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Ottawa slammed for funding levels which favour French over Inuktuk
Loss of Inuit language a serious concern not addressed by federal funding dollars

Michele LeTourneau
Northern News Services
Monday, May 18, 2015

The backlash was immediate when Nunavut MP Leona Aglukkaq announced May 6 that a language agreement between the Government of Nunavut and the federal government would see $1.65 million in support of French and $1.1 million in support of Inuktut languages.

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Nunavut Languages Commissioner Sandra Inutiq is critical of the agreement, citing inadequate and inequitable funding especially considering the accelerating erosion of Inuit language in the territory. - photo courtesy Karliin Aariak

The agreement is in place to provide the GN with funds to help it deliver services in Inuktuk and French specifically.

Nunavut Languages Commissioner Sandra Inutiq and Nunavut Tunngavik Inc.'s (NTI) vice president James Eetoolook immediately released a joint statement critical of the agreement, both citing inadequate and inequitable funding especially considering the accelerating erosion of Inuit language in the territory.

In a telephone interview with Nunavut News/North, Nunavut's Culture and Heritage Department deputy minister Joe Adla Kunuk was blunt.

"We've made it clear all along, from the beginning, and previous ministers in the past have, that this amount was not high enough and that since 1999 the amounts haven't changed," he said. "Our minister and minister's office, including last fall in Charlottetown, made it clear that the amounts were not sufficient for our needs in Nunavut."

Kunuk was referring to the meeting held in September for federal, provincial and territorial ministers of culture and heritage. He adds Canadian Heritage and Official Languages Minister Shelly Glover and Paul Okalik, the Nunavut cabinet minister at the time, agreed to work on the issue and negotiations began. The next round of negotiations, which Kunuk will take part in, is scheduled to take place May 25.

"The issue has been, in the past, the federal government has wanted to have a multi-year agreement like they have with other jurisdictions and the Government of Nunavut position has been we're willing to talk about a multi-year agreement provided we see an increase in the Inuktut part of the agreement."

Staff is discussing a business case for Nunavut, he added.

The same agreement has been rolling over since Nunavut inherited an agreement in place before splitting off from the Northwest Territories. Kunuk clarified the May 6 announcement.

"What was announced by Minister Aglukkaq was last year's agreement (fiscal year 2014-2015), so it's something that we've known for the past year. It's never changed, except for the French portion last year had a one-time increase of about $175,000 to deal with advertising and so on in French. We're not sure if that will be continued this year or not."

Eetoolook says the inequitable funding has been a concern for many years.

"We're seeing a lot of Inuit language disappearing. We say the Inuit language is still strong but we see a steady erosion. We are shifting toward English in Nunavut over the past 15 years," he said.

Eetoolook says the NTI board will be discussing how to move forward.

"Language promotion is the cornerstone in maintaining language use. Funding for Inuit language is essential and it's currently underfunded."

Eetoolook says 15 years without an increase is a long time, and he notes that if Inuktut received $4,000 per capita, as the French language, millions more would be needed for Inuit language promotion.

In fact, NTI took as its primary focus Inuit language in its 2009/10 annual report on the State of Inuit Culture and Society.

The document, titled Our Primary Concern: Inuit Language in Nunavut, is a comprehensive review and analysis of the state of Inuktut in the territory.

"If federal French and Inuit language promotion allocations were based on the same funding formula, and without taking the specific needs of Inuinnaqtun and Inuktitut revitalization into consideration, 20,480 mother tongue speakers would require $91,340,800 per annum to meet its language promotion needs," states the report

Charles Cardinal, a spokesperson for Canadian Heritage, clarified in an e-mail that "the funding provided to the Government of Nunavut via this agreement comes from two different programs. The first one is related to the Official Languages Act (for French funding), and the second one is the Aboriginal People's Program (for Inuktut funding)."

Cardinal adds, "The Government of Canada recognizes that these languages and cultures face challenges in Canada today and has committed to supporting their revitalization and preservation."

Inutiq, whose job as languages commissioner for Nunavut is to protect the language rights of all Nunavummiut, goes one step further.

"For the Inuit language, it's almost an insult in terms of the amount per capita. You can't help but compare. If one is receiving more than the other you start to go down the road of creating conflict between the two groups, when really we should be supporting both groups equally and avoiding a situation where you're creating a conflict between two vulnerable language groups," said Inutiq.

She says that "within the Francophone community there is hesitance to lobby for their French rights, recognizing that they're part of a broader Nunavut context and recognizing that Inuit language rights see much less attention federally."

An environment of conflict and discomfort is what's being created when one language group is treated lesser than the other, she says.

"It's the whole divide and conquer dynamic."

Inutiq questions the willingness of the federal government to negotiate a fair deal for Nunavut.

The territorial government has two language acts - the Inuit Language Protection Act and the Official Languages Act - which clearly outlines how it wants languages protected and revitalized, she says, adding the biggest challenge is funding and implementation.

"My position is that because of the federal government's role in our past, to try to assimilate Inuit to be English speaking, and that we feel those effects still today as our language continues to erode, they have a role to play in reversing the trend. They can't just wash their hands of their responsibility."

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Per capita funding

  • French: $4,460 per person
  • Inuktut: $53.71 per person
Source: Nunavut Tunngavik Inc.

Numbers of speakers per official language

  • Inuktitut: 20,185 people or 69.54 per cent
  • English: 7,765 people or 26.75 per cent
  • French: 370 people or 1.27 per cent

Source: Statistics Canada, 2006

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