Language, Politics, and Social Interaction in an Inuit Community

Language, Politics, and Social Interaction in an Inuit Community

Language, Politics, and Social Interaction in an Inuit Community

Language, Politics, and Social Interaction in an Inuit Community

Synopsis

Since the early 1970s, the Inuit of Arctic Quebec have struggled to survive economically and culturally in a rapidly changing northern environment. The promotion and maintenance of Inuktitut, their native language, through language policy and Inuit control over institutions, have played a major role in this struggle. Language, Politics, and Social Interaction in an Inuit Community is a study of indigenous language maintenance in an Arctic Quebec community where four languages - Inuktitut, Cree, French, and English - are spoken. It examines the role that dominant and minority languages play in the social life of this community, linking historical analysis with an ethnographic study of face-to-face interaction and attitudes towards learning and speaking second and third languages in everyday life.

Excerpt

One day in the spring of 1990, while working as an adult educator in a remote community in Arctic Quebec (also known as Nunavik) near the Hudson Strait, I found a pamphlet at my door written in three languages: Inuktitut (the language of the Inuit), French, and English. The Constitution of Nunavik, as it was titled, outlined the constitutional principles of an emerging nation-state and the political and institutional aspirations of the regional Inuit government for the area above the 55th parallel in northern Quebec. The pamphlet represented a form of Aboriginal politics that I had not been exposed to during my previous six months on the job. For the first time, I became acutely aware of a form of nationalism—the formation of a nation-state—based on a territory governed and populated primarily by Inuit.

Nine years later, on 1 April 1999, Canada officially recognized a new northern territory in the Eastern Arctic called Nunavut (which translates as ‘our land’ in Inuktitut). Situated directly north and west of Nunavik (which translates as ‘big land’), Nunavut comprises the eastern half of the former Northwest Territories (see Map 3 in Appendix). With a population that is over 80% Inuit, most of whom continue to speak their language, it was officially recognized after a twenty-year-long negotiation between the Inuit of the Northwest Territories and the Canadian government, and is presented as a successful example of a form of Native self-government within the Canadian federal state. While the founding of Nunavut received a good deal of media and government attention, less attention has been directed to the Inuit of Nunavik, where a limited form of self-government has been in place since the signing of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement in 1975 and where currently discussions are underway with the goal of creating a more powerful Nunavik government (Nunavik Commission 2001).

Whether The Constitution of Nunavik is best seen as part of a proper Aboriginal “nationalist” movement (Alfred 1995) or as the nascent or emerging “nationalism” of a regional government working . . .

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