Current Initiative

Bill 37

Nunavut Education Act and Inuit Rights

NTI Preliminary Analysis of DOE Chapter 2

July 28, 2016

Nunavut Tunngavik Inc.’s

Preliminary Comments on Chapter 2, “Bilingual Education and Language of Instruction,” of the GN Department of Education’s policy intentions document: “A Collection Vision”

With its public consultation policy intentions document, “A Collective Vision,” the Department of Education (DOE) appears to have given up on Inuit language education.  NTI is aware that this is a serious charge, but what are we to think when, after sixteen years of non-implementation of various reports and recommendations urging the GN to train and hire Inuit teachers — and build an excellent made-in-Nunavut education system which could be the envy of the world – the DOE now proposes to eliminate the LOI models approach developed for the 2008 Education Act, and remove (rather than replace) Inuktut LOI timetables.

After the Auditor-General of Canada found that the GN had failed to properly manage all aspects of bilingual education, DOE had two options.  It could either adopt a bold strategy to uphold the 2008 Education Act, or it could cut out the parts of the Act which it is unwilling or unable to deliver on.  Unfortunately, the Department has chosen the latter route. It is putting its responsibility of creating an education system grounded in IQ and delivered by a majority of Inuit teachers, and with a majority of subjects delivered through the Inuit language, on the back burner.

NTI cannot and will not put these issues on the back burner. They are part of the reason Nunavut was created in the first place. Our joint responsibility is to uphold the dream of Nunavut. NTI will hold the GN to account when one of its departments is unable or unwilling to implement the key issue of moving urgently toward proportional Inuit representation in the education system.

NTI welcomes the opportunity to discuss these issues with DOE as part of the process of public discussion.

  1. Chapter 2 states that DOE is “committed to bilingual education and to graduating students fluent in the Inuit language.” [paragraph 1, line 1-2]


NTI Comments:


  1. The lack of an adequate Inuit Employment Plan for Teachers is the main problem.

There is agreement that the main obstacle to graduating students fluent in Inuktut is the lack of adequate numbers of Inuktut-speaking teachers and educators at all levels in the system.  DOE’s statement regarding its commitment to Inuit Language of Instruction (LOI) has not, however, been met by an equal amount of energy and action in training and recruitment of Inuktut-speaking teachers over the past 10 years.  It is the absence of a vigorous and effective Inuit Employment Plan for Teachers and other Educational Professionals (IEP-TEP), rather than the LOI models in the Education Act, that is the problem.

As everyone knows, the graduation rates of Inuit students are quite low. Justice Thomas Berger, in his March 2006 Conciliator’s Report entitled The Nunavut Project, estimated the graduation rate at 25%, the lowest in Canada.  The current rate is comparable to what it was ten years ago – 220 grads, on average over the last five years, in an age-cohort of around 840 on average.

In other words, and with respect, there has been no progress in the last 10 years. The majority of Nunavut youth continue to be pushed out/drop out of school before they graduate. This is a clear message that the quality of education does not meet the needs of Nunavut’s young Inuit, or of the Nunavut Inuit population generally.

It goes without saying that a high-quality education system is needed for Inuit to get the available jobs in Nunavut.  Quality schools are the principal supplier of an Inuit-representative work force under Article 23 of the Nunavut Agreement.

It also goes without saying that without adequate numbers of Inuktut-speaking teachers, there cannot be adequate Inuktut LOI.  Yet, 23 years after the signing of the Nunavut Agreement, and 8 years after the 2008 Education Act, the DOE has not developed an IEP-TEP.  Rather than tackle this requirement head-on, DOE’s approach is propose legislative changes to reduce legislative Inuktut LOI commitments.

DOE has stated in a July 5, 2016 letter to NTI that it prefers to address the IEP “at a later time with EIA taking the lead in developing and implementing Inuit employment plans and pre-employment plans.”  However, at our June 14-15, 2016, meeting with DOE officials, DOE stated to NTI that it is open to considering NTI’s proposal that a new timetable be set in the legislation for Inuktut LOI implementation, as an alternative to removing the current timetable from the Act.  There is an inconsistency between these two DOE positions.  An analysis of the numbers of bilingual teachers needed and obtainable in the short and medium terms, a comparison of these requirements with expected supply, and a strategy for addressing the shortage, is a critical prerequisite to identifying a new, achievable timetable for delivering on Inuktut LOI in the classroom at all levels.

Given the above, as we relayed at the June 14-15, 2016 meeting and by June 18 email, NTI proposes that the GN and NTI work on an urgent basis on an IEP-TEP to guide and inform new timelines for implementation of Inuktut LOI at all levels.


  1. Inuktut Language Instruction was Promised in the Education Act but was never Delivered.

A commitment to “bilingual education” must include a commitment to significantly expand the use of Inuktut as an LOI beyond the early years of elementary education.  The Auditor General of Canada (AG) found in 2013 that DOE had met the mandated bilingual education requirement (which was up to Grade 4 in that year) in only one of the five schools surveyed. The AG also found that, regrettably, DOE had mismanaged all aspects of its bilingual responsibilities, from failing to gather data to assess its performance, to failing to project future Inuit teacher needs.

For the present purposes, it is important to distinguish between (a) transitional bilingual education, which has been the unfortunate practice in Nunavut schools for decades and continues today, and (b) maintenance bilingual education, which is needed in Nunavut.

This is nothing new. It is what Justice Thomas Berger recommended in this 2003 Conciliator’s Report, and it is what the GN committed to in the 2008 Education Act, but never delivered.

Transitional bilingual education typically uses the child’s home language as the LOI for the early elementary years, after which the child is “transitioned” away from the “minority group” mother tongue, in this case Inuktut,  towards a “majority group” language, in this case English.  The majority group language then takes over as the principal LOI for the upper elementary years and secondary school. This is the general pattern for bilingual education in Nunavut, where the child undergoes (in the words of one DOE representative at a recent meeting with NTI) a “jarring” transition around Grade 4/5, “which leave students struggling” after which, as DOE had been told at public meetings, there followed a noticeable drop-off in student attendance. [GN-NTI meeting, Wednesday afternoon, June 15, 2016).

In contrast, maintenance bilingual education would not transition the child away from Inuktut as the principal LOI.  It recognises the value of the mother tongue throughout the education system. Among other reasons, experts agree that if and when the child studies a second language, the best results are obtained if the child is firmly anchored in his or her first language.

Another way of expressing the two forms of bilingual education are: additive and subtractive. In an additive, maintenance program, an Inuit child can learn English at school while continuing to gain strength in his or her first language of Inuktut.  This is the bilingual education which the Inuit want and were promised in the 2008 Education Act.

Subtractive bilingual education, in contrast, is a structured program to shift the child away from a focus on fluency in his or her first language of Inuktut towards fluency exclusively in the “majority” language of English. In other words, the child must pay the high price of weakening his or her Inuktut in order to become fluent in English.  This is what is practiced in Nunavut.

Subtractive, transitional, bilingual education is, in reality, what DOE has consistently provided for the past 16 years of Nunavut’s existence. It is also known as “early-exit” because the students “exit” (jarringly) from their mother tongue as the principal LOI and to continue their education, they will have to do so in English, with Inuktut rarely appearing in the role of LOI after the early grades (with Inuit teachers rarely appearing as teachers in the higher elementary grades or in secondary school.)

DOE’s inability or unwillingness to implement the additive model anticipated in the 2008 Education Act is directly related to the failure to develop an Article 23 Inuit Employment Plan for Teachers and other Educational Professionals (IEP-TEP), to vigorously and purposefully increase the cohort of Inuit educators who are required to staff the higher elementary grades and secondary school classrooms.

This strategy of passivity with respect to DOE’s legally-mandated responsibility to act vigorously on the Article 23 IEP-TEP is fully in harmony with the consistent strategy of keeping the same early-exit subtractive bilingualism that was inherited from the NWT. Indeed, a recent study found that, of the schools surveyed in terms of their level of Inuktut as LOI since division, 6 schools had improved; 2 had retreated; 15 remained the same.

The GN has consistently refused to mount a program to develop the numbers of Inuit educators, despite myriad reports, strategies and recommendations consistently making the same argument of the urgent need to have a vigorous and purposeful IEP-TEP:  (a) the Aajiiqatigiingniq report of 2000 (b) The PriceWaterhouse-Coopers study 2003,  (c) the Aarluk report 2005, (d) the Saqqiqpuq Annual Report of NTI 2005-6, (e) the Berger report 2005, (f) the Qalattuq Strategy 2006-2016, (g) the 2008 Education Act, (h) the ILPA 2008, (i) NTI’s Annual Report of 2009/2010, (j) the Qanukkaniq Report Card of 2009, (k) the Auditor General’s report 2013, (l) Reports of the Nunavut Languages Commissioner – and on it goes.

Indeed, if we look at the Qalattuq Strategy, which was supposed to produce 304 Inuit teachers by 2012, DOE has not reviewed the Strategy to find out why it failed. Nor did DOE give any indication that they are planning to develop an IEP-TEP or inject more purpose in the NTEP agreement between NAC and the University of Regina. Indeed, that program has dropped its Inuit Language entry requirement, a decision which runs directly counter to DOE’s claim to be “committed to bilingual education.”

In summary, when NTI looks back at track record of the GN and DOE with respect to bilingual education, we see not “commitment” but a refusal to take Inuit language rights seriously and a consistently passive attitude towards developing an adequate IEP-TEP  – which, as everyone agrees, is the main resource needed to move toward an additive Inuktut LOI education.

Given the above, it must be said, and said with extreme frustration bordering on despair, that DOE has done virtually nothing in their 16 years of existence to justify the statement that they are “committed to bilingual education and graduating students fluent in the Inuit language.”

Again, NTI sees the solution as being the joint development and implementation of a detailed IEP-TEP on a priority basis, and on a parallel track with development of changes to the Education Act. Only this will allow the implementation of additive Inuktut LOI education at all levels in Inuit schools.


  1. Chapter 2 states that “Bilingual education will continue to be delivered in Nunavut…” [paragraph 1, line 5]


NTI Comments: NTI is coming to the view that the term “bilingual education”, as it is understood by DOE, is doing more harm than good. We are of the opinion that the last thing which Nunavut needs is a “continuation” of the early-exit subtractive transitional form of “bilingual education”, which is the only form of bilingual education which DOE has been able to deliver in its sixteen years of existence.


It’s time to get back to basics.

First, despite Section 4 of the 2008 Education Act, it is not “bilingual education” which is the foundation of Nunavut’s education system, but the right of the Inuit to have education in their own language, managed by them, and according to their customs, methods and traditions.


This right is an inherent right of Canada’s Aboriginal peoples, one of the existing aboriginal rights enshrined in the Constitution Act, 1982. This right is a right under the Nunavut Agreement, and has been consistently demanded and sought by every Inuit organization since their creation in the 1960s and 1970s. It is also a right under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (Article 13(1)), which has been adopted by Canada as the basis for establishing a framework for reconciliation.


In a similar way to the settler language groups – English and French – who have the right to teach through the medium of their mother tongue as the only LOI, as well as the option of choosing to have their children learn a second language, typically as a subject rather than a medium of instruction, Canada’s indigenous peoples see that right as foundational, whether or not they choose to introduce opportunities for second language learning. Of course, the difference is that Canada’s indigenous peoples have seen their languages eroded over generations of colonial education policies to the point that no indigenous language, including Inuktut, is completely out of danger. The emphasis on indigenous language in the schools is simply part of an overall policy of language revitalization, protection, promotion and recovery across Inuit society. This was, after all, one of the main motivations for the creation of Nunavut Territory in the first place.


NTI is of the view that DOE’s actions, and inaction, over the past sixteen years are unfortunately consistent with a commitment to a subtractive form of “bilingual education” in which the early exit from Inuktut as an LOI has almost become normalized, and the Inuit right to education in and through our mother tongue throughout the education system put on the back burner.  As stated above, we see the early-exit form of subtractive bilingualism as a form of bilingual education which does not respect the language rights of the Inuit and, in very concrete and practical terms, leads to outcomes whereby the majority of Inuit students never acquire the high levels of spoken and written proficiency we expect of secondary school graduates and which are needed for our youth to participate in Nunavut society and economy to their fullest extent, as per Article 23 of the Nunavut Agreement.


DOE’s implementation of this form of subtractive bilingual education has failed to anchor our children solidly in Inuktut throughout the grades and has had the negative consequence that Inuit students have had to pay the price of seeing the erosion of their Inuktut in order to acquire English or French as second languages.


In view of the above, NTI is of the view that the LOI section 4 of the Education Act needs to be substantially re-conceptualized and re-written to reflect NTI’s position that the foundation of the Nunavut education system be seen in language of instruction terms, with Inuktut as the principal LOI throughout the grades K-12.  NTI stands ready to have these detailed discussions with DOE.



  1. Chapter 2 states that “The current system of three different models creates significant inconsistencies between schools…and has led to significant problems and has actually prevented students from achieving the desired language outcomes.” [paragraphs 2-3]


NTI comments: In the June 15, 2016 GN-NTI meeting, DOE was unable to provide any evidence to support these claims.


The fact is that it was never contemplated that there would be problems with DEAs choosing from among the options.  It was always intended that the default option for 25 communities would be the Qulliq Model, which was described as a strong maintenance additive bilingual program, in which Inuktut would be the principal LOI throughout the grades, particularly throughout the elementary school years.


The intention of having the other two models, Dual and Immersion, in the Education Act was to account for special circumstances of (1) Iqaluit schools, where Inuit and Qallunaat parents may want to experiment with ‘each group learning the other’s language’ through the Dual Model and (2) Inuinnaqtun-speaking communities, for which the Immersion Model was recommended.  The special community circumstances in the West Kitikmeot, where their children arrive at school speaking English, would logically result in the Immersion model being selected. In short, only in Iqaluit was there intended to be a real question of choosing between the options.


And in fact, it does not appear that there has been a problem at the level of DEA selection of a model. It was relayed to NTI at the July 12-14 meeting with DOE that the Qulliq Model was selected by all communities in Nunavut except for Kugluktuk and Cambridge Bay, which selected the Immersion Model, and Iqaluit and Rankin Inlet, which selected the Dual Model.


If there are inconsistencies between schools, the problem is not to be found in the models, but in the particular circumstances of each school and its context. But is “inconsistency” such a problem? Regardless of model, there will always be community-specific particularities, which will need to be addressed and should be respected.


As noted above, it is the historic lack of serious Departmental attention to the recruitment, preparation and retention of a sufficiently robust cohort of Inuktut-speaking educators, which is the much more significant factor affecting the quality of schools and the high drop-out/push-out rate.


If the Department’s Qalattuq Strategy had been taken seriously, and there indeed were 306 more Inuit language-speaking teachers in the system than there are at present, and the system were, on consistent basis, offering Inuktut as the LOI throughout the elementary schools, it would be appropriate to put in place suitable system-wide language assessment instruments, and to start to build a profile of student language and curricular performance as a means of assessing overall system functioning. But without a consistent commitment to Inuktut as the LOI beyond the middle elementary grades, if that, standardized assessment instruments will capture student weaknesses rather than strengths, since the system is designed to produce weakness.


Finally, on the question of “properly allocating Inuktut-speaking teachers to communities”, DOE has yet to explain their intentions. The same goes for “lack of standardization of instructional minutes,” although it must be said that to determine the “instructional minutes” required to learn a given item needs to take the LOI into consideration. Clearly, if the child is learning in his or her strongest language, and if that language has been supported by the school, the instructional time will be far less – and therefore much more efficient – than the time required to learn the same item in an imperfectly-grasped second language. This illustrates the problem of DOE’s attempt to standardize instructional time prior to having in place a clear LOI policy.


In the recent NTI-DOE meeting, it was suggested that NTI should state what its priorities are, by subject, so that DOE could, through ministerial directives, start to allocate instructional minutes and other resources to the subjects so designated. The suggestion seemed to be that recruitment and pre-training measures would be among the resources directed to these curricular priorities. While there may be value in pursuing an NTI-DOE conversation about curriculum – e.g., curriculum within an IQ framework with Inuktut as the language of instruction – it is important to see a vigorous and purposeful LOI commitment made prior to that conversation.


Rather than abandoning the three-model LOI approach in the Education Act, NTI believes that, the way forward lies in examining the implementation of the models in detail, in particular the Qulliq model, and ensuring that they are implemented as intended, over time as required, in keeping with a realistic, vigorous IEP-TEP.



  1. Chapter 2 states that “…this framework will better manage the shortage of Inuktut-speaking teachers.” [page 8, paragraph 4, line 5]


NTI comments: Once again, DOE is concerned not with developing a plan to reduce the shortage of Inuit teachers but rather with managing their shortage.  This statement is tantamount to DOE being resigned to a permanent shortage of Inuit teachers, in the absence of even paying lip service to their commitment to a vigorous and purposeful IEP-TEP for educators.


NTI takes issue, again, with DOE’s allegation that the three models need to be reduced to one. This proposal is actually impossible to carry out in the case of the Inuinnaqtun communities, and it is doubtful that the Netsilingmiutut communities will abandon their strong preference for their dialect as the form of Inuktut in the classroom.


Also, NTI has not heard a convincing argument for “standardization,” which on the surface seems to fly in the face of the traditional Inuit value of community participation and control (through well-supported DEAs), which is also one of the principles enunciated in the Truth and Reconciliation of Canada Report – see Call to Action #10 (v and vi) on community control and parental involvement.


  1. The Paper’s discussion [page 9, paragraph 1] of Ministerial direction suggests a centralized bureaucratic structure being able to allocate the few Inuit teachers to “specific areas of need” (such as NTI’s list of priority subject areas, for instance).


NTI comments: This approach is another example of DOE defeatism in the face of the challenge and responsibility of working toward establishing Inuktut as the dominant LOI in elementary schools and as the main LOI in secondary schools, while allowing DEAs to decide, within certain parameters, the degree and nature of second language teaching, whether as subjects or as an additional language of instruction, in schools under their jurisdiction.


NTI rejects the proposition that the Minister should have the authority to direct the amount of instruction time required in each language for each grade, and even more vigorously opposes the idea that the Minister would provide direction on which LOI would be used for each subject. This, of course, means in practice that important decisions on Inuit rights would be taken by the DOE bureaucracy, which has yet to demonstrate an acceptable track record on advancing Inuktut as a LOI. There is no indication, absent DOE’s commitment to respecting Inuit Aboriginal language rights, and given DOE’s failure to date in demonstrating an ability and a willingness to build toward an Inuktut  LOI policy throughout the system, that this exercise would be anything but a form of selectively micro-managing the limited human and material resources available to the system. These resources are limited largely due to the Department’s own historic inaction on this file.


  1. Chapter 2 states: “Provisions in the ILPA…will be amended to reflect that the right is to have a majority of instruction in the Inuit language. This means that 50% or more of instruction must be in Inuktut.” [page 9, paragraph 2]


NTI comments: NTI does not believe that there should be a ceiling placed on the extent to which Inuktut would be an LOI. While this may occur, at the discretion of the DEAs, we do not think it wise to put this figure in the revised Act. It is not clear whether the 50% is intended to apply to each grade or to the system overall. The discussion following suggests that, since the bulk of instruction in the early grades is taught through the medium of Inuktut, in order to “balance” Inuktut with English, the policy would allow the upper elementary grades to be taught predominantly in English, as indeed they are now. In other words, this paragraph could easily be read as allowing the present, unworkable, status quo to continue.


  1. Chapter 2 states: “as more Inuktut-speakers are trained and enter the system, the higher the percentage of instruction time delivered in Inuktut will be.” [page 9, paragraph 2, lines 7-8]


NTI comments: This seemingly obvious statement would make more sense if it were accompanied by a vigorous and purposeful plan to train Inuktut-speakers to enter the system. However, in the absence of any such commitment from DOE, this statement is gratuitous. Unlike the strategy described above, where DOE is requesting NTI input on curricular priorities, with respect to training teachers, there is no such request for NTI input. Again, the absence of a sense of urgency or Departmental commitment to raising the percentage of Inuktut instruction time is typical of the past leisurely, uninvolved, pace in the face of continual Inuit language erosion.


  1. Chapter 2 refers to: “Evidence-based decision-making with respect to instructional minutes.”


NTI comments: The question of “minutes of instruction” cannot be resolved without first considering the question of “language of instruction.” If we follow the precept that “children learn best if they are taught in the language which they are more familiar with” then we would want to gather “evidence” of the child learning in that language, because we want to “bias for best” – i.e. bias for the child’s best possible performance. If the evidence used for decision-making is gathered when the child is learning through a second language or a language which he or she is less familiar with, then we are basing our decision on the child who has been disadvantaged because of a failure to gather the strongest possible evidence of the child’s potential.


In Nunavut, in the years following the abrupt transition (“jarring” in the words of one Departmental representative at our meeting) away from Inuktut – the first language of the majority of Inuit children – into English, due to the Territory’s early-exit bilingual model, gathering evidence on student performance is no simple matter, due to the confluence of two factors: the sudden dominance in the child’s schooling of a second language, in which the child is still a beginning second-language learner, and the stalled development of the child’s first-language proficiency in Inuktut, which has been displaced as language of instruction in favour of English.


Evidence can be gathered, to be sure, and this evidence can be used somehow to gain a “standardized” system-wide sense of ‘how the system is doing.’ However, in context of a fundamentally subtractive-bilingual system, the evidence gathered will be evidence of subtraction, and in the absence of a vigorous and purposeful and urgent commitment by DOE to an additive system, in which Inuktut becomes the fundamental LOI  throughout the system, the evidence will continue to show how Inuit students fall behind after the “jarring transition” and fall further and further behind their Canadian peers elsewhere with every passing year (or drop out of school).


  1. DEA’s Role: Page 10, paragraph 1


NTI comments: This paragraph has to do with proposed changes to the role of the DEAs. The Truth and Reconciliation Report sets out in its Call to Action #10 a set of principles which it wants incorporated in any new Aboriginal education legislation. Two of the principles are:


  1. v) enabling parental and community responsibility, control, and accountability, similar to what parents enjoy in public school systems,


  1. vi) enabling parents to fully participate in the education of their children.


The federal government has declared that it will implement all of the Calls to Action. It is not acceptable for the Education Act to be at odds with what is coming to be expected in Aboriginal education elsewhere in Canada.