The Role of Inuit Languages in Nunavut Schooling: Nunavut Teachers Talk about Bilingual Education

Article excerpt

This article provides a discourse analysis of interview transcripts generated from 10 experienced Nunavut teachers (five Inuit and five non-Inuit) regarding the role of Inuit languages in Nunavut schooling. Discussion and analysis focus on the motif of bilingual education. Teachers' talk identified discourse models of "academic truths" and "revitalization," demonstrating how Nunavut teachers are making efforts to engage with community to effect lasting educational change.

Key words: Aboriginal languages; Nunavut education, language policy, discourse analysis, educational change

Cet article presente une analyse de discours a partir de transcriptions d'entrevues aupres de dix enseignantes d'experience du Nunavut (cinq Inuits et cinq non-Inuits) au sujet du role des langues inuites dans les ecoles du Nunavut. Les discussions et analyses portent sur la raison d'etre de l'enseignement bilingue. Dans leurs propos, les enseignantes ont identifie des modeles discursifs des << verites pedagogiques >> et de la << revitalisation >>, demontrant par la comment le personnel enseignant au Nunavut s'efforcent de travailler de concert avec la communaute pour favoriser des changements a long terme dans l'education.

Mots cles: langues autochtones, education au Nunavut, politiques linguistiques, analyse de discours, changement en l'education.

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Languages of instruction, cultural identity, and bilingual education have been researched and documented within Canadian Inuit community contexts as part of a voluminous academic discourse (Annahatak, 1994; Crago, Annahatak, & Ningiuruvik, 1993; Cummins, 1990; Dorais & Sammons, 2002; Freeman, Stairs, Corbiere, & Lazore, 1995; McAlpine & Herodier, 1994; Tagalik, 1998; Taylor, 1990, 2002; Taylor, Crago, & McAlpine, 1993). Comprehensive research studies have questioned the content and process of bilingual education within Canada (Spada & Lightbown, 2002). Studies of language use within Nunavut territory (Dorais & Sammons, 2002) have discussed how the perceptions of the need for Inuit languages (1) to gain employment and participate in economic opportunities have influenced school achievement and language choice. However, few research studies have considered the role of Inuit languages in curricula, practice, and policies of Nunavut schools.

The past 10 years have been a time of constant change for Nunavut schooling. The Government of Nunavut has made explicit commitments to more culturally relevant curricula and bilingual education (Martin, 2000; Nunavut Department of Education, 2000). However, the development of resources, program planning, and availability of bilingual teachers required to reach these goals have significantly lagged behind these commitments (Berger, 2006). The history of the federal government policy and action with regard to education in northern Canadian territories is a complex mixture of good intentions, political contradictions, racist assumptions, and superficial community consultation (Aylward, 2006; Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, 1996; Van Meenen, 1994). Taking into account Canada's particular history of colonial dominance in its northern territories as well as Nunavut's educational policy and practices regarding Inuit languages provides the vital backdrop to consider some of the dominant discourses of Nunavut schooling and bilingual education. These discourses are identified and discussed in this article.

ABORIGINAL LANGUAGES AND SCHOOLING

For Indigenous and Aboriginal communities worldwide, the protection and promotion of native languages have become a core focus in response to an alarming rate of language loss and extinction (Crystal, 2002; Greymorning, 2000). In 1990, the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs of the Government of Canada reported that the Inuit language (Inuktitut), with 16,000 speakers in Canada at the time, had an excellent chance of survival. …