Tuesday, June 17, 2008

NAT: Canadian Native Languages Act

Official Languages Act passed
Yumimi Pang, Northern News Services


IQALUIT - A new Official Languages Act was passed in the Nunavut legislative assembly last week, but some remain concerned about the fate of the Inuit language.

While Bill 6, the Official Languages Act, lists Inuktitut and Innuinaqtun alongside French as English as Nunavut's official languages, James Eetoolook, first vice-president of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., had hoped that it would have been read alongside Bill 7, the Inuit Language Protection Act.

"It was our preference that the Official Languages Act would not be passed without the Inuit Language Protection Act because the Official Language Act alone would have limited protection and advancement of the Inuit languages," said Eetoolook.

The Inuit Language Protection Act is scheduled to be reviewed in the fall sitting of the legislative assembly.

Acting Languages Commissioner Eva Aariak is glad the Official Languages Act has been passed.

"I really wanted this bill to be passed in this sitting so that at least we can get the ball rolling and start working on implementing it and informing the public about what it's all about," said Aariak.

The newly-passed act must be approved at the federal level before the territory can begin implementation.

Like Eetoolook, Aariak expressed concern that the Inuit Language Protection Act wasn't read alongside its parent bill.

"(The Inuit Language Protection Act) will greatly enhance the promotion and protection and use of our language so we won't have to complain about the erosion of our language anymore. Now is the time to start acting towards making a change," said Aariak.

Aariak expressed concerns of rumours that the Inuit Language Protection Act would be too costly to implement, and so the potential costs could be a deterrent to pass the bill.

"Does that mean that my culture and language is too expensive for my culture to implement? I don't think so," she said.

Aariak said although approximately 70 to 80 per cent of the territory's population speaks an Inuit language, erosion of language and culture is a very real possibility.

"If we don't do anything about promoting it and teaching it in the classroom, it can, within a family, be lost within one generation and that's scary," she said.

The Association des francophones du Nunavut expressed support for NTI's and the acting language commissioner's hopes for Bill 7.

"The (Official Languages) Act will protect not only the constitutional rights of the francophone community but also provide the long-needed recognition of the Inuit language. We hope that the legislative assembly will soon pass Bill 7, the Inuit (Language) Protection Act, to further equity within Nunavut society," stated association president Suzanne Laliberté in a press release.

Louis Tapardjuk, Minister of Culture, Language, Elders and Youth, said that it was important to pass the Official Languages Act prior to the Inuit Language Protection Act since the former requires federal approval.

"Before we introduced another piece of legislation, it was important to see passing of (the) Official Languages Act," he said.

The Inuit Language Protection Act would only require legislative approval to become law.

The Inuit Language Protection Act has been read twice in the legislative assembly and is now in the hands of the Ajauqtiit Standing Committee.

Tapardjuk said he hopes the bill will go to a third reading in the fall.

Tapardjuk added that he believes that the passing of Bill 6 is a good step in recognizing the territory and its languages.

"I think we've accomplished that. Now the next task for this government is to fulfil its mandate is to see the passage of Bill 7," he said.

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