NWT Official Languages Act


In June of 1984, the Legislative Assembly of the NWT passed its first Official Languages Act. Modelled on the federal Act of the same name, it had two essential purposes: the Act guaranteed equal status for the use of French and English by members of the public using government programs and services; and the Act officially recognized the Aboriginal languages typically spoken in the NWT. The Act was intended to be a major step forward in protecting and revitalizing languages and cultures.


In 1989, a Special Committee on Aboriginal Languages recommended amendments to the Official Languages Act and, with some modifications, these were passed into law in 1990. The Act now recognized Chipewyan, Cree, Dogrib (Tłįcho), Gwich’in, North Slavey, South Slavey, Inuktitut, Inuvialuktun and Inuinnaqtun as “Official Aboriginal Languages” of the NWT. The Aboriginal languages were given equal status within all institutions of the Legislative Assembly and the Government of the Northwest Territories. Recognizing the official status of Aboriginal languages was intended to better preserve and promote Aboriginal cultures through protection of the languages.
The 1990 amendments also created the position of Languages Commissioner for the Northwest Territories to be appointed by the Legislative Assembly for the term of four years. The first appointment was made in December 1991. The Office of Languages Commissioner was opened in February 1992. The Languages Commissioner is an independent officer and accountable to the Legislative Assembly.


Until major amendments to the Act in 2004, the Act gave the Languages Commissioner authority to investigate complaints in regard to compliance with the Act, initiate investigations as appropriate, and engage in activities related to the promotion and protection of Official Languages. These amendments narrowed the position of Languages Commissioner to that of an “ombudsman type” role. That is, the role of the Languages Commissioner became one of ensuring compliance with the Act through investigating complaints, handling inquiries, and initiating investigation where appropriate. The role of promoting and preserving Official Languages was turned over to the newly created position of Minister Responsible for Official Languages.


In 2023, the Department of Education, Culture and Employment put forward Bill 63: An Act to Amend the Official Languages Act that made the following changes to the legislation:

  • The Languages Commissioner must now be a resident of the Northwest Territories.
  • Before the amendment, the only mechanism available was to investigate. The addition of the option to make a referral to Alternative Dispute Resolution is now available with the complainant’s consent.
  • Substitution changes were made throughout the document, changing the language used throughout the document. Examples of the changes are:
    Aboriginal was changed to Indigenous; and he/she was changed to they.
  • The Annual Report is required to be filed annually.  The amendments now require the report to include: (a) the number of complaints received by the Languages Commissioner; (b) which government institutions were the subject of a complaint; (c) what recommendations, requests and applications were made by the Languages Commissioner respecting each complaint; and (d) a report on the progress made on the recommendations, requests and application referred to in paragraph (c).
  • Two Language Boards were merged into the Official Languages Board.