When Governor General Mary Simon was first named to the job, Canada’s language commissioner received 400 complaints and started an investigation.
Nunavut’s language commissioner was paying attention and taking notes.
“I wanted to take it as an opportunity for Nunavummiut to know that they do have these language rights in Nunavut,” explained Karliin Aariak. “They can receive service in the language of their choice, and if people don’t feel like their language rights have been respected, they can certainly come to our office, and we can insure that their language rights are being respected.”
Nunavut has three official languages; English, French and Inuktut.
Inuktut covers the Inuktitut used in central and eastern Nunavut and Inuinnaqtun which is used in the west.
Services are supposed to be provided in all three languages.
For Aariak, watching French language advocates oppose Simon’s installation was enough for her to pick up some of their tactics.
“Learning from the French language community, that’s how many people were passionate to say ‘hey, my language rights are not being respected,’ Nunavummiut also have this right,” explained Aariak.
Like so many Inuit all over Canada, Aariak is proud of Simon, and has been watching her career for years.
Aariak was raised around politics. Her mother Eva Aariak is former language commissioner, former Nunavut premier and current Nunavut Commissioner (the territorial equal to a Lieutenant Governor).
She got to spend some time around Simon when she was younger, and Simon fit in very well.
“When I was growing up, [Simon] has always been in the public life, since I was growing up. There became a point where I even asked a family member if we’re related to her, because she’s so relatable and approachable. That’s just the character of who she is,” says Aariak.
When Simon rose to speak in the Senate after taking office, she spoke in three languages.
Aariak noticed something, the order she spoke them. Nuance is important for a governor general, as the Queen’s representative can’t take many active stands.
In these diplomatic waters, nuance is key.
“She spoke in Inuktitut first, she’s very proud of her language. We even saw it in the media coverage, having eight additional Indigenous languages that were broadcast, including in the Inuit language,” explained Aariak. “So she’s already shone a brighter light, not only on Inuit language, but on Indigenous languages.”