Residents in Arctic Canadian territory call for Inuktitut on federal election ballots

A sign from Elections Nunavut. While territorial and municipal elections have Inuktitut ballots available, only French and English are covered under the Canada Elections Act. (Nick Murray/CBC)
Some Nunavummiut (residents of Nunavut, in Canada’s eastern Arctic) are disappointed that there aren’t Inuktitut ballots for voters in the federal election Monday.

Kilikvak Kabloona, an Iqaluit resident, says she made a formal complaint to Elections Canada and Nunavut’s language commissioner after she voted in advanced polls and noticed the signs and ballots were not in Inuktitut.

“Inuktitut is the majority language of the population and it is the first language of many people in Nunavut,” Kabloona said.

“It’s really difficult to understand why the signage and the ballots wouldn’t be printed in the language of the majority.”

Under the Nunavut Languages Act there are four official languages: Inuktitut, Inuinnaqtun, French and English. In municipal and territorial elections ballots are offered in Inuktitut.

According to a spokesperson for Elections Canada, changes would have to be made to the Canada Elections Act in order for syllabics to be included on future ballots.

“The ballots won’t be printed in Inuktitut,” said Matthew McKenna. “They will be in English and French, as they will be across the country.”

‘Impedes linguistic rights’

Elections Canada does provide advertising and voting information guides in Inuktitut. It will also accept voter ID in syllabics, said McKenna.

He said there will be people helping at the polling station in Nunavut who speak Inuktitut and will be able to assist unilingual speakers.

“The goal really is if an elector arrives at the polls and they are really only comfortable speaking Inuktitut that there will be plenty of people there to help give them the instructions that they need in Inuktitut,” said McKenna.

Aluki Kotierk, president of Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated, says Inuit have a right to have their language on federal election ballots. (Travis Burke/CBC)

Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. president Aluki Kotierk says not having ballots available in Inuktitut can impede on a person’s democratic rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

“I think it impedes linguistic rights that Inuit have,” said Kotierk.

“If a person is unable to understand who they are voting for, that goes against, I would say, their democratic right to vote.”

Voters in advanced polls also posted complaints on social media about Inuktitut not being on the ballot. While Kotierk said social media helps draw attention to the problem, she encourages people to “flood” the office of Nunavut’s language commissioner with complaints about the issue.

CBC reached out to Nunavut’s interim language commissioner, Karliin Aariak, for comment on Friday, but she said she couldn’t comment until she officially starts the job, which is on election day.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Inuit languages declining in Canada’s Nunavut territory, stats show, CBC News

Finland: BBC lists Sami journalist Sara Wesslin among world’s 100 most influential women, Yle News

Sweden: Calls for more Indigenous protection in Sweden on Sami national day, Radio Sweden

United States: Indigenous leaders at UN meeting push for decade dedicated to language revitalization, CBC News

Jackie McKay, CBC News

Jackie McKay, CBC News

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