[Witness spoke in Inuktitut]
Good morning, Chair, and members of the committee.
I thank you for inviting me to present to you as you undertake a study on the inclusion of indigenous languages on federal election ballots.
The topic today is very important. It is especially important with the backdrop of the International Decade of Indigenous Languages, 2022 to 2032. As was just pointed out, today is National Indigenous Languages Day.
I am joining you virtually from Iqaluit, Nunavut. Nunavut is the only province or territory in Canada where the mother tongue of the majority of the population is homogeneously neither French nor English.
In fact, in 2016 the Canadian census painted a very clear picture. For Nunavut there is a heading that reads “official languages”, 11,020 English, 595 French; and a heading that reads “non-official languages”, 22,600 Inuit languages. Both federally recognized official languages are minority languages in Nunavut.
Nunavut Inuit expect to hear, see, read and speak Inuktut in all aspects of their daily lives in Nunavut. This expectation includes participation in democracy through the casting of their votes.
Until being moved to communities between the 1940s and 1960s, Inuit continued to live nomadic lives and governed themselves with very limited government interactions. In 1950, Inuit were given the right to vote; however, according to Elections Canada, it wasn't until 1962 that all Inuit communities actually had access to voting services.
As voting citizens, we elect our representatives. We choose a representative thinking that they have a good understanding of our lived experiences and will be in the best position to be able to promote our interests and our views.
We expect elections to be fair so that all Inuit can freely participate in elections. During the most recent federal election in 2019, the voter turnout, according to Elections Canada, was 48% in Nunavut. This was the lowest compared to all other provinces and territories in Canada where the average voter turnout was 67% of all eligible voters. In other words, the majority of those who were eligible to vote in Nunavut did not vote and did not elect their member of Parliament. That is not good. It is not good for our democracy and it is not good for our country.
In a 2019 CBC news article, Iqaluit resident Elisapi Aningmiuq shared how she was asked to translate a sign that stated “mandatory mask” when she told elections staff at the Iqaluit polling station that the sign was not made available in Inuktitut. She translated one sign, but then declined when she was asked to translate more. Elisapi commented that it was not her job to do Elections Canada a favour when they were not prepared and that it was disheartening to see signs not made available in Inuktitut.
Worrying about the impact this may have on unilingual Inuktitut speakers, Aningmiuq said that it's just not acceptable not to see Inuktitut in the signs that are meant for our community.
The reality is it is quite common in our daily lives as bilingual Inuktut-speaking and English-speaking Inuit to be expected to provide interpretation and translation services.
One important way to encourage Inuit to participate in the democratic process is to reduce every possible barrier for them to vote.
It is commendable that Elections Canada has taken some initiatives to address the issue. For example, in the 2019 election, Elections Canada translated the voting guide, voter information cards and some other material into Inuktitut, and their information campaign included ads in Inuktitut among other things.
To date, however, Inuktut is not on the ballot, and the efforts by Elections Canada are inconsistent, ad hoc and depend on the goodwill of the staff of the day.
We need a consistent system that is legally required in order to provide these services in Inuktut and other indigenous languages.
As I begin my conclusion, I want to point out how commendable it is that the current government has made reconciliation with indigenous peoples an important priority. Supporting indigenous peoples in Canada and the right to vote in their own language could be an important step towards the goal of reconciliation. It would help us feel as indigenous people that we are an important part of the democratic system. It would demonstrate respect for our language, our culture and our world view as a self-determining people. We would have a stronger sense of our ownership in Canadian democratic institutions, which would provide a stronger foundation for Canada to move forward with indigenous peoples and make Canada stronger.
To recap, Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated supports putting indigenous languages on ballots in ridings with a substantial presence of indigenous peoples and supports giving voters the right to request special ballots in the indigenous language of their choice no matter where they may live. Such an initiative would make us stronger as a country and would contribute towards the goal of reconciliation.