Inuktut champion needed for new Indigenous languages commission

Better to work from the inside than watch from the sidelines

A display of Inuktut learning materials from a language conference in Iqaluit in 2019. (File photo by Jane George)

By Corey Larocque

A new golden opportunity to advance the use of Inuktut is at our doorstep. Nunavut and Nunavik should not ignore it. And the federal government should not ignore them.

The federal government recently announced it is looking for four people to form the first-ever Indigenous Languages Commission.

Nunatsiaq News covered the early December announcement that Ottawa is seeking a commissioner and up to three directors to sit on the newly formed commission. The Liberal government created it to support efforts to “reclaim, revitalize, maintain and strengthen Indigenous languages.”

This newspaper will continue to follow the development of this new federal body and report on its successes and failures because our readers need to know about its work.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government introduced the Indigenous Languages Act in 2019 as a response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendations and to make good on an election promise. It became the law of the land before last year’s election.

The bill was criticized by Inuit organizations who complained it does not make Inuktut an official language within federal institutions across Inuit Nunangat.

There will doubtless continue to be scrutiny of any measures the federal government takes to protect the use of Indigenous languages. There’s a not-too-distant history of Ottawa actively trying to discourage the survival of Indigenous culture, including language. It’s fair for Inuit and other Indigenous peoples to greet new initiatives with a degree of skepticism.

However, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission represents a seismic shift in the thinking of many Canadians and their government toward federal-Indigenous relations.

We now know that the Indigenous Languages Commission is going to proceed. We’re watching Ottawa take the first steps in gearing up.

It would be better for Inuktut speakers to be represented on the commission than to be on the outside looking in.

It seems impossible the government would not include a speaker of Inuktut — one of the most widely spoken Indigenous languages in Canada — as a member of the commission.

All speakers of Inuktut should hope such a champion steps forward and answers Ottawa’s call. Ottawa, naturally, should look forward to receiving applications from a strong advocate of Inuktut.

Of course, there are already many ongoing efforts to expand the use of Inuktut. Recently, the Nunavut legislature passed Bill 25, an amendment to the territory’s Education Act that establishes a schedule for making Inuktut instruction more accessible by 2039.

But it wasn’t universally supported. The new law came under fire from Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., which accused the legislature of “cultural genocide” by passing a law with such a long schedule for bringing in Inuktut instruction.

Work to preserve Inuktut will continue at the territorial level. Work will also continue at the grassroots level — which is probably the most important place for the reclamation and revitalization of any language to take place. Inuktut will survive because individuals learn it and use it in their daily lives. All of this work should continue.

However, the creation of the federal language commission opens up a new front in the battle to promote Inuktut. Anyone who wants to see it prosper should embrace this opportunity to be part of the new federal commission’s work to advance the status of all Indigenous languages.

When Ottawa appoints members to the new commission, it needs to include a champion of Inuktut for obvious reasons.

Corey Larocque is the managing editor of Nunatsiaq News
[email protected]

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(2) Comments:

  1. Posted by Peter on

    The problem is the Nunavut Government does not support Inuktut and they have worked hard not to support Inuktut.
    Major changes are needed in the education department with some key people who work very hard to keep Inuktut out by not following the education act for the past 20 years and by not following through with the recommendation by the auditor general’s reports.
    Before then any new funding and commitment from the Federal government will go no where as the GNs history with Inuktut has shown us their priorities or lack there off.

    • Posted by Soothsayer on

      Like most people who will read these comments I don’t have an intimate knowledge of the inner workings of the Department of Education, so I am speaking only as a casual consumer of the news. I am curious if you are in the same boat, or if you actually know that people within the Department are actively working to undermine Inuktitut?

      Personally, this seems implausible to me, and more than likely your charge is an exercise in scapegoating.

      Consider this version of ‘Hanlon’s razor’ I came across today:

      “Hanlon’s Razor is a valuable heuristic that compels us to not attribute something to malice that can be adequately explained by stupidity or incompetence.”

      I strongly suspect incompetence deserves our real attention here.

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