A business opportunity for Inuit


When you give a person a job, you give them a great gift.

But when you give a person a chance to own a business, you give them much, much more.

That’s what the GNWT appears to have done in its recent decision to lay off 20 interpreter-translators as of July 18.

At the same time, the $1.7 million that used to be spent on interpretation and translation work at the NWT Language Bureau will be divided up among various government departments and aboriginal language groups.

Those departments will then decide how best to use that money. Some may decide their best choice is to use their share to hire back some of the laid-off interpreter-translators, while many others may decide to give the work to freelancers and private translation firms.

The GNWT hasn’t given us enough information upon which to judge how well they’ve effected these changes. But if they carry them out the right way, they will likely turn out to have been the right changes.

Profitiable business opportunities don’t come up very often in Nunavut’s small communities. That’s one of the reasons our economy is so weak.

This move, however, promises to create new business opportunities where none had existed before. What’s more, these are opportunities many Inuit can easily capitalize on.

For the territorial government’s part, it’s now more likely that the GNWT’s interpreting and translating work will be done more efficiently and reliably than in the past. People who work for themselves are more likely to meet deadlines and show up on time for assignments. And that means government managers will rarely have to worry about absenteeism.

As for what this means for public services in aboriginal languages, the move won’t likely have much effect on them one way or another.

That’s because the NWT Language Bureau never was a “public” service in the true meaning of that term. The GNWT’s interpreter-translators were hired to provide an internal service for other GNWT departments, and their services were not normally available to ordinary people.

Yes, the public has benefitted from their work indirectly, such as when a GNWT interpreter works at a public gathering, or when translator produces a document that provides valuable information to people. But that work, and the public benefits that arise from it, can be done just as easily, and in most cases, more efficiently, by freelancers and private contractors.

Having said all that, it’s also worth pointing out the nagging unanswered questions that the GNWT has strewn about in the wake of this move.

Many of them have to do with a proposed certification process for interpereter-translators that the GNWT intends to unveil this fall.

The first question is whether the GNWT ought to be involved in such a process in the first place.

Many of the best Inuktitut interpreter-translators in Canada don’t even live in the Northwest Territories, and because of modern telecommunications are able to do their work from Ottawa and Montreal.

Why should a body created by the Yellowknife-based GNWT have any jurisdiction over people in Nunavut and over people who don’t even live in the NWT? And what about Nunavik residents who may be capable of doing Inuktitut work for Nunavut or the NWT?

Clearly, this is a job that can only be done by an Inuit organization, or by the interpreter-translators themselves.

The second question is how much guidance will be given to individual department managers on what should be translated and what shouldn’t, and who will provide that guidance. However, that’s a question whose answer lies in the resolution of another and entirely separate issue ­ the GNWT’s failure to fully interpret the meaning of its Official Languages Act.

The third question is the effect that this change will have on the Footprints model for the design of Nunavut’s government, which the GNWT and everyone else involved with the creation of Nunavut is supposed to follow.

Despite those questions, the GNWT has made a modest step in the right direction. And those who would condemn the dismantling of the Language Bureau should consider its benefits.

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