Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut June 16, 2017 - 11:45 am

Nunavut’s new languages boss vows to keep “languages alive”

Helen Klengenberg to advocate for Inuit language rights

BETH BROWN
Nunavut’s new official languages commissioner, Helen Klengenberg, starts her job defending language rights in Nunavut on June 29. She is the territory's first commissioner whose primary Inuktut dialect is Inuinnaqtun. (HANDOUT PHOTO)
Nunavut’s new official languages commissioner, Helen Klengenberg, starts her job defending language rights in Nunavut on June 29. She is the territory's first commissioner whose primary Inuktut dialect is Inuinnaqtun. (HANDOUT PHOTO)

One year and three job postings later, Nunavut has a new official languages commissioner.

Kugluktuk’s Helen Klengenberg, who is fluent in Inuinnaqtun and English and “conversant in a variety of dialects of the Inuit Language,” will move to Iqaluit to take the lead on language rights in Nunavut for the next five years, the Nunavut Legislative Assembly announced in a June 15 release.

“It’s important that we do everything in our abilities in Nunavut to keep the use of our languages alive,” Klengenberg told Nunatsiaq News, adding that she applied for the full-time paid position in May.

Klengenberg will start June 29 as Acting Languages Commissioner on the recommendation of the Management and Services Board of the legislative assembly. She will be sworn in officially during the next sitting of the legislature, which reconvenes on Sept. 12.

Klengenberg, as mandated under the Official Languages Act and the Inuit Language Protection Act, will act as an ombudsman, which means that she and her office will monitor, advise and advocate for the protection of language rights for Nunavut’s four official languages, Inuktitut, Inuinnaqtun French and English.

The languages commissioner reports directly to the legislative assembly, rather than to the Government of Nunavut.

“Helen Klengenberg has extensive senior management experience in both the public and private sectors. A proven advocate for language rights, she was a member of the Task Force on Aboriginal Languages and Cultures that presented a landmark report on indigenous language revitalization to the Government of Canada,” said Speaker George Qulaut in the release.

“I am proud that she is our territory’s first languages commissioner from an Inuinnaqtun-speaking community,” he added.

The position has been vacant since June 3, 2016, when Nunavut’s last languages commissioner, Sandra Inutiq, resigned citing health reasons.

It’s not uncommon for such positions to become vacant due to retirement, resignation, death or other reason, John Quirke, clerk of the legislative assembly, told Nunatsiaq News.

While the office can operate without a commissioner, “it is desirable to fill such positions so that the office is fully functional,” Quirke said, adding that a number of candidates were interviewed for the role, but he could not say how many.
Klengenberg holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Western Ontario, a Master’s degree in Business Administration from Saint Mary’s University and a certificate in Municipal Administration from McMaster University.

Klengenberg has filled roles such as president and CEO for Akhaliak Group of Companies, vice president of Aarluk Consulting, director of human resources for Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. and advisor for arts and traditional economy with the GN. She is currently working in economic development with the GN.

Her first course of action will be to get settled in the role, and “second of all is to ensure that I make myself known to businesses in our communities,” she said.  “I will be working closely with them to ensure that they are able to provide Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun services to the communities in our territory.”

You can learn more about the office of the languages commissioner here.

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