Agnico Eagle is apologizing after a locally-viral Facebook post showing a company safety sign prompted backlash across Nunavut social media this week.
The sign is part of a campaign to promote the company’s language policy, which requires English be spoken in work-related discussions. The poster claimed ‘atii,’ which means ‘let’s go’ in Inuktitut, could be misconstrued in English.
Dear Agnico Eagle Mines,<br><br>Just a reminder: you’re a guest on Inuit Nunangat (that means Inuit land, by the way). <br><br>Maybe your staff would benefit from a few basic Inuktitut lessons instead. <a href=”https://t.co/bjgEDELmsH”>pic.twitter.com/bjgEDELmsH</a>
However, while workplace safety was at the heart of the message, many on social media took the poster as a move to suppress Inuktitut in a territory where 89 per cent of Nunavut Inuit can carry out a conversation in the language.
The company also had similar signs on the use of French on site, as Agnico Eagle also employs many French-speaking workers from Southern Canada.
Still, the company said the Inuktitut signs struck the wrong tone.
“We acknowledge that the image was offensive and wrong and we’ll look at correcting it in the future,” said Lonny Syvret, Agnico Eagle’s senior advisor for Nunavut operations. He added the company has removed the posters and has paused the campaign.
Syvret also confirmed Inuktitut is permitted to be spoken on site. However neither Inuktitut, nor French, should be used when discussing work-related matters.
“If it’s on the radio, or at the toolbox meetings in the morning, as per our standards we have to have one common language. At our Nunavut mine sites, that’s English,” he said, adding they hadn’t received any complaints, from staff or otherwise, before this week.
Kivalliq Inuit Association has no issue with the signs
The Kivalliq Inuit Association (KIA) also confirmed the signs are part of a safety campaign to promote the company’s language policy — a policy which KIA co-developed through the joint employment and culture committee in early 2020.
The organization also said the posters, in its view, were not targeting or suppressing Inuktitut.
KIA’s chief operating officer Trisha Makpah said the issue of language use on site first arose several years ago, in part because Inuit staff on site were complaining Francophone workers were having work-related conversations in French, which Inuit staff couldn’t understand.
So the joint committee between KIA and Agnico Eagle developed the policy whereby work-related conversations should be held in English so everyone can be on the same page. The campaign to promote the policy began at the beginning of 2021, and the posters had been up since January.
KIA did review the posters before before they went out. Makpah couldn’t recall if the organization had raised any concerns, but in any case she said she didn’t see an issue with the way the posters were presented.
“The posters generally, they’re sending a message to their staff on site, which is fine. And how they go about doing that is fine as well,” Makpah said.
“It’s not targeting or suppressing the Inuktitut language whatsoever. It’s a safety priority for [Agnico] that the working language is English. In our opinion, that’s the message.”
Languages commissioner investigating
Still, the backlash on social media has prompted complaints to Nunavut’s Languages Commissioner, who is investigating.
Karliin Aariak wouldn’t comment on the poster itself because it’s under investigation. But she said the swift reaction from Inuit in Nunavut speaking up for their rights is encouraging.
“Only [if we] receive a concern can we address a language rights trend,” she said.
“So I encourage Nunavummiut to not be afraid to speak up, and also be aware and know their language rights. If Nunavummiut feel their language rights are not being met or being violated, they can certainly contact my office.”
Indeed. Agnico Eagle’s director Nunavut affairs Puujjut Kusugak — who is fluent in Inuktitut — echoed Aariak’s sentiment.
“It’s unfortunate that [the poster] happened, but I think we have to look at it as something positive for Inuit and Inuktitut-speakers to be advocating for their language, and to be able to have a voice,” Kusugak said, touting Agnico’s use of Inuktitut in other areas of the mine’s operations.