Inuit students in Nunavut will be able to complete their high school education in English or French thanks to new federal money, but it will take another two decades before they can do so in their own language.
Earlier this week, the Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages, Mélanie Jolie, announced the federal government will spend $10 million expanding French-language education at École des Trois-Soleils, the only francophone school in Nunavut. The news came just days after Nunavut’s MLAs unanimously approved amendments to the territory’s Inuit Language Protection Act that will ensure Inuktut is taught across Nunavut's schools... by 2039.
Understandably then, Jolie's announcement was met with sharp criticism.
“Can’t believe this is something to be proud of after @GOVofNUNAVUT moved Inuktut language to ,” tweets Jordan Konek, executive director of the Inuit Broadcasting Corporation. “It’s heartbreaking to see my kids learn English faster because it’s the dominant language. What’s going to happen to Inuktitut?”
“Imagine Nunavut Inuit children being able to go to school from [kindergarten] to 12 in Inuktitut,” writes Madeleine Redfern, former mayor of Iqaluit. “My daughter could not. Now it turns out that neither will my grandchildren.”
Sarah Rogers, over at Nunatsiaq, notes the $10 million in federal money is the result of a lawsuit filed against the Government of Nunavut (GN) in 2015, demanding the territory offer French-language education and facilities equal to its English-language schools. The money will go to expanding École des Trois-Soleils’ classrooms and on-site daycare and renovating its gymnasium. The entire expansion will cost somewhere around $20 million, with the remainder of the funds coming from the GN.
About 85 students attend École des Trois-Soleils and it’s the only French-language school out of the 42 operating in Nunavut (the rest are all English-based). Meanwhile, about 65 per cent of Nunavummiut speak Inuktut (the umbrella term for all Inuit languages) as their mother tongue. Yet the difference in funding between the two is stark. According to numbers from Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., the federal government spends 44 times more on French in Nunavut than it does Inuktut—roughly $8,200 per Francophone speaker, versus just $186 per Inuktut speaker.
“The current education system is failing our Indigenous Arctic children,” Kotierk said last year, speaking to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. “Due to the interrelated, interdependent, and invisible nature of our rights, such conditions can be devastating.”
A recent report commissioned by NTI found none of the territory’s schools offered functional bilingual education for Inuktut and English; failing students and “fatally compromising” Nunavut's Inuit Languages Protection Act.
The Nunavut Agreement that was signed into law in 1993 set a goal of having Inuktut language education available in all the territory's schools within 20 years of its creation. That deadline came and went last year. The GN's new Bill 25, which passed third reading last week, sets a new deadline for bilingual Inuktut education of 2039, with a “phased roll-out” starting with the lower grade levels in 2026.
Acting NTI president James Eetoolook, however, calls the new legislation “cultural genocide” that will further “the long history of colonial destruction of Inuit language and culture.
“Inuit will remember this day as the day the Government tried to strip us of the dream of bilingual education in our own land,” Eetoolook says in a press release. “It is a misguided act.”