Current Reality

The United Nations named 2019 as the International Year of Indigenous Languages to highlight the need to preserve, revitalize and promote the use of the world’s estimated 7,000 Indigenous languages—2,680 of which are considered to be in danger. “Languages play a crucial role in the daily lives of people, not only as a tool for communication, education, social integration and development, but also as a repository for each person’s unique identity, cultural history, traditions and memory,” the UN said in a news release.

April 19, 2021 – Budget 2021 proposes to provide $275 million over five years, beginning in 2021-22, and $2 million ongoing to Canadian Heritage, to support the efforts of Indigenous peoples in the reclamation, revitalization, and strengthening of Indigenous languages as a foundation for culture, identity, and belonging. Additional funding is also provided for the preservation of Indigenous heritage ($14.9M over four years) and reestablishing and revitalizing Indigenous cultural spaces ($108.8 over two years)

June 21, 2019: Bill C-91 The Indigenous Languages Act, to reclaim, revitalize, strengthen and maintain Indigenous languages in Canada” is passed in the House of Commons over the sustained objections of national Inuit advocacy organizations (Inuit Tapariit Kanatami, Nunavut Tunngavik and others)  who feel the Act is little more than a “symbolic gesture”.

Language and Culture Calls to Action

There are five Language and Culture Calls to Action. To find out more about each Call to Action, including government responses and progress to date, visit the links below.

Call to Action #13Acknowledge Indigenous rights, include Indigenous language rights
Call to Action #14Enact an Indigenous Languages Act
Call to Action #15Appoint an Indigenous Language Commissioner
Call to Action #16Create post-secondary degrees and diploma programs in Indigenous languages
Call to Action #17Enable residential school survivors to reclaim Indigenous names

Current and Ongoing Problems

Federal government computer systems cannot print Indigenous characters in names

Aug. 28, 2021: Toronto Star – Government systems can only print in Roman alphabet with French accents, meaning names with numbers and Indigenous characters and symbols won’t be accommodated. The immigration department said its document-issuance systems can only print Roman alphabet with some French accents, as well as three symbols: apostrophe, hyphen and period. Numbers in names are not part of its functionality.

That’s because its systems must abide by the current International Civil Aviation Organization standards to ensure all passports and travel documents are machine-readable since they are used in computer systems by domestic and foreign border-control agencies, airlines and airports for ticket purchasing, reservations and boarding card printing. “All systems that handle passenger data, including personal identity information, follow the ICAO standards. This makes sure no matter where someone travels, their passport or travel document works across computer systems,” said immigration department spokesperson Nancy Caron.

University of Manitoba professor Frank Deer said language is one of the fundamental elements of any national identity that “stores something” about a person’s cultural identity, communal identity, as well as their own personal histories. “When people are concerned about names, they appear to me to be concerned about elements of those different identities,” said Deer, who specializes in Indigenous language education and identity studies.

Himself a Mohawk from Kahnawake in Quebec, he said there has been a growing awareness and interests of the Canadian Indigenous experience, but each community and nation is at different stages of the journey of reclamation.

Ancestral names are sacred and often inherited and carried through family lines or given when the person is “ready” to take a name in different phases of life, but how and why a person receives a name varies across Indigenous cultures, Michelle Nahanee (Ta7talíya) said. Nahanee has two Indigenous names…

She only acquired her second Indigenous name, Ta7talíya, three years ago at another naming ceremony just for her and her daughter. While these ceremonies vary from community to community, at Nahanee’s, witnesses were called to remember her name and share teachings about the meaning of carrying the name.

All applicants, for instance, must first navigate a cumbersome provincial name-change process as a prerequisite to reclaim their names on passports, citizenship certificates and Indian status cards. “What complicates this further is that many folks may have been born in a different province and have or need documentation from that province for the application,” Tao explained.

“Many provinces did not even post the process for Indigenous name changes, so we had to reach out to those provinces to figure out how to do it.”

Each province also has different rules on who can receive fee waivers, while the federal government does it free of charge. In B.C., for example, applicants also require an affidavit to prove one is connected to Indian residential schools or the “Sixties scoop.”

Denial of access to education for Inuit youth who are prohibited from speaking Inuktuk and/or English

May 19, 2021: Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse – Considering the limited availability of residential care units for youth in Nunavik, Inuit youth must leave their communities to receive rehabilitation services. Two media articles reporting that Inuit youth could not speak their language in rehabilitation centers prompted the Commission to launch an investigation. The investigation initially concerned the right of Inuit youth to speak their language as well as the social services they receive while in the residential care of the CIUSSS-de-l’Ouest-de- l’Île-de-Montréal (CIUSSS-ODIM). However, the Commission soon realized that youth residing in these facilities were deprived of a formal education, as were youth residing in units under the governance of the Ungava Tulattavik Health Center in Dorval. For this reason, the scope of the investigation was expanded to include their right to education.

The investigation focused on the following areas:

  • The cultural safety of Inuit youth from Nunavik placed under the residential care of the CIUSSS-ODIM
    • The use of language
    • Cultural and social isolation: obstacles to exercising cultural rights
    • Rehabilitation services
    • Cultural competence and clinical tools
    • The right to rehabilitation services in their communities
  • Access to education in English of Inuit youth placed in residential care
    • Obstacles to access to education in English and lack of schooling
    • The limits of the legal framework
    • The cultural safety of Aboriginal students

Final considerations

The current investigation demonstrates a series of actions and omissions and institutional practices on the part of the different actors involved which led to the exclusion of Inuit children in residential care from the formal education system as well as a chronic violation of their right to education and to the full development of their human and cultural potential.

Québec’s Bill 96 “An Act respecting French, the official and common language of Québec” ignores the impact on Indigenous language and treaty rights

May 14, 2021: The Assembly of First Nations Québec – Labrador – The AFNQL is in a very good position to understand the merits of the linguistic initiative launched by the Government of Quebec through its Bill 96 on the official and common language of Quebec, but it warns that the survival and development of one language must never be at the expense of another language and must never be based on coercion. The ten First Nations that make up the AFNQL will respectfully examine the Quebec bill, and together, they will prepare and make known their reaction, clearly and firmly, in due course. The option that the Chiefs’ Assembly will choose to formally express its position to the Government of Quebec and to the entire Quebec population will be decisive for our living together. For a respectful relationship between us, it is fundamental that the position of First Nations on the essential question of languages be clear and well understood.

First Nations understand better than anyone the importance of preserving the language passed down to us by our parents. Our languages are the bearers of our traditions, our cultures, and our values. Some of our First Nations have lived through sad historical episodes whose asserted goal was to eradicate their culture and language. They had the resilience to survive, not without pain. Today, they are working to revive and maintain them to preserve and transmit their integrity to the younger generations. In addition to the primary question of the original languages, for several First Nations, the use of second languages, either French or English, which they have had imposed on them, is also an issue that will be the subject of reflection by the Chiefs.

June 7, 2021: Montreal Gazette – The leader of the Kanesatake Mohawk community is demanding the Quebec government include the protection of territory, languages and culture of Indigenous people in its bill recognizing Quebec as a nation in the Canadian constitution and establishing French as the only official language.

Quebec’s Bill 96 is a “second colonization”, Kanesatake Grand Chief says. He also said he’s concerned that Quebec wants to recognize its status as a nation and protect the French language on the province’s territory, when that territory is in large part unceded Indigenous territory and there has been no discussion or negotiation with First Nations.

Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated calls for rejection of Bill 25 “An Act to Amend the Education Act and the Inuit Language Protection Act

Nov. 4, 2020 – Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated (NTI) calls on Members of the Legislative Assembly to reject Bill 25, “An Act to Amend the Education Act and the Inuit Language Protection Act”. “When Inuit created the Territory of Nunavut in 1999, Inuit had high hopes of a school system based on Inuktut, and a government workforce which reflects the population in Nunavut, consisting of Inuit fluent in our own language,” said President Kotierk. “That aspiration was reaffirmed by Inuit and District Education Authorities during the consultations in 2007, 2016 and 2019.”

Bill 25 was primarily drafted to relieve the Department Education of responsibilities mandated by the Inuit Language Protection Act. The Bill sidesteps accountability for a decline in attendance and student achievement rates and its lack of services for inclusive education. The latest version of Bill 25 remains substantially the same as the first version introduced in June 2019 and does not account for feedback provided to the Standing Committee on Legislation from NTI, the Coalition of Nunavut District Education Authorities (CNDEA), the Office of the Languages Commissioner and the Nunavut Teachers’ Association.

Nov. 10, 2020: CBC – Inuktut, the umbrella term for all Inuit languages, is now to be phased in as a language of instruction over the next 20 years. That means it will take until 2039 for all students to have Inuktut taught as a first language.

In Nunavut, 65 per cent of the population speaks Inuktut as its mother tongue, says Statistics Canada. In 2016, 89 per cent of Nunavut’s Inuit population reported being able to have a conversation in Inuktut. James Eetoolook, acting president of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., the land-claims organization that represents the territory’s Inuit, says the legislation fails to protect Inuit language rights. He says he is concerned “that the Inuktut language and culture are being eliminated in the schools of Nunavut.” “This constitutes cultural genocide,” Eetoolook told The Canadian Press.

Inuit Objections to Bill C-91

June 20, 2019 – Inuit Tapariit Kanatami (ITK) regrets that Bill C-91, “An Act respecting Indigenous languages“, passed into law without inclusion of any Inuit-specific priorities. In its current format, this law does not affirm Inuit language rights or close the legal and policy gaps that contribute to the erosion of Inuktut as the first, only or preferred language spoken by Inuit in Inuit Nunangat, and does not create any new legal obligations for the Government of Canada.

June 26, 2019: Nunatsiak News – ITK and Nunavut Tunngavik Inc raised the following objections:

  • Bill does not recognize Inuktut as an official language within the 4 regions of Inuit Nunangat and requires Inuit to use English or French to access federal services
  • Federal departments and agencies do not have to offer services in Inuit language
  • Inequitable federal funding policies that favor English and French vs Inuit
  • Inuit in provinces must use English or French to access language services

Funding for Inuktut language services vs funding for French

French = $8,190 per capita vs Inuit = $184 per capita

June 7, 2017: CBC – Inuktut language services in Nunavut Tunngavik receive similar funding to French services despite nearly 50 times more speakers The federal government funds $14.25M over 4 years to support 435 french-speaking people (2011 census) vs. $15.8M to support 21,515 people who speak Inuktitut or Inuinnaqtun as their mother tongues. On a per capita basis $8,190 for French vs $184 for Inuktuk languages annually. Inuktut is a term that refers to all Inuit languages, including Nunavut’s Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun dialects. 

English and French are not the only official languages of Canada, especially in the north where both languages are in the minority and do not reflect the linguistic reality.

Refusing to establish Inuktuk as an official language

Mar. 20, 2019 – Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. President Aluki Kotierk. With this budget, the Government of Canada has strengthened funding for minority language service for English and French, yet, failed to invest equitably in Indigenous languages. NTI seeks recognition that Inuktut is the majority language in Nunavut and must be the language of public services, including education, justice and health services.

July 9, 2019 – The aspiration of Nunavut is a step closer as Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated (NTI) seeks guidance for self-government from Inuit Elders and commits to becoming an Inuktut language workplace announced President Aluki Kotierk from Kugluktuk today. Inuktut language assessments have been completed with NTI staff. All staff will receive on the job training and support based on their needs. New terminology in technical fields, finance and law will be developed. More than 200 hours in Inuktitut training have been delivered with Inuit staff of NTI in the past two years. “As identified in the study on the education system, ‘Nunavut has a history of cultural genocide, linguicide, econocide and historicide, and this continues,’” said Kotierk. “We can no longer wait for governments to deliver on their promises. We must take action.”

Call to Action Status Updates

Inuit Objections to Bill C-91

June 20, 2019 – Inuit Tapariit Kanatami (ITK) regrets that Bill C-91, “An Act respecting Indigenous languages“, passed into law without inclusion of any Inuit-specific priorities. In its current format, this law does not affirm Inuit language rights or close the legal and policy gaps that contribute to the erosion of Inuktut as the first, only or preferred language spoken by Inuit in Inuit Nunangat, and does not create any new legal obligations for the Government of Canada.

June 26, 2019: Nunatsiak News – ITK and Nunavut Tunngavik Inc raised the following objections:

  • Bill does not recognize Inuktut as an official language within the 4 regions of Inuit Nunangat and requires Inuit to use English or French to access federal services
  • Federal departments and agencies do not have to offer services in Inuit language
  • Inequitable federal funding policies that favor English and French vs Inuit
  • Inuit in provinces must use English or French to access language services

Feb. 5, 2019 – Failure to incorporate Inuit specific recommendations into the Indigenous Language Act. “Inuktut speakers make up the majority of the population in Inuit Nunangat yet the federal government allocates a larger share of public sector resources for the English and French speaking minority populations,” the position paper prepared by ITK states.

ITK also wants the new legislation to require federal services to be delivered in Inuktut within Inuit Nunangat. “Access to federal services in Inuktut is vital for Inuit, especially in Nunavut and Nunavik where Inuktut is the majority mother tongue,” the report states. Inuktut is the common language spoken by 84 per cent of Inuit living in 51 communities.

Inuit priorities communicated to the federal government during the discussion phase:

  • status of Inuktut in Inuit Nunangat with respect to federal laws and activities;
  • use of Inuktut in the delivery of federal programs and services in Inuit Nunangat and elsewhere where numbers warrant;
  • without restricting the responsibilities of provincial, territorial and municipal governments, measures to support the provision of Inuktut programs and services in relation to education, health and the administration of justice;
  • use of Inuktut in the federal public service;
  • principles to govern federal financial support for Inuktut;
  • the role of Inuit representative organizations in the negotiation of intergovernmental agreements in relation to Inuktut; and,
  • timelines and schedules for implementation measures, supported by appropriate regulatory and other tools.

Funding for Inuktut language services vs funding for French

Funding for Inuktut language services vs funding for French

June 7, 2017: CBC – Inuktut language services in Nunavut Tunngavik receive similar funding to French services despite nearly 50 times more speakers The federal government funds $14.25M over 4 years to support 435 french-speaking people (2011 census) vs. $15.8M to support 21,515 people who speak Inuktitut or Inuinnaqtun as their mother tongues. On a per capita basis $8,190 for French vs $184 for Inuktuk languages annually. Inuktut is a term that refers to all Inuit languages, including Nunavut’s Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun dialects. 

French = $8,190 per capita vs Inuit = $184 per capita

English and French are not the only official languages of Canada, especially in the north where both languages are in the minority and do not reflect the linguistic reality.

Refusing to establish Inuktuk as an official language

Mar. 20, 2019 – Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. President Aluki Kotierk. With this budget, the Government of Canada has strengthened funding for minority language service for English and French, yet, failed to invest equitably in Indigenous languages. NTI seeks recognition that Inuktut is the majority language in Nunavut and must be the language of public services, including education, justice and health services.

July 9, 2019 – The aspiration of Nunavut is a step closer as Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated (NTI) seeks guidance for self-government from Inuit Elders and commits to becoming an Inuktut language workplace announced President Aluki Kotierk from Kugluktuk today. Inuktut language assessments have been completed with NTI staff. All staff will receive on the job training and support based on their needs. New terminology in technical fields, finance and law will be developed. More than 200 hours in Inuktitut training have been delivered with Inuit staff of NTI in the past two years. “As identified in the study on the education system, ‘Nunavut has a history of cultural genocide, linguicide, econocide and historicide, and this continues,’” said Kotierk. “We can no longer wait for governments to deliver on their promises. We must take action.”

Call to Action Status Updates

For an updated summary of the TRC Calls to Action, including all Language and Culture Calls to Action, click here (PD
F 205 KB).