Some in Nunavut are concerned about the steady loss of the Inuit language, which is indigenous to that autonomous territory of the Canadian Arctic. Two Nunavut bodies are now criticizing the Canadian government because, in their opinion, Ottawa is not allocating enough resources to promote the language. Criticism is following an announcement by the Canadian government to ratify a 2.7 million Canadian dollar (2 million euro) fund to promote French and Inuit languages in Nunavut.
Nunavut Languages Commissioner Sandra Inutiq believes the figure is largely insufficient to meet the needs of the Inuit language. Furthermore, Inutiq says the fund allocation discriminates against Inuit speakers. Out of the 2.7 million, 1.6 will be spent on the French language, while 1.1 will be spent on the Inuit language. ""If the majority of the population [...] speaks the Inuit language, why do we not receive the same per capita amount of funding?", she wonders.
According to the 2011 census, 31,765 people live in Nunavut. 21,515 have Inuit as their mother tongue, while only 435 have French as theirs. This means the fund is allocating some 3,700 dollars per French speaker, while it only sets 50 dollars per Inuit speaker.
Inuit, English and French have enjoyed official language status in Nunavut since 2013. The 2008 Nunavut Education Act put in place a bilingual education system in Inuit and English or French.
These are, however, recent measures. Inuit language speakers have been discriminated against for decades by the Canadian authorities. English, officially promoted by Canada, has taken an increasingly central role in Nunavut society over decades. Thus, despite the fact that 21,515 people have Inuit as their mother tongue, only 16,595 declare that it is the language most often spoken at home. English, on the other side, is the mother tongue for 8,925 people, but it is the main home language for 14,440 people. This signals that some Inuit mother tongue speakers have switched to English at home.
"We need equitable funding to ensure our language thrives," says Nunavut Tunngavik Vice-President James Eetoolook. Nunavut Tunngavik is the legal representative of the Inuit of Nunavut on issues related to land claims and rights. "Although our language use is still strong," Eeetoolook argues, "we are experiencing language erosion, a rapidly growing population, and increasing pressures from dominant languages."
(Imatge: an Inuit-language mural in a school in Nunavut / photo by Alan Sim.)