Aboriginal Inuit Languages Protected in Nunavut, Canada

September 24, 2008

Nunavut, Canada FlagTwo traditional First Nation languages have received official protection in the far northern province of Nunavut, Canada. The Inuit Language Protection Act, passed by the provincial legislature in Iqaluit last week, provides the most powerful protection for any of Canada’s aboriginal languages and puts Inuit languages — including Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun — on par with English and French as the province’s official languages.

The legislation, a victory for First Nation groups, states that the 30,000 residents of Nunavut (called Nunavummiut) have a right to use their mother tongue. Both public and private sectors must provide services in an Inuit language. As a result, all signs in Nunavut will include Inuit language. The new law takes effect on July 1, 2009, with an accompanying expansion in use over the next decade. As of next July, Inuit language instruction will be required for students in kindergarten through Grade 3. Customers in stores, restaurants and other businesses will have access to Inuit language, as will people working with the government. Within four years, municipal services will be available in Inuit language; it will become the language of public service work in September 2011. Inuit language instruction will be offered in all other grades by 2019. A language commissioner will be appointed to enforce the new legislation.

Louis Tapardjuk, Nunavut Culture MinisterNunavut’s Culture Minister, Louis Tapardjuk, said that “the Inuit language is at the heart of our culture and identity. . .We have taken strong action to ensure that the Inuit language is and will remain at the centre of work, education and daily life in Nunavut.” The legislation is intended to ensure that the Inuit languages don’t eventually die out. Statistics Canada figures indicates that 94 percent of Nunavummiut spoke an Inuit language in 1996, with that number declining to 91 percent in 2006. A census report indicated that in 2006, 64 percent of Inuit people in Nunavut spoke Inuktitut at home, down 10 percent from 1996.

Iqaluit, the Capital of Nunavut

Nunavut Arctic College instructor Rhoda Ungalaq, who teaches Inuit languages to government workers, told CTV news: “We’re going to try to keep the language alive. It’s getting lost.” Ungalaq says that in larger communities such as Cambridge Bay, Iqaluit and Rankin Inlet, Inuit languages are slowly being dropped in favor of English. “If you go to playgrounds and schools in smaller communities, you’ll hear children playing in Inuktitut, but if you go to playgrounds in Iqaluit, you will hear only English and one word of Inuktitut here and there,” she added.

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