Natan Obed noticed a change in attitude with the Trudeau government on the co-development of the Indigenous Languages Act after the prime minister shuffled his cabinet in July 2018.
Melanie Joly’s run as minister of Canadian Heritage and Multiculturism was over and her replacement, Pablo Rodriguez, didn’t seem to have the same ear for the concerns of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK).
“Minister Joly was the lead on this file for the federal government for a very long time and we felt as though we had a constructive dialogue with her and had shared ambition for official language status, for the right for Inuktitut to be used as a language in the public service within Inuit Nunangat,” said Obed, president of ITK, on Nation to Nation.
Obed said there were a number of other provisions, as well, that would have moved “beyond symbolism” in the bill.
Then the cabinet shuffle happened and Rodriguez took the lead on the bill.
“All of a sudden there was a different approach taken,” said Obed. “We felt that the issues we brought up for over a year then became untenable for this government and the act that has been introduced does not include anything Inuit wanted within the co-development phase of the legislation.”
The bill was tabled last month and is being pushed through the house, as it is being debated in committee the Senate will begin a pre-study of the bill before it reaches the Red Chamber. That move is usually saved for large omnibus bills or ones the government wants to get through quickly.
And, in this case, that’s exactly what it needs to do because time is running out. The bill has to reach royal assent by the end of June when the members of Parliament go home for the summer and prepare for an October election.
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde campaigned on the importance of the bill in the AFN’s election last summer in Vancouver, B.C.
That sentiment hasn’t changed. At last month’s committee Conservative MP David Yurdiga asked Bellegarde what he wanted to see in the initial steps.
“Off the bat what should we concentrate on?” Yurdiga said.
“Pass this legislation before (the end of) June. Make sure it receives royal assent. That’s what this is all about. If we don’t get it done by June, well, my goodness gracious, we’ve lost an opportunity. We don’t know what’s going to happen in October.” Bellegarde replied.
Bellegarde joined Nation to Nation and maintained the bill needs to be passed.
However, that doesn’t mean he’s against the bill being improved in committee.
“You can make improvements to amend things, which is fine. I’m just going to be cautious and leery about (trying) not to make too many because you run the risk of it dying on the order paper,” said Bellegarde.
“Let’s try to get this done as expeditiously and as completely as we can because this is an opportunity. We’ve never had this opportunity before and I think we have to seize the opportunity.”
Claudette Commanda is an Algonquin elder and has concerns about bill in its current state.
“The bill is missing some critical pieces of protections and, therefore, amendments are needed and it’s best to do it right than to quickly to pass something through law,” said Commanda, who is also executive director of the First Nations Confederacy of Cultural Centres.
She said Canada has invested heavily in the past to eradicate Indigenous languages so adequate and permanent funding is required.
“Destroy languages, you destroy identity, you destroy culture. You need to adequately invest, invest in the communities, in our work at a local, regional, national level. To restore our languages to our original states of fluency that we once had,” said Commanda.