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Inuit Seeking Language Recognition in Canada

In the fight to save dying indigenous languages, a potential partner has emerged from an unlikely quarter to help revitalize Inuit.
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In the fight to save dying indigenous languages, a potential partner has emerged from an unlikely quarter to help revitalize Inuit: Across the “Pond,” in the U.K.

Recently a group of 17 members of the Inuit community, ranging in age from 28 to 75, visited Wales to learn how the Welsh promote the language, reported Royal Central.

Robert Watt was among them and plans to ask Prince Charles to write a letter to help get Inuktitut recognized as an official language in Canada, reports the BBC.

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Inuit Cultural Online Resource reports that Inuktitut is the name of a group of Inuit languages that are spoken in Canada; it is recognized as an official language in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories. According to the Canadian census, there are about 35,000 Inuktitut speakers left.

Watt’s group was sent to Wales representing all Canadian Inuit as part of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK), to learn about Wales’s goal of having more than a million Welsh speakers by 2050.

“The Welsh language is encouraged and supported through the Welsh government,” he told the BBC. “In Canada only French and English are officially recognized. We need to somehow get our governments to recognize our languages so we can get the funding to get on with the work that we need to do.”

Part of that work is organizational—the group is considering ways to standardize Inuktitut’s nine writing systems—a historic process that would help get the language into more schools.

“In standard Welsh you’d just use the standard spelling, this seems to be the problem with the Inuit language—there are so many different systems and also dialects behind them, which are quite different, so to create a standard out of that is very difficult,” Andrew Hawke, editor of the University of Wales Dictionary of the Welsh language, explained to BBC. “It’s pretty remarkable that the Inuit language has survived at all really, so I think we can consider ourselves very lucky in Wales that we have as many speakers as we have.”

According to the census, there was a decline in Welsh speakers—from 582,000 in 2001 to 562,000 in 2011.

The 17 ITK committee members were welcomed by Prince Charles during a reception at his home in Myddfai on December 16, reported the South Wales Guardian. Maatalii Aneraq-Okalik, president of the National Inuit Youth Council, was among them.

“We have had an excellent opportunity to visit professional and public institutions on our trip to Wales,” Aneraq-Okalik said. “I am impressed with the legislation that has been created to acknowledge the Welsh language. I am here with the most urgency, and without the language we are lost. We are proud of who we are.”

The group enjoyed their time in Wales, said Matthew Rowe, director of operations and partnership for Prince Charles’s Charities Canada.

He told the South Wales Guardian that they “will be updating the Prince on their work to standardize the written Inuit language and what they have learned from their Welsh experience.”

This story was originally published December 20, 2016.