We call upon the federal government to enact an Aboriginal Languages Act that incorporates the following principles:

  1. Aboriginal languages are a fundamental and valued element of Canadian culture and society, and there is an urgency to preserve them.
  2. Aboriginal language rights are reinforced by the Treaties.
  3. The federal government has a responsibility to provide sufficient funds for Aboriginal-language revitalization and preservation.
  4. The preservation, revitalization, and strengthening of Aboriginal languages and cultures are best managed by Aboriginal people and communities.
  5. Funding for Aboriginal language initiatives must reflect the diversity of Aboriginal languages.

Indigenous Watchdog Status Update

Current Status Nov. 9, 2020STALLED
Previous StatusAug. 17, 2020STALLED

Why “Stalled”?

Bill C-91, “An Act respecting Indigenous Languages” received Royal assent on June 21, 2019. The AFN and Métis National Council support the bill but the Inuit Tapariit Kanatami, the national advocacy voice of Canada’s Inuit did not see many of their recommendations incorporated into the Languages Act, thereby leaving Inuktuk, their “national” language with less protection than English or French in their own territory.

No reference to Indigenous language rights being reinforced by treaties (ii above). The Act directly addresses the principles identified above in i, iii, iv and valthough Budget 2019 investments to support implementation of Bill C-91 allocates almost 35% of the funding to after the next election in 2023 ($116M out of $333.7M)

On Sept. 5, 2019 the Governments of Canada and Nunavut, and Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. are collaborating toward an agreement that will support, revitalize and strengthen Inuktut in Nunavut with up to $42M over 3-year period to support this work.

Current Status response for C2A i, ii, iii, iv and v.

Part 1 or Call to Action: Aboriginal languages are a fundamental and valued element of Canadian culture and society, and there is an urgency to preserve them.

Federal actions towards implementing Bill C-91

June 15, 2017 – Joint announcement with the Federal Minister of Canadian Heritage, the Honourable Mélanie Joly, on the co-development of an Indigenous Languages Act – legislation to ‘revitalize, recover, preserve, protect, maintain and promote’ First Nations languages

March 6, 2018 – Romeo Saganash, a New Democrat who represents a northern Quebec riding, addressed the Commons Procedure and Affairs Committee last week in his native Cree, and urged the House to make it possible for him and others to speak Indigenous languages and have them translated into English and French.
This would be an important recognition of the historical role of Indigenous peoples in Canada and a gesture of respect for their culture and heritage and would allow First Nations MPs to speak out in their own voices and be fully understood.(Toronto Star)

Nov. 29, 2018 – Official release of the 66th Report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, entitled “The Use of Indigenous Languages in Proceedings of the House of Commons and Committees.” The report recommends that the use of Indigenous languages be recognized in the House of Commons and specifies a process for facilitating such interventions.

Feb. 5, 2019 – “Bill C-91, the Indigenous Languages Act, to reclaim, revitalize, strengthen and maintain Indigenous languages in Canada” tabled in the House of Commons. The legislation recognizes and supports all Indigenous languages in Canada and contains mechanisms which will:

  • establish measures for the provision of long-term, sustainable funding of Indigenous languages:
  • advance the objectives of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples;
  • support the reclamation, revitalization, strengthening and maintenance of Indigenous languages in Canada;
  • support and promote the use of Indigenous languages;
  • work with provinces, territories, Indigenous representative organizations and Indigenous governments to create effective support for Indigenous languages in Canada through a variety of mechanisms
  • establish an Office of the Commissioner of Indigenous Languages.
    http://www.parl.ca/DocumentViewer/en/42-1/bill/C-91/first-reading

June 17, 2019 – Bill C-91 now recognizes the importance of Inuktut to Inuit Nunangat. The Senate Standing Committee on Aboriginal Peoples has adopted an amended version of Bill C-91, the Indigenous Languages Act, with changes largely prompted by Inuit groups.

June 21, 2019 – “Bill C-91, the Indigenous Languages Act, to reclaim, revitalize, strengthen and maintain Indigenous languages in Canada” is passed in the House of Commons

Sept. 28, 2020 – Announcement of essential steps to advance the implementation of the Indigenous Languages Act. The government is working with the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), Inuit Tapariit Kanatami (ITK) and the Métis National Council (MNC) on the development of the consultations. Key steps include:

  • host close to 40 virtual consultations with Indigenous Peoples across Canada
  • An online questionnaire is also available to ensure the minister hears from all interested parties, including Indigenous elders, youth, persons with disabilities, women, men, two-spirit, and LGBTQ persons.
  • a selection committee from AFN, ITK and MNC will be created to support the appointment process for the positions of Commissioner and Directors of Indigenous Languages.
  • host a virtual Indigenous Languages Symposium in early 2021, which will bring together a wide range of national and international experts to share their knowledge and best practices on the revitalization of Indigenous languages. 

Part 2 of Call to Action: Aboriginal language rights are reinforced by the Treaties.

Treaty rights are not explicitly addressed

Part 3 of Call to Action: The federal government has a responsibility to provide sufficient funds for Aboriginal-language revitalization and preservation.

Budget 201617

  • Language and Culture: $55M per year for 5 years
  • Aboriginal Languages Initiative: $5M for 2016 – 2017

Budget 2017 – 18

  • Aboriginal Languages Initiative: $23M per year for 3 years
  • Library and Archives Canada: $14.9M over 3 years to digitize
  • National Research Council: $6M to preserve oral histories

Budget 20191 – 20

Support Implementation of Bill C-91: $333.7 over 5 years

Federal Budget 2019 to support implementation of Bill C-91

2019-202020-212021-222022-232023-24
$15M$44$72$87$116M
4.4%13.2%21.6%26.1%34.8%

Budget to support implementation is heavily back-ended to after the next election

Part 4 of Call to Action: The preservation, revitalization, and strengthening of Aboriginal languages and cultures are best managed by Aboriginal people and communities.

Aug. 27, 2017 – Minister Joly and the three National Indigenous leaders met and agreed to move forward on a distinction-based process with AFN, ITK and Métis Nation leading up to the adoption of the Indigenous Languages Act by Parliament next year.

June, 2018 – Launch of the intensive community-based engagement sessions that will be held across Canada this summer to support the co-development of First Nations, Inuit and Métis languages legislation.

Feb. 5, 2019 – A collaborative approach was adopted with Indigenous Peoples to develop the legislation, which included:

  • 12 fundamental principles, co-developed to inform the basis of the legislation;
  • more than 50 intensive and collaborative engagement sessions held across the country to collect elements of importance to be included in the legislation. These sessions were attended by over 1,200 individuals. Canadian Heritage also received approximately 200 electronic submissions from the online questionnaire.

Oct. 28, 2020 – “Qaumajuq” [HOW-ma-yourq], meaning ‘It is bright, it is lit,” which celebrates the light that flows into the new building connected ti the Winnipeg Art Gallery. The circle of language keepers representing Indigenous communities across Inuit Nunangat and Treaty 1 territory endowed the WAG building with an Anishinaabemowin name: Biindigin Biwaasaeyaah {BEEN-deh-gen Bi-WAH-say-yah}, meaning “Come on in, the dawn of light is here” or “the dawn of light is coming.”

Part 5 of Call to Action: Funding for Aboriginal language initiatives must reflect the diversity of Aboriginal languages.

Bill C-91 “The Indigenous Languages Act” will among other provisions:

  • contributes to the objectives of the declaration
  • supports the reclamation, revitalization, strengthening and maintenance of Indigenous languages in Canada
  • supports and promotes the use of Indigenous languages
  • commits to working with provinces, territories, Indigenous representative organizations and Indigenous governments to create effective support for Indigenous languages in Canada through a variety of mechanisms
  • establishes an Office of the Commissioner of Indigenous Languages

Indigenous response to passage of Bill C-91

Inuit Tapariit Kanatami: Natan Obed, President

ITK regrets that that Bill C-91, An Act respecting Indigenous languages, passed into law without inclusion of any Inuit-specific priorities. In its current format, this law does not affirm Inuit language rights or close the legal and policy gaps that contribute to the erosion of Inuktut as the first, only or preferred language spoken by Inuit in Inuit Nunangat, and does not create any new legal obligations for the Government of Canada. ITK and Nunavut Tunngavik Inc raised the following objections:

  • Bill does not recognize Inuktut as an official language within the 4 regions of Inuit Nunangat and requires Inuit to use English or French to access federal services
  • Federal departments and agencies do not have to offer services in Inuit language
  • Inequitable federal funding policies that favor English and French vs Inuit
  • Inuit in provinces must use English or French to access language services
  • Nunavut’s territorial language legislation does not apply to federal government departments.

Assembly of First Nations: Perry Bellegarde, National Chief

“Language is life and central to our identities and cultures. We know that when states uphold Indigenous languages their likelihood of survival increases. This is why we pushed for The Indigenous Languages Act, and it’s why I’m so proud we now have the federal government’s full support for this work. Today we celebrate the work of our language champions who worked with Canada to create this legislation that will help ensure our children grow strong in their language and stronger in life, confident and proud in their identities and connected to their nations. This is an example of reconciliation in action and a meaningful way to mark 2019, the United Nations International Year of Indigenous Languages.”

Métis National Council – Clément Chartier, President

“Bill C-91 marks an important step forward for the Métis Nation in consolidating its continued existence as a distinct Indigenous nation and culture in Western Canada. This legislation, co-developed with Canada, will enable the Métis Nation to revitalize, promote and practice its national language, Michif, while also enabling those of its citizens who speak other Indigenous languages such as Saulteaux, Dene and Cree to continue using those languages as well”, stated President Chartier.

The Glendon Declaration

The Crown and Her Federal government must enact an Indigenous Languages Act. In doing so, it can be guided by the Report of the 2005 Task Force on Aboriginal Languages and Cultures, which responds to each of the five principles required by the TRC Report.

National Research Council of Canada

Programs to Revitalize Indigenous Languages

Funded through Budget 2017, the National Research Council of Canada’s Indigenous Languages Technology Project collaborates closely with Indigenous experts on technologies that contribute to language revitalization. 6 projects were launched in 2018-2019 between the National Research Council of Canada and 10 collaborating organizations ranging from Indigenous communities, schools, language experts, governments, universities, and language service providers. A second set of projects was also launched in summer and fall 2019

Wordweaver: Iroquoian language

An open source code and graphical user interface to create online verb conjugation tools for Iroquoian languages. i.e. used to build a verb conjugator for Ohswé:ken, the western dialect of Mohawk, working with the Onkwawenna Kentyohkwa immersion school. The NRC is now collaborating with language experts on a version for the Kahnawà:ke (eastern) dialect.

Keyman 12: SENĆOŦEN language

A predictive text software for SENĆOŦEN, released as part of Keyman 12. Now people typing in SENĆOŦEN can benefit from the speed and ease of having predictive text at their fingertips when typing on mobile devices. The aim is to help engage young people in learning Indigenous languages and increase language use in everyday contexts.

Keyword Search of audio recordings: Inuktitut, Cree, and other languages

Using audio files from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Indigenous experts from the Pirurvik Centre are providing transcriptions of stories told by their Elders in Inuktitut.Collaborators at the Computer Research Institute of Montreal (CRIM) are using these transcriptions to index and segment the audio files. CRIM released 5 audio processing tools in 2019, and is working toward accessible keyword search in 2020.

Web-based atlases and Dictionaries: Algonquin

The NRC project team welcomed visiting scholar Dr. Marie-Odile Junker, Full Professor at Carleton University, to work on web-based Algonquian dictionaries, spell checkers, verb conjugators and a linguistic atlas.

Inuktuk Language software: Inuktuk

The NRC initiated a project with the Nunavut Legislative Assembly and the Pirurvik Centre to develop technologies for Inuktut language learners and professionals that reinforce Inuktut’s status as an official language.

Online language courses: Kwak’wala, Michif, Mi’kmaw, and Naskapi

The NRC is contributing to the creation of 4 online language courses for Kwak’wala, Michif, Mi’kmaw, and Naskapi, through 7000 Languages

Official Federal Government Response: Sept. 5, 2019

On June 21, 2019, Bill C-91, An Act respecting Indigenous Languages, received Royal assent. The bill has been developed to support the meaningful implementation of Calls to Action 13, 14 and 15 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, elements of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UN declaration) and the commitment to a renewed relationship with Indigenous peoples based on the recognition of rights, respect, cooperation and partnership.

The legislation:

  • establishes measures for the provision of long-term, sustainable funding of Indigenous languages
  • contributes to the objectives of the UN declaration
  • supports the reclamation, revitalization, strengthening and maintenance of Indigenous languages in Canada
  • supports and promotes the use of Indigenous languages in Canada
  • commits to working with provinces, territories, Indigenous representative organizations and Indigenous governments to create effective support for Indigenous languages in Canada through a variety of mechanisms
  • establishes an Office of the Commissioner of Indigenous Languages

The bill is intended to be a framework that is not exhaustive and allows for flexibility. An important area of flexibility is contained in provisions related to entering into agreements and arrangements. For example, sections 8, 9 and 10 allow for co-operative agreements and arrangements to be entered into to take into account unique circumstances and needs of Indigenous groups, communities and peoples.

Budget 2019 provides $333.7 million over 5 years, starting in fiscal year 2019 to 2020, for the preservation, promotion and revitalization of Indigenous languages, with $115.7 million per year ongoing to support the implementation of the proposed Indigenous Languages Act.