It's 20 years since there's been a training program to certify interpreters and translators in the Northwest Territories, and many say it's a critical service if Indigenous languages are to survive.

The interpreter-translator program at Aurora College was eliminated in 1996. The youngest graduates of the program are now in their 40s, and many others are nearing retirement age or have died.  

Betty Harnum, a former N.W.T. Languages Commissioner, says the dwindling number of certified interpreter-translators sends a discouraging message.  

"If there are no interpreter-translators, then it's forcing people to speak English," she said.

"What you're saying is 'We're not going to help you speak your language. We aren't going to support it.'" 

Shannon Gullberg, the current Languages Commissioner, has told the territorial government more than once that it needs more properly-trained translators. She says relying on family or friends to translate is problematic, especially when it comes to privacy issues during medical visits.

"It's folly to assume that that mom is comfortable with discussions [about] medical issues happening around a family member," she said.

The Government of the Northwest Territories says it is aware of the problem and is working on a new action plan focusing on translation.

with files from Sonja Koenig