October 13, 2021
Protection of Inuktuk Language Rights
Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. – NTI has filed a landmark lawsuit with the Nunavut Court of Justice in Iqaluit, asserting that the Government of Nunavut (GN), by failing to provide a public school system offering Nunavut Inuit equal opportunities to complete schooling in their own language and culture, is violating constitutionally-protected equality rights of Nunavut Inuit guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
With the adoption of a new Education Act in 2009, Nunavut Inuit had high hopes and expectations that the GN would fulfill Inuit aspirations of a public education system that embraced the Inuktut language and produced high school graduates thoroughly fluent in the Inuktut language, equally as English or French.
But after failing to meet its political commitments as reflected in the legal obligations for the provision of fully bilingual Inuktut education in Nunavut by 2019, the GN made legislative amendments in the fall of 2020 that postponed the obligation to provide Inuit language education. The new framework of amendments drastically changed the GN’s previous priorities and obligations to provide Inuit students with an education in their own language by effectively reducing Inuktut language of instruction commitments after Grade 4 to language arts courses and permanently removing the government’s legal responsibility to build a bilingual education system up to Grade 12. Further, the GN had given itself a new, later deadline of 2039 for meeting even weaker commitments.
Education delivered in Inuktut is foundational to maintaining Inuit language and culture, and a vital component of the cultural identity, history and survival of Nunavut Inuit. As many Indigenous groups in Canada struggle to protect and revive languages within their communities, Nunavut is uniquely positioned to successfully support Inuit language before it becomes extinct.
Although 85% percent of the Nunavut population comprises of Nunavut Inuit, only 64% of Nunavut Inuit reported Inuktut use during the 2016 Canadian Census, and is further declining at an alarming rate. As a result of the GNs broken commitments and continued failures of implementing bilingual education, the use and fluency of Inuktut is under threat for future generations.
Without drastic action and corrective measures on the part of the Government of Nunavut, the erosion of the Inuit language — and the associated impact on Inuit culture and self-determination — will have dire and irreversible social consequences to Nunavut Inuit.