April 6, 2007

New law to make Inuit language mandatory

We're ready to comply, Chamber of Commerce says

JIM BELL

The Government of Nunavut unveiled a proposed new law last week that would make use of the Inuit language mandatory for nearly all public and private workplaces in Nunavut that serve the public.

The new law, which would be called the Inuit Language Protection Act, says that all organizations, including private businesses, must display public signs and posters in the Inuit language.

It also requires that all organizations, including private businesses, provide reception and customer services in the Inuit language.

And it creates strong Inuit language rules for organizations that provide “essential” services, which includes restaurants, hotels, and retail stores, as well as organizations that provide fuel, water, electricity, telecommunications and emergency services.

The new rules would require such organizations to use the Inuit language in exterior and interior signs, and in bills, invoices and other documents.

The law protects people from being fired from their jobs if they speak, or prefer to use, the Inuit language only.

The powers and responsibilities of the Nunavut Languages Commissioners would be expanded to give the commissioner the ability to investigate complaints and enforce compliance with the new language regime.

In Cambridge Bay, Kugluktuk, Bathurst Inlet and Umingmaktuuq, the term “Inuit language” means “Inuinnaqtun.” Everywhere else, it means “Inuktitut.”

The law would also create an Inuit language authority, to be called “Inuit Uqausinginnik Taiguusiliuq­tiit.” The language authority, which would have at least five members selected from all regions, would recommend language standards, develop terminology, and monitor the teaching and use of the Inuit language.

Louis Tapardjuk, the language minister, unveiled a draft version of the proposed new law in Iqaluit last week, as a part of a two-bill package that also includes a revamped Official Languages Act.

Tapardjuk said the new language regime would give the Inuit language the status it deserves after many years of being ignored or diminished, and lets Nunavut’s Inuit majority know that they are in control.

“The Nunavut government is trying to promote a sense of ownership and control of their government. For them to get that sense of control, it is of central importance for the Nunavut government and Nunavummiut to have language protection for the majority,” Tapardjuk told reporters last week.

Paul Kaludjak, president of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., said he’s “impressed” by the new language package, because it’s in line with NTI’s desire to make the Inuit language predominant in Nunavut.

“We know we face a lot of issues with the language itself, to promote it and to use it in our workplaces, and where we are in Nunavut... We want to make sure that people use it first wherever we they are, in the workplaces and the business sector,” Kaludjak said.

Nunavut’s largest business organization says most businesses are ready to comply with the new law even if it adds to the cost of doing business.

“This is something we have to do,” said Ken Spencer, president of the Iqaluit Chamber of Commerce.

Spencer said business played an “active role” in shaping the new law. He said the law’s first draft, circulated about three years ago, was far more restrictive than the version released to the public last week.

Benoît Héneault, vice-president of l’Association francophones des Nunavut, said his organization is happy to support the government in making the Inuit language an official language of the territory.

But he said that he’s also happy to see that the proposed new Official Languages Act “ensures equal status” for English, French and the Inuit languages.

And he said Nunavut francophones also support the idea of delaying first reading of the new bills until the next sitting of the assembly, which starts May 29, because it gives time for a final round of consultation.

“We are happy to see a delay in tabling the bills to permit a proper consultation with the official language communities in Nunavut, be they the francophones or the Inuit,” Héneault said.

Tapardjuk said the GN will soon organize a set of fly-in consultations in five regions: South Baffin, North Baffin, Kivalliq, Nattilingmiut and the Kitikmeot.

That’s because officials don’t have time between now and the end of May to visit every community. Instead, they’ll fly representatives from each community to central locations in each respective region.

Electronic copies of the two proposed new language laws are available at www.gov.nu.ca/cley/home/english/langbill.html.

The bureaucratic rules contained in the GN's proposed language protection law have yet to rub up against the free-wheeling world of private business. But this sign, in front of Iqaluit's popular Valupharm Drugs, is likely in compliance, because the Inuit language text is equal in size to the English.
(PHOTO BY JIM BELL)