Inuit org slams recently passed federal Indigenous languages bill
Liberal government rejects most of the Senate’s amendments
The Liberal government’s Indigenous Languages Act, Bill C-91, which received royal assent on June 21 after completing its journey through the Senate on June 20, is merely a “symbolic gesture” that does not meet the demands of Inuit, says Nunavut Tunngavik Inc.
NTI and Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami have spoken out strongly against Bill C-91 since last February, when Canadian Heritage Minster Pablo Rodriguez had it tabled in the House of Commons.
For example, last February, ITK said in a statement that “the absence of any Inuit-specific content suggests that Bill C-91 is yet another legislative initiative developed behind closed doors by a colonial system and then imposed on Inuit.”
That’s because the bill does not provide federal recognition of Inuktut as an official language within the four regions of Inuit Nunangat and requires that Inuit use English or French to gain access to federal services throughout Inuit Nunangat, even where Inuktut speakers make up the majority of the population.
Another big shortfall is that the law does not compel federal departments and agencies serving Inuit Nunangat to provide services in the Inuit language.
They also allege the federal government discriminates against Inuit through “inequitable” funding policies that favour French or English.
And NTI and ITK also complain that federal language funding policies will continue to “discriminate” against Inuit who live within provinces and requires that Inuit must use English or French to gain access to language services.
“This legislation, which is intended to help reverse the steady slide of Indigenous languages into disappearance, does not address issues of access to public services in Indigenous languages and does not reflect the needs which have been clearly communicated by Inuit,” NTI President Aluki Kotierk said in the June 24 news release.
Another complaint, made by Nunavut languages commissioner Helen Klengenberg, is that in Nunavut, the federal government takes the position that Nunavut’s territorial language legislation does not apply to federal government departments.
After Bill C-91 received third reading in the House of Commons and moved into the Senate, senators passed amendments aimed at responding to Inuit concerns.
And they also tried to add an amendment that clarified the principles under which Indigenous language funding would be allocated under the new law.
Nunavut Senator Dennis Patterson had backed those amendments, but the federal government rejected most of them.
“This bill fails to assure Inuit leaders that it will meet the objective of maintaining and strengthening Inuktut,” Patterson said on June 19 in the Senate.
On the other hand, First Nations and Métis leaders have welcomed the Indigenous Languages Act.
“Today we celebrate the work of our language champions who worked with Canada to create this legislation that will help ensure our children grow strong in their language and stronger in life, confident and proud in their identities and connected to their nations,” Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde said in a statement.
Another group that is highly supportive of the act is the Métis National Council.
“Bill C-91 marks an important step forward for the Métis Nation in consolidating its continued existence as a distinct Indigenous nation and culture in Western Canada,” said MNC President Clément Chartier.