NEWS: Nunavut October 12, 2011 - 1:06 pm

Action needed to save Inuit language in Nunavut: NTI

"Unless the language is seen as socially affirming... English will continue to overshadow Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun"


Getting Inuit youth and their families to embrace the use of Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun at home is essential for the survival and evolution of the Inuit language, said Nunavut Tunngavik Inc’s president Cathy Towtongie as she and vice-president Jack Anawak released NTI’s 2009-10 report on the state of the Inuit culture and society in Iqaluit Oct. 12.

“This report showcases the urgency of the effort required for the promotion and protection of the Inuit language in Nunavut…,” Towtongie said at the report’s Iqaluit launch. “Over and over again we have been told no, or flatly ignored.”

Towtongie urged leaders at all levels of government to take steps immediately to support the use of the Inuit language within the home and to encourage the revival and use of Innuinaqtun.

The report, entitled The Inuit language: Our primary concern, lists three goals for keeping the Inuit language strong: raising the status of the language among youth, promoting its use at home, and creating the conditions to graduate fully bilingual students from high school.

“Presenting the Inuit language in ways that appeal to young people is essential for use and transmission in informal settings,” the report’s executive summary said. “Unless the language is seen as socially affirming – colloquially speaking, cool – English will continue to overshadow Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun as the single language of status, power and opportunity.”

Home remains “the most important site for the preservation and intergenerational transmission of language,” the report said.

That means parents must become more involved by teaching and using the language at home.

But parents also need assurances that the language they choose will provide their children with educational and professional opportunities, the report said.

This is where the Government of Nunavut and Inuit organizations must step in to help encourage language use and to provide the resources to do it.

“We also looked at the question of long-term northerners,” Towtongie said. “They have had no commitment to Nunavut in terms of learning the language, and yet they are looking forward to their retirement.”

The report suggested that training in Inuktitut as a second language training be made accessible to non-Inuit as soon as they first move to the region, when their interest in learning the language is often highest.

As part of a territory-wide review of GN services in 2010, consultants found that:

“[D]espite a powerful mandate that captures Nunavummiut’s cultural vision, and recent measures that include the Official Languages Act and Inuit Language Protection Act, the public sees almost zero delivery by the GN. Across Nunavut, the fear of language and culture loss resonates with families, communities and schools. People are frustrated at not being able to interact with their government in Inuktitut.”

But Nunavummiut expect better than that, NTI vice-president Jack Anawak said.

“The whole premise that Nunavut took on was to create better conditions for the Inuit in terms of their language and culture,” he said Oct. 12.

“It’s unacceptable today for our elders not to be able to speak their language, when they have a message or a demand for the government, if the person answering at the other end of the phone does not have the capability to speak Inuktitut.”

“It’s not acceptable to have our unilingual Inuit resort to finding an interpreter for a simple demand or a discussion on some issues.”

In 2006, Statistics Canada found that the Inuit language was the first language of 83 per cent of Inuit or 70 per cent of the territory as a whole — although only 12 per cent of Inuit living in Cambridge Bay and Kugluktuk cited Inuinnaqtun as their first language.

Despite the Inuit language being the first language of a majority of people who live in Nunavut, its use in the home is steadily declining, the report found.

Between 2001-06, the proportion of Nunavummiut who reported using Inuktitut or Inuinnaqtun most often at home declined from 57 per cent to 54 per cent.

At the same time, while 26 per cent of Nunavummiut identified English as their only mother tongue in 2006, it was the language spoken most often at home by 44 per cent of the population.

The report says:

• regional Inuit associations should administer a language survey, which would address the idea of standardization and provide the GN with a clearer picture of the language services and resources Inuit need. Standardization within the Inuit language could bring benefits to its survival, but the territory’s leaders must first consult Nunavummiut;

• the region needs more Inuktitut taught in second language training programs, for all Nunavummiut, including non-Inuit who are new to Nunavut;

• the territory must invest in high quality early childhood education programs and childcare; and,

• the Inuit language needs the same guaranteed sources of funding as the French language in Nunavut.

“What does it say about Nunavut today when the federal government language promotions funds allocate $4,460 for every French language speaker and $53.71 for every Inuit language speaker?” Towtongie said at the Oct. 12 press conference.

But, the report says, if support for the Inuit language is properly funded as recommended, “it will be possible to stabilize the Inuit language in Nunavut and eventually see its resurgence in the coming years.”

The annual report is an annual obligation of Article 32.3.4 of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement. As required by Article 32, the report will be tabled in the Nunavut Legislative Assembly and the House of Commons during their next sessions.

See the full report here.

(With files from Jim Bell in Iqaluit)