Sat. Jan 22nd, 2022

The organization representing Inuit in Nunavut is suing the government in Nunavut for the right to have students educated in Inuktut.

In a statement of claim filed Wednesday in Iqaluit, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. claims (NTI) that the Nunavut government discriminates against Inuit by not offering education in Inuktut to the same degree as English and French – despite Inuktitut being the dominant language of the area.

“So the message to us as Inuktu-speaking Inuit in Nunavut, when we are the public majority, is that our language does not matter, it is not important, and it is certainly not as important as English or French,” the NTI said. President Aluki Kotierk told CBC News about court-building steps.

“We have tried very hard to work with the government to express how it affects who we are and how crucial it is. But consistently, the message has been that the Inuit language is not as important as other languages.”

Inuktut symbols in a Nunavut classroom. Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. want to see Inuit language teaching offered all qualities in the area. (Claudiane Samson / Radio-Canada)

NTI, representing Inuit, a party to the Nunavut Agreement, asks the Nunavut Court to step in and force the Territorial Government to offer a full slate of subjects and classes in Inuktut across all grade levels and do so within five years after conclusion of the trial.

The lawsuit comes on the heels of the adoption of Bill 25 in Nunavut’s legislature last year, which NTI argues for “further diminished Inuit language teaching in Nunavut schools.”

Right now, education in Inuktut is largely only available up to grade 4, where the subject is taught primarily in English and French.

Language Teaching: Inuktitut is the dialect of the Inuit language spoken by the vast majority of Inuit across Nunavut. Inuktut is a term that includes all dialects, including Inuinnaqtun, which is predominantly spoken in Kitikmeot in western Nunavut. NTI’s lawsuit refers to Inuktut education.

Nunavut’s government passed legislation in 2008 to require Inuktut education for all grades by 2019-2020, but never reached its legally binding commitment.

Instead, NTI claims that the government passed Bill 25 in 2020, which amended the law to only require the government to offer an Inuit language course, rather than full-grade material in Inuktut. It also pushed the implementation of the course to as early as 2026 for Class 4 and as late as 2039 for Class 12.

And although the territorial government has publicly argued that it is developing curricula to be offered Inuktut courses across various topics, NTI’s lawsuit claims that Bill 25 “passes, harms Inuit students by causing [their] loss of Inuit language and culture and undermining [their] the ability to achieve their educational potential. “

‘This claim is about discrimination’

The lawsuit involves two individual plaintiffs: Bernice Clarke, 46, and Lily Maniapik, 33.

Both are Inuit with children in Nunavut’s education system who want their children to have access to education in Inuktut. Clarke is also an NTI employee.

“This allegation is about discrimination,” Kotierk said at a news conference Wednesday. “Discrimination based on race and ethnicity and the fact that we are Inuit.”

The lawsuit raises a constitutional challenge under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, arguing that Nunavut’s education system discriminates against Inuit by failing to provide education in Inuktut, despite being the dominant language in Nunavut.

“The expectation here in Nunavut is that when we are the public majority who speak Inuktut, we expect that the public education system would be available in Inuktut language of instruction at all grade levels in all subject areas,” Kotierk said.

“To date, that’s not what’s happening.”

The government of Nunavut has not yet submitted a defense statement. Nunavut’s education department did not respond to a request for comment.

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