No deadline to make Inuktut the working language in Nunavut government, says premier

“That is what we expected when we got Nunavut and that was how Nunavut was meant to be,” says Aggu MLA Paul Quassa

Aggu MLA Paul Quassa questioned Premier Joe Savikataaq on the government’s timeline to make Inuktut the official working language of the Government of Nunavut during question period on Wednesday, Oct. 30. (File photo)

By Emma Tranter

When Nunavut was created 20 years ago, it was expected that Inuktut would be the territorial government’s working language, Aggu MLA Paul Quassa said in the legislature on Wednesday, Oct. 30.

“That is what we expected when we got Nunavut and that was how Nunavut was meant to be, that was the meaning…. The core of the government continues to use English as its main working language, its everyday working language,” Quassa said through translation.

Quassa turned to question Nunavut’s premier, Joe Savikataaq, on what his plans were to change this.

“I wish to ask the premier if his government has a goal, with a timeline, for implementing a system where non-Inuktut speakers will be expected to provide services in the working language of Inuktut,” Quassa said.

Savikataaq said although the government’s Department of Human Resources has funding for government staff to learn Inuktut or upgrade their knowledge of the language, he does not have a set date for when Inuktut will be the official working language.

Quassa went on to say that although the government has funding for Inuktut training, learning the language does not seem to be enforced.

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“When the first qallunaat came to our homeland, they had no choice but to learn our language to ensure that their message was understood to the people that they served, such as the ministers and priests and other people like Hudson’s Bay Company.”

Quassa added that many people learned the language within a year, while some learned within six months.

“Can the premier tell Nunavummiut how he plans to take the first step in building up the momentum to have the Nunavut government operating day-to-day in our own Inuktut language?” Quassa asked.

Savikataaq restated that there is funding available for staff to learn Inuktut if they choose to do so.

“There is money available for that, to improve their position, they can take training. It’s available. The member used to be the minister of culture. The member is quite well aware that the money is available there,” Savikataaq said.

But for Quassa, having Inuktut training as an option for Government of Nunavut staff is not enough.

“Does the premier remember why we got Nunavut or was he just newborn when Nunavut was created? The government was supposed to run in Inuktut and people are still expecting it today. But still nothing,” Quassa said.

He also highlighted the Greenlandic government as an example, where “the Inuit there use their language on a daily basis … they probably fly there with the pilots using their language.”

“When I go to a store in Greenland, they use their language. They operate using their language. So I ask the premier, things that we have seen in other Inuit lands not in Nunavut, looking at them…. Can [the premier] learn from these other jurisdictions so that within Nunavut our government headquarters can run in Inuktut?” Quassa asked.

“We see other jurisdictions but then we always say, Nunavut is unique, Nunavut is different. And saying that within the government … if they [people] want service in Inuktut, they will get service in Inuktut,” Savikataaq replied.

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(19) Comments:

  1. Posted by Not impressed with the Premier!! on

    When will this laid back, lackadaisical government finally commit to making our losing language the official working language? This will only strengthen the language…do you lack logic?

    • Posted by Anglosphere on

      It’s easy to issue grand statements on any issue without considering the difficulty and nuance of that issue, which is what Quassa has done here.
      The only realistic route to this that I can see is to populate GN positions with Inuktitut speakers. Of course, there’s a price to pay if you only fill positions based on one metric, as anyone who has worked in the GN has clearly seen first hand.
      Then there’s the question of what to do with all those indeterminant workers who don’t? You can’t fire them for speaking English, that would violate the constitution. Not to mention that English is an official language in Nunavut as well. So, do you give them severance? Expensive move. I’ll take it though.
      I am interested in hearing your plan, grounded in logic of course.

      • Posted by MONICA A CONNOLLY on

        People from all over the world have come to Ontario and work in English – accented English, perhaps, with gaps in vocabulary and occasional errors in grammar, but English! Some arrived with good knowledge of the language, but if not, formal instruction is widely available, and customers and co-workers expect newcomers to be learning and will usually help out.
        It takes around four years of not-too-intensive instruction to pick up a new language, less with intensive work. (Check with your nearest university.)
        So you make language classes part of the regular professional development program, add bonuses as bilingual ability improves, and encourage Inuktut speakers to support friends and colleagues as they learn. Works for English in Ontario, French in Quebec – why not Nunavut?
        (And don’t give me any guff about dialects – my late husband was a working class Glaswegian, and some of my best friends have been fluent in Newf and Jamaican Creole – English is rife with dialects.)

        • Posted by Observer on

          “So you make language classes part of the regular professional development program”

          I can guarantee that any GN employee asking for work time allocated to language training or to keep pay and benefits while taking time off work to get language training is going to be met with a blank stare and then laughter asking if they’re serious.

  2. Posted by Reality Check on

    If Inuktut is not being taught in school or spoken at home, how is one supposed to learn the language?
    There seems to be a great deal of things that we could learn from Greenland. Maybe hire them as consultants, instead of southern people.

  3. Posted by Bad Idea on

    The working language of business in this country is English. This sort of policy makes absolutely no sense. Nunavut will never be able to deal with the business world if this is a priority. Learn in school, speak it during the rest of your day, but English in the workplace cannot change.

    With a territory relying on everything being imported, including federal tax transfers, food, fuel, construction and employment talent, this policy will put Nunavut in the dark ages.

    • Posted by Garry on


    • Posted by MONICA A CONNOLLY on

      Balderdash! What do you think are the languages of work in Norway, Spain, Greece, Saudi Arabia, etc., etc., etc.? Or Quebec? Most countries use a local language as the first language of work, but also use at least one other language, frequently English, for dealing with visitors and businesses in other places. I had occasion to phone a Norwegian hospital not too long ago, and when I asked for someone who spoke English, the woman who answered the phone just switched from Norwegian to fluent, lightly accented English. Absolutely, English must be taught. But it should not overshadow Inuktitut.

      • Posted by Displays of Virtue on

        It does overshadow Inuktitut though, and it will continue to do so because there are not enough teachers in our school system to deliver education to our kids in Inuktitut. This entire “debate” is essentially an exercise in performance theatre. And as expected you have not failed to add your usual drama. Bravo!

    • Posted by Inuktituusuuq on

      What about Quebec, I’d English their working language?

  4. Posted by Observer on

    Quassa is displaying a serious lack of knowledge: I can guarantee that pilots flying in Greenland are *not* using Inuktitut in communications. Aviation English is the world standard, regardless of nationality.

    • Posted by MONICA A CONNOLLY on

      English is the official ICAO language. You have to be able to speak Aviation English to fly. But other languages are spoken regularly in the skies. Not all communications are formal up there.

  5. Posted by Name withheld on

    I agree with Quassa 100% that was the main goal of creating this Government… Article 23 is really not being followed by HR right now, not only HR but also the higher Managers are not implementing the Article 23. When will we see Inuktitut speaking staff or any staff that speaks the first official language of Nunavut ? The funding may be there but making it mandatory might be the only option instead of saying it’s available for those wishing to take it etc like Savikataaq says … My 2 cents

  6. Posted by The Old Trapper on

    “Quassa added that many people learned the language within a year, while some learned within six months.”
    Well he was Minister of Education so he should know how easy, or difficult it is to learn a second language. Kids might be able to do it, but an adult with a full time job?
    This attitude only makes sense from a very particular point of view, specifically that “we” are the majority here and you will speak “our” language if you want to work here. And to hell with what the rest of the territory/country/world thinks.
    It does not take into account that the majority of the country works in English, which also happens to be the default language of business and government worldwide.
    If the GN had any brains the various Ministers of Education since 1999 would have stressed an English language curriculum, mandatory school attendance, educational support programs, along with free post secondary education, especially in professional degree programs. We would then be seeing the Inuk doctors, nurses, technicians, engineers, etc that Nunavut needs, and will need going forward.
    You want the language to flourish, then teach it as a mandatory class in every grade. Once the basics of the language are known go into specifics such as Inuit history, oral traditions, myths, legends, arts, skills needed, social dynamics. This is where the emphasis needs to be to keep the Inuit identity strong.
    The English base education means that you can select from the best programs that are available, in Canada and throughout most of the world. Scarce resources would not be needed to create and translate this to an Inuktuk based K-12 program. Resources would then be available for Inuktut language, culture, and skills programs.
    Too bad that so many think that speaking Inuktut will save the language, history, and culture. Inuit learning about their own history, and maximizing their own capabilities to earn meaningful jobs in our 21st century society will do far more for today’s youth.
    Of course I doubt that any of the leaders will admit that the current thinking is wrong, so prepare for another 20 years with as little progress as we have seen since 1999.

  7. Posted by Harrol on

    Mr Qussa’s idea of using Inuktut as the official and only language spoken by all government employees. Is simplistic. Most spoken lanquaqes in the world are English and Mandarin Chinese. Qussa is certainly not a progressive using Inutuck as the working language of Nunavut. Would be a hindrance to the territory. By all means work toward keeping the language and all the wonderful things that go with it. But wake up Mr.Qussa your suggestion is honourable but not practical.

  8. Posted by Mista Trouble on

    At contact era, most of these qallunaat had no choice but learn to get by in Inuktitut. Now they have a choice. You can make a policy where you quailfy for a bonus based on your good Inuktitut. Some nay sayers would learn a lot more Inuktut.
    Also Inuktitut is a very able language. You can put it on a spread sheet. 1,000s of new words have been developed and they make sense at 1st or 2nd try.

  9. Posted by Amos Tamamik on

    NTA memebers are exempt from Inuktitut language bonuses! Policy change effective December 1st!

  10. Posted by Najaaraq Holm on

    Nuanneq kalaaliulluni assersuutitut kusanartimik aterneqarlini. It is very nice That we Can be used as a good exsample (sorry for my bad english). Ajinnginnerpaamik kissaapassi oqaatsisi ulluinnarsiutit atoqqilernissaanut. I hope for you that you Will use you inuktut language in the future.

  11. Posted by iThink on

    If you can speak Inuktitut then you are at liberty to speak it in the workplace. I suppose it would depend on who you were addressing as to whether that would be a practical idea in a given situation.
    The crux of the issue here is about making it mandatory, which is a significantly different point. This could not be done without a change in the law.
    So let’s say that happened. There are many Inuit who don’t speak much Inuktitut, what would become of them? Would you fire or retire the huge population of non-Inuktitut speakers? This entire issue is really a nonstarter, an appeal to base populism which gives us a glimpse into the simple mindedness of our former premier. The only real solution is, as stated above, to hire and train people who are already fluent. But, as also pointed out there is practically no Inuit language education available. So, we seem to have reached a dead end.
    What good is this discussion if it doesn’t address these realities? For some commentators, I seems that sounding off in order to make a spectacle of their alliance to these greater visions and ideals is the end in and of itself. What looks like moral courage, in these instances, is really a ruse for self interest and, perhaps cowardice in the face of a serious analysis.

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