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NTI accuses feds of undermining Inuit language after obtaining 'secret' land claim cabinet document

Land claims organization Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated (NTI) has uncovered a historic cabinet document that it claims is evidence that the Government of Canada sought to block the use of the Inuit language as the new territory was established.

"Within Nunavut, Inuit expect to be able to receive essential services in Inuktut," says Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. President Aluki Kotierk. NNSL file photo

In the March 1990 federal government negotiations document, marked "secret" atop each page, there is a passage reading:

"The Final Agreement shall not contain any guarantee for the creation of a Nunavut Territory or provide general linguistic guarantees for the use of Inuktitut in government and the legal and educational system in the claims area. Guarantees negotiated for use of Inuktitut in relation to joint management structures established pursuant to the agreement are acceptable."

In a news release issued Thursday, NTI, which obtained the document through an access to information request, refers to the aforementioned passage as "damning."

Although cabinet altered its position on the creation of the territory, it "did not budge on its systemic refusal to respect and support Inuktut. As a result, Inuit continue to suffer from a lack of adequate accessible government services in their own homeland," the NTI news release reads.

NTI points out that French-language rights were reinforced by the Supreme Court of Canada while Ottawa was deliberating on the Nunavut land claim. This is proof of Canada's "premeditated" intent to withhold Inuit language rights, according to NTI.

Today, only 25 per cent of kindergarten to Grade 12 schools offer some Inuktut to students in the first three grades, the land claims organization noted.

"Nunavut's 75 per cent mother tongue Inuktitut population is the only jurisdiction where the tax-paying majority of citizens, speaking a homogeneous language are schooled, hospitalized and policed in a minority language (English)," NTI stated.

NTI President Aluki Kotierk urged the Government of Canada to "do the right thing and uphold and support Inuktut language rights so that Inuktut may continue to thrive."

The land claims organization's press release also quotes York University professor Ian Martin, who calls upon Ottawa to "immediately provide constitutionally-protected language rights as well as equitable funding to compensate for the secret denial of rights to the Inuit of Nunavut."

Nunavut News has requested a response from the federal government.

The cabinet document can be viewed here: