GN prepares to fight for federal Inuktitut funding

“If we’re going to meet our legal obligations, we’re going to need more money from the feds”



Its been five years since the creation of the territory that was supposed to bring government closer to the Inuit of the Eastern Arctic, but many people still do not have access to government services in their mother tongue.

The Government of Nunavut is preparing a battle plan for new negotiations with the federal government to get funding for public services in Inuktitut.

For the past five years, the Department of Canadian Heritage has provided $1.45 million annually for French language services, and just $1.1 million a year for Inuktitut.

The $1.45 million is used to provide access to government services in French, as required by law.

But Inuktitut speakers might be better off learning English or French if they want to deal with the federal or territorial government, because the current agreement says that all of the $1.1 million for Inuktitut must be distributed to community-based language projects.

That leaves the Government of Nunavut with no federal resources to provide services in Inuktitut.

“We think community-based initiatives are really great, and it helps to enhance the language in the communities,” said Stéphane Cloutier, acting co-director of official languages for CLEY.

“It helps people to do their own activities, but it doesn’t help the GN — we cannot access that money and deliver public services.”

The Canada-Nunavut Cooperation Agreement for French and Inuit Languages in Nunavut expired in 2004. Nunavut is now receiving funding through a one-year interim agreement.

CLEY is using the interval to prepare an evaluation of the current deal to use as ammunition in new negotiations.

The evaluation, conducted by Aarluk Consulting in Iqaluit, got underway last fall with a review of Inuktitut language legislation.

Aarluk also interviewed several Nunavummiut, and territorial and federal officials. They held a workshop with Inuktitut language experts and artists in Iqaluit last November to review the findings.

Negotiations with Canadian Heritage will begin when a full report on the evaluation is completed in mid-February.

Cloutier expects to face an uphill battle.

Right now, Canadian Heritage offers Inuit language funding through its Aboriginal Affairs program.

CLEY would like to see Inuktitut recognized as an official language at the federal level, with funding to help promote Inuktitut as a living, working language in Nunavut.

“This issue cannot be resolved at the bureaucracy level,” he said. “This has to come from a political level, where someone will take a stand and say, ‘Inuktitut is an official language in Canada, and as such, we should have special funding for that.’”

In its 2004-2007 action plan on Inuktitut, CLEY calculated that the annual cost of providing Inuktitut services is close to $5 million.

According to the document, the GN spends $1,677,000 annually to translate government legislation and documents; $1,462,000 to produce educational materials and school curricula in Inuktitut; $200,000 to teach government workers Inuktitut as a second language; and $149,000 to develop new Inuktitut terminology.

That $3.5 million total does not include other costs, such as: interpreting equipment in the Legislative Assembly; translating debates in the Legislative Assembly; interpreting services in the justice system; salaries for teachers who teach in Inuktitut; consultants who do job interviews in Inuktitut; medical interpreters’ salaries; or other staff hired to deliver public services in Inuktitut.

“The fact is… Nunavut is the only place in Canada where the majority doesn’t have English or French as their mother tongue — it’s Inuktitut,” Cloutier said.

“There’s lots of education to do with the feds and especially with the language policy folks to make them understand that when Canada created Nunavut, they also created a place where they have to meet the needs of people who speak Inuktitut.”

Eighty-five per cent of people in Nunavut speak Inuktitut or Inuinnaqtun as a first language, according to the 2001 Aboriginal Household Survey.

That provides an excellent foundation for the GN’s goal of having a fully bilingual society, and a government where the working language is Inuktitut, by the year 2020.

But the survey also found that 42 per cent of Inuit had difficulty receiving services in Inuktitut from the federal government, and 29 per cent had trouble getting Inuktitut services from the GN.

According to Cloutier, a new language agreement must also include more funding for French as demand increases.

“We have a legal obligation to offer all of these services in three languages,” Cloutier said. “If we’re going to meet our legal obligations, we’re going to need more money from the feds.”

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