Inlet, Arviat, Gjoa Haven and Clyde River who either have no home or sleep at multiple homes.

The same survey shows that 290 women along with 279 children sought safety at one of the territory’s five family violence shelters.

NTI’s 2016 Nunavut Inuit Labor Force Analysis reported that only 15 percent of the GN’s senior management were filled by Inuit, with the median total income for that year for Inuit in Nunavut being $22,523, while the median non-indigenous income in Nunavut being $101,494.

While Inuit make up the majority in Nunavut, this hasn’t necessarily translated into Inuit control in government, with many southerners taking up the majority of senior management positions.

‘Wandering’ government

“The Nunavut Government is just wandering around and it’s disappointing, very disappointing,” said NTI vice-president James Eetoolook.

“From 1999 on, we had a vision of Inuit being at the top but it’s the total opposite. When the people from outside come in here, they’re provided staff housing, Inuit are left out in the cold without being provided any of those benefits that are provided to the visitors.”

Inutiq’s presentation suggests several available options for moving ahead with self-government, from creating an intergovernmental services agreement (ISA) such as that seen with Treaty 11 in the Tlicho ISA in the Northwest Territories and other agreements from various First Nations in Canada.

Another option is to unilaterally develop Inuit-focused programs independent of the GN, not unlike what the Bear Clan in Winnipeg does, to work on Inuit-focused health checks, food banks and other services more directly.

Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami’s Inuit statistical profile of 2018 notes food insecurity has also stayed high since Nunavut creation, with 70 percent of households being food insecure.

A longer and more gradual option is to pursue a formal self-government agreement with the Federal Government and the GN on what the scope of Inuit jurisdiction would be. One example of this is the Makivik Self-Determination Process in Nunavik.

The board was unanimous in their support to pursue self-government with plans to revisit the topic of self-government again at their next annual general meeting.

“I am very happy that this is being looked into, education, housing, social issues and other things our government works on and how else we can start helping on these issues,” said NTI president Aluki Kotierk.

Sorting out the best option will be a long, hard process, however Eetoolook feels it will be worth it.

“I’m totally behind this quest for self-government and we really have some prime examples, but it’s gonna be a job-and-three-quarters to try and get from where we are now, to the possibilities of self-government,” said Eetoolook.

Legal interest

The GN does have a legal interest in any negotiations which may result in amendments to the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement (NCLA) under the Nunavut Act.

“For greater certainty, the Legislature may make laws under any provision of this Act for the purpose of implementing the land claims agreement entered into by Her Majesty in right of Canada and the Inuit or any other land claims agreement with an aboriginal people,” the Nunavut Act reads.

However the GN does not have powers to “affect (Inuit) ability to participate in or benefit from any existing or future constitutional rights for aboriginal people which may be applicable to them,” under that same piece of legislature, which opens up the possibilities for self-government.

“Over 20 years since de facto territorial self-government, it is not uncommon for Inuit to find themselves in court or public hearings, challenging territorial or regional resource decision; in the public square fighting the everyday racism of non-Inuit; and in negotiation, trying to have previous agreements implemented,” Inutiq wrote in her presentation.

“We have a public government that represents all people of Nunavut, but we would like to see more Inuit control, we had a vision of Inuit control in their government, that was our dream,” said Eetoolook.

“Dehcho, Deline, Makivik Corporation, I envy those people because we can do that also, we have to keep in mind that we can do it.”