Nunavut’s controversial Language Act killed before vote

Kent Driscoll
APTN National News
Iqaluit – A controversial change to Nunavut’s Education and Language acts has been declared dead before even reaching the floor of the Nunavut Legislative Assembly for debate.

Bill 37 was set to delay the implementation of Inuit language education for Grades 4 to 9 from 2020 to 2030, along with reducing the role of local district education authorities. Four Inuit land claim organizations submitted written opposition to the bill.

“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,” said Rankin Inlet MLA Tom Sammurtok in a written statement.

Education officials were defending Bill 37 until very recently. In an April interview with APTN National News, Deputy Minister of Education Kathy Okpik said, “The language of instruction is intended to be a floor, not a ceiling. So we’re always going to be striving to increase the number of Inuktitut speaking educators. We know that kindergarten to Grade 3 right now is in effect, so when we look to Grades 4 to 9 for 2029, it gives an opportunity to look at the number of Inuktitut teachers we have and the delivery methods.”

Nunavut Tunngavik – the group representing Nunavut’s Inuit under the Nunavut Land Claim – opposed the bill from the start.

Joined by Nunavut’s three regional Inuit groups, they filed opposition statements in the assembly.

NTI President Aluki Kotierk told APTN  in April, “The absolute right that Inuit parents have to have Inuktitut language of instruction is being diminished (under Bill 37) to having a majority of Inuktitut instruction.”

Today, Koterik was pleased.

In a written release she stated, “NTI appreciates that the Standing Committee has asked that Bill 37 not proceed further in the legislative process. I am relieved they recognize that the issue of Inuktut language loss is urgent. I hope the Nunavut cabinet agrees with the Standing Committee recommendation so we can begin working on the real issue.”

Kotierk told APTN in April that she thought the Government of Nunavut was selling Nunavut residents short by not aspiring to do more for Inuktitut, saying, “We have to be visionary, we have to be aspirational and it’s important that we be idealistic about what the future should hold.”

Nunavut’s MLAs are just wrapping up a week of in camera meetings, where the bill was discussed, and the “overwhelming lack of consensus” was discovered. It is now very likely that the legislation will be left for after October’s territorial election, or ignored completely.

That doesn’t sit right with Education Minister Paul Quassa, who slammed the regular members for working outside the system.

“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,” Quassa said in a statement.

The education minister also held hope that the legislation could still be passed before an election.

“I remain open to working with the members to address their concerns and ensure that a thorough review is carried out,” said Quassa.

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