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Recognizing Inuit-speaking businesses

Guy Quenneville
Northern News Services
Published Monday, December 7, 2009

IQALUIT - The Government of Nunavut is already at work creating an award program aimed at recognizing businesses that offer services in both English and Inuit languages, says Louis Tapardjuk, minister of Culture, Language, Elders and Youth.

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Louis Tapardjuk, minister of Culture, Language, Elders and Youth told News/North the Inuit Language Protection Act, passed last year, already contains provisions for a program recognizing businesses that serve customers in both an Inuit language and English, as proposed by MLA Paul Okalik in the legislative assembly last week. - NNSL file photo

Tapardjuk's assertion comes in the wake of last week's house proceedings, during which Iqaluit West MLA and former premier Paul Okalik suggested an awards system might be a more constructive way to promote bilingualism among businesses than the Inuit Language Protection Act, passed last year.

The new law guarantees that services in both the public and private sectors are provided in an Inuit language.

"An issue that I see too frequently is that a lot of unilingual Inuktitut speakers cannot get served in their language even though this is their homeland," Okalik told Nunavut News/North. "So instead of using somewhat negative measures, we should be promoting those businesses that are being proactive and providing services to everyone."

But Tapardjuk said the language act, which is still being implemented, includes provisions for an award program akin to the one suggested by Okalik.

"Under the Inuit Language Protection Act, what we call (an) 'Inuit language authority' is going to be established," said Tapardjuk. "Their duty or responsibility will include (establishing and administering) an award program to recognize outstanding achievements by any organization or individual in implementing the requirement of this particular act."

The GN will be hosting what it's calling a "major language conference" in February where, as Tapardjuk put it, "all the stakeholders are being invited: federal, territorial, municipal governments; private sector; Inuit organizations."

While Statistics Canada has no numbers on how many Nunavummiut do not speak English, the percentage of people in Nunavut who are Inuit was 84 per cent at the beginning of the year.

"I'd be walking on the street and an elder would ask me to come along to the bank so that she could do some banking," said Okalik.

"For them to try and find somebody who speaks English is a bit of a challenge sometimes, and there is always some sensitive information that may be discussed and it's not appropriate for somebody off the street to be used as a translator or interpreter in those situations.

"So I do hope that there will be more businesses that take on the challenge."

For its part, Iqaluit-based Narwhal Plumbing & Heating, currently staffed by 25 employees, is training two Nunavut land claim beneficiaries who, together with a senior journeyman insulator, serve clients only speaking an Inuit dialect.

While the company's schedule makes it difficult, Narwhal is also trying to get its English-speaking staff to learn Inuktitut, said Jason Slade, assistant operations manager.

"It kind of attracts a lot of respect (from) elders when they see employers (that have) employees that speak Inuktitut," said Slade. "I myself, I wish I was more fluent in it."

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