Inuktut speakers left out of federal elections, say Nunavut MP and language commissioner

Some elders can’t read candidate and party names on ballots

French and English translations can be seen on signage at a polling station set up in Cambridge Bay during the 2019 federal election. (Photo by Jane George)

By Mélanie Ritchot

Nunavut MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq is looking to get Indigenous languages included on voters’ ballots in the next election — something the territory’s languages commissioner says Elections Canada should do if it is committed to reconciliation.

“If Elections Canada wants to show their respect for Nunavummiut’s right to vote, [they] would show their recognition of Nunavut’s official languages by having Inuit languages on the ballots,” said commissioner Karliin Aariak.

“There are unilingual Inuit language speakers, let’s recognize that,” she said, adding the majority of Nunavut’s population speak Inuit languages and write in syllabics.

Aariak noted Section 13 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, or UNDRIP, says countries need to make sure Indigenous peoples can understand political processes.

The federal government committed to implementing UNDRIP in 2020. On Tuesday, legislation to do that, Bill C-15, was adopted in the House of Commons and will next be seen by the Senate.

Nunavut’s Official Languages Act lists the territory’s Inuit languages — including Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun — as official languages, alongside English and French. It also says they should have equal footing and rights as the other two.

Elections Canada allows people who don’t speak English or French to bring a helper to interpret for them while voting and there are often Inuktitut-speaking staff at local polling stations, but Aariak said in small communities, it could be a discouragement for people to vote if they can’t keep who they’re voting for private.

Aariak said her office has received language rights-related complaints about Elections Canada in the past.

Natasha Gauthier, an Elections Canada spokesperson, said the agency is not aware of any complaints made to the commissioner about services to Inuit in the 2019 election.

The Inuit Languages Protection Act says organizations must display their signs, posters and ads in Inuit languages. Reception and client services must also be offered in Inuit languages.

In the 2019 election, Elections Canada translated its voting guide, a list of acceptable forms of identification and voter information cards into Inuktitut, Gauthier said.

The agency’s information campaign included TV and radio broadcasts and print ads in Inuktitut.

The four different TV ads had an Inuktitut voiceover with English visuals. Writing in the ads like “it’s our vote,” “federal election” and the date of the federal election were in English.

Gauthier said a real-time translation service is available for employees at polling stations through CanTalk, to interpret between the employee and the voter, but voters cannot contact a CanTalk translator directly.

In terms of ballots, as a federal agency, Elections Canada needs to go by Canada’s Official Languages Act, which says all Canadians have the right to vote in English or French.

For Inuit languages to be included on federal ballots, there would need to be a change in legislation. This is what Mumilaaq Qaqqaq is pursuing — not just for Inuit languages but Indigenous languages across Canada.

On Tuesday, Qaqqaq met with the Grand Council of the Cree, the Association of First Nations and the Metis National Council to get feedback on the idea and those meetings will be ongoing, Mathieu Boisvert, Qaqqaq’s personal assistant, said in an email.

Qaqqaq said, “if we are going to be included in the democratic process we need to have as many people involved as we can.

“It just seems like common sense.”

She said about 60 per cent of those in her riding speak Inuktitut and she hopes including the language on ballots will help increase voter turnout in the territory.

In the 2019 election, voter turnout in Nunavut was 48 per cent, according to Elections Canada. This was the lowest compared to all other provinces and territories in Canada.

On average 67 per cent of those eligible to vote across the country filled out ballots in 2019, according to Elections Canada.

Qaqqaq said comments about syllabics not being included on the ballots came up often in the last election.

She said some elders told her they weren’t sure they understood the names of the candidates on their ballots when they went to vote.

One of the reasons for this, she said, is they are seeing candidates’ names in Inuktitut on Igalaaq — CBC News’ Inuktitut daily news program — then, at the polls the names are written in English.

She is still ironing out the details, but Qaqqaq said the initiative could take the form of a pilot project in communities with high numbers of Indigenous language speakers. She is also considering tabling a private member’s bill in the House of Commons.

“The excuse is always time and money,” said Qaqqaq. “That shouldn’t ever be an excuse when it comes to reconciliation.”

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(41) Comments:

  1. Posted by Just put a logo or color on

    Easiest thing would be to put a logo of the party or party-colors on the ballots. There are hundreds of languages spoken in Canada and soon people will be asking for each and every non-official language (federal) to be included.

    Everyone knows that blue = conservative, red = lib, orange = ndp and green = well, you know.

    Another example of QQ maqqing a mountain of a molehill.

    • Posted by Disabled on

      This would be unfair and possibly discriminatory for people with colourblindness or colour perception issues.

    • Posted by Unilingual on

      It would take a couple minutes to translate a ballot. How hard can it be.

  2. Posted by What A Choice on

    I am shocked that there are still people in this day and age who choose not to speak one of Canada’s languages. Way to disassociate yourself from the body politic and the economy.

    What next? Every other marginal language? If we’re going to spend this money, then we have to do it for all languages. We would get the biggest bang for the buck if we started with Cantonese, Mandarin, and Punjabi.

    If Nunavut wants to spend money doing this sort of translation, more power to them, but don’t put a single penny of Canadian taxpayer money into supporting non-official languages.

    The money would be better spent on remedial education programs for non-English/French speakers so that they can better take part in Canadian democracy and the Canadian economy. Qaqqaq needs to go for supporting such a divisive waste of taxpayer funds.

    • Posted by Northern Inuit on


      The Official Languages Act recognizes the official status of the English, French and Inuit languages. Under Nunavut’s Official Languages Act, the head offices of the territorial institutions must provide services in the three official languages

      • Posted by Psss Right Back At You on

        Psssst, the Nunavut Official languages act doesn’t apply to the feds, they follow if they choose to, not because they must. This is how it should be.

        As far as Canada is concerned, there are two official languages. Federal elections are not something that territories have a say in. Nunavut has no tools to make Elections Canada so anything.

        PS. There are four languages, not three.

        • Posted by Right back you on

          The Inuit Languages Protection Act applies to organization operating in Nunavut, including federal institutions such as Elections Canada.

          It just takes a complaints to the Nunavut Languages Commissioner for the office to investigate non compliance and seek remediation.

      • Posted by Federal Not Territorial on

        Elections Canada is not a territorial institution.

    • Posted by Kevin on

      Your choice words of “remedial education” suggest that you believe Inuit and the language to be beneath you and Canada. Reconciliation is truly needed to show we belong beside you as equals. This idea of assimilation is a concept we will not accept. The feds take 100’s of millions in royalties from Nunavut mining every year, so your measly few tax dollars will be safe. All they are asking for here is a fare share, and the ability for Inuit to be able to make informed voting choices.

      The idea of people who know little English to learn a whole new language to function in democracy is barbaric.

      Meaningful and realistic change is needed. This can be easier accomplished by including a language that has been here far longer then Canada as a whole, and is the correct step. Far easier then your suggested territory wide “education program”

      It seems you are the one in need of remedial education. It is your assimilative tone, and Canada’s long history of assimilation, is what has caused divisiveness. Stop trying to change us, and just work with us. What so hard to understand about that!?

      • Posted by We Disagree on

        I don’t want to work with you and I am confident that I wouldn’t even want to talk with you. I don’t like what you stand for, and see you as a threat to the unity of our country and people that needs to be opposed at every turn. I am fundamentally opposed to your vision of our country. In my mind, you are in the same category as a Quebec separatist; just one whose vision is anathema to all that I believe in.

        I don’t hate you, but I fundamentally disagree with your vision, and will fight all attempts to move it in the direction that you espouse.

        • Posted by Kevin on

          I hope then that you are not in the Territory and never benefit from working here.

          What threat though? The threat of inclusion? You and others fragility alike is astounding and puzzling. Your response spells out fear and nothing else. Afraid to lose what you have eh, your privilege…

          The country wouldn’t be so fractured if people were just actually open to the idea that everyone is human with different but similar needs, but that all are equal and important.

          For this particular issue, all that it seems they are asking is that Inuktut/Inuinnaqtun be added to official ballots. This could just be Nunavut specific, but it must be done by the federal government, so that they hold the integrity of the election process. They have to print the ballots anyway so why not just include a couple extra languages that are territory specific?

      • Posted by Hi Kevin on

        You say that change is needed. I see no need for change. If anything, there has been too much change… for the worse. The country is too fractured, divided into too many competing ethnic identities with no cohesive whole. In short, we need less mosaic and more melting pot. A certain level of assimilation is a definite national good and can only make us stronger.

        So, whose opinion is correct? That is the nub of this problem.

        • Posted by Kevin on

          If you feel some level of assimilation is a national good, It needs to be positive assimilation on your part. That’s the change I see needs to happen. You seem to expect us to do all the work to assimilate and to change to fit your idea.

          The fact is to assimilate is to change. You seem to be unable to recognize and fully understand this. Our information, ideas, and needs matter too…

      • Posted by Ummm, no…. on

        “The feds take 100’s of millions in royalties from Nunavut mining every year, so your measly few tax dollars will be safe.”

        No they don’t. Hope Bay, Meliadine, Mary River, Meadowbank, and Whale Tail are all on Inuit-owned land and the basic royalties go to NTI. And since that’s all the operating mines in Nunavut, where are the Feds collecting these “hundreds of millions of dollars” from?

  3. Posted by Northern Inuit on

    honestly, if nobody shows up for Regional Inuit Organization, (Kivalliq Inuit Association 20%) , Nunavut Tunngavik Inc (17.5% NTI Election) or Municipal Elections (33% to 60%)

    what makes you think that putting more languages will change this turnout?

    this is what needs to be addressed.

    • Posted by Red Herring on

      To those interested in learning logic fallacies, this is called a ‘Red Herring’.

      “This fallacy consists in diverting attention from the real issue by focusing instead on an issue having only a surface relevance to the first.” (Department of Philosophy: Texas State University)

  4. Posted by No Moniker on

    Dear fellow keyboard warriors and posters who are put off by the politics of Mumilaaq Qaqqaq. Let’s not reflexively disparage or reject these suggestions simply as a proxy to rejecting our MP. There is sense in this idea and let us consider and discuss it without feeding the caricature of ourselves as reflexive critics, motivated purely by our distastes (many times justified, I agree) and not what is reasonable.

    Personally, I think this is a good idea and we should support it.

    • Posted by Not For the Canadian Taxpayer on

      Support it 100%, just have the GN or NTI pay for it, not the Canadian taxpayer.

      It is not possible to support all non-official languages, the two is enough, thank you very much.

      If special interest groups, such as NTI or KIA or whoever want to pay the cost, let them, but it is not something that the Canadian people should have anything to do with.

      Keep special interests with the special interests.

      • Posted by Inuit tax on

        FYI! Inuit are tax payers… therefore the money will be coming out of Inuit taxes!

      • Posted by nunavut money? on

        So where do you think Nunavut gets its money? Let me answer that for you. The federal government. Where does the federal government get its money? Tax payers? Your current argument is pointless if your tax dollars cant support it, you do not support this issue 100% like you claim…

      • Posted by Wanky Panky on

        This is just mean spirited and stupid. And probably more than little motivated by racism.
        Let it go. It’s just printing an extra language on a ballot. It’s hardly too expensive for a rich multi-cultural country like Canada.

  5. Posted by what about us on

    what about innuiaqtun speakers. why is she ignoring us?

    • Posted by What speakers? on

      Because in her eyes, anything west of Gjoa Haven doesn’t exist

      • Posted by Uvanga on

        Because Inuinaqtun is written in the alphabet and the eastern unilinguals read syllabics. Big difference.

        • Posted by Read the article plz on

          No one is ignoring Innuiaqtun, if you read the article you will see that it is mentioned.

  6. Posted by The oncoming storm on

    Let’s be fair most of us up here don’t bother voting because we don’t see change and know that our concerns will only fall on deaf ears. Most of us have lost hope in the system and our leaders.

    Easiest thing to do would be to post pictures on the wall of the Candidates with their names written in Latin orthography below them, for those that either: (a) cant read or (b) cant read English.

    Seems like she’s making a big fuss over nothing. Complaining to all the wrong people instead of finding for simple solutions.

  7. Posted by Very Interesting on

    While I support the fact that all Canadians should be able to vote in their official language an X is an X is an X. I would suggest color coding the ballot as one of the first poster stated.
    In regards to voter turn out in 2019. There was no one on the ballot, I kind of feel that many people who supported the NDP was just looking for change. Boy did we ever get change.
    I would suggest setting up trust funds out of the money that this would cost and offer it to beneficiaries who can afford to own and maintain their own home.
    The MP’s biggest cry was a call for housing but offered no solution to make changes. You will never solve the lack of housing when what people want is free housing and expect someone else to cover the maintenance cost. Spend your remaining time focused on financial literacy. Once Covid is done and the funding ends you will have more social issues than you are prepared for. The free days have to end especially with an MP who is against development. Simple solution for Baffinland was for the RIA to take a lesser royalty and Baffinland build an indoor crusher which would expel no dust.
    Nunavut deserves better.

  8. Posted by No Moniker on

    For those concerned that there is a national unity issue underlying this, I would agree, but would ask you to consider that by re-thinking the place of indigenous languages and opening the bounds within which they are legitimately used, we are strengthening our unity not threatening it. By closing the space off to the languages of the first colonial powers only we are not encouraging the chemistry of the ‘melting pot’ (indeed, code for assimilation) instead we are encouraging the hegemony of English and French for no other reason than to maintain a status quo around which we have grown comfortable.

    Replace the idea of assimilation with integration. Assimilation demands others conform to the dominant culture; integration suggests we incorporate others into the wider body politic as equals. In this case there is no question that Indigenous languages deserve to be integrated into the wider body politic. This does not mean every indigenous language must appear on every single ballot across the country, but in those regions where they are used. This is reconciliation, and it is morally right.

    Why? Because indigenous people and indigenous languages are and should be understood as founding people and founding languages in this country. There is no slippery slope here that suggests and endless addition of languages such as Punjabi or Chinese, these are in a different category altogether and so they should remain.

    To those arguing that this is an issue about money, this is not a compelling line of reasoning. Tax dollars are routinely dispersed asymmetrically across regions, communities, cities and even provinces. The country would cease to function well if this was not the case. Also, the amount in question here is likely to be miniscule when weighed against the moral imperatives that accompany them.

  9. Posted by David on

    Just to point out, this issue has existed as long as there have been elections. There have always been voters who cannot read or cannot read the language and they have made do. They figure it out. In fact you never hear about the problem, because it is a simple problem to fix for people with any initiative at all.

    • Posted by Uvanga on

      Where are these people coming from who can’t read english or french? Don’t you have to learn either language to live in canada? As for Inuit we didn’t come from another county, we were here before elections Canada and we are a jurisdiction who has made Inuktut an official and a protected language. Reconciliation please and integrate into our Inuit Territory

  10. Posted by Manapik on

    More concerning is voter turn out, pretty low turnout in most recent elections.

  11. Posted by Parliamentary Expert on

    “She is also considering tabling a private member’s bill in the House of Commons.”

    Wow. So disingenuous. She must have skipped MP 101; perhaps she was Twittering or TicToking instead of learning how to do her job.

    Three clicks of a mouse and I was able to find out she is #249 on the Order of Precedence.

    What does that mean? There are 249 Members of Parliament ahead of her to debate a Private Members Bill. So even if she had legislation drafted, introduced at First Reading, it would never get to Second Reading debate.

    At least she is consistent about one thing: misleading her constituents.

    • Posted by Politics on

      Silly. Debate is only one of the rarest purposes of a Private Members Bill.

  12. Posted by Senatorial Support on

    Funny, Nunavummiut, including representatives of the Francophone community of Nunavut feels differently from many of you weighing in here.

    Mumilaq is making an excellent point. Her Member’s Bill could provide a basis for many excellent developments in future which are of benefit to all Nunavummiut and all Inuit.

    Maybe read and discuss with those affected, before speaking of matters of fairness and reconciliation that will not do you grave, genocidal and intergenerational harm.

    Just a suggestion 🙂

    Language Rights in Canada’s North – Nunavut’s New Official Languages Act : Final Report, 2008

    • Posted by iWonder on

      I am with you in supporting this motion entirely, but I wonder if raising the specter of genocide on this issue is an accurate representation of things, or perhaps, as I suspect, you’ve succumb to the temptations of hyperbole in order to make a *zinger*?

      Am I wrong on this? Or, missing something?

      • Posted by Study your subject on

        Honourable Louis Tapardjuk, Minister of Culture, Language, Elders
        and Youth; Minister of Finance; Chairman, Financial Management Board (Amittuq),

        QUOTE (Translation from Inuktitut)

        … There is an absence in Canadian society of understanding, respect, basic rights and the means that are necessary to achieve substantive equality between speakers of the Inuit language and those that speak the other official languages.

        Our unilingual elders are being disadvantaged in their homeland.

        With the dominance of English in many aspects of our society, youth are concerned about losing their ability to speak the Inuit language and even more so when they become young parents struggling to pass this important part of their ancestral heritage to their children.

        Our language is endangered.

        We cannot take this lightly for language is at the heart of Inuit culture. It reflects the generations who came before and their relationship to our Arctic world.
        It speaks of who we are, how we view our surroundings, and how we wish our children to know their world. To lose one’s language is to lose an essential part of one’s identity. In fact, the survival of our language is crucial to the survival of Inuit as a distinctive people and to our dream for what Nunavut is and will become.


        • Posted by iWonder on

          Thanks for sharing… is that genocide to you?

  13. Posted by Minority Language Support on

    Association des francophones du Nunavut : M. Daniel Cuerrier, Director
    General :

    Je ne pense pas que je suis amer. Si cela a passé, ce n’était
    pas le bon sentiment que je voulais laisser passer. C’était un cliché sur
    l’état de la situation que je tentais de faire. Ce n’est pas de l’amertume.
    Par contre, c’est presque une grande joie de voir qu’on peut faire les choses
    autrement. En quelque part, j’ai découvert cela parce que je vis au
    Nunavut. On sort du concept, on tient le fort et on ne veut pas qu’il rentre.
    On arrive plus dans un concept où on cherche la concertation, le consensus
    et faire en sorte que tout le monde sorte gagnant. Dans le domaine de
    l’entreprenariat, c’est une expression très courue. Cela prend des ententes
    gagnant gagnant. On a l’occasion de le vivre davantage chez nous qu’au
    sud du pays. En passant, je viens de Montréal.

    Pour revenir à votre question, j’espère pour le peuple inuit que ce n’est pas
    qu’un rêve. Honnêtement, j’espère que pour ce peuple, qu’il va gagner son
    pari et que la langue inuktitut va devenir la langue usuelle sur le territoire.
    Il faut comprendre que les Inuits représentent 30 000 personnes, peut-être
    50 000 au Canada, en comptant dans tous les recoins. Cela ne prend pas
    une grosse vague d’immigration pour annihiler cela. Cela ne prend pas non
    plus beaucoup de générations perdues pour perdre l’usage de la langue.
    Déjà, on constate dans un centre comme Iqaluit, que nous on appelle un
    grand centre, pour vous c’est un petit village, que les jeunes de 15 ou 18
    ans, ils sont incapables de communiquer avec leurs grands-parents parce 21
    que le jeune est unilingue anglophone et le grand-parent est unilingue
    inuktitut. C’est un défi. C’est un véritable défi. Il faut mettre les énergies
    nécessaires pour relever ce défi et faire en sorte que l’inuktituk reprenne la
    place qui lui revient.

    C’est sûr qu’on a des inquiétudes, un jour, quand ils vont être à la fois
    dominants en nombre et dans l’usage de leur langue, ils vont nous sacrer
    dehors. Cela se peut, mais c’est un risque à prendre, c’est un choix qu’on
    fait et c’est un choix éclairé qu’on fait. On n’est pas des gens démunis,
    dépourvus, qui se font abuser ici. On est en mesure de prendre des
    décisions intelligentes, de faire des partenariats, de travailler avec les
    Inuits et les anglophones.

    Donc c’est sûr qu’il y a un risque. Mais est-ce que le risque ne vaut pas
    l’atteinte du rêve? Je pense que oui. Au bout de l’exercice, je pense que
    dans la mesure où nous aurons su contribuer à l’atteinte de ce rêve, on sera
    reconnu pour cela et on ne se retrouvera pas dans une situation de se faire
    varloper. C’est peut-être de l’utopie totale, mais c’est ma conviction

  14. Posted by Duty to Learn on

    We have wide open space to build the world that we chose post-pandemic.

    Its time to move forward from these historic discussions of the last decade, the last century. What new script are you going to chose? What new world?

    For my part:

    “There is a duty to listen to the voices of those who lived on this land for thousands of years. Ignorance will take us down the wrong road. Honest efforts are needed to learn and apply Indigenous principles of apology, restitution, and reconciliation.”

    – The Honourable Chief Justice Lance S. G. Finch, Court of Appeal for BC (2012)

  15. Posted by Which dialect? on

    Which dialect of Inuktitut will they have to put on the ballots?

  16. Posted by Bemused on

    Sort of confused here…what is the massive problem? A Canadian ballot consists of a list of names and a party. And that’s it. On the one hand, not much to translate. On the other, except for the name of the party, there’s nothing to translate. It’s the candidate’s name.

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