2.3 Aboriginal languages in the NWT

The NWT is home to Canada's second largest group of Aboriginal people9. In fact, almost half the people who live here are Aboriginal. Because of the make–up of our population, the Official Languages Act of the Northwest Territories recognizes six Aboriginal languages, as well as English and French, as official languages: Inuktitut10(which includes Inuvialuktun and Inuinnaqtun), Gwich'in, North and South Slavey, Dogrib, Cree and Chipewyan.

The health of these languages varies widely, but most are 'declining'. The trends in language use here are similar to those in other places in Canada. Overall, less than half those who are Aboriginal speak an Aboriginal language as their mother tongue. Fewer use an Aboriginal language in the home. And even fewer young people are learning an Aboriginal language11

Many people who speak an Aboriginal language are using English, rather than their own language, in their everyday lives. We can see this 'language shift' clearly if we compare the number of people whose mother tongue is an Aboriginal language with the number of people who use their Aboriginal language in the home. This gives us a 'change index' for each language.

Use of Aboriginal Languages in the Northwest Territories change Index12
Inuktitut13 Slavey Dogrib Chipewyan Gwich'in Cree
Mother Tongue 835 2075 2000 515 250 185
Home Language 160 1190 1190 210 40 30
Change index -80.90% -42.70% -32.30% -59.20% -84.00% -83.80%

9 Government of the Northwest Territories Dept. of Education, Culture and Employment, Revitalizing, Enhancing and Promoting Aboriginal Languages: Strategies for Supporting Aboriginal Languages.
10 Most Inuktitut speakers now live in Nunavut.
11 Ibid.
12 Government of the Northwest territories Dept. of Education, Culture and Employment, Revitalizing, Enhancing and Promoting Aboriginal Languages: Strategies for Supporting Aboriginal Languages.
13 Includes Inuvialuktun and Inuinnaqtun