Friday, June 09, 2006

Nunavut Government Officials will have to speak Inuktitut Inuit Language

Senior government officials in Nunavut territory in Canada's Arctic have been told that they have to be able to speak the native Inuit language Inuktitut by 2008, or risk losing their jobs.

Premier Paul Okalik said the goal is to have Nunavut's senior staff comfortable in Inuktitut within 18 months as he revealed the policy during the mid-term leadership review Tuesday.

"Well they have to be fluent, they have to work with members and with people within Nunavut," the premier said. "They should understand and be able to communicate with Inuit that may be unilingual."

Seven deputy ministers and presidents of Canadian Crown corporations are taking Inuktitut lessons three times a week in a 14-month course, Okalik said. Three assistant deputy ministers are also taking classes. Inuktitut is he first language of 85 per cent of the territory's population.

"We felt that that was enough time," he said. "I recall when I was learning English, I didn't have much help so it's about time that our language was respected and treated in the same way."

Education Minister Ed Picco, one of the few non-Inuit in the Nunavut territorial assembly, has been increasing his use of Inuktitut in the legislature. He says he backs the premier's move. "He's not saying that other languages cannot be used," he said. "He wants to have the fully bilingual system in place."

Hunter Tootoo, who doesn't speak Inuktitut, thinks the policy goes too far. The Iqaluit Centre MLA supports the territory's goal of having it as the government's working language by 2020, but questions the method employed.

"I think the way to achieve that is not by taking the language and forcing on somebody," he said. "I think if we do things, like make changes in the education system, you won't have to teach them Inuktitut, they'll be from here," he said.

Nevertheless, the premier said, he's starting with top senior staff, and the Inuktitut language requirement will eventually reach those in the levels below.

For Inuit art from Nunavut, see Free Spirit Gallery

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