Inuit org uses 30-year-old document to allege Ottawa “blocked” language rights

NTI says Ottawa used Nunavut land claims deal to suppress Inuktitut

Paul Quassa, the president of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., on May 25, 1993, in Iqaluit with Prime Minister Brian Mulroney at the signing of the Nunavut land claims agreement. NTI’s predecessor organization, the Tungavik Federation of Nunavut, had negotiated the final agreement following an agreement-in-principle signed on April 30, 1990, in Igloolik. (File photo)

By Jim Bell

Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. is marking the end of the International Year of Indigenous Languages by releasing a 30-year-old federal cabinet document that they allege “blocked use of Inuktitut in government services in the territory.”

In the document, prepared on March 13, 1990, for the Progressive Conservative government of Brian Mulroney, a federal cabinet committee describes making a big decision on land claims talks between Ottawa and NTI’s predecessor, the Tungavik Federation of Nunavut.

Like all other federal cabinet documents, that decision document was kept secret for 20 years.

But it’s now in the public domain and NTI acquired it recently through an access to information request.

In it, the committee agreed Tom Siddon, then the minister of Indian affairs and northern development, be given the authority to sign a land claims agreement-in-principle with TFN and, within 18 months, negotiate a final land claims agreement.

On March 20, 1990, the powerful priorities and planning committee of cabinet, the so-called “inner cabinet,” chaired by Mulroney himself, ratified the decision.

But NTI alleges the cabinet decision document constitutes proof that “Prime Minister Mulroney and his cabinet knowingly and deliberately blocked use of Inuktitut in government services in the territory.”

Blocking linguistic protections?

That’s because of a paragraph in the cabinet document that says the final land claims agreement must not “provide general linguistic guarantees for use of Inuktitut in government and the legal and educational system in the claims area.”

That meant the land claims agreement contained no constitutional guarantee of Inuit language rights.

“By blocking linguistic protection in the land claim, the Government of Canada and its negotiating team blocked Inuit from constitutional legal recognition of Inuktut language rights,” NTI said in a news release.

NTI also alleges that suppressing Inuktitut was Canada’s objective: “Canada’s objective was successful: schooling, courts, corrections and policing all operate in English across Nunavut,” the release says.

The cabinet document coincides with the Supreme Court of Canada’s famous Mahé decision, which said Ottawa must fund French-language schools outside Quebec “where numbers warrant.”

NTI claims this coincidence “illustrates the premeditated nature of Canada’s intent to withhold Inuit language rights.”

In the same news release, Ian Martin, a professor at York University in Toronto, says the cabinet decision amounts to a “secret denial of rights to the Inuit of Nunavut.”

And Aluki Kotierk, the president of NTI, said she now fears for the ability of Nunavut Inuit to get government services in their language.

“I am concerned for the safety and wellness of Inuit today, in their daily struggle to access essential government services,” she said in the release.

Inuit leaders signed, promoted the agreement

A month later, Siddon signed the Nunavut AIP in Igloolik on April 30, 1990, amid much fanfare and celebration, in a ceremony that’s still considered one of the landmark events on the road to Nunavut.

The absence of any linguistic guarantees in either the Nunavut AIP or the final agreement did not become much of a public issue at that time—and Inuit leaders did not raise any public objections.

Three TFN executive members, including TFN president Paul Quassa, vice-president Bob Kadlun and secretary-treasurer Mark Evaluardjuk, also signed the AIP.

The document also bears the signatures of six TFN board members: Charlie Lyall, Louis Pilakapsi, Pudloo Mingeriak, Pauloosie Keyootak, James Eetoolook and David Tukturdjuk.

Northwest Territories cabinet ministers Dennis Patterson and Titus Allooloo signed it too, along with federal negotiator Tom Molloy and N.W.T. negotiator Ross McKinnon.

In the campaign to get the deal ratified, most of those leaders never mentioned the omission of constitutionally guaranteed language rights.

Instead, nearly all Nunavut leaders enthusiastically promoted the final land claims agreement, and urged Inuit beneficiaries to vote yes to it in a referendum held in the fall of 1992.

Legislated Inuktitut rights acknowledged in 1984

At the same time, the Northwest Territories had already declared the Inuit language an official language in 1984, through the first territorial Official Languages Act, which Nunavut inherited in 1999.

And through the final version of Article 4, the Mulroney government eventually put words into the land claims agreement that guaranteed the creation of a Nunavut public government in a parallel process outside the land claim.

Article 4 also guaranteed passage of the Nunavut Act, which gave the Nunavut territorial government the power to pass laws aimed at the preservation, use and promotion of the Inuit language.

But permission to create legislated, as opposed to constitutional language rights, isn’t enough for NTI.

“As 2019, the International Year of Indigenous Languages, comes to an end, I urge the federal government to do the right thing and uphold and support Inuktut language rights so that Inuktut may continue to thrive,” Kotierk said.

In 1997, the Nunavut Implementation Commission, the planning body for Nunavut that grew out of Article 4, and whose members were almost all Inuit, took a close look at language policy for the territory.

As a result, they said in their Footprints 2 report that public preferences regarding language in Nunavut were unclear.

They also said that official status and constitutional guarantees do not necessarily guarantee the health of a language.

“Rather, a satisfactory and secure place for the Inuit language in Nunavut depends on weaving together a thoughtful, do-able and affordable combination of government, private sector and personal decisions and initiatives that address the use of the Inuit language in a wide range of relevant societal circumstances,” the NIC said in its Footprints 2 report.

NIC members pointed to the need for a common writing system for the Inuit language and organized a big, Nunavut-wide language conference in Iqaluit in March 1998 to talk about that and other language issues.

The NIC released a lengthy report that focused primarily on a standardized writing system—but like the conference, that report now appears to be long forgotten.

RCD 03-20-90 TFN CC HR Inco... by NunatsiaqNews on Scribd

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(29) Comments:

  1. Posted by Many to blame on

    Aluki Kotierk should also get mad at Inuit who signed the agreement.

    • Posted by Israel MacArthur on

      Indeed, some would say that Qassa and his ilk have much to answer for. If I live long enough I’ll wait and let history decide.

  2. Posted by Conspiracy theories on

    NTI appear to be drifting away from the sage and conservative advice of their southern lawyer and instead listening to the half baked ideas of Iqaluit’s anti Bill whatever group.

    If NTI feels so strongly about this then go to court over it. Stop trying to cherry pick bits of information to people and twist them into facts. That’s called propaganda.

    • Posted by NTI, sad and cringeworthy on

      People forget that when the NLCA was negotiated, the Inuit had excellent advisors, dedicated, highly intelligent lawyers and consultants like John Merritt, Terry Fenge, Randy Ames, Mary Crnkovich and others. They had excellent knowledge of constitutional law, aboriginal rights, environmental management. It is because of them that TFN was so successful in getting a final agreement.

      The organization has really degenerated over the years and the team that Ms. Kotierk has put in place may be the weakest ever. Why does NTI get such poor advice?

      She seems to be getting most of her advice from white academics in southern Canada who have no knowledge or expertise in the issues they pontificate about. Why do the Inuit beneficiaries put up with this situation?

  3. Posted by However on

    To this day there is no agreement on official translations. When translations are provided there is often times disagreement between translators on the content and context. Get that right first, then discuss Nunavut wide application of the Inuktitut language. And this would not have been a one way negotiation of the d o cum e nt t

  4. Posted by Putuguk on

    There is not one indigenous language in Canada that is afforded constitutionally protected status, nor is there any one in which you can be guaranteed to receive federal services in. That is no accident. It is no conspiracy or action directed specifically at Inuit. It is a matter of long standing federal policy.

    They know what the cost of providing services in French as well as English is. It is staggering. There is no way they will open up the flood gates and recognize over 60 indigenous languages in Canada and move to provide public services in each and every one. And it would be a flood. As soon as Inuktun becomes recognized for sure all the other indigenous language holders will go to the courts for the same thing.

    It will be the same as for the Inuit employment lawsuit. They will sue the feds. After a few years of litigating in front of public opinion, eventually the feds will settle. Inuit will get a stupendous settlement. That money will sit in a bank account somewhere. It is not like hundreds more Inuit are now hired 5 years after the Article 23 lawsuit.

    All the while, some poor sap that wants a SIN application form or claim northern residents deductions in Inuktun will be no further ahead.

    • Posted by Israel MacArthur on

      Exactly, the flood gates would open in a second, and then when you add in that 82% of Nunavummiut claim to be English/Inuit language bilingual, in what world could anyone justify the cost to serve such a miniscule population, when most can already access federal service in an official language?

      It seems to me that Inuit and other indigenous languages will stay as regional languages, and English and French will remain as official languages.

    • Posted by Crabs in a bucket and Federal Indigenous language policy on

      If Indigenous or non-Indigenous people think that federal government services shouldn’t be provided in Inuktitut in Nunavut (where it is the majority mother tongue), because the federal government does not have the capacity to provide federal government services to 60+ Indigenous languages across Canada, that is called “crabs in a bucket” thinking and it should be rejected:

      “Crab mentality, also known as crabs in a bucket (also barrel, basket, or pot) mentality, is a way of thinking best described by the phrase “if I can’t have it, neither can you”. The metaphor is derived from a pattern of behavior noted in crabs when they are trapped in a bucket.”

      • Posted by Join the Joyride on

        Interesting try here, but I would strongly recommend paraphrasing over big swaths of cut and paste. Also, I’m not sure that what you are describing is actually relevant here… at all.

        • Posted by Lifeboat ethics and Inuktitut on

          The “we can’t provide federal services for all 60 Indigenous languages, therefore we won’t do it for Inuktitut” argument is used ALL THE TIME. If you don’t like “crabs in a bucket” analogy, let’s illustrate with lifeboat ethics. It is estimated that to survive, an Indigenous language needs $100,000,000/year (based on Maori funding estimates). There are 60 Indigenous languages in Canada, and the feds only have the capacity and funding to keep one or two alive (one or two lifeboats). If you try to put all Indigenous languages in the one or two lifeboats, all of them will drown because the money and effort will be spread too thin. And it will be your fault for not saving the one or two languages that could have been saved.

          • Posted by Join the Joyride on

            I’m not against the preservation of indigenous languages. My thought on using the crab in a bucket metaphor is that it assumes that it is other indigenous communities who are throwing up resistance to one another, or dragging each other down to be more specific, which doesn’t seem to be the case.
            Thanks for the clarification.

  5. Posted by Umm on

    Shouldn’t NTI be mad at their own negotiators who signed the agreements?

  6. Posted by Binky The Doormat on

    I expect a fair bit of outrage over this. An interesting and unfortunate moment in the history of the NLCA negotiations, certainly. In the end it amounts to absolutely nothing though. Pointing to this incident as a catalyst for the issues around language preservation we see today is completely disingenuous, though obviously a sellable package. Reality be damned it makes for a good distraction when you consider NTI’s incompetence around negotiations with Baffinland and the subsequent and impending job losses there. Add to that their failure to secure any influence over Bill 25, perhaps a consequence perhaps of scrapping the Nunavut Social Development Council 13 years ago? Geez, talk about shooting yourself in the foot twice.

  7. Posted by No standardized language on

    Did Mulroney have the foresight to know that NTI, ITK and IUT would sit on their butts for 30 years and do ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to standardize Inuktitut, giving it no chance in hell of becoming a legitimate language that could be used in the courts or in a curriculum?

    Sure Inuktitut can be applied to every level of government and society, but it’s all for convenience purposes, it has no legal authority because we couldn’t agree on definitions.

  8. Posted by Krampus on

    Canada’s position on the entrenchment of language rights in the NLCA was not part of any secret agenda. It was an official bargaining position during the land claim negotiations process.

    • Posted by Phil on

      Not to mention that English and French are protected by virtue of Section 133 of the Constitution.

      What’s the suggestion here by NTI? That the Government of Canada should have undermined the Constitutional amendment process by ‘bootstrapping’ Inuktitut to the status of an official language by providing for its use as an official language in a treaty, so Inuit can enforce that right through Section 35 of the Charter? Even if that could possibly work (and it seems strange that it would…) at best it’s a hack or workaround.

      Section 38 of the Constitution sets out what you have to do to amend the Constitution. Notably, the process is not “enter into a bilateral treaty”:

      38. (1) An amendment to the Constitution of Canada may be made by proclamation issued by the Governor General under the Great Seal of Canada where so authorized by
      (a) resolutions of the Senate and House of Commons; and
      (b) resolutions of the legislative assemblies of at least two-thirds of the provinces that have, in the aggregate, according to the then latest general census, at least fifty per cent of the population of all the provinces.

      Even if the Government of Canada wanted to extend the same status enjoyed by English and French to Inuktitut, it does not have the power to do so – that power is shared with the Provinces. NTI is at liberty to start a public campaign across Canada to build support in all the Provinces.

  9. Posted by Standardization + Constitutional Protection on

    This article creates a false choice between 1) granting constitutionally-protected language rights to Inuktitut-speakers in Nunavut, and 2) standardizing Inuktitut in Nunavut.

    In fact, both things should have happened, but neither did. Ajai

  10. Posted by One Billion Dollars on

    A deal is a deal. NTI received one billion dollars and does nothing with it to better Inuit or to further the their language. Time for NTI to actually do something besides whine and complain, are they even capable of taking any meaningful action? All I see is a two tier caste – the political class who get high wages to whine and the poor who get nothing from NTI.

    • Posted by One billion and 1 dollars on

      Exactly. And with that money they could have provided the groundwork to the government for Inuktitut language schools. But instead NTI and Friends still choose to push for the bilingual English+Inuktitut model school (on the government’s dime of course), the exact model Canadian French language speakers outside Quebec fought so hard against.

      But if you listen to NTI folks, they think the French school are the bad guys, bunch of Quebec separatists invading the north. Boooo go home. They’re a constant reminder of what Inuktitut speakers don’t have, so they should therefore be resented. And they think magic formula to fixing all this Bill 25 nonsense is to pair up with English language schools. Guess what? Even with a full Inuktitut curriculum, it’s not going to work. Kids will have a choice to speak to each other on the playground in English or Inukitut, and the dominant language always wins (English). That’s how French language speakers got their own schools. They proved in court that bilingual schools = assimilation. But sure NTI, keep cozying up to English language schools and see where that takes you. Or you can take that crapload of cash you’re hoarding and lay the groundwork for separate Inuktitut-only schools, which would actually save the language.

  11. Posted by General Mills on

    Just looks like Aluki and her gang of friends at NTI are desperately seeking to be relevant.
    Wasn’t her boyfriend Paul Okalik a land claims negotiator?
    That must be making for interesting dinner conversation.

    • Posted by Inuviniq on

      NTI has never been more relevant. Inuit speaking for themselves makes non Inuit really uncomfortable.

      • Posted by Zero results on

        NTI has always spoken its mind. People should take them seriously.

        But they’re all over the place at the moment and not being taken very seriously. This Mulroney document is a good example of that.

        And NTI only seems to be interested in language preservation these days, and while that’s important, it doesn’t do much to help regular Inuit trying to put food on the table or get shelter. That’s often been NTI’s problem, their executive members are too far removed from Inuit on the street. NTI ignored the Housing minister last month when he made a plea to NTI to assist with housing in Nunavut. Look at NTI’s website, all the news is about language. So I disagree, NTI is not very relevant at the moment.

  12. Posted by Backfired on

    This appears to be backfiring spectacularly for NTI. For them to take such a big stand on this speaks volumes about who’s running the show there (not someone with a basic understanding of the law/constitution/history of TFN negotiations). This is so reactionary and amateur. If a journalist found that classified document and wrote an article with the same premise, they would get lambasted. NTI’s not going to achieve anything except enrage their base who aren’t thinking about this issue critically. Just look at the Nunatsiaq Facebook page, a bunch of “HOW DARE THEY!” comments from people who only read the headline.

    • Posted by Social Justice Warrior on

      Certainly, it’s important for people to make performative public declarations in fealty to the downtrodden and oppressed. We must always know to whom your allegiances lie, for if not with “us” it must be to “them”.
      Look at me… I be pure and goot!

  13. Posted by Friends N. BACKFIRED on

    It is your choice who you will excuse. I refuse to excuse Gov. Of of the day, the Mulronies. They did the twisted moves. Don’t forget you also sold your ancestral and cultural claims.
    Then because you accepted a NOT an inuktitut homeland, you lost good government jobs to people who will move on when the can buy a house cash down or make a good down payment.

    • Posted by Low Info Joe on

      This incident with the Mulroney government was about 30 years ago and had no influence or effect on language law or policy in Nunavut… none, zero, zilch. This story is being aired to whip people with a low information threshold into a dander. Do you think it’s working?

      • Posted by Constitutionalize Inuktitut language rights now on

        Of course this incident 30 years ago of not according Inuktitut education constitutional status, has had a huge impact on the evolution of language law and policy in Nunavut.

        – If the right to Inuktitut education where numbers warrant had been included in the NLCA, it could not be removed through territorial legislation.

        – Also, the federal government would be legally obliged to offer additional supports and funding (as they do for French schools) if the territorial government did not have the political will and capacity to put in place and maintain Inuktitut schools.

        – Also, Inuktitut-speaking parents would be able to sue the territory if Inuktitut educational rights weren’t being respected (as French-speaking parents were able to do in Nova Scotia in the case of Doucet-Boudreau v. Nova Scotia (Minister of Education)).

        Upigijaakkak Aluki Kotierk amma NTI.

  14. Posted by Government response on

    Fyi – the feds released a response on this issue which is worth reporting on

    • Posted by Eddy on

      Government response, can you provide a link to the government response. I’m very curious.

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