Language is not only a way of talking with each other, but a deepdive into history, culture, and tradition of its speakers. Bearing in mind the centuries of colonial assimilation imposed on the peoples in the Arctic, how should Arctic states support the protection, preservation and promotion of local languages?
Committee on Culture and Education II

Chaired by Markel Kerejeta (ES). Covered by Daniele Amici (IT)
Executive summary
The Arctic is home to 40 to 90 Indigenous languages spoken in several countries. Most risk disappearing within the following decades due to centuries of colonisation and cultural assimilation. In the last decades, most countries and organisations' approaches have shifted regarding protecting Arctic Indigenous languages, and many measures have been put in place. Nevertheless, not all countries have the same stance, and the still-relevant consequences of centuries of oppression lead to the speakers of these languages not always using them in all contexts.
Listen to the audio Topic Overview
One language dies every 14 days. With about 7,000 languages spoken worldwide, around half of them will disappear by the end of the century. With them, unique cultures with distinct customs, traditions, values and knowledge will be gone forever.2

The Arctic is no different. Currently, approximately 40 to 90 Indigenous languages are spoken in the Arctic, and most are in danger of disappearing within the following years. An example is the Sámi languages, spoken in Northern Europe, and the Inuit languages in Canada and Alaska. Without proper preservation, these languages, full of cultural and historic value, are at risk of ceasing to exist.
Sámi languages are a group of Uralic languages spoken in Northern Europe. Out of the 11 Sámi languages, Northern Sámi is considered vulnerable in Troms og Finnmark (Norway), where it is spoken the most. The rest of the Sámi languages —and even Northern Sámi in other areas— are considered to be definitely or severely endangered by UNESCO.
Inuit languages are a group of related Native American indigenous languages spoken in Alaska, Canada and Greenland.
Russ Reymer (2012). Vanishing voices. National Geographic.
Key stakeholders
Arctic states are the actors with the most competencies to pass on policies on Arctic issues. These policies include most measures related to education and the official status of Indigenous languages.
United Nations (UN) agencies such as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)4 and the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII)5 contribute to peace and stability in the world by promoting culture, education and international cooperation. One of UNESCO’s most relevant projects is creating the Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger.6
The Indigenous Peoples’ Secretariat (IPS)3 supports the Permanent Participants of the Arctic Council by assisting Arctic Indigenous peoples, in and outside of the Arctic Council, for example, through organising and promoting events.
The Directorate-General for Education, Youth, Sport and Culture (EAC)7 of the European Commission8 is responsible for education and culture-related matters within the EU. It promotes cross-border collaboration in culture and education, for instance, by helping the cultural sector in the digital transition9, and fostering synergies among European educational institutions10, of which are crucial to language protection within the EU.
The Council of Europe (CoE)11 promotes human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Europe. The protection of Indigenous peoples and minority languages is some of its priorities.12
Six Arctic Indigenous organisations hold the Permanent Participant status in the Arctic Council. These are:

Aleut International Association, Arctic Athabaskan Council, Gwich'in International Council, Inuit Circumpolar Council, Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North, and the Saami Council.
The Arctic Council is an intergovernmental forum promoting cooperation in the Arctic in many areas, including indigenous peoples and languages.
Arctic states are each one of the eight sovereign states that have territories in the Arctic. These are: Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States.
In Arctic issues related to Indigenous peoples and languages, Iceland and Denmark are usually excluded. In the case of Iceland, the country does not have any Indigenous groups; and in the case of Greenland (which is part of Denmark), the Indigenous Greenlandic peoples are the majority ethnic group in Greenland, thus do not face many of the challenges other Indigenous peoples face.
UNESCO's Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger is a resource that provides information about the endangerment status of languages around the world.
The European Commission is the executive branch of the EU, responsible for proposing and implementing legislation, as well as managing the day-to-day business of the EU.
The rule of law is the principle by which all individuals and institutions are subject to and accountable to laws that are fairly applied and enforced.
Arctic Council Indigenous Peoples’ Secretariat (2022). Home. Arctic Council Indigenous Peoples’ Secretariat.
UNESCO (2022). UNESCO in brief. UNESCO.
United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Indigenous Peoples (2022). Permanent Forum. United Nations.
Christopher Moseley et al. (2010). Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger. UNESCO.
European Commission (2022). Directorate-General for Culture and Education. European Commission.
European Commission (2022). Index. European Commission.
European Commission (2022). DG-EAC: Culture and media. European Commission.
European Commission (2022). DG-EAC: Education and training. European Commission.
Council of Europe (2022). Home. Council of Europe.
Council of Europe (2022). Language Policy Portal. Council of Europe.
In the case of Canada and Alaska, the assimilation was mainly done through residential schools for Indigenous people, which existed between the 19th and 20th century and under the excuse of “civilising the natives14 15 The Russian case does not differ greatly from the others, and the case of the Komi language proves it.
The Sámi’s first interactions with the Scandinavians mainly consisted of mutually beneficial trade agreements. The Northern European states soon began claiming over Sápmi and by the 1500s, they were imposing their culture on the Sámi.13 In Norway, the later stage of this assimilation was mainly cultural and linguistic and was referred to as “Norwegianisation”.
Historical context
Book chapter (pages 113-139)
The colonisation of Sápmi
Sápmi is the historical and cultural term that refers to the territories in Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia that are inhabited by the Sámi and have a Sámi culture.
Cultural assimilation is the process by which a minority group is assimilated into the majority group, by assuming its culture, values and lifestyle. Linguistic assimilation refers to the specific type of cultural assimilation that refers to language.
Indigenous children would be removed from their families and communities and sent to residential schools outside of their area, where they would be assimilated into the Canadian or American societies, through punishments and shaming if they spoke in their native languages.
Copelie Cocq & Hanna Outakoski (2018). Strengthening Indigenous languages in the digital age: social media–supported learning in Sápmi. Media International Australia incorporating Culture and Policy.
Theodor Fontaine (2020). Stolen Lives: The Indigenous Peoples of Canada and the Indian Residential Schools. Facing history and ourselves.
Diane Hirshberg (2008). “It was bad or it was good:” Alaska Natives in Past Boarding Schools. Journal of American Indian Education - Volume 47, Issue 3.
In 1992, the CoE approved the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages (ECRML).16 The ECRML contains legally binding guidelines on the promotion of regional or minority languages (RMLs) on a cultural level, as well as on education, the government and media, among others. This means that the Member States who ratified the ECRML are legally obliged to follow these guidelines. In 2016, the UN adopted the A/RES/71/178 resolution17, in which the importance of protecting Indigenous languages, supporting intergenerational language transmission and promoting language revitalisation were stressed, among others.
Regarding specific countries, Norway was the first to legislate on Indigenous rights through ‘‘The Sámi Act’’18 and the nationwide ‘‘Education Act’’.19 Similar acts exist in Sweden and Finland.20 Additionally, all three countries established Sámi parliaments, democratically elected bodies by the Sámi that have some competencies21 in language, culture, and education. In North America, Canada protects all of its languages through the ‘‘Indigenous Languages Act of Canada’’22 and specifically Inuit languages through the ‘‘Inuit Language Protection Act of Canada’’.23 In Alaska, the ‘‘Native American Languages Act of Alaska’’24 is in place, which ensures some cultural and political rights for the Alaska Natives.
On a more local level, some examples that are worth mentioning include the Annual Festival of Indigenous Films (Skábmagovat)25 in the Sámi town of Inari (Finland). The town is also home to the Inari Sámi Language Association, which publishes books and magazines, and runs several language nests, with the aim of revitalising the Inari Sámi language. Additionally, the language-learning mobile application Indylan now offers Northern Sámi as one of the languages that can be learned; the implementation of the language was carried out by the Saami Council, jointly with the EU. In North America, the website Inuktut Tusaalanga26 was launched recently, where users are able to learn several dialects of Inuit languages for free.
Measures in place
Non-CoE Member States
CoE Member States who have neither signed nor ratified the ECRML
CoE Member States who have signed but not ratified the ECRML
CoE Member States who have signed and ratified the ECRML
RMLs are defined as languages used within a given territory of a State by nationals of that State who
form a group numerically smaller than the rest of the State's population.
Overall, the resolution encompasses several claims and measures outlined, but not specified in previous UN resolutions. The UN considers promotion and protection of indigenous languages a specification of basic Human Rights.
In the education act, the use and teaching of/in Sámi is regulated.
Norway, Sweden and Finland
Russia does not have a democratically elected Sámi parliament, but the Kola Sámi Assembly of Russia works similarly.
Inari Sámi is one of the three Sámi languages spoken in Finland, specificaly in the area of Inari.
The Saami Council is a Sámi cultural organisation that is a Permanent Participant of the IPS.
Council of Europe (1992). European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. Council of Europe.
General Assembly of the United Nations (2016). Resolution adopted by the General Assembly on 19 December 2016 on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. United Nations.
Norwegian Parliament (1987). The Sámi Act. Norwegian Government.
Norwegian Parliament (1998). The Education Act. Norwegian Government.
Ministry of Justice of Finland (2003). Sámi Language Act. Ministry of Justice of Finland.
Norwegian Sámi Parliament (2022). About the Sámi Parliament. Sametinget.
House of Commons of Canada (2019). Indigenous Languages Act of Canada. Canadian Parliament.
Government of Nunavut (2008). Inuit Language Protection Act. Nunavut Legislation.
Congress of the United States (2015). Native American Languages Act of Alaska. Congress of the United States.
Doris Friedrich (2021). International Year of Indigenous Languages in the Arctic (Part II). The Arctic Institute.
Inuktut Tusaalanga (2022). Home. Inuktut Tusaalanga.
Fundamental challenges
The challenges that Arctic Indigenous peoples face in language matters are very interconnected and mainly consist of:
While some countries like Norway recognise their Indigenous languages, the majority of the Arctic languages are limited to the private sphere of people’s lives. Currently, no language is explicitly forbidden from being spoken in any of the Arctic states. Nevertheless, this situation prevents Indigenous peoples from using their language in many formal and informal contexts. For instance, when an Indigenous person receives their education in the language of the state, they lose the ability to communicate in their native language in academic and educational contexts. The situation is even worse in informal contexts such as social media, films or entertainment. The state has fewer competencies, and many linguistic communities that successfully implement the language in formal contexts still struggle to do the same thing in informal contexts.27
Although the institutions’ attitudes towards protecting Indigenous languages have shifted in the last decades, there is a contradictory situation regarding language use and prestige. In the Canadian Eastern Arctic, where the promotion and knowledge of the Inuktitut language are stronger than ever, there is a pattern of diglossia and subtractive bilingualism. This means its speakers only use the Inuktitut language in lower-prestige contexts, such as daily conversations or addressing their parents. However, they use English for entertainment, addressing strangers and even talking to their children.27
On the one hand, the digital age has made learning (about) Indigenous languages easier and more accessible. On the other hand, the English language dominates the Internet. Even speakers of big languages such as German or Japanese struggle to find information, resources and entertainment in their native languages, let alone speakers of Indigenous languages!28
Lack of official status and formal and informal contexts
Lack of prestige of Indigenous languages and diglossia
The digital age
Articles 28 and 29 of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child establish that everyone has the right to receive their education in their mother tongue. This is, however, not always respected, especially in higher education.
Diglossia is a situation in which two languages are used by a single language community. One of the languages has a higher status and is used in higher-prestige contexts, whereas the other one is left for the lower-prestige settings.
Subtractive bilingualism refers to the situation in which the native language is subtracted or excluded when a person learns a second language.
Louis-Jacques Dorais (1989). Bilingualism and Diglossia in the Canadian Eastern Arctic. Arctic Institute of North America.
Statista (2020). Most common languages used on the internet as of January 2020, by share of internet users. Statista.
Despite all the advancements in recent years, there is much to be done; “colonialism may be dead, yet it is everywhere to be seen” (Dirks, 2010:93). The digital era brings many challenges and endless possibilities for Indigenous languages to develop, and the Sámi languages on the Internet are examples.13

Linguistic diversity is an incalculable cultural wealth, not only for the linguistic community but for everyone. When a language dies, it is not a loss for the community that used to speak it but for the whole world. Keeping all of this in mind, what specific measures should the institutions take to effectively ensure the cultural wealth Arctic Indigenous languages offer does not fade forever?
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Motion for a resolution
Submitted by:
İda Büyüksahin (SE), Rían Conway (IE), Øyvind Christoffersen (NO), Elena Hammer (AT), Mane Karapetyan (AM), Ali Karimov (AZ), Abdulrazak Khallouf (BE), Viktoriia Ozerkevych (UA), Iulian Prostire (RO), Atte Rantanen (FI), Elia Resuli (CH), Zee Tučková (CZ), Markel Kerejeta (Chairperson, ES).
The European Youth Parliament aims to promote Arctic Indigenous languages in formal and informal settings. It aims to establish more available State services in these languages, remove the stigma surrounding their usage, as well as to facilitate their preservation. Lastly, it aims to achieve this by extending the accessibility of education regarding these languages and by promoting them with the help of digital media.

A. Strongly regretting the loss of the historical legacy of Arctic Indigenous peoples due to cultural and linguistic assimilation1,

B. Alarmed by the lack of awareness about the existence of the language-related issues Arctic Indigenous peoples face, within and outside of the Arctic,

C. Deeply regretting the absence of Arctic Indigenous languages in State services, public administration and informal contexts,

D. Deeply concerned by the lack of formal State education, as well as educational resources and materials in Arctic Indigenous languages,

E. Reaffirming the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages (ECRML)2,

F. Congratulating Norway, Sweden, and Finland on implementing the ECRML and the Sámi Acts3,

G. Acknowledging the social stigma surrounding Arctic Indigenous languages in professional life, limiting such languages to lower-prestige contexts,

H. Deeply alarmed by the economic factors that lead Arctic Indigenous peoples to culturally assimilate, including language barriers in the labour market,

I. Concerned that speakers of Arctic Indigenous languages feel forced to relocate, due to insufficient work opportunities in their mother tongue,

J. Noting the lack of development in areas such as language learning applications, translation services and access to government websites regarding Indigenous languages;

1. Invites the Arctic Council’s Indigenous Peoples’ Secretariat (IPS)4 to create television channels that broadcast in Indigenous languages;

2. Further invites the IPS to conduct language courses in local languages for educational institutions;

3. Suggests the IPS to launch creative cultural initiatives in Indigenous languages, such as films and traditional music festivals;

4. Further suggests the European Commission to allocate funding to Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) through CulturEU5 for the creation of events promoting language as an intrinsic characteristic to Arctic Indigenous identity;

5. Encourages Creative Europe5 to collaborate with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in establishing an educational programme called “Arctic language of the year” within the United Nations International decade of Indigenous languages 2022-20327;

6. Urges the Arctic States to implement classes in educational institutions on Indigenous languages, history, and geography;

7. Further urges Arctic States and the Directorate General for Education and Culture (DG-EAC) to establish expert talks in workplaces and public buildings on Arctic Indigenous groups and their languages, directed to the general population outside of schools;

8. Further urges Arctic States to facilitate the use of Arctic Indigenous languages in public services, by ensuring:
a. the presence of at least one fluent speaker in every public service facility in areas inhabited by Indigenous people,
b. that all official communications, such as government announcements and public signs, are available in the local language;

9. Asks the European Language Equality Network (ELEN)8 to develop research about Arctic Indigenous languages and dialects;

10. Asks Arctic States to recognise the languages of their Indigenous populations, as national official languages, following the example of Norway;

11. Suggests Arctic States to translate their educational materials into the minority languages of the respective region;

12. Encourages Member States to fully implement article 13 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples9(UNDRIP);

13. Further encourages Arctic States to develop financial incentives such as student grants for those studying an Arctic Indigenous language;

14. Calls upon the European Commission to financially support enterprises promoting the internal and external use of Arctic Indigenous languages through the Regional Development Fund10;

15. Requests the DG-EAC to financially support the development of Indigenous language learning applications, such as Indylan11;

16. Invites Arctic States to make use of the services of the International Federation of Translators to Arctic Member States, by allocating resources from the European Cohesion Fund12.

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Cultural assimilation is the process by which a minority group is assimilated into the majority group, by assuming its culture, values and lifestyle. Linguistic assimilation is the specific type of cultural assimilation that refers to language.

The ECRML is the European convention for the protection and promotion of languages used by traditional minorities.
The Sámi Acts aim to ensure that the Sámi people are able to maintain their way of life, culture, and traditions, as well as their political participation.
The IPS is an organisation that represents the interests and rights of Indigenous Peoples within and outside of the Arctic Council.
CulturEU is a funding program launched by the EU to support the culture and creative sectors in Europe after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Creative Europe is an EU programme created to promote the cultural and creative sectors in the continent.
The UN proclaimed the period between 2022 and 2032 as the International Decade of Indigenous Languages, to draw global attention on the critical situation of many Indigenous languages and to mobilise stakeholders and resources for their preservation, revitalisation and promotion.
The European Language Equality Network (ELEN) is an organisation, which focuses on promoting minority languages and their history in Europe.

Article 13 of the UNDRIP states that Indigenous people have the right to revitalise, use and pass their language on to future generations, as well as to designate their own names for communities, places and persons.
The European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) is a fund that provides fundings to reduce economic, social and territorial disparities.
Indylan is a language learning app focused on Indigenous languages launched by the Saami Council, jointly with the EU.

The EU Cohesion Fund is a financial instrument of the EU that provides funding to support economic and social cohesion in Member States.
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