UPDATED: Inuit orgs blast federal Indigenous languages bill
“The Government of Canada engaged Inuit in bad faith throughout this legislative initiative”
Updated on Feb. 6 at 12:30 p.m.
The Indigenous languages bill introduced in the House of Commons today is being slammed by Canada’s national Inuit organization as being inadequate.
“Despite being characterized as a reconciliation and co-development initiative, the Government of Canada engaged Inuit in bad faith throughout this legislative initiative,” said Natan Obed, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, in a news release.
“The absence of any Inuit-specific content suggests this bill is yet another legislative initiative developed behind closed doors by a colonial system and then imposed on Inuit.”
ITK had hoped that the Indigenous languages bill would include a standalone section that dealt with Inuktut, and recognition that Inuktut is the official language within Inuit Nunangat—the 50 Inuit communities in Canada that fall within the Inuvialuit Settlement Region, Nunavut, Nunavik and Nunatsiavut.
ITK envisioned multi-year funding agreements being struck between regional Inuit organizations and the federal government. Money would be doled out through those funding agreements, with the aim of ensuring that Inuktut language resources are supported within the Inuit homeland in a way that’s equal to what’s provided to support speakers of French within these jurisdictions.
“Our efforts to revitalize, maintain, and promote Inuktut are often blunted by inequitable federal funding policies that task us with doing much more with far fewer resources than what French and English speakers receive,” said Obed.
“At the same time, our people do not have the right to access federal services in Inuktut, relegating it to a status beneath English and French,” he said.
Need for access to services in Inuktut
Canada’s Official Languages Act requires the federal government to support language programming for francophones and anglophones in communities in which they’re a minority.
ITK had hoped that the new Indigenous languages bill would create a similar obligation to fund Inuktut programming within Inuit Nunangat, according to a position paper prepared by the organization.
“Inuktut speakers make up the majority of the population in Inuit Nunangat, yet the federal government allocates a larger share of public sector resources for the English and French speaking minority populations,” the paper states.
ITK also wants the new legislation to require federal services to be delivered in Inuktut within Inuit Nunangat. “Access to federal services in Inuktut is vital for Inuit, especially in Nunavut and Nunavik where Inuktut is the majority mother tongue,” the report states.
“Having access to services in Inuktut can be a life and death matter.”
And ITK wants to see Ottawa create a new Inuktut-language authority and an Inuktut-language commissioner.
The new bill would create a national Indigenous languages commissioner’s office. ITK predicts that this “will be little more than a substitute for the Aboriginal Languages Initiative Program, itself a failed program which has overseen the decline of indigenous languages in Canada in recent decades.”
“Unlike provincial and territorial languages commissioners, the national Indigenous languages commissioner will be a powerless advocacy body, perpetually burdened by costly and onerous reporting duties,” the news release states. “It will be controlled by the federal government and serve to consume resources best directed to Indigenous peoples ourselves.”
ITK says it “looks forward to playing an active role in the parliamentary committee process that will examine the bill, and is committed to keeping Inuit and other Canadians well informed as to its positions and proposals.”
Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. disappointed
Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. says it’s disappointed in both the consultation process used to draft the new bill, as well as its content.
NTI president Aluki Kotierk had previously called on Ottawa to give Inuktut the status of an official and founding language, as well as the funding to recognize that distinction.
“This bill falls short,” Kotierk said in a Feb. 5 release. “It does not provide bold new steps forward. Rather, it offers little more than symbolic recognition; a re-statement of existing Constitutional provisions and United Nations commitments and the creation of a new federal bureaucratic institution in the form of an Indigenous languages commission.”
The bill ignores issues that Inuit groups raised to the federal government during its consultation process, she added, about the use and status of Inuktut in northern jurisdictions like Nunavut.
“Notwithstanding all the rhetoric about ‘co-development’, this bill shows no measurable Inuit input, despite our best efforts to engage as partners,”Kotierk said.
“And when I say none, I mean none.”
Makivik calls legislation ‘flawed’
Makivik Corp., which represents the Inuit of Nunavik, said the new legislation clearly fell short of what Inuit asked—legislation with a specific focus on Inuktitut.
“We will not be deterred by what we know to be a setback in this flawed legislation,” said Makivik president Charlie Watt in a Feb. 6 release.
“Instead we will persevere and continue to push the government, and make our case for the development of Inuit specific legislation that will protect, promote and preserve our language.”