On April 1, 2013 the historical Nunavut Official Languages Act was finally implemented. The Act elevated the Inuit language to the prominent status formerly reserved only to French and English in this vast Canadian territory. This unprecedented legal move that aims to preserve and protect an aboriginal language is the first of its kind in Canada. Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun the Inuit languages are the native tongue of 83% of the population of the territory.
Nunavut means “our land” in the Inuit language. It is a two million square kilometers expanse of land. The territory is located east of the Hudson Bay and north of Manitoba and involves land within the Arctic Circle. The territory includes forests and plains, navigable and frozen seas, as well as ice, rock, and snow. This territory has been annexed by Canada for more than 100 years. It has as estimated 35,000 residents.
Preservation of Culture
The Minister of Languages James Arreak is only too proud now that public programs and activities in Nunavut can now be delivered using three official languages. He hails the act as a valid recognition of the “inherent right” of the Inuit to use their own language. He also commends the same way that the act maintains the importance of the contributions of English and French in the cultural development of Nunavut.
The Official Languages Act
The Official Languages Act (OLA) guarantees many things, one of which is that English, French, and Inuit are used equally in debates and other official proceedings. This goes the same for all court and legislative proceedings as well as other official communications.
The legislation that OLA replaced, the Northwest Territories Official Languages Act, made the official language of the Inuit second only to French and English in terms of status. The same lesser position was assigned to six other aboriginal languages.
Equal rights and privileges
The Inuit language now enjoys the same rights and privileges as French and English. All three are now on equal footing and will be used equally on all the departments comprising the Government of Nunavut, the courts and the Legislative Assembly. It took five years to pass the act as law. Now, the residents of Nunavut may access various services of the government in Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun.
Comprehensive implementation guidelines
To guide the Government of Nunavut a comprehensive plan is in place for the implementation of the provisions of the Official Languages Act and the Inuit Language Protection Act as well. The Uqausivut implementation plan intends to provide the means necessary so that public agencies would be abreast of the proper utilization of all three languages in public service.
Funds have been set aside in support of the Uqausivut implementation plan. The budgetary allotment for the Inuit language is about five million dollars, while around $1.45 million is set aside for the French language. The funds will be administered by the Department of Culture and Heritage. These funds will support activities aimed at promoting the two languages.