Academic journal article Canadian Parliamentary Review

One Land - Many Voices: Report of the NWT Special Committee on the Review of the Official Languages Act

Academic journal article Canadian Parliamentary Review

One Land - Many Voices: Report of the NWT Special Committee on the Review of the Official Languages Act

Article excerpt

In 1984, the Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT) passed the Official Languages Ordinance which recognized English and French as official languages. The Ordinance also gave recognition to the Aboriginal languages of the NWT. In 1985, the Official Languages Ordinance became the Official Languages Act. This Act was amended in 1990 to recognize Cree, Chipewyan, Dogrib, Inuktitut, Inuvialuktun, Inuinnaqtun, Gwich'in, North Slavey, and South Slavey as official languages within institutions of the Legislative Assembly and GNWT, along with French and English. It also established the Office of the Languages Commissioner. Since that time, the government has been carrying out activities to promote the use of all official languages. A Special Committee on the Review of the Official Languages Act was established in 2000 as a committee of the Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories. It tabled an interim report in June 2002. This article is based on the executive summary of the interim report.

The Special Committee was asked to review the effectiveness of the Official Languages Act. The Committee has had to respond to the following questions:

* Do people understand the Official Languages Act?

* Is the Act working to protect and preserve all of the official languages?

* Are the needs of the official languages being met?

* What can be done to improve the Act?

* What can be done to improve the delivery of language programs and services in the NWT?

In the spring of 2001, the Committee hired staff and began to carry out planning and research activities. In October, the Committee hosted a territorial languages assembly in Yellowknife. Representatives from all the official language communities attended this gathering. The Committee also began to travel to communities throughout the NWT to meet with people who were concerned about their languages. At the same time, the Committee communicated regularly with all of the people and organizations interested in the NWT's official languages.

In March, the Committee held public hearings in Yellowknife. At these hearings, presentations were made by Aboriginal organizations, the francophone community, past and current territorial languages commissioners, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), Senator Sibbeston and the Language Commissioner of Canada.

The Special Committee is continuing to do research on government language services, the Office of the Languages Commissioner, language education, and Aboriginal language rights. The Committee still has a few communities to visit and also plans to hold another territorial languages assembly in the fall of 2002. Then, during the fall of 2002, the Committee will prepare its final report, which may recommend changes to the Official Languages Act and to the way the Act is implemented.

In order to preserve the official languages of the NWT, we have to use these languages on a day-to-day basis. This is not an easy task for the Aboriginal and French languages, because English is such a dominant language in the NWT and Canada. Preserving languages means that everyone in the NWT -- including governments, community organizations, and individuals -- has to make an effort to use our official languages more often.

Language Shift and Language Revitalization

"Language shift" refers to a significant decline or increase in language use. For example, if elders speak their traditional language, but their grandchildren speak only English, then language shift has occurred. Language shift usually happens because another language becomes dominant. It can also happen when people are forced to speak another language, through inter-cultural marriage, or when people move to an area where another language is spoken. In the NWT, statistics clearly show that use of the Aboriginal languages has declined over the past few generations. Some languages have declined more than others. …

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