French services scrutinized

Nunavut francos hold confab to ponder rights

By JANE GEORGE

If you're a French-speaking resident of Nunavut faced with an urgent health emergency, what are your options?

Will you call a toll-free number to receive long-distance telephone assistance from the Government of Nunavut in your own language or head over to the local nursing station and try to make yourself understood?

At a two-day conference to be held next week at Iqaluit's Ecole des Trois Soleils school, Nunavut francophones will talk about the quality of French-language services provided by the territorial government.

Organized by the group that represents the territory's French-speakers, the Association des francophones de Nunavut, the March 27-28 conference will consider how to implement Nunavut's new Official Languages Act.

Last June, the legislative assembly passed the new bill which gives equal status to Inuktitut, French and English in Nunavut – but doesn't spell out exactly how this will be achieved.

And the Nunavut Official Languages Act isn't law yet. That's because the bill must first get a vote of concurrence from the House of Commons, which hasn't happened yet.

But conference organizers are still forging ahead with a process that will focus on the rights of French-speakers in Nunavut.

Daniel Cuerrier, the francophone association's executive director, said organizers hope to receive feedback at the conference from as varied a group as possible.

Members of the public, who will be able to listen and contribute to discussions through simultaneous translation in French, English and Inuktitut, are welcome to attend, Cuerrier said.

French-speaking people from Iqaluit, as well as officials from Iqaluit, Ottawa, the Northwest Territories and Yukon are expected to attend. About 600 people belong to Iqaluit's small francophone community.

Although an estimated 300 French-speakers live in Nunavut communities outside Iqaluit, Cuerrier said they will have no official presence at the Iqaluit conference.

He urged any French-speakers living outside the capital to contact the francophone association in Iqaluit.

While French-speakers in Iqaluit have their own school and an association to organize cultural activities, those living outside Iqaluit have little support.

The GN recently installed a new toll-free territory-wide telephone line where French-speakers can call to get help or services in French.

But Cuerrier suggested that a French-speaking Nunavut resident would be unlikely to call this number when dealing, for example, with an urgent health emergency.

"You'd go to the local nursing station and try to make yourself understood as well as possible," he said.

Five years ago, Nunavut's francophone association promoted a plan whereby the GN would delegate the association to deliver information in French to French-speaking Nunavummiut.

The association wanted to see at least one person within each department or an employee at the association who is able to answer questions in French.

The toll-free line for GN services, which now exists, was also part of the plan.

Based on the report, a committee, with members from the GN and the association, will then start to set priorities, leading to a proposal for a five-year plan for French-language service delivery.

Next week's conference will also include separate effort to find out what services French-speaking youth would like to see, capped off by a performance, at Inuksuk High School on March 27 at 7 pm.

Open to the public, with a minimal admission charge, the entertainment will include Igloolik's circus group, Artcirq, Geronimo Inutiq, who is better known as DJ Mad Eskimo.

DJ Mad Eskimo, master accordion player Simeonie Keenainak of Pangnirtung and Juan Sebastian Larobina, a South American musician who has performed at the Alianait music festival, will also perform at an evening concert March 28 at the ­Arctic Winter Games arena. Admission is $20.

For more information about the conference and entertainment, go to the web site of the Association des francophones du Nunavut at http://www.nunafranc.ca

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