Reinstate N.W.T. Language Bureau, legislative committee recommends

Last March, Monfwi MLA Jackson Lafferty was silenced because a Tłı̨chǫ interpreter was not present in the house. A legislative committee suggested Tuesday that shouldn't happen again.

Committee revisited a 2020 incident when no Tłı̨chǫ interpreter was available, and the house carried on

In March of 2020, MLA Jackson Lafferty was asked to apologize after the Speaker ruled he had made comments that were "inappropriate and unparliamentary" in the house. He declined because no Tlicho language interpreter was available. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

The N.W.T. Legislative Assembly should close down if one of its members wishes to speak in one of the territory's official languages, and no interpreter is available. 

That's the suggestion from the standing committee on rules and procedures after examining a situation that arose in the legislature last March.

It happened at a delicate time.

Monfwi MLA Jackson Lafferty had been asked to apologize after the Speaker ruled he had made comments that were "inappropriate and unparliamentary" in the house. The comments had to do with the firing of former Aurora College president Tom Weegar.

Lafferty, observing that the scheduled Tłı̨chǫ language interpreter was not in the legislature that day, said: "I do not have an interpreter," he said. "I highly encourage you to shut down the house at this point in time since I can't speak my language."

Lafferty then raised a point of privilege to the Speaker, who took the matter under advisement and carried on with the day's business.

The next day, Speaker Frederick Blake Jr. ruled that the lack of an interpreter was indeed a breach of privilege.

MLAs then referred the matter to the standing committee.

In a report read into the record Tuesday, the standing committee on rules and procedures recommended that the speaker, in a future similar situation, "give strong consideration to a recess in, or adjournment of, proceedings until such time as adequate interpretation can be provided."

Last March, when the house reconvened a day after Lafferty's point of privilege — with an interpreter present — Lafferty still declined to apologize, causing the Speaker to order him to exit the chamber for the day as punishment.

Bring back interpreter/translator training

The committee report also recommended that another government committee look into reinstating interpreter and translator training and accreditation and re-opening the Northwest Territories Language Bureau, both of which were closed in the 1990s.

The Yellowknives Dene First Nation and Mary Rose Sundberg, a translator and interpreter of Wıìlıìdeh, had both raised the issue in written submissions to the committee.

The Yellowknives Dene observed that many current interpreter/translators are nearing retirement. They also noted that, at the time the language bureau was dismantled, the reason given was that no one wanted the training. In fact, they wrote, people wanted to have the training in their home communities rather than at Aurora College in Fort Smith.

"In my opinion, it was one of the craziest decisions the government made," Sundberg wrote in her submission. "I believe with shutting down these two essential services, the government is slowing killing our languages and our people."

The committee's recommendations will now be considered by all MLAs.