NSDC president: Inuktitut needs higher profile in workplace


During the past week, Nunavummiut celebrated Inuktitut Uqauttin Week with a variety of activities.

In the schools, students wrote essays, stories and poems on what their language means to them, elders visited schools, adult training centres and work places, while Inuktitut teachers, translators and elders went on the airwaves to discuss the language’s finer points.

Each Nunavut government office was urged to use proper Inuktitut, charging a quarter to anyone caught using phrases such as “Tuniguk secretarymut” (give it to the secretary) or “The sila is very cold” (the weather is very cold), and encouraging employees to try out new words.

But dedicating just one week a year to the Inuktitut language isn’t enough because to really flourish the language needs a year-round commitment — and more money to help it happen.

That’s the position of the Nunavut Social Development Council, which helped organize and promote Inuktitut Uqauttin Week.

“We have a lot of work to do,” said Mary Ekho Wilman, chair of the Nunavut Social Development Council. “It’s not just one week.”

Wilman said Inuktitut Uqauttin Language Week reveals what’s badly needed to boost the language’s profile: that is, a larger presence in the workplace, especially in Iqaluit.

This year Nunavut’s department of Culture, Language, Elders and Youth gave the Nunavut Social Development Council $300,000 for Inuktitut Uqauttin Language Week.

But this much could be spent every week, said Wilman, to encourage use of Inuktitut.

“If we are committed and the Nunavut government has truly decided Inuktitut will be the working language, the commitment has to be in terms of money, belief and principles,” Wilman said.

Wilman said the territorial government needs to take the lead in promoting Inuktitut. It’s set 2020 as the date for having Inuktitut as the language of workplace.

“But it’s too late,” Wilman said.

While most Iqalungmiut speak Inukitut at home, English is all-pervasive in government offices and businesses in Iqaluit.

“It’s in the workplace that Inuktitut’s obviously not being used,” Wilman said. “The politicians really need to believe in it and not be influenced by people who think it can’t be a working language — do we have senior civil servants who believe in it?”

Wilman would like to see changes in government recruitment policies so new employees coming from the South consider learning Inuktitut language and Inuit culture as part of their job. While Wilman doesn’t support mandatory requirements, she’d like to see more resources and positive encouragement for Inuktitut in the workplace.

“Forcing and policing, I don’t know if you’d get the cooperation you need,” Wilman said.

The federal government put Inuktitut on an equal official footing with English and French in Nunavut, suggested Wilman. An Inuktitut language school should be another concrete way to make Inuktitut more visible in Nunavut’s capital.

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