NWT Literacy Council L a n g u a g e s    o f    t h e    L a n d header graphic
black line graphic


ABORIGINAL LANGUAGE RIGHTS

The Aboriginal language of the Northwest Territories have rights that are recognized in international, national, and territorial law.

International
In Article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, it states that: "In those states in which ethnic, religious, or linguistic minorities exist, persons belonging to such minorities shall not be denied the right, in community with other members of their own group, to enjoy their own culture, to profess and practice their own religion, or to use their own language."

In other documents such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights prohibit discrimination on the basis of language or race.

According to these international laws and covenants, Aboriginal people in the Northwest Territories, particularly at the community level (which includes home, work, and school) have the fundamental human right to use their language and practice their culture.

National
Section 35 of the Canadian Constitution guarantees "Aboriginal and treaty rights". Aboriginal rights have been interpreted to include the rights of language and culture. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms also guarantees equality for all before and under the law, with equal protection and benefit.

However, the speakers of Aboriginal language do not have the same rights in national law as do members of French speaking minorities, whose rights are guaranteed in Section 23 of the Constitution.

Territorial
The law that has the most immediate impact on Aboriginal languages in the Northwest Territories is the Official Languages Act. Along with English and French, this act presently recognizes six official Aboriginal languages – Chipewyan, Cree, Dogrib, Gwich'in, Inuktituk (including Inuvialuktun), and Slavey. This law, which was enacted in 1988, is based on the belief that "legal protection of languages will assist in preserving the culture of the people as expressed through their language".

Under the Official Language Act, "the Official Language of the Territories have equality of status and equal rights and privileges as to their use in all institutions of the Legislative Assembly and Government of the Territories". People have the right to receive government services in their own language:

  • where there is significant demand for the use of such services (such as in their home community), and
  • where it is reasonable that these services can be made available in the Aboriginal language (there are readily available Aboriginal language speakers or translators).


black line graphic
Previous Table of Contents Next
black line graphic