Romeo Saganash says it’s his “constitutional right” to have Cree simultaneously translated in English and French during House of Commons proceedings.
On Tuesday, the NDP MP spoke to a committee that’s looking at how Indigenous languages can be heard and understand by everyone on Parliament.
But it’s not as easy as it sounds.
Simultaneous translation in English and French requires advanced notice and permission – even for the Procedure and House Affairs Committee.
“My constitutional right to speak applies in the very same manner to every other language in the country,” said Saganash.
Liberal MP Robert-Falcon Ouellette pioneered the idea last June, when he spoke Cree in the House of Commons. There was no one to translate his words.
Charles Robert, clerk of the House of Commons, told the committee about the Senate’s experiment with accommodating Inuktitut in 2009.
“We had difficulty actually with Inuktitut,” he said, “not necessarily because there is a dearth of members who speak the language but they just don’t happen to live in Ottawa.”
Robert also said finding interpreters for Indigenous languages with fewer speakers would be problematic.
Saganash doesn’t believe in exclusion, but admitted that getting some Indigenous languages translated into French could be a problem.
“Depends on our geographic location most of the time,” he said. “It happened in the Cree world because we’re in Quebec. But I know it’s going to be difficult in other parts of the country.”
Ultimately he wants to one day stand up in the house and have Cree translated simultaneously into English and French. Saganash says a proposed Indigenous Languages Act would help.
“This is going to be a victory for all of us not just me,” he said.
The Procedure and House Affairs Committee will meet again on Thursday.