Inuit leaders applaud UN move to designate International Decade of Indigenous Languages

A view of the United Nations Headquarters in New York on September 27, 2018. (Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Images)
International Inuit leaders applauded the UN move on Wednesday to proclaim 2022-2032 as the International Decade of Indigenous Languages.

“We, representatives of the Inuit people (Yupigit) from the Arctic Russian territory, welcome and support the proclamation of the International Decade of Indigenous Languages,” said Liubov Taian, Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC) Vice Chair for Chukotka in a news release on Thursday. 

“Languages are essential for the identity of our peoples and individuals and for their peaceful coexistence. They are also a strategic factor in moving towards sustainable development and establishing a harmonious balance between global and local interests. Our common goal is to recognize at the national, regional and international levels the importance of linguistic diversity and multilingualism in educational, administrative and legal systems, in the field of cultural expression, as well as in the media, Internet and commercial relations.”

ICC is an organization that represents the approximately 180,000 Inuit in Alaska, Canada ,Greenland, and Chukotka, Russia.

Liubov Taian, Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC) Vice Chair for Chukotka (middle) in an undated photo. (Courtesy ICC Alaska)

The UN General Assembly made the language proclamation this week saying on the United Nations web site that it was an effort to “…draw attention to the loss of Indigenous languages and the urgent need to preserve and promote them.”

Vera Metcalf, an ICC executive council member of Alaska, said the move was an important acknowledgement.

“This Proclamation is much needed and will be helpful to all Indigenous language speakers,” she said. 

“More importantly, recognizing indigenous languages will reinforce our cultural knowledge and identity.” 

Sounding the alarm for Nunavut

2019 was earlier declared International Year Of Indigenous Languages (IYIL 2019)

At the IYIL 2019 closing ceremony in New York on December 17, Aluki Kotierk, president of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc, the organization that represents Inuit in Canada’s eastern Arctic territory of Nunavut, reiterated the urgent need to address Inuit language survival in the Arctic. 

“We have much work to do to address language inequities,” Kotierk said.

Kotierk used the situation in Nunavut as an example.

“Inuit make up 85% of the population and 70% identify Inuktut as their mother-tongue,” she said. (Inuktut is a term used in Nunavut to refer to all its Inuit language dialects.) 

The number of Inuit children aged 0 to 4 years who had Inuktut as their mother tongue, dropped 10 percentage points between 2001 and 2016, a Statistics Canada report found. (Sara Frizzell/CBC)

She continued that Nunavut “is the only jurisdiction in Canada that has a majority language that is not one of the federally recognized official languages… Despite this fact, Inuktut is not the working language of government nor the language used to provide essential public services.”  (English and French are Canada’s two official languages). 

The UN resolution also calls for “urgent steps at the national and international” levels to address Indigenous language loss and provide funding for implementation of the International decade in partnership with Indigenous Peoples.

Write to Eilís Quinn at eilis.quinn(at)cbc.ca

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Inuktitut language education terminology developed for Inuit region of Arctic Quebec, Eye on the Arctic

Finland: Budget cuts threaten international Sámi language cooperation, Yle News

Norway: Walt Disney Animation Studios to release Saami-language version of “Frozen 2”, Eye on the Arctic

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

Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn is an award-winning journalist and manages Radio Canada International’s Eye on the Arctic news cooperation project. Eilís has reported from the Arctic regions of all eight circumpolar countries and has produced numerous documentary and multimedia series about climate change and the issues facing Indigenous peoples in the North.

Her investigative report "Death in the Arctic: A community grieves, a father fights for change," about the murder of Robert Adams, a 19-year-old Inuk man from Arctic Quebec, received the silver medal for “Best Investigative Article or Series” at the 2019 Canadian Online Publishing Awards. The project also received an honourable mention for excellence in reporting on trauma at the 2019 Dart Awards in New York City.

Her report “The Arctic Railway: Building a future or destroying an culture?” on the impact a multi-billion euro infrastructure project would have on Indigenous communities in Arctic Europe was a finalist at the 2019 Canadian Association of Journalists award in the online investigative category.

Her multimedia project on the health challenges in the Canadian Arctic, "Bridging the Divide," was a finalist at the 2012 Webby Awards.

Her work on climate change in the Arctic has also been featured on the TV science program Découverte, as well as Le Téléjournal, the French-Language CBC’s flagship news cast.

Eilís has worked for media organizations in Canada and the United States and as a TV host for the Discovery/BBC Worldwide series "Best in China."

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