Nunavut is Canada’s biggest and most northern territory. The Nunavut Act and the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement Act granted this area to the Inuit for autonomous administration and legally split it from the Northwest Territories on April 1, 1999. But did you know people living in Nunavut do not know other languages?
Around 5.8% of residents in Nunavut, Canada’s northernmost region, have no understanding of English or French. Most of these folks exclusively know Inuit languages.
The Languages Of Nunavut: A Delicate Balance
The territory’s Official Languages Act finally went into effect on April 1, five years after it was approved, as Nunavut celebrated its 14th anniversary. Here’s a look at Nunavut’s unique language condition to commemorate this momentous occasion.
The Inuit language is one of the most healthy of Canada’s Aboriginal languages. It is one of just three Aboriginal languages in Canada whose long-term survival is likely, according to Statistics Canada.
Nunavut, a region founded in 1999 from a section of the Northwest Territories, is home to half of Canada’s Inuit population. Since its inception, one of the government’s top concerns has been promoting and protecting Inuktut, the mother tongue of roughly 70% of the territory’s 32,000 residents. There are various dialects of the Inuit language, two of which are spoken in Nunavut: Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun.
Despite its vibrancy, the Inuit language has dwindled gradually since the mid-twentieth century. Each census has revealed that English is increasingly used in Nunavummiut families, with fewer young people declaring Inuktut as their mother tongue than elders.
English is widely used in commerce, and media from the south has an increasing effect, particularly among young people. While Inuktut is still widely spoken, there is less certainty that it will be passed down from generation to generation. (Source: Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages)
Legislation To The Rescue
The territory’s language policy is based on two key pieces of legislation passed in 2008: the Nunavut Official Languages Act and the Inuit Language Protection Act.
The first took effect this week, establishing official status for Inuit, English, and French in the territory’s institutions, the Legislative Assembly, and Nunavut courts. It also allows Nunavummiut to obtain municipal services in English, French, or Inuit, depending on the office’s nature and the considerable demand regulations.
According to the Inuit Language Protection Act, the government must actively encourage the use of Inuktut in all aspects of Nunavut life. The Inuit Language Protection Act gives Inuktut greater importance in education, work, and daily life across the Territory, according to the Government of Nunavut’s Uqausivut Plan for implementing language legislation.
We’re not excluding any other language; we’re simply asking people and organizations to include the Inuit language when they deliver services, out of respect for the majority of people for whom it is their preferred language.Stéphane Cloutier, Director of Official Languages with the Nunavut Department of Culture and Heritage.
How Can This Be Addressed?
As you might expect, education plays a significant role in the government’s plan to maintain Inuktut. Parents have the right under the Inuit Language Protection Act to have their children educated in this language.
Since 2009, Inuktut instruction has been given up to Grade 3; by 2019, it should be available to all students. (Source: Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages)