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Nunavut students never told not to speak Inuktitut, gov't investigation finds

Nunavut's education minister says the government has investigated allegations that students in Cape Dorset were told not to speak Inuktitut and found "no such case," but MLA David Joanasie says parents in other communities are bringing forward similar concerns.

Education Minister and Cape Dorset DEA say last week's allegations were unfounded

'To our knowledge, some of the allegations are unfounded,' Education Minister Paul Quassa told CBC. 'There was no such case where the student was told not to speak Inuktitut.' (Nunavut Legislative Assembly)

Nunavut's education minister says the government has investigated allegations that students in Cape Dorset were told not to speak Inuktitut and found "some of the allegations are unfounded." 

"The fact-finding mission was done and there was no such case where the student was told not to speak Inuktitut," Education Minister Paul Quassa told CBC. 

Last week, MLAs were shocked to hear that a teacher allegedly told students that if they spoke Inuktitut in class, they'd risk being suspended. 

The issue — which many say harkened back to residential schools — also caught the attention of Nunavut Tunngavik, Inc., who called on the territory to fully investigate the issue and release a report

Quassa did not provide many details on this particular incident, but unequivocally says there was no official policy to restrict the use of Inuktitut, and there never will be. 

"Our education act is very clear. It's a bilingual education and any [official] languages are acceptable within the school."

Idea of a no-Inuktitut policy 'absurd'

Cape Dorset's District Education Authority also says teachers in its schools do not discipline students for speaking Inuktitut.

In a news release, it said "the idea that such a policy could be in place is absurd." 
Since he brought up the allegations in the legislature, MLA David Joanasie says several people from other communities have told him their children have faced 'similar circumstances.' (Sima Sahar Zerehi/CBC)

The district education authority says it was "shocked" that South Baffin MLA David Joanasie made the statements in the legislature before speaking to the school administration or the DEA.

"Had this alleged incident gone through proper protocols, we could have, and most certainly would have, taken immediate action to thoroughly investigate this and provide the necessary direction for remediation without delay.

"In the event that we could not resolve it, we would have then brought it before the minister in a more appropriate manner."

On Tuesday, Joanasie publicly apologized to the district education authority for not consulting them, but says when constituents come to him with issues of this magnitude he is glad to advocate for them.

'It seems like it's not a one-off'

Joanasie says his concerns have not been allayed. In fact, he says parents from other communities have come to him, saying their children have faced "similar circumstances" at school. 

"It seems like it's not a one-off, one incident thing," he told CBC. "I don't know how big this issue is in Nunavut, but hopefully the department and at the local level, the DEAs, will address issues like this." 
South Baffin MLA David Joanasie says the territory and local educators need to work together to address bullying. (Nunavut Legislative Assembly)

When asked if the government would be investigating any other schools, Quassa said a student, parent or teacher would have to file a complaint first: "If we think it's serious, then the department has the obligation to do fact-finding."

Quassa adds there is "a process that is followed" when an issue is raised and the territorial government isn't the place to start. 

"Go see the principal," he says. "Go see the DEA. Because those are the entities that are there at the school level that will carry out these policies."

MLA wants bullying addressed

For Joanasie, there remains some unanswered questions surrounding the possibility that students have used Inuktitut as a way to bully other students or teachers. 

"I think there's some kind of miscommunication or misunderstandings happening that we need to clear up."

The MLA says he wants to work with the district education authority and the territory to figure out how to ensure that students understand that bullying is unacceptable. 

While Quassa would not say if bullying played a role in this incident, he said the government takes that issue seriously.

"A student will always be able to speak Inuktitut," he says, "but we always have to remember also that we shouldn't be abusing our language to make a point or to make other people not understand."

Quassa plans to provide an update to MLAs when the legislature resumes sitting Wednesday. 

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