Only 2.6 per cent of the Northwest Territories’ 42,610 residents claim French as their mother tongue. But whether one of that tiny minority lodged the serious or tongue-in-cheek complaint with the commissioner of official languages in Ottawa, or someone English-speaking (54.1 per cent), Inuit (26.8) or Indian (9.7), only the perpetrator knows. Fie or she sent off a copy of the territorial government’s English-only letterhead to Max Yalden last spring, and the bureaucratic crossfire has continued ever since.
“Maybe we should have a commissioner of native languages,” suggests NWT Commissioner Stuart Flodgson just a bit sharply, and he makes it clear that if he gets his way, Nunatsiaq (Inuit for NWT) will be added to the official stationery before Les Territoires du Nord-Ouest. After Yalden first informed Flodgson of his intention to “investigate” the complaint, Flodgson supplied him with the population breakdown and said the NWT would "have to place a higher priority on the inclusion of Inuktitut and Dene dialects than on French.” But, retorted Yalden, “under the terms of the law there appears to be no choice but that the English and French versions should both be used."And he pointed out that, as “an institution of the Parliament and government of Canada,” the Northwest Territories bureaucracy is subject to the Official
“That’s his opinion,” said Hodgson last week. “Are Yalden’s rulings subject to no appeal? Do I get hung if I don't follow them?” While saying he’ll introduce an English-French letterhead if “ordered” to, Hodgson told Yalden: “A move of this sort would serve to place further strain on the delicate state of federal-territorial relations.”
The fattening file of letters on the great letterhead debate was tabled at the fall session of the Territorial Council, where the matter is likely to recede into the North’s encroaching darkness. If fhe languages commissioner wishes to raise the issue anew, he should know that the Inuit have their own name for Commissioner Hodgson, too. It is Omingmak, meaning muskox
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.