Indigenous Languages and Education Secretariat

Official Languages Overview

The Northwest Territories (NWT) is the only jurisdiction in Canada that names nine (9) official Aboriginal languages along side English and French through its Official Languages Act. The Act recognizes that many languages are spoken and used by people of the NWT and is committed to the preservation, development and enhancement of Aboriginal languages. The NWT Official Languages Act recognizes eleven (11) languages:  Chipewyan (Dëne Sųłıné Yatıé), Cree (Nēhiyawēwin),  Gwich’in, Inuinnaqtun, Inuktitut, Inuvialuktun, North Slavey (Sahtúǫt’ı̨ne Yatı̨́), South Slavey (Dene Zhatıé), Tłı̨chǫ, French, and English.

Of these languages, nine (9) are Aboriginal and belong to three (3) different language families: Dene, Inuit and Algonquian/Cree

The five (5) Dene languages are:

  • Chipewyan (Dëne Sųłıné Yatıé): Spoken in Łutselk'e, Fort Resolution, Hay River, Fort Smith and Detah
    • Dëne Sųłıné has been referred to as Chipewyan. The 2014 NWT Community Survey reported that there were over 560 people who spoke Dëne Sųłıné. Across Canada, Dëne Sųłıné has over 12,000 speakers throughout Saskatchewan, Alberta, Manitoba and the Northwest Territories. The Dëne Sųłıné region covers the southern shores of Great Slave Lake, and ranges across northern Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, and southern Nunavut.
  • Gwich’in (Dinjii Zhu’ Ginjik):Spoken in Aklavik, Inuvik, Tsiigehtchic, and Fort McPherson.
    • The 2014 NWT Community Survey reported that there were over 335 people who spoke Gwich’in. The Gwich’in region spreads from the northern shores of the Mackenzie River, across northern Yukon and northeastern Alaska.
  • North Slavey (Sahtúǫt’ı̨ne Yatı̨́):Spoken in Colville Lake, Fort Good Hope, Norman Wells, Tulit’a, Délı̨ne 
    • Sahtúot’ı̨nę Yatı̨́ has been referred to as North Slavey. The 2014 NWT Community Survey reported that there were over 1,080 people who spoke Sahtúot’ı̨nę Yatı̨́. The Sahtú region reaches from the western shores of Great Bear Lake to across the western border of the NWT.
  • South Slavey (Dene Zhatıé):Spoken in Sambaa K’e, Fort Liard, Nahanni Butte, Kakisa, Fort Providence, Jean Marie River, Wrigley, and Fort Simpson
    • ​​Dene Zhatıé has been referred to as South Slavey and is spoken by the Dehcho Dene. The 2014 NWT Community Survey reported that there were over 1,440 people who spoke Dene Zhatıé. The Dehcho region covers the southern part of the Dehcho (Mackenzie River), and reaches south into northern Alberta and British Columbia.
  • Tłı̨chǫ Yatıı̀:Spoken in Gamètı̀, Wekweètı̀, Whatı̀, Behchokǫ̀, and Wıìlıìdeh, spoken in Ndilǫ and Detah 
    • Tłı̨chǫ Yatıı̀ is a Northern Dene language spoken by the Tłı̨chǫ Dene. The 2014 NWT Community Survey reported that there were over 2,235 people who spoke Tłı̨chǫ Yatıı̀. The Tłı̨chǫ region covers the northern shore of Great Slave Lake, reaching almost up to Great Bear Lake.  Behchokǫ̀ is the largest community in the Tłı̨chǫ region.

 

The three (3) Inuit languages are:

  • Inuvialuktun:Spoken in Sachs Harbour, Paulatuk, Tuktoyaktuk, Aklavik, and Inuvik
    • Inuvialuktun refers to two distinct varieties: Siglitun and Uummarmiutun. The 2014 NWT Community Survey reported that there were over 600 people who spoke Inuvialuktun. Inuvialuktun use ranges across the Mackenzie River delta, Banks Island, parts of Victoria Island and the Arctic Ocean coast of the Northwest Territories. 
  • Inuinnaqtun:Spoken mostly in Ulukhaktok
    • Inuinnaqtun is also a variety of Inuvialuktun which has been granted official status in the NWT. There are many varieties of Inuinnaqtun spoken across western Nunavut, but only one variety is spoken in the NWT, Kangiryuarmiutun. The 2014 NWT Community Survey reported that there were about 195 people who spoke Inuinnaqtun.
  • Inuktitut:Speakers often live in Yellowknife and regional centres
    • Inuktitut has many different varieties spoken across Nunavut. The 2014 NWT Community Survey reported that there were about 200 people who spoke Inuktitut. There are Inuktitut speakers all across the NWT, which speaks to the mobility of Inuit.

 

The one (1) Algonquian language in the NWT is:

  • Cree (Nēhiyawēwin):Spoken mostly in the Fort Smith and Hay River area
    • Nēhiyawēwin is also referred to as Cree. The 2014 NWT Community Survey reported that there were about 275 people who spoke Nēhiyawēwin. Across Canada, Nēhiyawēwin has over 117,000 speakers. Varieties of Nēhiyawēwin are spoken from Labrador to Alberta and it reaches its northern most point in the NWT.

 

Aboriginal languages are connected to the land and are most frequently spoken in communities throughout the Northwest Territories. To assist researchers, translators, language specialists, and the general public, a resource page has also been assembled. Visit the PWNHC website for to access that content.