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Territorial Responsibility to Preserve Culture through Language

Tansi Nîtôtemtik/Negha Dagondih,

Kept again within the aspect of culture, and culture through language, Calls to Action #13 and 15 state:

13. “We call upon the federal government to acknowledge that Aboriginal rights include Aboriginal language rights.”[1]

15. “We call upon the federal government, to appoint in consultation with Aboriginal groups, an Aboriginal Languages Commissioner. The commissioner should help promote Aboriginal languages and report on the adequacy of federal funding of Aboriginal-languages initiatives.”[2]

When looking at governmental action in the Northwest Territories, there have been positive steps that have been taken and are likely to showcase tangible and meaningful measures. In the Northwest Territories, the Indigenous Languages and Education Secretariat (ILES) state some of their objectives:

In 2014, the GNWT established the Indigenous Languages and Education Secretariat (ILES) within the Department of Education, Culture and Employment (ECE) to enhance the protection, revitalization and strengthening of Indigenous languages throughout the NWT.

ILES primary responsibilities include:

1. Oversee the NWT Indigenous Languages Framework (2017)and Action Plan(2018 to 2022), a four year plan that provides the blueprint for Indigenous language revitalization and access in the NWT.

2. Administer the multi-year Canada-NWT Cooperation Agreement for Indigenous Languages. The agreement transfers funds directly to Regional Indigenous Governments to lead and manage their own regional language plans, while sustaining training and professional development activities, community broadcasting, and other language-related initiatives.[3]

The full list of ILES’ responsibilities can be read and reviewed here. In nature, and in philosophy, it seems like the Government of the Northwest Territories is aware that traditional Indigenous governments and governance structures are best positioned to make sure language is preserved, and therefore culture, through language, is safeguarded for future generations.

One way in which culture is being preserved through language initiatives in the North is the Mentor-Apprenticeship Program (MAP). MAP achieves cultural integration and learning by:

“...learning a language where a fluent speaker of the language (a Mentor) teaches a language learner (an Apprentice) through immersion. The goal of the program is to have Apprentices increase their ability to understand and speak their language. While reading and writing are important skills, an Apprentice must be able to understand and speak to become fluent. Spoken language is the focus of MAP learning.

As each Apprentice becomes more fluent, they can teach others the language, creating ripple effects in their community and supporting Indigenous Language Revitalization across the NWT. The Mentor and Apprentice must agree to spend a lot of time together, usually about 7-10 hours per week during the program. During their time together (immersion language sessions), they "live life in the language" by doing everyday activities using only their Indigenous language, with no English.”[4]

Susan Peffer, who learned Inuvialuktun as a result of MAP, is from Inuvik and participated in the 2020-21 program. She “was partnered with her mentor — and older sister — Valerie Stefansson.” and together, they would spend 10 hours a week working on the language. [5] "We'd make it a fun day," she said. "We cooked for each other, we ate together, we played a game afterwards, but all using the language."[6]

Integration, rigorous practice, and genuine relationship-building can foster an environment where languages can be deeply taught and retained. And if the ILES and MAP are the means to get there in the North, then that is a chance for Indigenous peoples in the North - through the use of specific words, phrases, and lived experiences - to have the ability to eventually change from apprentices to mentors, and the positive cycle can continue.

Survival of culture comes through language, and the chances of survival of language comes through culture. If both can be focused on, while using territorial support and giving power to Indigenous governments is genuine, then we can surely see that territorial responsibility to preserve culture through language is feasible and possible.

Until next time,

Team ReconciliAction YEG

[1] Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, “Calls to Action”, (2015) at 3, online (pdf): Government of B.C. <>

[2] Ibid.

[3] Education, Culture and Employment, “Indigenous Languages and Education Secretariat”, (Accessed March 12, 2022), GNWT, online: <>

[4] Education, Culture and Employment, “Mentor-Apprenticeship Program (MAP)”, (Accessed March 12, 2022), GNWT, online: <>

[5] Luke Carroll, “'I can understand it fluently': Inuvik woman credits N.W.T.'s language program”, (Nov. 21, 2021), CBC News, online: <>

[6] Ibid.

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