(October 13, 2021, Iqaluit, Nunavut) Today, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. (NTI) has filed a landmark lawsuit with the Nunavut Court of Justice in Iqaluit, asserting that the Government of Nunavut (GN), by failing to provide a public school system offering Nunavut Inuit equal opportunities to complete schooling in their own language and culture, is violating constitutionally-protected equality rights of Nunavut Inuit guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
With the adoption of a new Education Act in 2009, Nunavut Inuit had high hopes and expectations that the GN would fulfill Inuit aspirations of a public education system that embraced the Inuktut language and produced high school graduates thoroughly fluent in the Inuktut language, equally as English or French.
But after failing to meet its political commitments as reflected in the legal obligations for the provision of fully bilingual Inuktut education in Nunavut by 2019, the GN made legislative amendments in the fall of 2020 that postponed the obligation to provide Inuit language education. The new framework of amendments drastically changed the GN’s previous priorities and obligations to provide Inuit students with an education in their own language by effectively reducing Inuktut language of instruction commitments after Grade 4 to language arts courses and permanently removing the government’s legal responsibility to build a bilingual education system up to Grade 12. Further, the GN had given itself a new, later deadline of 2039 for meeting even weaker commitments.
Education delivered in Inuktut is foundational to maintaining Inuit language and culture, and a vital component of the cultural identity, history and survival of Nunavut Inuit. As many Indigenous groups in Canada struggle to protect and revive languages within their communities, Nunavut is uniquely positioned to successfully support Inuit language before it becomes extinct.
Although 85% percent of the Nunavut population comprises of Nunavut Inuit, only 64% of Nunavut Inuit reported Inuktut use during the 2016 Canadian Census, and is further declining at an alarming rate. As a result of the GNs broken commitments and continued failures of implementing bilingual education, the use and fluency of Inuktut is under threat for future generations.
Without drastic action and corrective measures on the part of the Government of Nunavut, the erosion of the Inuit language — and the associated impact on Inuit culture and self-determination — will have dire and irreversible social consequences to Nunavut Inuit.
“In today’s schools, like residential schools of the past, Nunavut Inuit are prevented from learning Inuktut in favour of English or French. 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”, said NTI President, Aluki Kotierk
NTI is joined as plaintiff in the action by Inuit parents and students who have experienced first-hand systemic discrimination in the education system for not being given the choice of Inuktut language of instruction in their school.
For further information:
Director of Communications trainee
Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated
Tel: (867) 975-4900/Toll-free: 1-888-646-0006
Backgrounder: Inuit Language and Equality Rights
- Since the creation of Nunavut in 1999, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. members have passed numerous annual general meeting resolutions in 1999, 2000, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2013, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019, consistently calling upon the Government of Nunavut to;
- provide for Inuktut language of instruction from Kindergarten to Grade 12,
- ensure the education system accorded Inuit parental control over education,
- ensure curriculum reflected Inuit language and culture,
- ensure Inuit educators were supported in teacher education, training, hiring and retention
- The primary concerns raised from the last public consultations during the 2018 Nunavut-wide community tour were;
- the lack of Inuit educators, and the lack of support to Inuit in teacher education, training, practicum placement, hiring and retention,
- the lack of Inuktut curriculum, resources and support to Inuit educators, and inability to develop quality education in Inuit language and culture, including their dialect preferences,
- barriers to inclusion of Inuit elders as educators,
- inability of parents and community members to have control and authority over education through district education authorities, and preference to retain their existing authorities (e.g. school programs, inclusive education, principal hiring, calendars etc), and inability to exercise their authorities with limited support and resources,
- inability of students to succeed in school, post-secondary education, economic and employment opportunities because of social promotion and lack of collaboration on improvements to attendance rates
- NTI submitted its’ own Nunavut Education Reform Act in the fall of 2019, as an alternative solution to Bill 25, an Act to amend the Education Act and the Inuit Language Protection Act, which was provided to the Government of Nunavut prior to the passing of Bill 25 by the Legislative Assembly of Nunavut in October 2020. The Nunavut Education Reform Act was meant to provide for Inuktut language of instruction from Kindergarten to grade twelve, Inuit control over their own education, authority over Inuktut language and culture curriculum, an Inuit Employment Plan for the Government of Nunavut to educate, train, hire and retain Inuktut-speaking educators, and other measures to improve educational attainment
- The statement of claim asserts that the Government of Nunavut denies equality rights and perpetuates systemic discrimination by;
- forcing Inuit students to an education system comprised predominantly in English or French, and denying them education in their own language and culture, and
- affecting their ability to achieve educational attainment, and further diminishing their opportunities to post-secondary education, employment and economic participation.
- The Parties to the statement of claim are the Commissioner of Nunavut and the Attorney General of Nunavut as representatives of the Government of Nunavut, NTI and Inuit parents of students in the Nunavut public education system.
- The statement of claim is pursued in the Nunavut Court of Justice to seek relief of a court-mandated order for the Government of Nunavut to undertake the following specific steps;
- develop an implementation plan in consultation with NTI within six months of the court order,
- provide Inuit language education from grade 4 to grade 12 within five years of the court order,
- report back to the court periodically on the progress of the implementation plan on Inuktut language education
- Alternatively, the statement of claims seeks a declaration that the amended pieces of legislation pertaining to provision of Inuit language arts class to the year 2039 discriminate against Inuit parents and students and should no longer be of force or effect.
- The GN has thirty days to file a Statement of Defense in response to NTIs Statement of Claim.