Official languages

The Northwest Territories (NWT) Official Languages Act (Act) is the legislative basis for the recognition of the NWT’s 11 official languages: English, French, Dëne Sųłıné Yatıé (Chipewyan), nēhiyawēwin (Cree), Dinjii Zhu’ Ginjik (Gwich’in), Inuinnaqtun, Inuktitut, Inuvialuktun, Dene Kǝdǝ́ (North Slavey), Dene Zhatıé (South Slavey), and Tłı̨chǫ Yatıı̀ (Tłı̨chǫ). 

The Act commits the GNWT to providing territorial services in the official languages and establishes the Office of the NWT Languages Commissioner to investigate complaints under the Act. The Act further establishes the Aboriginal Languages Revitalization Board and the Official Languages Board to assist in the goals of service delivery and language revitalization. It also requires that the GNWT submit an Annual Report on Official Languages to the Legislative Assembly.

As per the Act’s Regulations, four NWT communities are considered to represent ‘significant demand’ for French language communications and services: Yellowknife, Hay River, Fort Smith, and Inuvik. Indigenous languages are spoken in communities of all sizes.

In fall 2020, the Standing Committee on Government Operations began its mandatory five-year review of the Act. ECE assisted in the review by providing detailed background information and exploring areas of potential collaboration. Unfortunately, intermittent COVID-19 public health restrictions significantly impeded the work of the Committee through 2021. In early 2022, the Committee was able to submit 
a preliminary set of recommendations so that ECE could bring forward minor legislative updates before the end of the 19th Legislative Assembly in 2023.

Roles and Responsibilities

Minister Responsible for Official Languages

The Honourable Minister R.J. Simpson currently serves as the Minister Responsible for Official Languages. The Minister directs and coordinates the language policies and programs offered by the GNWT, including promotion of language education, use of languages in public services, and revitalization of Indigenous languages. 

Languages Commissioner

Brenda Gauthier was appointed in 2021 to a four-year term as the Languages Commissioner of the NWT. The Languages Commissioner is an officer of the Legislative Assembly and is responsible for ensuring recognition of the rights, status and privileges of each of the territory’s official languages, and compliance in the provision of territorial public services in official languages. 

Official Languages Board and Aboriginal Languages Revitalization Board

The Official Languages Board and Aboriginal Languages Revitalization Board members and alternates represent the NWT’s language communities on two-year terms by providing advice to the Minister on the promotion of language rights, use of language in public services, and revitalization of Indigenous languages. Indigenous governments and community organizations of the NWT recommend language board appointments to the Minister. 

Canada-NWT Cooperation Language Agreements

Under the original Agreement signed in 1984, the Government of Canada agreed, on an ongoing basis, to bear all costs associated with the provision of French communications and services to the public. In February 2021, the GNWT and the federal government (Department of Canadian Heritage) signed a three-year French Language Services Agreement.

Since 1984, the Government of Canada has also partnered with the GNWT to fund Indigenous languages programming and services in the territory through the Canada-NWT Cooperation Agreement for French and Aboriginal Languages in the Northwest Territories. In March 2022, the GNWT and the federal government signed the three-year Canada-NWT Agreement on Indigenous Languages for 2021-2024. 

This Agreement marks no significant change from the previous 2016-2020 and 2020-2021 Agreements, which provided $5.9 million per annum to NWT Indigenous language programs and initiatives under the Canada-NWT Action Plan for Indigenous Languages Support 2022-2024. The Agreement was reached after extensive debriefing by Canadian Heritage on the financial contours of the new federal Indigenous Languages Act. This federal legislation will leave territorial language agreements untouched, while providing new funds on a nation-to-nation basis for Indigenous language revitalization. The GNWT has been encouraging Indigenous governments to pursue First Nations, Métis and Inuit federal funding streams once their funding models have been established. For First Nations, the Assembly of First Nations is expected to complete and approve their funding model by fall 2022.