'Easy-to-read' N.W.T. medical travel guide not published in Indigenous languages

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'Easy-to-read' N.W.T. medical travel guide not published in Indigenous languages

'Easy-to-read' N.W.T. medical travel guide not published in Indigenous languages

The Government of the Northwest Territories has released an "easy-to-read" medical travel guide for residents — but only if you read English or French.

The 76-page Medical Travel: A Step-by-Step Guide provides instructions on what patients need to do when travelling for medical treatments.

It will be at health centres, clinics and hospitals across the territory, but is not yet available in any Indigenous language, a Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority spokesman confirmed to CBC News.

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Not being able to read the guide for themselves will be a drawback for elders unable to read or speak English, said Amanda Vittrekwa, the language co-ordinator at the Nihtat Gwich'in council in Inuvik, N.W.T.

"Most of the elders don't know English, they don't know how to read or write it," she said. "It has to be in their language. Most of them are still traditional, completely fluent in their languages. It'd be confusing to them."

"It'd be a scary thought if they were to travel without an escort," she said.

Stacey Sundberg, a community volunteer in Dettah, says she wants to see all government documents translated, since according to Statistics Canada, 52 per cent of the territory's population identifies as Indigenous.

"We have official languages in the N.W.T.," Sundberg said. "If they're so official, they should be integrated."

"It would be beneficial if they could get them in their own language," she said.  

Waiting for revisions 

The health authority says it is waiting for final revisions to come through before exploring adding any translated versions, health authority spokesman David Maguire wrote in an emailed statement.

"In the future when we have a more refined version of the guide, we will look at translating it into other official languages," he said.


Escorts are also sometimes provided to translate for patients where English isn't their first language, Maguire said. Those escorts are the primary language supports and would be responsible for getting that information translated to the patient.

The guide will also be available from government service officers and translators already working in the health system, he said.

Chipewyan, Cree, Gwich'in, Inuinnaqtun, Inuktitut, Inuvialuktun, North Slavey, South Slavey and Tlicho are the territory's official languages apart from English and French.

But the territorial government is not necessarily obligated to provide a written translation of all documents right away, Languages Commissioner Shannon Gullberg said.

She hadn't yet seen the medical travel guide and declined to say whether written copies of the guide should be translated. But she said, generally, members of the public should be able to have an oral translation available for documents designed for public use.

The health authority declined requests for an interview on this story.

Have you or someone you know had an issue being understood or understanding what someone is saying during travel for treatment for a medical illness? Send an email to alex.brockman@cbc.ca