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Nunavut MP Lori Idlout to take oath in Inuktitut, in ceremony lit by seal-oil lamps

OTTAWA — Lori Idlout, the new MP for Nunavut, is to be sworn in as an MP in Inuktitut, her mother tongue.

OTTAWA — Lori Idlout, the new MP for Nunavut, is to be sworn in as an MP in Inuktitut, her mother tongue.

The House of Commons is paying for translation services for the formal ceremony, which will take place virtually Friday from Nunavut, with many of her constituents present.  

Idlout, NDP critic of Crown-Indigenous relations, asked the Commons to allow her to take the oath in the Inuit language. She says she wants Indigenous languages to be heard more prominently in Parliament. 

She says translation services for MPs speaking in Indigenous languages, including Inuktitut and Cree, should be as readily available as English or French in the House of Commons debating chamber. 

Not many MPs have addressed the House in Indigenous languages. But since 2018, the Commons has offered to interpret and translate speeches in an Indigenous language for the official record. MPs need to give advance notice so an interpreter is on hand.

Idlout is planning to wear a traditional Atigi parka at her swearing-in ceremony, which will be lit by seal-oil lamps and feature traditional Inuit throat singers.

"I am going to really use this opportunity to show everyone how important my language and my culture is to me. I will be wearing a symbolic outfit. I will not be wearing … what the women wear in Parliament: blazers," she said. 

Idlout said she wanted to take the oath in her mother tongue, with English elements interpreted into Inuktitut, not only as a symbolic measure, but so all her constituents can understand.  

She added that hearing more Indigenous languages in Parliament is “very important” symbolically, and so people who speak only those languages can understand what is being said by MPs on issues of import to them. 

“I want to lead, ensuring that Indigenous languages are being used in the House of Commons,” she said.

Idlout was elected as NDP MP for Nunavut after her predecessor Mumilaaq Qaqqaq stood down after describing how she did not feel welcome as an Inuk woman in Parliament and said she had been racially profiled by security.

Before taking their seats and voting in the House of Commons, MPs must take an oath or affirm their allegiance to the Queen. 

Marc Dalton, Conservative MP for Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge, who is Métis, said he thought all Indigenous MPs should be offered the chance to take the oath in their language. He said the issue should be discussed by the House. 

The Commons said it accommodates MPs wherever possible. 

“When it is not possible to arrange interpretation, the member may instead provide a translation of their remarks,” said Heather Bradley, the Speaker’s director of communications.  

The Senate, which has several Indigenous members, has not so far received a request for the swearing-in ceremony to be conducted in an Indigenous language.

In 2008, the Senate agreed to allow the use of Inuktitut during debates. Senators wishing to speak in the language need to give notice to allow simultaneous interpretation. 

In 2014, in a debate marking his 30th year in the upper chamber, former senator Charlie Watt, who is from Nunavik, in northern Quebec, spoke in Inuktitut.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 9, 2021.

Marie Woolf, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version misspelled the surname of former NDP MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq. It also said NDP MP Lori Idlout's swearing-in ceremony would take place on Thursday.