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Language Act receives Senate approval

Kassina Ryder
Northern News Services
Published Monday, June 15, 2009

OTTAWA - The Nunavut Official Languages Act received approval by the Canadian Parliament on June 11, making Inuktitut, French, English and Inuinnaqtun the four official languages of Nunavut.

The decision came after some senators requested time on June 2 to consider the impact the change would have on the linguistic rights of minorities. Languages commissioner Alexina Kublu said in a press release that she is satisfied with the decision.

"Many of us have watched with sadness the declining use of the Inuit language," Kublu said. "Now we have a chance to reverse this trend and to assert our language rights, along with the rights of English and French speakers."

In a statement, Leona Aglukkaq said she is also pleased with the announcement, but expressed regret that the decision was held up.

"This will help to preserve the Inuit language and culture and to establish mechanisms so that Inuit will eventually proudly control their institutions, speak their language and manage their future. It is unfortunate the Liberals tried to stop this," she said.

Because Nunavut inherited the Northwest Territories Languages Act when the territory was created, it also inherited the official languages of the NWT.

Some senators were concerned about what eliminating the other languages would mean for minority language rights in Nunavut.

Some of the issues were whether there were any statistics signifying that some of the languages that would be removed from the act were still used in Nunavut. Another was whether English and French language rights guaranteed by the constitution would be affected outside of the territory as a result of the act.

After debating the act, the Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs reported back to the Senate Chamber on Thursday, June 11 and agreed that the act should be approved.

The approval will ensure that both the territorial and federal governments in the territory as well as legal administration and the legislative assembly will provide services in the four languages.

NTI president Paul Kaludjak said in a release that it was a historic moment for Inuit.

"The Inuit language is now considered an official language of Canada within the jurisdiction of the Nunavut Territory. We, as Inuit, are very proud of this accomplishment."

Representatives from NTI and Qikiqtani Inuit Association pushed for the act to pass by appearing before the Committee on Legal and Constitutional affairs in Ottawa this week.

Joe Attagutaluk, Secretary Treasurer of QIA and the Chair of the QIA language and communications committee, said having services in Inuit languages will help to empower Inuit.

"Our Inuit language now has the legislative base it needs to remain strong and become stronger," he said in a press release.

"We will no longer be made to feel like strangers in our own homeland, because Inuit language services will be widely available throughout Nunavut as per the provisions in the Official Languages Act."