Canada unveils Indigenous Languages bill to fanfare, criticism

Martha TroianAPTN NewsThe Trudeau government tabled its long-awaited Indigenous Languages legislation Tuesday in the House of Commons.Bill C-91, An Act Respecting Indigenous Languages, would establish measures for long-term, sustainable funding of Indigenous languages, support and promote the use of Indigenous languages, establish an Office of the Commissioner of Indigenous languages, and encourage collaboration between the federal, provincial and Indigenous governments to deliver supports for Indigenous languages.The legislation was celebrated at a press conference at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, where Heritage and Multiculturalism Minister Pablo Rodriguez acknowledged Canada’s role in the destruction of Indigenous languages via residential schools and called C-91 “a major milestone in our journey to reconciliation.”“While we cannot change the past, we can, and we must, together, work for a better future,” he said. “We will do this with this bill.”(TRC) calls to action 13, 14 and 15, Rodriguez said Tuesday.Those actions state Indigenous rights must include language rights, that an Indigenous Languages Act should be a fundamental and valued element of Canadian culture and society, and that Indigenous languages are reinforced by the treaties with sufficient funding made available.Lastly, in call to action 15, the commission urged the federal government to appoint a commissioner to help promote Indigenous languages and report on the adequacy of federal funding of Indigenous languages initiatives.For over 150 years, approximately 150,000 Indigenous children attended residential schools, where many were forbidden to speak or practice their language and culture.By responding to the TRC, Rodriguez said the feds are “demonstrating our full support of the United Nations Declaration for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples without qualification.“This legislation will provide the mechanisms to recognize Indigenous languages… support the reclamation, revitalization, strengthening and maintenance of Indigenous languages in Canada, support and promote Indigenous languages, provide long-term sustainable funding to reach these goals, and establish an office of the commissioner of Indigenous languages.”Canada engaged Inuit “in bad faith’: ITKITK representation was notably absent on the stage for Tuesday’s announcement.Obed instead sat in the audience for the event.“Despite being characterized as a reconciliation and co-development initiative, the Government of Canada engaged Inuit in bad faith throughout this legislative initiative,” the national Inuit leader said in a statement emailed to media.ITK President Natan Obed said the Trudeau government engaged Inuit “in bad faith” on Bill C-91. APTN/File photo.“The absence of any Inuit-specific content suggests this bill is yet another legislative initiative developed behind closed doors by a colonial system and then imposed on Inuit.”Obed called the bill a “symbolic gesture” that doesn’t address Inuit rights to speak their language, or include provisions necessary to support its revitalization, maintenance, and promotion.He told APTN News Tuesday that ITK provided the government with draft provisions for an Inuktuk section of the act, but that the government “has not responded in a detailed fashion to the positions we have taken.”He said ITK also detailed its concerns over the process in a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in December, but has not received a response.“There are a number of places where we feel the Government of Canada could have worked through the process with us,” he said, adding “co-development means something very different than consultation.”Eighty four percent of Inuit within the 51 communities that make up the four regions of Inuit Nunangat report the ability to speak Inuktut.Inuktut has official language status in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories, and is an official language of the Nunatsiavut Government in Labrador.Endangered languagesAccording to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), three quarters of Canada’s approximately 90 living Indigenous languages are “endangered.”Article 13 of UNDRIP says Indigenous peoples “have the right to revitalize, use, develop and transmit to future generations their histories, languages, oral traditions, philosophies, writing systems and literatures, and to designate and retain their own names for communities, places and persons.”Pauline Gordon, a residential school survivor, educator and former assistant deputy minister in the Northwest Territories, is concerned that the act will not recognize Indigenous languages as official languages.“What exactly does a right entitle an Aboriginal person to?” she said.“And how much are they going to provide to support language learning and context?”Pauline Gordon wants Canada to give Indigenous languages “official” status, like English and French.Gordon, originally from Aklavik, NWT, wants to see more Indigenous languages flourish around her and not just for a small window of time.“What degree are they willing to stick their neck out and say we owe it to [Indigenous peoples]?”Rodriguez said Indigenous groups will have more opportunity to shape the legislation as it moves through committees and undergoes amendments throughout the legislative process.But Obed said the two years Canada had to work with Indigenous groups on the bill was plenty of time.“This was a signature initiative of this government, and there was commitment made in 2016,” he said.“That’s more than enough time to figure out how to do co-development to get provisions that can be respectful of Inuit within the first reading of the legislation.”The bill will have to go through three readings in the legislature, and three in the Senate, with time for committee reviews and amendments.The Liberals have said they would like to see the legislation receive royal assent before the fall election.mtroian.ca

Executive Producer / Ottawa

Justin Brake has French, Irish, British and Mi'kmaq roots and hails from Ktaqamkuk, Mi'kma'ki, or Newfoundland. He joined APTN News in 2017 and works from the Ottawa bureau as the executive producer for the eastern region.

3 thoughts on “Canada unveils Indigenous Languages bill to fanfare, criticism

  1. It’s a step forward, but goes nowhere far enough to promote the local indigenous language. Also, if the Government could think outside of the box, it could find many very cost-effective ways to promote it.

  2. Definitely nothing substantive; another pot of funding to fight over and feds colonizing our languages. How will this impact school boards and curriculum where Indigenous children have no choice but to attend municipal schools?
    How will this ensure barriers are removed in schools so indigenous children are taught by language speakers?
    Funding is great and all, which can allow our daycares to hire Elders with language skills and ensure they are properly compensated when engaged with schools but how will the funding work? Formula? Block?
    Will the money be lost in beuracracy?
    How will this apply to the education bill that also has language and culture included?
    Too many unanswered questions and another hasty roll out that omitted meaningful community engagement, favouring photo ops over systemic change and our leaders play right into it.
    More importantly our languages are alive and a spirit, did we even acknowledge that?

  3. Definitely nothing substantive; another pot of funding to fight over and feds colonizing our languages. How will this impact school boards and curriculum where Indigenous children have no choice but to attend municipal schools?
    How will this ensure barriers are removed in schools so indigenous children are taught by language speakers?
    Funding is great and all, which can allow our daycares to hire Elders with language skills and ensure they are properly compensated when engaged with schools but how will the funding work? Formula? Block?
    Will the money be lost in beuracracy?
    How will this apply to the education bill that also has language and culture included?
    Too many unanswered questions and another hasty roll out that omitted meaningful community engagement, favouring photo ops over systemic change and our leaders play right into it.
    More importantly our languages are alive and a spirit, did we even acknowledge that?

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