Media Centre

Government of Canada passes symbolic Indigenous Languages Act

The Act falls short of addressing governments’ historic efforts to eradicate Inuktut and other Indigenous languages

The Federal Indigenous Languages Act, Bill C-91, has received Royal Assent.

Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated (NTI) President Aluki Kotierk says this symbolic gesture falls short of what Inuit have a right to expect from their federal government, and does not include the legal measures required to produce the intended outcomes.

“Nunavut Inuit, in close collaboration with others across Inuit Nunangat, have made every effort to work constructively with the Government of Canada to develop Bill C-91”, says Kotierk.  “Although we have attempted to engage in the process in good faith, this bill was, by no means, co-developed with Inuit.”  Ms. Kotierk adds, “This legislation, which is intended to help reverse the steady slide of Indigenous languages into disappearance, does not address issues of access to public services in Indigenous languages and does not reflect the needs which have been clearly communicated by Inuit.”

The Government of Canada actively sought to eradicate Inuktut and culturally assimilate Inuit through the imposition of federal day and residential schooling.  Today Inuit continue to face discrimination from the federal government through the inequitable provision of federal funding for Inuktut as compared to French and English; through differential funding arrangements that discriminate against Inuit living in provinces; and by requiring Inuktut speakers to speak English and French to access federal services throughout Inuit Nunangat, even when Inuktut speakers comprise the majority of the population.

Although Inuit prepared, shared and presented a thoughtful and reasonable package of proposed amendments to the draft legislation, Canada seems satisfied to adopt trivial amendments, while ignoring Inuit, Indigenous and expert testimony which clearly identified baseline needs to correct the discriminatory system imposed on Inuit and Canada’s Indigenous population.  Statutory recognition that the rights of Indigenous peoples under Section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, include rights related to Indigenous Languages is welcome, but that alone is not adequate to rectify the government’s past and continued role in linguistic and cultural harms imposed on Canada’s first peoples.

“Nunavut and Canadian Inuit will continue to advocate, invest and work for adequate legislation and other tools and measures to put the necessary supports in place for the continued survival and improved health and vitality of Inuktut”, says Kotierk.

Kotierk added: “This is not about a romantic notion of the past.  It is absolutely necessary for Indigenous languages legislation in Canada in the year 2019 to address the central issue of delivering programs and services in Indigenous languages, particularly where it is the language of the majority.  In many cases, access to vital public services such as justice, education and health can be a matter of life and death, and the Coroner has found that language issues played a role in more than one recent death in Nunavut.  When Inuit cannot access health services in a language we understand, in our homeland – where we form a significant majority of the population – our nation is clearly not living up to its fiduciary responsibilities with respect to our most basic needs.”


For further information:

Malaya Mikijuk, Assistant Director of Communications
Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated

Qajaaq Ellsworth, Senior Communications Advisor
Office of President Aluki Kotierk