(Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated President Aluki Kotierk)
APTN National News
A controversial change to the way Nunavut handles Inuktitut was likely stopped in its tracks last week, but a message from the Minister of Education has the President of Nunavut’s Inuit worried.
“People are celebrating, but I’m always a little more cautious,” says Nunavut Tunngavik President Aluki Kotierk, from her office overlooking Iqaluit’s Four Corners intersection. “We have to wait until the fat lady sings, and I’ve also seen Minister Quassa’s statement.”
Bill 37 was a bill in the Nunavut Legislative Assembly that would have changed the territory’s Language and Education Acts, moving back target dates for full Inuit Language instruction in Nunavut’s schools. Right now, 100% Inuktitut instruction is only guaranteed for Kindergarten to Grade 4. Bill 37 would have pushed back the target date for 100% Inuktitut instruction to 2030.
Last week, regular members of Nunavut’s Legislative Assembly – who act as an opposition in Nunavut’s consensus government – met in private and decided they wouldn’t support Bill 37. In a written statement, Rankin Inlet MLA Tom Sammurtok wrote, “Given the overwhelming lack of consensus in support of the bill in such areas as language of instruction, the role of District Education Authorities and increased employment of Inuit teachers, the standing committee is of the view that it should be allowed to fall off the order paper when the current Assembly dissolves later this year.”
Typically in Nunavut, that would mean the death of the bill but Education Minister Paul Quassa may not be giving up the fight that easily. He responded to the regular members in his own written statement, “There is a process to follow when a bill is put forward to the Legislative Assembly, and it is very disappointing that standing committee has not provided the public with an opportunity to understand the pros and cons of their decision.”
That statement from Quassa has Kotierk worried that the cabinet has not given up on trying to make Bill 37 into law. “For me, it will be when session happens, and then it will be really dead,” said Kotierk. In Nunavut’s consensus government system, the regular members outnumber the members of cabinet. Quassa would have to convince some of them to vote for the bill if it is to pass.
Nunavut Tunngavik represents Inuit in Nunavut under the Nunavut Land Claim. Along with Nunavut’s three regional Inuit associations, they filed documents with the assembly to oppose the decision. Kotierk says the decision to fight came from the ground up, and was a long time coming.
“I was very excited to see their (the regular members) statement that there was an overwhelming non-consensus, and an overwhelming quantity of submissions. That made me realize how much Inuit are getting comfortable rising their voices and being heard. That’s a good thing for our society to be going through,” said Kotierk.
Nunavut’s District Education Authorities – school boards with local power, including hiring and firing principals – would lose power under Bill 37. They are locally elected school boards that have hiring and firing power over principals. They filed opposition to the bill, as did some of Nunavut’s best and brightest.
“I’ve met with a number of people who have been on the DEA’s in the past and are currently on the DEA’s. The frustration that’s expressed is that they would say things, but they felt like they weren’t being heard. Then I got a message from Nunavut Sivuniksavut saying a number of their students had made submissions,” explained Kotierk.
Nunavut Sivuniksavut is a program for Nunavut Inuit students, offering a study of the Nunavut Land Claim as a way to get their academic skills ready for post-secondary education. They’re Ottawa based, Kotierk credits the program for helping give the students a voice.
“If you’ve lived outside of Nunavut, you feel a little bit more free to speak up, and you don’t feel so intimidated. But it’s not just that group, I think when people are aware of the issue, then they raise it,” sayd Kotierk. The issue was raised by 40 different groups and people filing statements with the Government of Nunavut in opposition of Bill 37.
NTI represents Inuit, the Government of Nunavut represents everyone in the territory. Kotierk wishes the GN would view some simple math the same way she does. 85% of the public governed by that public government are Inuit, it is an Inuit government no matter how you divide it. There is a consistent push and pull between NTI and the Government of Nunavut, and the Language Act debate has highlighted those differences.
“I would really like to see, it would be ideal if the public government, the Government of Nunavut, realized that they actually are an Inuit government. If they started taking that perspective, then things would be much different,” said Kotierk.
Nunavut’s Legislative Assembly meets again on May 29th, where the territory will learn if Bill 37 is actually dead, or whether the Department of Education is going to bring the discussion to the floor of the assembly. If they do, the regular members of the assembly will have to reveal their positions in public. If not, it will be back to the drawing board for the next government, after October’s election.