'We have to be innovative in our thinking.'

New language chief says Inuktitut for youth priority


Nunavut's new languages commissioner is facing a tight deadline to ensure all schools in the territory are ready by this July to provide instruction in Inuktitut to their students in kindergarten to Grade 3.

That's one of the provisions of the Inuit Languages Protection Act passed by the Nunavut Legislature and proclaimed last September, Alexina Kublu said.

Under the act, "every parent has the right to have the Inuktitut language taught to their children," she explained, and the first step in bringing that into force is to make sure it's available for students in the first four years of the school system.

It should be doable, she added, since most schools "are there already."

It's easy in one sense to target education, she said, since it's an institution, where parameters can be set and enforced.

"It's another thing to say, ‘okay parents, now you have to make sure your kids are ready to enter a system that is operating in Inuktitut'."

Inuit Child First, Indigenous Services Canada

Her feeling is that "if you want a child to speak Inuktitut, that can be enhanced through the school system, but it has to be launched from the home."

Improving the home environment for Inuktitut, she said, is something that can only be done by encouragement and example. "This office has a huge role to play in that just by being visible," and by continuously holding up the ideal of maintaining the Inuit languages in Nunavut society.

With that in mind, Kublu wants to see if she can use her office to find ways to encourage Nunavut young people to use Inuktitut.

But "they have to be ways youth are comfortable with – like music and computers," she said. "We have to be innovative in our thinking."

Like the integrity commissioner, the languages commissioner's position is meant to be independent of the government, so she can carry out investigations when someone files a complaint about a breach of either the Inuit Languages Protection Act or the Official Languages Act.

Because of that role, said Kublu, "I have to be seen as absolutely independent and impartial, so I can investigate anybody and everybody in Nunavut, and so I can advocate for anybody and everybody."

Vous avez le droit à l'égalité de traitement, Nunavut Human Rights Tribunal

In a sense, she said, "it means I am there for everybody and I am there for nobody."

Kublu, who was sworn in as the third languages commissioner in the territory's history last week, told Nunatsiaq News she is looking forward to the challenge.

"This is a position I've been waiting for for a long time," she said, "but the timing has never been right."

Kublu said she had applied for the position the first time it came around, but didn't want to leave her students in mid term at Nunavut Arctic College, where she was teaching Inuktitut. And the job couldn't wait for her.

The second time it came open, she was just into her second year as a justice of the peace, "and since I've often been critical of the high turnover in positions in Nunavut," she didn't think it would be right to leave that position prematurely.

"But all the time my daughter was asking me: ‘When are you going to leave justice work and come back to languages'?"

It seems the third time's the charm, and Kublu is looking forward to the challenge. "I think any position can be as little or as big as you want to make it," she said.

"The Legislative Assembly has just increased this job," Kublu said. "There is new legislation and a new mandate, but it didn't come out of the blue. I'm just taking off from the work of prior languages commissioners."

One of those prior commissioners, of course, is Eva Ariaak, who had the first four-year term in the position, then came back to fill in at the end of the second commissioner's term. She left the job last fall to run for the legislative assembly, winning not only her seat in Iqaluit East, but also the role as Nunavut's premier.

Kublu "is the right person to carry out that role" as languages commissioner, Ariaak said last week when she paid a return visit to the Offices of the Languages Commissioner to bid her successor welcome. "I wish her all the luck."

Kublu has her work cut out for her. She noted that recent statistics suggest use of Inuktitut has declined by 10 per cent since the inception of Nunavut.

"There has been quite a bit of erosion at the home level," she said, "and I blame that largely on television. But in the workplace, I get the sense that Inuktitut is actually being used more."

So is Nunavut winning or losing when it comes to Inuit languages protection. For Kublu, the glass is half full.

"As long as we're trying to do something about it, we're not losing," she said.

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