Nunavut-Ottawa deal should beef up Inuktitut funding: language watchdog
“The federal government has a direct responsibility to redress the Inuit language situation in Nunavut"
Federal money for the promotion of French and Inuit languages in Nunavut, recently renewed by a ratified agreement between Ottawa and the Government of Nunavut for the 2014-15 fiscal year, does not reflect Nunavut’s population or needs, the territory’s languages commissioner said in a May 8 news release.
“These amounts have not substantially changed in over 10 years, funds for Inuit language have stayed the same,” Sandra Inutiq said in the release.
“We need more equitable funding for the Inuit language, and funding for the French language that reflects the needs of that community.”
Leona Aglukkaq, minister responsible for the Canadian Northern Development Agency, announced May 6 that an agreement had been ratified giving Nunavut about $2.7-million for language promotion this year: $1.625-million for the French language, and $1.1-million for Inuit languages.
That amounts to $4,000 per French-speaking person in Nunavut, and only $40 per Inuit-language speakers in Nunavut, Inutiq told Nunatsiaq News May 11.
“If the majority of the population… speaks the Inuit language, why do we not receive the same per capita amount of funding?” Inutiq said.
That’s not to say the French language should not receive federal funding in Nunavut, Inutiq added.
“The Aboriginal languages amounts have always been lower than the Francophone amounts, and it’s always been a point of contention,” she said.
Federal funding for language promotion in the Northwest Territories began in the mid-1980s after the Supreme Court of Canada ruled territories were bound by the federal Official Languages Act — meaning French and English have official status in the territories.
“The federal government tried to unilaterally legislate the official languages [in the 1980s] and there was a huge reaction from the Aboriginal community, saying, ‘what about our languages?’,” Inutiq said.
With the Constitution Act of 1982 enshrining language and education rights of minority groups, negotiations began between Ottawa and Aboriginal communities on how to implement — and who would pay for — the Official Languages Act, Inutiq said.
As a result, Ottawa agreed to pay for the implementation of the federal languages act in order to equalize French service delivery in the territories. It also agreed to fund the promotion of Aboriginal languages as part of that deal.
Nunavut adopted that agreement from the NWT when it became a territory.
“The federal government has a direct responsibility to redress the Inuit language situation in Nunavut because of their role in assimilation policies of the past,” Inutiq said in the release.
That situation includes “an acceleration of [Inuit] language loss” leading to an “urgent” and “shared” responsibility to protect the Inuit language, Inutiq said.
But negotiations between Ottawa and the GN’s department of culture and heritage have stalled, Inutiq said.
“I know they’ve stalled because I asked the department why the same agreement continues, when it clearly does not seem to be fair in terms of the language makeup of Nunavut. I was told the GN has been pushing for more equitable funds.”
Funding per capita should at least be equal between French and Inuit language speakers, Inutiq said.
And the funding announced last week by Aglukkaq only relates to services provided by the GN — not to education or other areas of language promotion, she added.
“What we need to do is look at language rights, promotion, revitalization and protection as a whole, and what we want to achieve, rather than splitting it into different pockets of money where it detracts from the larger objectives we’re trying to achieve.”
If Nunavummiut are concerned about the larger objectives of keeping the Inuit language vital, Inutiq urged them to write to their member of Parliament.
The Office of the Languages Commissioner mostly handles complaints filed by those who feel their language rights have been violated, for example in services received from the GN.
But her office also advocates for equality in language rights, Inutiq said.
It’s not very often the OLC issues a statement in response to a political announcement. The last time her office issued a statement of this sort was in 2013 when Prime Minister Stephen Harper visited Iqaluit.
“If the federal government is genuine in their interest in economic development and social progress for Nunavut, then language revitalization and protection must be properly funded,” Inutiq said, back in 2013.
The Department of Culture and Heritage administers the federal funds for language promotion. In 2014/15, the department allocated over 40 per cent of its budget, around $11-million, towards promoting and coordinating laws and regulations around Nunavut’s official languages.
However Inutiq pointed out that the landmark settlement recently signed between Ottawa and Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., which avoided a $1-billion lawsuit filed by NTI, did little to address the lack of federal funding for languages in Nunavut.
“There wasn’t anything specifically on language in the agreement, so it continues to be an unresolved issue with the federal government.”