Nunavut Legislative Assembly talks devolution, Inuit writing

When MLAs met to continue their winter sitting Tuesday, a number of issues were on the table including the progress of teaching a unified Inuktitut writing system in schools and discussions on the safety of new designs for public housing units.

'Residents of Grise Fiord feel forgotten,' said MLA Isaac Shooyook in his plea for a full-time social worker

Nunavut MLAs wanted to know about changes to public housing designs, plans to standardize Inuit language writing in schools and devolution talks during question period Tuesday. (Shaun Malley/CBC)

The Nunavut Legislative Assembly covered a wide variety of issues on Tuesday — from the future of devolution negotiations to the safety of new public housing building designs. 

Here's a look at what you may have missed.

Devolution talks still stalled

Nunavut's premier faced renewed questions about the territory's devolution efforts, with Iqaluit-Niaqunnguu MLA Pat Angnakak pointing out the Finance Minister's reference to "renewing our negotiations with the federal government and NTI," in his budget address last week. 

Last year, negotiations were stalled when the federal election was called. Earlier in 2015, Premier Peter Taptuna had indicated that negotiations were going well and a pact might be in place before the end of that year. 

Now, the territory is still waiting to renew those talks.

Nunavut Premier Peter Taptuna says the territory's devolution talks are still on hold, as federal government has not yet announced a new chief negotiator. (CBC)

"We await the naming of the chief negotiator on the federal side. We look forward to that and we want to continue negotiating towards a good devolution agreement for Nunavut," said Taptuna.

Angnakak asked the government for information about how many formal sessions of negotiations were held over the past year — Taptuna could not provide a number — quipping that she was "just checking if it's still on the table or not." 

When the N.W.T. and Yukon completed their own devolution agreements a "central feature" was the transfer of federal positions to the territorial public services, said Angnakak. 

"Using the information that was done in the Northwest Territories during their negotiation, a number had been put out there of 138," said Taptuna.

But the premier said a cookie cutter approach designed after the agreements reached by the other two territories will not work because of Nunavut's many differences. 

He added that the negotiations are not far enough along to provide a specific number on the transfer of jobs.

Social needs of Grise Fiord 'forgotten'

Isaac Shooyook, the MLA representing the Quttiktuq constituency, had one main issue to speak about in the legislature Tuesday, bringing up his desire for Grise Fiord to have a full-time social worker in both his member's statement and during question period. 

"The residents of Grise Fiord feel forgotten and neglected," Shooyook said in Inuktitut, saying that the position has been vacant for years. 

Shooyook said that for the entire time the position has gone unfilled, a public housing unit designated for a full-time social worker has also sat empty. 

Shooyook said every now and then a social worker visits the community, but it's often not the same person who was there last.

MLA Isaac Shooyook says the lack of a full-time social worker has made people in Grise Fiord feel neglected. (Courtesy Isaac Shooyook)

"Handling these kinds of issues is a lot of work," he said.

Johnny Mike, who was acting as the Minister of Family Services since George Kuksuk is absent for medical reasons, said it can be difficult to fill positions in Grise Fiord, Canada's northernmost community. 

Shooyook pushed for a commitment from the government to fill this position, but Mike would only say he will look into the issue.

Creating a unified Inuktitut writing system

The Nunavut government's controversial plans to establish a unified writing system at Nunavut schools was once again discussed in the legislative assembly.

MLA Pauloosie Keyootak said people in his Uqqummiut constituency are concerned they will lose a significant part of Inuit culture if syllabics are no longer taught in schools. 

"My constituents have raised a strong concern that roman orthography is very important, as it identifies and connects who we are as Inuit, our language, culture and identity," Keyootak said in Inuktitut. 

In his response, Education Minister Paul Quassa emphasized that the government has not yet made any changes and, as of now, schools are still teaching both Inuktitut writing systems — syllabics and roman orthography — to students from Grade 4 on. 

"We have not told the schools, 'here's how you have to do it,'" Quassa said in Inuktitut. "We have not gone that far."

Children in Nunavut schools are still learning to write using both roman orthography and syllabics. (CBC)

When Quassa first announced the government's plans to have schools teach a unified writing system last March, he indicated that his department would first collect research.

He said at this point, the government is reviewing studies on the subject and awaiting formal opinions from groups including Inuit Uqausinginnik Taiguusiliuqtiit, the Inuit language authority.

Safe as houses

Two MLAs told Minister George Hickes, who is responsible for the Nunavut Housing Corporation, their constituents are concerned about new designs for public housing.

On Monday, Hudson Bay South MLA Allan Rumbolt said the housing corporation recently said it had revised the design of its five-plex housing units, which resulted in a $700,000 savings for each building.

But Rumbolt said he is concerned about the implications of removing the units' back porch.

"I can certainly say from personal experience that that this was a major concern in my community of Sanikiluaq," he said.

"From what I can see with my own eyes, the Nunavut Housing Corporation's multiplex units in Sanikiluaq only have one exit."

On Tuesday, Hickes came prepared with an explanation from the corporation, saying the new designs, while removing the alternate exit in units, comply with the fire code.

South Baffin MLA David Joanasie added his dissent to the changes on behalf of residents in Kimmirut, asking Hickes why plans for a communal room to prepare and store country food was removed.

Given Nunavut's housing shortage, Hickes suggested the desire to save money — and potentially build more units — outweighed the need to have this area.


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