Like Quebec’s language law, but more complicated

Kinks remain as Nunavimmiut prepare to form a new government


MONTREAL, QUEBEC — The daunting social, cultural and economic challenges in store for Nunavik’s future regional government need attention now: that was the underlying message from speakers at last week’s symposium, “A new way of governing: The Experience of the Inuit of Nunavik.”

“The challenge of protecting Inuttitut in a non-ethnic government will be tremendous,” said translator Alacie Nalukturak, speaking on behalf of Avataq, Nunavik’s cultural institute.

Avataq wants to see some decisions made on language policy before the creation of Nunavik’s new regional government, Nalukturak said.

Avataq is proposing that Inuttitut be the working language of the new “Nunavimmiut Aquvinnga” or Nunavik government.

“It is important that legislation similar to that of Quebec’s law on the protection of the French language be passed and measures taken to make Inuttitut the language of work, and the language of public signs and commercial advertising,” Nalukturak said.

Non-Inuit should also be encouraged to learn Inuttitut, she said.

According to Statistics Canada’s aboriginal survey in 2001, 99 per cent of Nunavik’s population speaks and understands Inuttitut “very” or “relatively” well.

But Nalukturak said these figures are misleading because they overestimate the ability of many to speak Inuttitut properly.

“When you consider that the only proficient speakers remaining are 60 years old and over and that they represent a mere 4.5 per cent of the total Inuit population, while a staggering 65 per cent is below the age of 30, it is clear that Inuttitut, like all other aboriginal languages in Canada, is in grave danger of extinction,” she said.

Until recently, when it benefited from money from the billion-dollar Sanarrutik Agreement on social and economic development in Nunavik, Avataq lacked the resources to combat this erosion of the language, she said.

What Avataq wants now is political will to help preserve Inuttitut and continuing resources to develop educational and cultural programs.

At the same time, Avataq wants to define its role in the future government — as either a department or an arms-length commission.

“How is the incorporation of Inuit traditions into the daily life of the government going to be assured?”

Avataq would like to see an evaluation of Inuttitut in Nunavik and the creation of a task force — “a small group of people” — who would carry out this assessment before the future government is formed.

“Only then will be have a clear understanding of what should and can be done to revitalize the language of the Inuit and determine what Avataq’s role should be with the coming of the new government,” Nalukturak said.

During his address to the symposium, Jonathan Epoo, the president of Saputiit, Nunavik’s youth organization, said youth in the region also need immediate action.

Epoo said young Nunavimmiut need more access to higher education, provided closer to home, so they don’t have to leave the region to get a college education; they need jobs locally, so they can see more reasons to stay in school; they need housing, so they can become more independent; and, they need to see more integration of traditional culture into schooling and daily life, so they can deal better with their identity crises.

“Who are we? Where am I going? What does the future hold for me?” — difficult questions to answer, Epoo said, when “southern indicators don’t apply.”

Nunavik self-government negotiator — and new leader — Maggie Emudluk also raised critical economic challenges, which are facing Nunavik as the region moves towards a modern, knowledge-based economy: its lack of banking, higher cost of living, dependency on outside energy sources and a lack of a trained work force.

The ability of Nunavimmiut to meet changing conditions, with success, was cited by many at the symposium.

“It’s about as if I’ve come from the Stone Age, so fast we have progressed,” said Sen. Charlie Watt.

And, like Watt, Harry Tulugak, also one of three self-government negotiators for Nunavik, expressed optimism that the new regional government would be able to reflect and support Nunavik’s progress.

“As societies evolve, rights follow,” Tulugak told the symposium.

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