We call upon the federal government to appoint, in consultation with Aboriginal groups, an Aboriginal Languages Commissioner. The commissioner should help promote Aboriginal languages and report on the adequacy of federal funding of Aboriginal-languages initiatives.

Indigenous Watchdog Status Update

Current StatusDec. 5, 2021COMPLETE
Previous StatusJune 14, 2021COMPLETE

Why “In Progress?”

On Monday, June 14, 2021, the Honourable Steven Guilbeault, Minister of Canadian Heritage, announced the first appointees to the new Office of the Commissioner of Indigenous Languages:

  • Ronald E. Ignace, Commissioner 
  • Robert Watt, Director 
  • Georgina Liberty, Director 
  • Joan Greyeyes, Director 

As the press release outlines, the Office of the Commissioner will operate independently from the Government of Canada. They will support and work with Indigenous peoples, their respective governments; other governing bodies, communities and organizations; the governments of Canada and the provinces and territories; and all Canadians to support the self-determined work of Indigenous peoples in reclaiming, revitalizing, maintaining and strengthening First Nations, Inuit and Métis languages.

Bill C-91, “An Act respecting Indigenous languages received Royal assent on June 21, 2019 and established an Office of the Commissioner of Indigenous Language with 3 distinctions-based directors, one each for First Nations, Métis and Inuit. The Commissioner and the Directors will work with Indigenous Peoples and their respective governments; other governing bodies, communities and organizations; the governments of Canada and the provinces and territories; and all Canadians to support the self-determined work of Indigenous peoples in reclaiming, revitalizing, maintaining and strengthening First Nations, Inuit and Métis languages.

Office of the Commissioner of Indigenous Languages

Under Bill C-91, the Office of the Commissioner of Indigenous Languages will:

  • conduct or commission research to support Indigenous languages and to obtain information on language use and vitality in light of community language assessments
  • work with Canada and Indigenous organizations to support innovative language teaching projects
  • promote Indigenous language use
  • prepare annual reports to Parliament on the vitality of Indigenous languages
  • promote public awareness of the significance of Indigenous language rights, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action and the negative impacts of colonialism and discrimination
  • provide facilitation or mediation services upon request

The Office of the Commissioner of Indigenous Languages will be overseen by a Commissioner of Indigenous Languages and 3 distinctions-based directors: one each for First Nations, Inuit and Métis languages. The Minister of Canadian Heritage and Multiculturalism will engage with diverse Indigenous governing bodies and Indigenous organizations and recommend candidates for the positions of the Commissioner and 3 Directors to the Governor in Council.

Section 25 | Support offered by Office:
”At the request of an Indigenous community or an Indigenous government or other Indigenous governing body, the Office may provide support to the community or the Indigenous government or other Indigenous governing body in its efforts to reclaim, revitalize, maintain and strengthen an Indigenous language, including its efforts to:

(a) create permanent records of the language, including audio and video recordings and written materials such as dictionaries, lexicons and grammars of the language, for the purposes of, among other things, its maintenance and transmission;
(b) establish certification standards for translators and interpreters;
(c) conduct community assessments in respect of the use of the language;
(d) develop and implement plans for reclaiming, revitalizing, maintaining and strengthening the language; or
(e) engage with the Government of Canada or provincial governments to establish culturally appropriate methods of teaching and learning the language.

Commissioner Profiles

Ronald E. Ignace Commissioner

Stsmél̓qen, Ronald E. Ignace, is a member of the Secwepemc Nation in Interior British Columbia. He was the elected chief of the Skeetchestn Indian Band for more than 30 years since the early 1980s. He also served as Chairman of the Shuswap Nation Tribal Council and president of its cultural society, where he initiated a broad program of research and reclamation on Secwepemc language and culture, including an innovative university partnership with Simon Fraser University (SFU).

He holds a B.A. and M.A. in Sociology from the University of British Columbia, and completed his PhD in Anthropology at SFU in 2008, with a dissertation on Secwepemc oral history. He has (co-)written numerous articles and book chapters on Secwepemc history, ethnobotany, language and culture, including the epic Secwepemc People, Land and Laws: Yerí7 re stsq̓ey̓s-kucw, a journey through 10,000 years of Secwepemc history.

From 2003-2005, he chaired the Ministerial Task Force on Aboriginal Languages and Cultures, and from 2016-2021, co-chaired the Assembly of First Nations’ Chiefs Committee on Languages, where he played an instrumental role in the development of Bill C-91, the Indigenous Languages Act.

Robert Watt        Director

Since his early career, Mr. Robert Watt has been involved in promoting, protecting and preserving Inuktitut. He organized and facilitated terminology workshops, created databases for translators and interpreters, and personally helped develop and teach the Adult Education Translator/Interpreter Program. His vision is shaped by his determination and his Inuit heritage at the Kativik School Board Adult Education Department.

As elected President of the Avataq Cultural Institute from 1998 to 2001, Robert co-created and initiated the commercial production and marketing of Avataq’s five blends of herbal teas. He ensured that all proceeds would be used for the protection and preservation of Inuit Culture and Language.

Robert also facilitated the first-ever national gathering of Canadian Inuit throat singers, organized by the Avataq Cultural Institute. This event paved the way to the Government of Quebec granting throat singing special cultural heritage status.

Co-Director of the Inuit Sub-Commission at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, he visited numerous Canadian communities, collecting almost 800 statements from residential school and intergenerational trauma survivors. Hearing the hurts and hopes conveyed by these testimonies has increased his own sense of heritage and identity.

More recently, Robert was President and Commissioner of Kativik Ilisarniliriniq, a school board created under the James Bay Northern Quebec Agreement. In this role, he actively supported initiatives to advance the protection, strengthening and development of the Inuktitut language through educational programming rooted in the Inuit identity and worldview.

Georgina Liberty      Director

Georgina Liberty has devoted her life to preserving, protecting and cherishing her Metis identity and spirit. In her teens, she worked as a researcher for the Manitoba Metis Federation, tracing the Metis land script. She has been an active member of the Manitoba Metis Federation since 1969, and is currently the Director of Metis Nation 2020 – Metis 150 for the Metis National Council, which marked Manitoba’s 150th anniversary and the historic role of Louis Riel in bringing Manitoba into Confederation.

This position allowed her to commit to her passion of educating others about the history of the Metis people and their important role in the building of Manitoba and its relationship with Canada.

Georgina’s diverse work experience includes employing and engaging Metis, First Nations and Inuit peoples in opportunities to build on their strengths and to progress in business, leadership and governance opportunities.

Georgina has many years of experience in governance and policy, and acquired political acumen working for the Metis government within the Manitoba Metis Federation for over 20 years, as well with other Indigenous organizations.

Joan Greyeyes           Director

Joan Greyeyes is a member of the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation within Treaty 6 territory in Saskatchewan. Joan earned a Bachelor of Education Degree, a Post-Graduate Diploma in Educational Administration and a Masters Degree in Education from the University of Saskatchewan. Her experience as a senior executive with significant knowledge working with corporate, government and Indigenous relations at the post-secondary level, have contributed to her commitment to Indigenous education.

She brings a wealth of knowledge as the former president of the Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies and Special Advisor to the President on Aboriginal Initiatives at the University of Saskatchewan. She negotiated with the Province of Saskatchewan to establish the first provincial Act in Canada (the Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technology Act) to recognize a First Nations institution as a post-secondary institution.

In collaboration with SaskTel, Joan established a call centre to provide Indigenous language coverage to the province of Saskatchewan. Joan’s recent work with the University of Saskatchewan centered on the preservation and revitalization of Indigenous languages. She has initiated programs and presented at an international level on various aspects of Indigenous language revitalization.

The Glendon Declaration

The Crown and Her Federal Government in enacting an Indigenous Language Act must create an Office of the Commissioners of Indigenous Languages, with three national Indigenous Language Commissioners, one for the First Nations, one for the Inuit, and one for the Métis, with an ancillary staff complement comparable to that of the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages, and a Commissioner’s representative located in each Indigenous Nation and/or Territory to assist with the carrying out of the intent of the Indigenous Language Act.

Official Federal Government Response: Sept. 15, 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 and the commitment to a renewed relationship with Indigenous peoples based on the recognition of rights, respect, cooperation and partnership.

Under Bill C-91, the Office of the Commissioner of Indigenous Languages will:

  • conduct or commission research to support Indigenous languages and to obtain information on language use and vitality in light of community language assessments
  • work with Canada and Indigenous organizations to support innovative language teaching projects
  • promote Indigenous language use
  • prepare annual reports to Parliament on the vitality of Indigenous languages
  • promote public awareness of the significance of Indigenous language rights, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action and the negative impacts of colonialism and discrimination
  • provide facilitation or mediation services upon request

The Office of the Commissioner of Indigenous Languages will be overseen by a Commissioner of Indigenous Languages and 3 distinctions-based directors: one each for First Nations, Inuit and Métis languages. The Minister of Canadian Heritage and Multiculturalism will engage with diverse Indigenous governing bodies and Indigenous organizations and recommend candidates for the positions of the Commissioner and 3 Directors to the Governor in Council.

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 Indigenous Languages Act.