Aboriginal leaders say governments, businesses and parents must all step up to improve the dismal state of education for Inuit children.
"We need to do much more to get the graduation rates up in terms of our kids who aren't getting through school," Mary Simon, head of Canada's national Inuit group, said Thursday at the release of a report on the future of Inuit education.
The report is the result of more than two years of work by federal, provincial, territorial and aboriginal representatives. It concludes that the key to improving a 25 per cent graduation rate for Inuit children is teaching them in their aboriginal language as well as in English or French. Education is considered by many as crucial to addressing many of the North's pressing social issues.
All the leaders who spoke at the strategy report's release said its objectives won't be achieved without federal resources.
"We need to implement an era of new investment," said Ms. Simon. "I call on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to fulfil the words of his speech from the throne to make Canada's North a cornerstone of its agenda and ... do something truly significant for the next generation of Inuit."
Okalik Eegeesiak of the Qikiqtani Inuit land-claim association agreed.
"The federal government plays an important role in funding training and economic development in Inuit jurisdiction and also needs to play an important role in resourcing Inuit education from early children to post secondary," she said.
"From the federal level it's going to mean sharing some of their funds," said Tim McNeill from Labrador's Nunatsiavut government. "There's no doubt it's going to take dollars to do this."
Ms. Simon said Inuit are looking at other sources of funding as well. She has already had talks with private businesses and not-for-profit foundations.
"They are very interested in supporting different aspects of the education strategy," she said. "We will be following up with the private sector very quickly and we also have not-for-profit foundations across Canada that have expressed interest in supporting the national strategy."
Nor are parents being let off the hook. Ms. Simon acknowledged that residential schools have left many Inuit suspicious about public schools and skeptical of their value.
Ending that suspicion will be one of the strategy's first goals, she said.
"One of the things that might engage parents and get them more interested in their children's education would be, if they don't write or read, that we have literacy and numeracy programs for parents, so that they can ... be part of the education system, working with the teachers and schools along with their children."
Federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan was prevented from attending the news conference by a change in the sitting time of the House of Commons. A spokeswoman said in an email that the department supports the report and acknowledges a federal place in the strategy.
"The role of the federal government will be more clearly defined in future discussions," she said. "The government of Canada recognizes that there is a need for capacity at the national level to oversee and co-ordinate the implementation of the strategy."
Ottawa could fund a national body where the two territories and two provinces with Inuit populations can work together, the email suggested.
Bilingual education, the subject of three of the report's 10 recommendations, has long been controversial in the North.
Some argue that since proficiency in English is key to success for young Inuit, classes should be given in English alone. Others argue that children do better if they have solid skills in their mother tongue - which remains Inuktitut in Nunavut and other parts of the North - before they cope with a second language.
Ms. Simon has pointed to a 2008 United Nations panel that found the greatest predictor of success in school for aboriginal children was how long they were taught in their first language. As well, a 2006 study by retired justice Thomas Berger found that Nunavut's current education system is producing graduates competent in neither English nor Inuktitut.
Mr. Berger recommended bilingual schools and said it would take about $20 million a year to implement them.