Sol Mamakwa breaks a language barrier in Ontario

The NDP MP speaks Anishininiimowin in the Ontario Legislature.

New Democrat Sol Mamakwa spoke for 10 minutes in Anishininiimowin, or Oji-Cree in the Ontario legislature on Tuesday marking the first time anyone has spoken a language other than English or French.

It was also the first time in history the Ontario legislature interpreted and transcribed any other language besides English or French. As a birthday gift to his mom, Kezia Mamakwa, who turned 79 on this day, Mamakwa also answered questions his native language.

“I want to say thank you to everyone present. I’m very grateful, thankful for the opportunity to be able to speak my Anishininiimowin, in Indigenous Oji-Cree language in this legislature,” Mamakwa said through an interpreter at the start of his speech.”I am speaking for those that couldn’t use our language and also for those people from Kiiwetinoong, not only those from Kiiwetinoong, but for every Indigenous person in Ontario.”

In an interview after his time in the legislature, Mamakwa told APTN News that “language is identity. Language is where history comes from. “It’s so important because there are so many of us who have lost our languages. It’s a step toward language revitalization.” About 25 people from Mamakwa’s Kingfisher First Nation attended alongside 75 other guests, including Indigenous leaders.

I think about the people who were not allowed to speak their languages at residential school. I think about my mom— she is so proud today,” he said.

 The move was sparked in March between Mamakwa and Government House leader, Paul Calandra.

At a reception at Queen’s Park at that time, Mamakwa spoke partly in English and partly in Anishininiimowen. He spoke about how he could not speak his own language in the legislative assembly.

 According to Mamakwa, Calandra did not believe he couldn’t speak his own language in the assembly. They had some back and forth until Calandra admitted he was wrong and together, they decided to fix it.

Calandra changed the standing orders on languages spoken in the legislative chamber to include any Indigenous language spoken in Canada.

“Adding a third language to broadcast into the headsets at Queens Park presented some technical challenges,” said Jeff Goodman, operations manager of the broadcast service.

“For today we had Mamakwa’s words translated into English in the earbuds, and had the French interpreter help to further the translation— all in real time.”

 Chief Alvin Fiddler from Nishnawbe First Nation was in the gallery to witness the history making event.

“I continue to be amazed by Sol’s leadership. This is just one example of how effective he can be as a provincial parliamentarian to advancing our language initiatives, to restore our language and our culture,” said Fiddler.

“For him to do it at this level is pretty incredible.”

The Premiere, Doug Ford, was impressed as well.

 “No one’s ever done this, what you’re doing today,” Ford said in the legislature, “and I just want to tell you how proud I am of you, how proud everyone here in the legislature is, how proud everyone is in the First Nations.”

Mamakwa and Ford met in the middle of the room and hugged.

Mamakwa’s words will also be represented in syllabics, an Indigenous writing system, in Hansard, the official record of proceedings at Queen’s Park.

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