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Nunavut Inuit say federal indigenous languages bill needs significant changes in order to meet Inuit needs and reflect Inuit realities

(Iqaluit, February 5, 2019) — Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated (NTI), the organization representing Inuit in Nunavut, has expressed great disappointment at both the contents of the indigenous languages bill tabled by the federal government in the House of Commons today, and the process involving its development.

Inuktut has official status at the territorial level in Nunavut. Nunavut forms part of Inuit Nunangat, the Inuit homeland in Canada. Inuit Nunangat is the largest part of Canada where an indigenous language – Inuktut, rather than English or French – is the first language of the majority of the public.

Echoing comments from Inuit Tapirit Kanatami (ITK), the Inuit national organization, NTI President Aluki Kotierk said “This bill falls far short. It does not provide bold new steps forward. Rather, it offers little more than symbolic recognition; a re-statement of existing Constitutional provisions and United Nations commitments; and, the creation of a new federal bureaucratic institution in the form of an Indigenous Languages Commission.” The advisory Commission is, regrettably, the centre-piece of the bill.

The bill simply bypasses practical Inuit priorities that were clearly made known to the federal government. These include:

• status of Inuktut in Inuit Nunangat with respect to federal laws and activities;
• use of Inuktut in the delivery of federal programs and services in Inuit Nunangat and elsewhere where numbers warrant;
• without restricting the responsibilities of provincial, territorial and municipal governments, measures to support the provision of Inuktut programs and services in relation to education, health and the administration of justice;
• use of Inuktut in the federal public service;
• principles to govern federal financial support for Inuktut;
• the role of Inuit representative organizations in the negotiation of intergovernmental agreements in relation to Inuktut; and,
• timelines and schedules for implementation measures, supported by appropriate regulatory and other tools.
“This bill is primarily feel good stuff”, said Ms. Kotierk. “The issues that are really critical to the survival and health of our language got put in the too-hard-to-do pile. We are seeking commitments and investments that make up for past failed policies, including the loss of language at residential schools. ”

NTI expressed unhappiness with the process that generated the bill developed and tabled by the government, as well as its lack of substantive contents.

“Notwithstanding all the rhetoric about ‘co-development’, this bill shows no measurable Inuit input, despite our best efforts to engage as partners,” said the NTI president. “And when I say none, I mean none.”

NTI recognizes First Nations and Metis face their own language issues and priorities. It fully supports their efforts to secure legislative provisions that fully and adequately incorporate those.

NTI, in cooperation with ITK and other Inuit representative organizations, intends to play an active, candid and constructive role in the Parliamentary committee process that will examine the bill. NTI is committed to keeping Inuit and other Canadians well informed as to its positions and proposals.

President Kotierk indicated that NTI’s contributions to Parliament’s review will extend to encouraging Ministers themselves to propose further changes to the bill during Parliamentary review, changes reflective and respectful of Inuit priorities.

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For further information:

Franco Buscemi
Interim-Director of Communications
Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated