Nunavut student allegedly punished for speaking Inuktitut, says MLA

MLA David Joanasie says a teacher's rule to punish Grade 8 students who spoke Inuktitut in class was 'totally wrong' and reminiscent of the residential school era.

3-strike, no-Inuktitut rule could have led to suspension for Grade 8 students, says David Joanasie

South Baffin MLA David Joanasie says it was 'quite shocking' to hear that students had been told not to speak Inuktitut in class. (Kieran Oudshoorn/CBC)

Nunavut politicians were 'shocked' to hear some students in Cape Dorset have apparently been warned not to speak Inuktitut in class or they would be suspended. 

South Baffin MLA David Joanasie says he was told at least one teacher has introduced a three-strike policy, because they are afraid students who speak in a language they can't understand might be bullying people.

And he says a Grade 8 student was disciplined.

"That is wrong," he said in Inuktitut. "Totally wrong."

The situation is not only unfair to students who can no longer speak their native language, said Joanasie, it's reminiscent of the kind of assimilation policies Nunavut was created to fight against.

"It's quite shocking to be honest. It reminds me of the residential school era." 

These are the types of policies that have "broken up the Inuit culture" and which still negatively affect people across the territory, he told the Nunavut Legislative Assembly in a passionate address. 

Nunavut government looking into allegations

Education Minister Paul Quassa says he's looking into the allegations and will take action to ensure no teachers think this kind of policy is acceptable. 

"This is a 1950s, '60s situation," he said. "Certainly I don't want to return to those years, because I've been there myself." 
'The majority of the population of that community are Inuit and they speak Inuktitut,' said Nunavut Education Minister Paul Quassa. 'Certainly in our schools, that should not be an obstacle for any student." (Kieran Oudshoorn/CBC)

Quassa told the legislature that as a residential school student he was physically punished for speaking his mother tongue and "we don't want to go back to that."

Another MLA, Paul Okalik, added that he had heard about no-Inuktitut policies happening in Iqaluit schools. 

"We are in 2016," Okalik said in Inuktitut. "All teachers should be told that the language of Inuktitut should be promoted — not stopped."

Quassa later said in an interview that he was "disappointed" to hear about the situation, and added that "nobody's going to be told not to speak their own language."

Cultural training provided to teachers

While "this is a problem he can't let go," Joanasie added that teachers need to be given tools to fight potential bullying. 

"It's not tolerated and it shouldn't be, whether it's in English, Inuktitut, French or any language," he told CBC. 

"We need to be able to call it out and say — not in my school."

Quassa said providing a safe school for teachers, counsellors and students is a top priority of the government and it's working hard on its anti-bullying campaign. 

The minister added that all new teachers are given orientation training to the territory and "we teach them about the Inuktitut language."

"The majority of the population of that community are Inuit and they speak Inuktitut," he added. 

"Certainly in our schools that should not be an obstacle for any student."