No Inuktitut in school rule evokes painful memories of residential schools

The watchdog for Nunavut's land claims agreement is raising its voice in reaction to reports that students are facing punishment by English-speaking teachers for speaking Inuktitut — their mother tongue — in school.

Nunavut government to investigate report of student punished for speaking Inuktitut

'Trying to eliminate Inuktitut is not acceptable — it should never happen,' says NTI's James Eetoolook. (Sima Sahar Zerehi/CBC)

The watchdog for Nunavut's land claims agreement is raising its voice in reaction to reports that students are facing punishment by English-speaking teachers for speaking Inuktitut — their mother tongue — in school.

'When an incident like this happens it hurts us very much,' says NTI's James Eetoolook. (Sima Sahar Zerehi/CBC)

Nunavut Tunngavik vice president James Eetoolook says the news harks back to painful memories of residential schools.

"We thought we'd never live through it again and when an incident like this happens it hurts us very much," said Eetoolook. "Trying to eliminate Inuktitut is not acceptable — it should never happen."

Eetoolook adds it's actions like this that threaten the survival of Inuktitut and continue the legacy of colonialism.

The issue was raised earlier this week by South Baffin MLA David Joanasie in the territory's legislature.

He said he was told at least one teacher had introduced a three-strike policy, out of fear that students who speak a language they can't understand might be bullying people. He also said a Grade 8 student was disciplined.

In response, Nunavut Tunngavik wants the department of education to investigate the issue and publicly release the report. Paul Quassa, the minister of education, has agreed to investigate.

CBC attempted to reach the Nunavut Teachers Association for comment, but staff were unavailable.

Too few Inuit teachers

'The teachers have to make an effort to understand the Inuit language since they're teaching Inuit children,' says Eetoolook. (Sima Sahar Zerehi/CBC)
For Eetoolook the problem stems from the fact that Nunavut has fewer than 200 Inuit teachers alongside over 400 non-Inuit teachers in the territory's classrooms.

The solution is for the government to hire more Inuit teachers, says Eetoolook who adds that the Nunavut Teachers Education Program — designed to train local teachers — needs to be championed more rigorously.

In the interim, Eetoolook says non-Inuit teachers coming into Nunavut have to be given better cultural and linguistic training.

"These teachers can be taught," says Eetoolook. "The teachers have to make an effort to understand the Inuit language since they're teaching Inuit children."

In addition Eetoolook wants the curriculum amended to ensure that Inuit culture and language are prioritized. He also wants the District Education Authorities to be given more support and power to strengthen the roles of parents in their children's education.

About the Author

Sima Sahar Zerehi

Sima Sahar Zerehi is a reporter with CBC North. She started her career in journalism with the ethnic press working for a Canadian-based Farsi language newspaper. Her CBC journey began as a regular commentator with CBC radio's Metro Morning. Since then she's worked with CBC in Montreal, Toronto and now Iqaluit.