North

No Inuit on Nunavut law program selection committee

Concerns are being raised about the admissions process for the new law degree program at Nunavut Arctic College.

Unsuccessful candidates say Inuit need to be on committee and in the classroom

'It hurts, being treated like this,' says Kadla Tagak, who was one of 87 people who had applied for the 25 student positions at the new law program being offered at Nunavut Arctic College. (David Gunn/CBC)

Concerns are being raised about the admissions process for the new law degree program at Nunavut Arctic College, which is set to start classes next week.

CBC News has learned there were no Inuit on the student selection committee, and the class that was selected for this year is 76 per cent Inuit — below what is representative of the territory's population, which is 85 per cent Inuit.

"I was very disappointed; this hurt me so much. It's been my lifelong dream to attend law school," said Kadla Tagak, one of 87 people who had applied for the 25 student positions. She was not selected.

The law program has been billed as an important tool to train more Nunavut lawyers and, in particular, more Inuit lawyers.

Having worked in the Nunavut legal system for the past 17 years, Tagak thought she was the type of student the program was looking for.

"They told me my level of education was too low," she said in Inuktitut.

"I had graduated from high school but I had children right out of high school. So once I was done school … I had to work and support my children."

'Taking away opportunities'

For another young Inuk, who asked to remain anonymous, being rejected was deeply upsetting. The person had completed a pre-law program and was an outspoken advocate for Nunavut law programs for years.

The person said while not getting accepted into the program was personally distressing, their concern goes beyond their own feelings.

"I started to find out more and more non-Inuit who got in — and not just young, longtime northerners, but older people who are near retirement age," the person said.

"They're taking away opportunities from younger Inuit who have a whole lifetime of contributing to Nunavut ahead of them."

Iqaluit-Niaqunnguu MLA Pat Angnakak says after hearing there were no Inuit on the selection committee, she's worried about what appears to be a lack of local input into the law program. (David Gunn/CBC)

Iqaluit-Niaqunnguu MLA Pat Angnakak raised concerns in the legislative assembly earlier this summer about how six out of the 25 law program students — nearly a quarter of this year's class — are not Inuit.

Angnakak says after hearing there were no Inuit on the selection committee, she's worried about what appears to be a lack of local input into the law program.

"I was also talking with the Law Society of Nunavut and the Nunavut bar and I asked them if they were consulted, and they were not," she said.

Committee aware of enrolment priority

In an email to CBC News, the dean of the College of Law at the University of Saskatchewan, Martin Phillipson, wrote that the funding agreement for the law program that was signed by the university, Nunavut Arctic College and the Government of Nunavut "envisaged a co-operative and collaborative selection process that involved all three parties."

That meant the selection committee was made up of one representative each from the University of Saskatchewan, Nunavut Arctic College and the Government of Nunavut, said Phillipson.

All three organizations have independently confirmed to CBC News that none of their representatives were Nunavut land claim beneficiaries, but they added that the committee as a whole was aware of the enrolment priority for beneficiaries.

For Kadla Tagak, that's not enough.

"We need to include Inuit, especially when it comes to evaluating people on special unique programs like this," she said.

"It hurts, being treated like this. We are living in Nunavut but yet we have no representation and no one seems to be speaking up for us."

With files from Pauline Pemik

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