I’ve quoted a lot of fluffy and entertaining bits from those early years. So it’s only fair to give equal time to some of the serious issues facing any Third World country—even when, or especially when, it’s physically and politically located inside a securely First World country. If nothing else, it will give some idea of what made Session 1.5 so exhausting. Water supplies is a good subject; I met that one in the course of my researches into duct tape. Education is another. But first . . .
Synchronize those Chronometers
Let’s go back to the first—and only—seating of the first session of the first assembly, on the slightly unfortunate date of 1 April 1999.* The session was largely taken up with (self-)congratulatory speeches by anyone who could be roped in to attend. But the Assembly did find time to pass its very first law, the Flag of Nunavut Act.
If you are interested, the complete text of the Blues for this date is right next door.
One of the obligatory speakers was Commissioner Maksagak, never identified by full name.
Our government will work to deliver services and programs to the people of Nunavut in a sensitive, responsive and responsible manner.
The Hansard does not record suppressed yawns, only audible utterances. Note how “our government” means Ottawa, while Nunavut drops back to the third person. The Commissioner knows which side her bread is buttered on.
Hmm. That doesn’t really work as a metaphor, does it? The Commissioner knows which side of the walrus flipper has the most fat.
from Qikiqtarjuaq to Kugluktuk, from Davis Strait to the Coronation Gulf, from the Belcher Islands in the south to Ellesmere Island at the top of the globe.
“Take measures” sounds about right. I believe Ottawa has only just un-taken those measures, reverting to a more viable three time zones. Going strictly by longitude, the territory spans five. And someone should have told the Commissioner that latitude—north to south—makes no difference. Maybe someone did tell her, but she kept the line because it sounded good.
Helen Mamayaok Maksagak was both the first woman and the first Inuk to serve as Commissioner of the Northwest Territories in their pre-1999 form, making her the obvious choice for Nunavut’s first Commissioner. She may actually have been speaking Inuktitut. Or at least Inuinnaqtun. But she sure manages to sound more qallunaaq than the qallunaat themselves, doesn’t she? I think it’s something about that “Commissioner” title.
A bit later in the proceedings, the Prime Minister, Jean “A proof is a proof” Chrétien, had much better success with
I would like to tell him that it took me thirty years to become Prime Minister and you became Premier in two weeks.
— illamattut/ pattatuqtut
— ᐃᓪᓚᒪᑦᑐᑦ/ ᐸᑦᑕᑐᖅᑐᑦ
— Laughter/ Applause
Education: 15 November 2001
Along with housing and water supplies, education is an ongoing problem. On 15 November 2001, Rebecca Williams of Quttiktuq—an area spanning the extreme northeast of Nunavut, the part closest to Greenland—grills the Education Minister. Not the Dishonorable Mr Arvaluk who held the position in 1999; by now he’s been replaced. In fact, Ms. Williams herself has only just stepped into a position left vacant by another misbehaving MLA. In spite of her name, she appears to be speaking Inuktitut; her words are flagged as “interpretation”.
How can we improve this with your leadership in your portfolio.
The improbable-looking word ᒍᓚᐃᑦ or gulait—the g sound doesn’t occur word-initially in Inuktitut—is a more-or-less phonetic conversion of the English “grade”. No, I don’t know why they didn’t use an existing word like ᒪᔪᕋᖅ (majuraq) or ᑐᒪᕋᖅ (tumaraq).
That’s what happens when the Education Minister makes errors of judgement involving soothing tapes. You need a full night’s sleep to deal with this kind of thing. Or, heck, just transfer your kids to American schools. If they’re fifteen, they are by definition in grade ten. Or the tenth grade, as they will soon learn to call it. They won’t have to learn anything else unless they particularly want to.
Education: 10 March 2011
But not everything. Even as we speak, yet another MLA has been charged with domestic violence. He should have listened to his Elders. The traditional and time-honored rule is: A man is free to beat, starve and torture his wife, children and dependent relatives—but only if he is a good hunter. Being an elected legislator doesn’t cut any ice.
Stop the presses! A much more recent Hansard—the Blues for 10 March 2011—suggests that the legislators have learned a thing or two since 2001.* Too many young Nunavummiut dropping out of high school? The solution: reposition vocational training as a parallel “track”, so you can give everyone a high-school diploma without the inconvenience of providing a high-school education to go with it. Call it Multiple Options, so it sounds as if you’re giving them more than they have now.
Ron Elliott—coincidentally also from Quttiktuq—proceeds with extreme caution. The English text is his own words; the Inuktitut side is the interpreter struggling heroically to keep up. After several minutes of complimentary boilerplate, we get to the but:
but again, at a grade 9 level when you’re a young teenager, making a decision for your life could be affected by choosing a stream instead of the academic and then the ability to go back might not be there.
I don’t know how old Mr Elliott is. Maybe he remembers when most European children had their lives mapped out before they hit their teens. Screw up in grade five and it’s all over.
My next question is: what type of counselling is received?
the staff in the school will be counselling the students,
He doesn’t actually know this—he’s only the Minister of Education, after all—but he had it from a reliable source. The word “staff” is gloriously vague, isn’t it? Maybe the janitor and the lunch lady can pick up some overtime pay extolling the advantages of their respective lines of work.
I think the more advance notice that these young people get to think about what they want to do and ensure that they’re aware of the implications of program choices that they decide to take and the effect that they would have in any opportunities that they choose to pursue in the future.
Uhmm . . . I think Mr Elliot may have been a little too subtle in voicing his concerns. The Education Minister seems to have entirely missed the point—or maybe it’s just that his train of thought got seriously derailed. Possibly he overlooked the part of the “Tips for Working with Interpreters” that stressed using simple, complete sentences and making sure the interpreter has caught up before you continue talking. But you have to give the Minister points for audacity. The solution to the problem of asking people to make a decision they’re too young to make . . . is to have them make it even sooner.
Let’s pause for a moment to consider what the reaction would have been if this “multiple options” scheme had been proposed by, let’s say, Ottawa in 1972.
Education: September 2009
Turns out the “multiple options” idea is at least partly a response to Qanukkanniq 2009,* a governmental “report card” from a few years earlier. In spite of the name, the text seems to be primarily a list of recommendations. I found it while—stop me if you’ve heard this one—looking for something else. ᐊᓯᐊᓂᒃ ᕿᓂᖅᑐᖓ (asianik qiniqtunga) ᓇᒡᕚᓚᐅᖅᑕᕋ (nagvaalauqtara).
The last time I looked, this page had vanished without a trace. Yesterday http://www.gov.nu.ca/reportcard/, today Page Not Found (ᐱᔭᐅᔪᒪᔪᖅ ᒪᑉᐱᒐᖅ). If I find it, I’ll post it.
Now, it doesn’t take a governmental report with accompanying “What we heard” file to tell us that some pretty crucial needs are going unmet. In many respects, living in Nunavut is like living in one of the desert countries a few thousand miles closer to the equator. The two are almost equally uninhabitable. The differences are largely trivial:
At the wrong time of year, the climate will kill an unprepared person in hours rather than days.
Unlike the desert countries, Nunavut is not situated within spitting distance of well-traveled, centuries-old shipping routes.
Also unlike those other countries, Nunavut is not liberally endowed with a natural resource that everyone in the w—
On second thought, let’s not go there.
So there’s room for a lot of specialized vocational training, starting with the obvious:
Medical professionals—doctors, nurses, dentists—to serve one of the most thinly populated areas on earth;
Therapists for damage control until the root causes of suicide and alcoholism can get sorted out;
Teachers who combine Northern know-how with Southern training.
And the less obvious but equally essential:
Chemists to find a way to convert snow and ice into a year-round supply of drinking water, followed by
Marketers to sell the surplus down south at wildly inflated prices.
Architects to build on—both literally and figuratively—available materials and known technologies to create soddies for the new millennium;
Engineers to develop a compact and easily transported scaffolding that will let people put up snow houses suited to current needs, assembled and disassembled in hours;
Botanists to design hydroponic greenhouses to meet the demand for a vegetable-based diet.
Et cetera. ᐊᓯᖏᓪᓗ.
And so, under the head of Education, the Qanukkaniq report advises (emphasis mine):
add a carefully sequenced and fully resourced program of career counseling, planning, and coursework to ensure that students focus their studies on achievable career goals
Got that, Nanook? You’re an Eskimo. You’re going to work in the mines and like it.
But don’t worry. I’m sure some kind Southerner will step in and fill the breach. Call it compensation. For parents and grandparents, the concept of going away to school carries such horrendous emotional baggage that the idea has become, in the most literal way, unthinkable. It’s local or nothing. With emphasis on “or nothing”.
Education: 16 November 2001
Meanwhile, back in 2001 . . .
On 16 November, the day after Rebecca Williams’s ministerial grilling, the Honorable Jack Anawak—the same one who spoke so eloquently about qablunaaruluk—has his turn with the subject of education. The “Honorable” designation comes from his position as Minister of Community Government and Transportation. But here he is speaking simply as representative of Rankin Inlet North. Again, if the text can be believed, he was speaking Inuktitut, so the words are not his but the interpreter’s. The English words, that is. The Inuktitut words are the translator’s best guess at what he really said.
Perhaps we are not too educated in the western style of operating our government,
Now let me get this straight. It is definitely before November 2005. So what we’ve got is [some Inuktitut word] rendered by the English interpreter as “western”, and subsequently re-translated as qallunaatitut. Seems like it should be “southern”, doesn’t it?
Incidentally, this is just the kind of linguistic detail that drives me bonkers. On the one hand: qallunaa_titut. On the other: inuktitut. How come you get to keep your k but I lose my q? Maybe it’s got something to do with that long vowel. Maybe it’s something else entirely. Maybe someone will show up on my doorstep and explain it. It’s either that, or continue struggling through Bourquin.
I wouldn’t be able to get other employment because I only have grade eight.
Trust me,* Mr Anawak. You are not the only elected official—anywhere—who would have trouble getting a job outside of government. Most of them don’t even have your rock-solid excuse.
That sound in the distance is the Honorable Mr Anawak laughing bitterly. He may have only an eighth-grade education, but I’ll bet he knows exactly what happens when a non-native person says “trust me” to a native person.
My grade level is only grade eight,
iqqanaijaaqtaarasuaruma silatanni gavamaup,
ᐃᖅᑲᓇᐃᔮᖅᑖᕋᓱᐊᕈᒪ ᓯᓚᑕᓐᓂ ᒐᕙᒪᐅᑉ,
if I tried to get employment outside of the government,
Sure you do. Well, except that you’re now hunting with a rifle manufactured in the south requiring bullets manufactured in the south, traveling in a snowmobile manufactured in the south fueled by gasoline piped up from the south, and all of this has to be paid for with money originating in the south. Details, details.