THE STANDING SENATE COMMITTEE ON ABORIGINAL PEOPLES
OTTAWA, Tuesday, April 2, 2019
The Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples, to which was referred the subject matter of Bill C-91, An Act respecting Indigenous languages, met this day at 8 a.m. to consider the subject matter.
Senator Lillian Eva Dyck (Chair) in the chair.
[ Editor’s Note: Some evidence was presented through an Inuktut/Inuktitut interpreter.]
The Chair: Before we begin, I have two motions that I would like to propose.
First, is it agreed that photography and filming from Senate Communications be authorized during this meeting?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chair: Second, is it agreed that the committee be permitted to distribute documents that are in English only during today’s meeting?
Senator Patterson: They will be translated later?
The Chair: Yes.
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chair: I would like to welcome all honourable senators and members of the public who are watching this meeting of the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples either here in the room, on television or listening via the web.
I would like to acknowledge, for the sake of reconciliation, that we are meeting on the traditional, unceded lands of the Algonquin peoples. My name is Lillian Dyck from Saskatchewan, and I have the privilege of chairing this committee.
Today, we continue our pre-study of Bill C-91, An Act respecting Indigenous languages. I would invite my fellow senators to introduce themselves.
Senator LaBoucane-Benson: Patti LaBoucane-Benson from Treaty 6 territory, Alberta.
Senator Pate: Kim Pate, Ontario.
Senator Christmas: Good morning. Dan Christmas, Membertou First Nation, Nova Scotia.
Senator Francis: Good morning. Brian Francis, Prince Edward Island.
Senator Sinclair: Good morning. Murray Sinclair, Manitoba.
Senator McCallum: Mary Jane McCallum, Treaty 10 territory, Manitoba region.
Senator Coyle: Mary Coyle, Nova Scotia.
Senator Tannas: Scott Tannas from Alberta.
Senator Patterson: Dennis Patterson, Nunavut.
Senator Doyle: Norman Doyle, Newfoundland and Labrador.
The Chair: I would like to welcome to the committee this morning, from Nunavut Arctic College, Ms. Rebecca Mearns, Dean of Education, Inuit and University Studies.
Rebecca Mearns, Dean of Education, Inuit and University Studies, Nunavut Arctic College: Thank you for the welcome. I am thankful to be here on the unceded lands of the Algonquin Nation.
[Ms. Mearns spoke in Inuktut/Inuktitut, with no interpretation.]
I am here to speak about Piqqusilirivvik, our cultural school located in Clyde River, Nunavut.
Piqqusilirivvik was the outcome of a lot of work to identify the needs for culture and language training accessibility within the territory of Nunavut. It was originally completed back in December of 2010 and has been running cultural programs since that time.
The foundation of Piqqusilirivvik was developed through consultation with elders from across the Nunavut territory, looking at what the foundation or the framework would be for a cultural school. They came up with different ideas of what that would look like. One, the land is a teaching and learning environment, and being on the land and learning our culture and our language is important. Two, the act of learning through observing and doing, so learning from our elders and from experts about different skills, building different things and living on the land. Three, living together in a learning environment that is outside of the Western 9:00 to 5:00 framework of teaching and learning that we see in schools. And, four, activities based on the hunting and gathering practices that were followed through the different seasons.
Currently, Piqqusilirivvik welcomes Inuit students that speak Inuktitut that are over the age of 18. Inuktitut is the language of instruction, and our experts -- our elders -- are the teachers at Piqqusilirivvik. They guide all of the programming, teach the students and run our programs. There are four-month programs in the winter and spring, and summer and fall.
The main campus of Piqqusilirivvik is located in Clyde River, but we also have two satellite campuses in Igloolik and Baker Lake that run programming within their communities and are based on community needs and the identified skills to be taught.
The programming is continually in development. Piqqusilirivvik is doing a wonderful job of resource development, and through their work with elders and the stories they receive through the work they do, they’re documenting everything they are doing. Whether they’re out on the land or out on the water hunting walrus, for instance, they’re creating videos. They’re creating reports on the building of a qarmaq, or sod house. They work together to build and are creating the resources from the work they do. As they build tools, drums and so on, they’re documenting all of this.
They’re also documenting the stories and teachings from elders, who are the experts that teach there. They’ve been working on information on child-rearing practice, for instance, and collecting that information from the elders. The learners work with all of that to create their own personal projects while they’re at Piqqusilirivvik, and they present those to their classmates as well.
There’s a great deal of work going on there. It is the one place where Inuktitut is really all around the learners who are participating. From traditional games to survival on the land, kamik-making, throat-singing, drum-making, building different tools, everything is in Inuktitut. It’s through the work of the elders that that has been produced.
Like I said, there is ongoing resource development, and that is something that we, at the Nunavut Arctic College, are trying to encourage, as well as looking at how we expand that beyond Piqqusilirivvik programs. How do we develop resources that will support building programs created in Nunavut for Nunavut Inuit to access, whether it be through our Nunavut Teacher Education Program, our Environmental Technology Program and things of that sort.
As we look to the future of Piqqusilirivvik, we have two satellite programs at the moment. We are looking to expand to the Kitikmeot region to also provide programming there. That is in the works at the moment.
Also, as we move forward in the future, we want to look at how Piqqusilirivvik can be used as a framework for Inuit education; for building programs that are really based within Inuit knowledge and the understanding of our land, culture and language; and how we continue to build on that within our other programs.
That’s a quick introduction to Piqqusilirivvik and what we’re doing at the Nunavut Arctic College at the moment.
Thank you very much, and I welcome any questions that you have.
The Chair: Thank you for that.
I will open it up to questions, starting with Senator Sinclair.
Senator Sinclair: Just so I understand, I thought I heard you say that the program accepts those who already speak the language. Is that accurate?
Ms. Mearns: Yes, correct.
Senator Sinclair: So the intention of the program is to allow for the language to be used in modern contexts, using traditional means as well?
Ms. Mearns: In all contexts, yes. The students who join us do come with different literacy levels, but Inuktitut is the language of instruction, so there is that need to understand the language.
The learners who come in are often a bit younger, and learning from the elders allows them to expand their vocabulary, their understanding, being on the land and learning the terminology that strengthens the language they already have coming in.
Senator Sinclair: What do you think the Inuktitut speaking level is right now among young people? How many do you think are actually fluent, percentage-wise, approximately?
Ms. Mearns: As far as the younger population, I’m not sure. I know it is in decline, but it really depends on the community and so on. There are many contributing factors.
Beyond Piqqusilirivvik, the Nunavut Arctic College is looking at other language programming and how we strengthen the language teaching we do at the college level.
Senator Sinclair: Could you talk about your funding? Where does it come from and approximately how much is it?
Ms. Mearns: The funding is received through the Government of Nunavut. The Nunavut Arctic College is a Crown corporation. I don’t have the exact numbers for Piqqusilirivvik operations here at the moment, but the students are housed in the buildings at Piqqusilirivvik. About 24 learners per semester are there in the program.
Senator Sinclair: Is a semester equivalent to a university program?
Ms. Mearns: The summer session begins in August and runs until about November, and then they return in February for the winter and spring semester. They are done in about April or May.
Senator Sinclair: Do you encourage the development of the written aspect of Inuktitut?
Ms. Mearns: Absolutely. We also have NAC Media, or the Nunavut Arctic College Media, which serves as the publishing house for the Nunavut Arctic College. As dean, I’m working to bring together both Piqqusilirivvik and NAC Media to see how we can continue to develop written resources and look at ideas for different multimedia approaches to sharing this information. Obviously, following the oral tradition of Inuktitut, how can we provide accessibility to, say, the recordings or videos that we have of the elders? We’re looking at other means to do that so if people want written material, it’s available, but they can also listen and have access to that.
Senator Sinclair: Do you have any observations with regard to this particular language bill?
Ms. Mearns: I’ve taken some time to read through it, and I’ve been looking at how it would impact the Nunavut Arctic College going forward.
One of the biggest challenges for us is the funding of programs, being able to expand programs and the need for funding to do so. The operational funds that we have for Piqqusilirivvik are currently for the Clyde River facility as well as our satellites. With the expansion to one more community in the Kitikmeot region.
I would love to see us expand this program to other communities and to our community learning centres throughout the territory, but in order to do that, obviously the funds are a big piece of that. If the option is available through the bill to access funding through different agreements with Inuit organizations and with the federal government — as long as we have the capability to do that as a post-secondary institution — I think that’s how we work toward supporting Inuktitut being accessible in many places throughout our communities.
Senator Sinclair: Thank you.
Senator Coyle: Thank you very much for your presentation and for the very creative work you’re doing.
I just want to understand the numbers. Did you say there are 20-some people per cohort?
Ms. Mearns: Yes, 24.
Senator Coyle: Is that at Clyde River and the two satellites?
Ms. Mearns: That’s at Clyde River. In the satellite programs, they range in size and number. I think we have, altogether, about 40 or maybe 50 learners between Clyde River and the satellites. Those all range in number. The satellite programs, because they don’t have a core facility like Clyde River does, are accessible to people within the community. They’re also running shorter programs that are focused on a certain skill. They’re doing, say, a caribou hunt and following up with other skills that would go along with that. So their numbers vary a bit more than you would see in Clyde River.
Senator Coyle: Is the age group mostly in the late teens and 20s, or what are you finding?
Ms. Mearns: We actually have a range of ages. We often say it’s for anyone 18 to 100 to attend. The range is from young adults to older adults that attend the programs.
Senator Coyle: The model that you’ve developed sounds like a very effective one, where you’re tying language learning to culture and living on the land, and the elders are the learning guides in this whole program. It takes place in two semesters. Are the individuals who attend not currently employed, or would they need to get permission from their employers to take it?
Ms. Mearns: Most often it is people who are not employed, but yes, if they were employed, it would mean a leave from their work.
Because it’s a different approach in the community programs, there is a little more accessibility there. However there are challenges with enrolment in some of our community programs. For Clyde River and the main facility, the number of applicants received is quite steady, but, of course, we face our challenges with enrolment as we do with some of our other programs.
Senator Coyle: I’d love to hear what your dream scenario is for expansion. It sounds like you have more demand than you can meet, both locally in the Clyde River facility, but also throughout the territory. Could you tell us what it would look like?
Ms. Mearns: One of the challenges we have with the Clyde River facility is that students can’t bring their families with them because it is a single student residence. We don’t have family housing available in Clyde River for students to attend that facility.
The satellite programs are offered at the community level, so whoever is available there can attend, with the assumption that they are there because they already have their homes there.
My vision of Piqqusilirivvik, and the different portfolios that I hold in education -- Inuit and university studies -- is expanding on the framework we have at Piqqusilirivvik and looking at how we use that to develop our programs so they have a foundation in Inuit knowledge, language and culture. Part of that is our Teacher Education Program. We’re working on renewing our Teacher Education Program at the moment, but how do we learn from what is ongoing in places like Piqqusilirivvik to truly develop a program that is built by Inuit for Inuit to teach Inuit within the territory, and to teach in our language, Inuktitut?
If I had the resources and the time to do so, I would look at how we rebuild the system of education we have and how we make it more responsive to our current and future needs within the territory.
Senator LaBoucane-Benson: Thank you very much for coming today. I’m excited about your Teacher Education Program. We heard that there is a lack of teachers and that this is a need.
I’d like to hear more about the program. You’re working on revitalizing it?
Ms. Mearns: Yes.
Senator LaBoucane-Benson: What is the vision for that? Could the funding that would come through Bill C-91 be directed into that? The long-term ramifications of having teachers are significant.
Ms. Mearns: Absolutely.
Currently at Nunavut Arctic College we’re in the process of negotiating a new memorandum of understanding with a new university partner, Memorial University. Part of that new MOU is moving our Teacher Education Program from our current university partner to Memorial.
This has come at a time where it’s providing us an opportunity to renew the program and really take a look at what it is we’re doing at the college. How do we engage with other stakeholders within education, and how do we work together with other departments and Inuit organizations to come up with an approach to education and teacher education that will support the needs, but also understanding that it is one piece of a very large puzzle for changes that are needed within the education system?
It’s one step that feeds into the cycle of renewal and creating new teachers, building a program that is going to have options for our future teachers to come in, whether that be working towards a diploma or continuing on to a degree program, and looking at different entry and exit points within our program to ensure that it is accessible to the largest number of people possible.
One of our main focuses in the renewal of this program is language and how we teach our teachers to teach in Inuktitut. That’s going to take us some time. These are resources we need to develop. We are looking at what we need as a college to support that and the different steps we need to take to get there. So we have been working on looking at different phases of how we approach this.
Obviously, we have to ensure that the learners who are currently in our program can complete the new program in the same time frame, but then how we continue to develop this renewed program on an ongoing basis. We want to ensure that we set it up so we have an ongoing evaluation of our program, looking at the different phases and at how we can continue to improve as we move forward. That is also important.
Our current goal with the Nunavut Teacher Education Program is to have a diploma exit point focused on a language specialist, and then the degree program for a Bachelor of Education at four years.
Senator LaBoucane-Benson: Thank you.
Senator Patterson: Thank you for being here.
Most observers believe that Inuktut, as it is now called, is the strongest Aboriginal language in Canada, but we have heard some evidence that the use of Inuktut is in decline in Nunavut. According to the Languages Commissioner, Inuit language use in the home dropped by 12 per cent between 1996 and 2006, around 1 per cent a year. At this rate, by 2051 the Inuit language will be spoken at home by only 4 per cent of Inuit in Nunavut.
Could you tell us what role you believe the Nunavut Arctic College has in reversing this trend and strengthening the Inuktut language?
Ms. Mearns: Part of our role as a post-secondary institution is to provide a place where the language is taught, where it’s accessible to our learners, but also to support our learners in becoming language champions and being the champions within their communities that are supporting renewal at the community level. We need to work at being the intermediary to support the community, schools and other teachers to really use Inuktitut on a daily basis.
We hear time and again of the need for champions of our language within our school system. We need teachers who are strong in their language to be able to pass that on to the younger generation, and to continue the use at the community level as well.
As I said before, we have that one piece with multiple roles to play within it. However, to piece it together, we need to all work together toward this common goal. I know that so many of us have this common goal of wanting to see our learners excel and to see our language, Inuktitut, and our culture strengthened. That’s part of what we at the college are hoping to support within our communities as well.
Senator Patterson: You spoke about Piqqusilirivvik and its successes, but it’s only located in 3 of 25 communities in Nunavut. Could you can tell us where the Teacher Education Program is taught, in which locations of Nunavut’s 25 communities?
Ms. Mearns: Yes. We currently have Iqaluit, Sanikiluaq, Clyde River, Pond Inlet, Rankin Inlet, Arviat, Baker Lake, Kugluktuk and Gjoa Haven.
Senator Patterson: That’s roughly 8 communities out of 25?
Ms. Mearns: Nine.
Senator Patterson: Okay, thank you. So there is a long way to go in training teachers.
Ms. Mearns: Absolutely.
The Chair: Thank you, Dean Mearns, for your presentation, and thank you, senators, for the questions.
We will now go to our second panel. We have a couple of other witnesses who are on their way and we will fit them in later.
The committee is pleased to welcome to this panel the Honourable David Joanasie, Nunavut’s Minister of Languages, Minister of Culture & Heritage and Minister of Education. He is joined by Ms. Susan Enuaraq, Senior Advisor, Inuktut, Government of Nunavut. We also welcome Ms. Aluki Kotierk, President, Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated; and Ian Martin, Professor, Glendon College, York University.
Thank you for taking the time to appear before us today. We will begin with remarks in the order in which you were presented, starting with Minister Joanasie.
Hon. David Joanasie, Minister of Languages, Minister of Culture & Heritage and Minister of Education: Thank you for welcoming us. This morning, we’re going to talk about a topic that is very close to our hearts: our language, culture and identity. It is central to Inuit who have lived in Nunavut for thousands of years.
This week marks a very special moment for all Nunavummiut and Canadians as we celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the creation of Nunavut. I would like to reiterate that unlike other any Canadian jurisdiction, our territory and public government were born out of one of the most comprehensive land claims agreements entered into by Her Majesty the Queen and the Inuit of the Nunavut Settlement Area, a modern treaty recognized and protected by and under the Canadian Constitution.
A decade ago, Nunavut used its legislative authority to pass unique language laws to protect and promote the inherent right of Inuit in Nunavut to the use of Inuktut, in full equality with English and French. This level of statutory protection remains unprecedented among Canadian jurisdictions today. This is an achievement that we are proud of, but it does not come without its challenges.
The Government of Canada is now proposing Bill C-91, An Act respecting Indigenous languages. While it is an important step for recognizing the importance of Indigenous languages in our country, there are a few points that I would like to share with you.
The Inuit language is Indigenous to Inuit. It is the spoken and first language of a majority of our territorial population, and for many, it is the only language they know.
However, Nunavummiut continue to be treated as second- or third-class citizens when they communicate or receive services from federal departments or federally regulated bodies operating in our territory, as these services or programs are insufficient or not provided in Inuktut.
In these disadvantaged circumstances faced by Inuit in Nunavut, particularly Inuktut-speaking elders, they cannot enjoy equal access to federal services that other Canadians take for granted in either English or French. They should not have to feel like strangers in their own homeland.
We hope that Canada will recognize in law Inuktut as a founding and official language of Canada within Nunavut, and make a demonstrated commitment to improving access to federal programs and services in Inuktut to Nunavummiut.
Honourable senators, Inuktut is at a crossroads. While recent federal reports place Inuktut as one of Canada’s Indigenous languages with the greatest potential for long-term survival, we are concerned by the continued language loss trend experienced among our youth and some communities.
A detailed analytical report on the evolution of the language situation in Nunavut from 2001 to 2016 found that over a period of 15 years the Inuktut language mother tongue dropped from 71.7 per cent in 2001 to 65.3 per cent in 2016. Among Inuit, this represents 7,075 people today who do not have Inuktut as their first language learned.
In recent statistical reports, Inuktut is reported as being increasingly used at home. It is, however, shifting from being the main language to the secondary language used at home, often alongside English, which is increasingly gaining in importance.
In closing, Nunavut’s language legislation was the result of several years of intense co-development with language stakeholders in Nunavut, including Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated and other Inuit groups. To quote the late Jose Amaujaq Kusugak, former territorial, national and international Inuit leader, “We are determined to continue to collaborate with Canada and other stakeholders to fulfill the dream of Nunavut as a vibrant, beneficial and equally respected part of the Canadian mosaic. We want to level the playing field, to participate like any other Canadians. We’re all in this together to develop a good Canada.”
Our youth, our elders and Nunavummiut must feel confident that the language of our ancestors and that of our descendants will be recognized by our country and treated with dignity within our homeland. Qujannamiik. Thank you.
Aluki Kotierk, President, Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated: Good morning, senators. Thank you for welcoming us here today and for the opportunity to speak to you this morning. I am very happy that you have Inuktut translators available.
This morning, I’m happy to be here talking about the Inuktut language and how it is important to us in Canada.
Senators, I would like to clarify that. The Inuktut language is very important. This is our main language as to who we are in our culture. It touches us in every way.
At the moment, Inuit leaders often make decisions on how the Inuit language can be implemented and legislated. Senators, you can also help in advancing the Inuit language.
Inuit and people living in Nunavut had looked at this legislation for the betterment of our languages. It will help advance the Inuit language so that it can be strong in our homes and be used in our homes and schools, as well as in offices in Inuit Nunangat.
In Nunavut, we follow all languages, even English and French. Inuktut should be a common language, because Canada has only two official languages.
As I said before, Inuktut touches us, who we are in our culture. I can say it also touches us, being Canadians. Our language is very important. We use it not only for important matters but for recreational use as well. We will use it in future generations to come.
As for the committees, I came here to talk about this particular topic. They asked me questions and I answered accordingly. I encourage you use my comments that day as a reference. I will not be going through every detail of what I said before.
First of all, it is hard for me to talk about Inuktut and the fact that we are losing our language. There are very few of us left that are fluent in Inuktut. If the legislation is not going to change, it will not help us advance our language at all.
The other part I want to talk about before this committee has been revealed with this legislation. They made changes, but it will probably not help us; it won’t advance us.
As I said earlier, we are losing our language. We don’t want that to happen, but it is happening and it is true. We will hear from Ian Martin, from York University, a professor who can specify that we are losing our language. The senator also stated that in 2050, only 40 per cent will be speaking Inuktut.
We have to change the laws to strengthen our language. We will continue to lose our language if we don’t make any changes to these laws.
I don’t want to express any negative things about it, but for sure, with the legislation in Canada, section 35 was one of the positive things to happen to us. It can be an important and useful tool for us to enhance Aboriginal languages. I am thinking the content needs to be worked on and reiterated. For example, how important the things are that we are pushing for in Inuit Nunangat and in Nunavut — they have to be prosperous using their own language. The same with the Teacher Education Program: It needs to be assisted, as we need good educators to continue this language.
I want to emphasize that I am very proud of our language and that we will have to make changes to the laws. We have to help the Inuktut language. We’ve been working non-stop on this for the past two years, expecting that something positive will come out of this -- Inuktut language support. We will need more support on this.
The resolutions that we recommended have not been looked at, which is unfortunate. If only they had looked at our recommendations properly, the committee. We will be passing those on to you today. I know Tapiriit Kanatami talked about that. We have not heard anything about whether our recommendations and our additions to this are feasible or useable. Can it be legislated or not?
I don’t think they made any considerations or decisions about them. We had not heard anything about our recommendations and whether they will be added. Inuit are also Aboriginal people, represented by the Queen. We hope that they will be telling the truth about everything and working with the Inuit on these matters. Inuit are part of Canada.
In closing, I believe these recommendations that we would like to give to you are very useful. We have thought about this properly. They are comprehensible and can also be implemented. That’s what I am thinking.
I encourage you, senators, that these recommendations be added. Please review them properly to see how you can work with them. I will be interested to find out what the results are. If it is for French, it can be automatically be added, so expect Inuit to be the same.
We are not trying to be any better than any other language. We are just trying to be equal with English and French, as it is mainly being used in Inuit Nunangat. Basically everything is dealt with in Inuktut, and we know that. Our goal as an Aboriginal group within Canada is to have the same thing, and they are probably able to do the same.
We would like you to add the recommendations. They are comprehensible. Our decisions are based on this, and Inuit can be serviced in their language.
We are proud to be Inuit with our language. We are also proud to be Canadians. Although we are Inuit and Canadians, we will promote that we should be treated the same way. You, senators, are the leaders, and I encourage you to pass this language legislation. That’s what we Inuit are expecting. Thank you.
Ian Martin, Professor, Glendon College, York University, As an individual: Thank you very much, Madam Chair and committee members, for inviting me, a non-Inuk. Although, actually, I tried once to translate the word non-Inuk into Inuktitut, and they said, “So what are you going to do — start interviewing caribou or stones? You can’t be non-Inuk. You are human.”
Let me also acknowledge that we are on the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishnabeg. I would like to salute the interpreters for their wonderful linguistic skill.
This is the day after celebrating 20 years of Nunavut. It is also about the same time I have been involved with language policy in Nunavut. Right after the creation of Nunavut, one of the aspects of the new territory that had not been decided was its language policy, especially its language and education policy.
I teach language policy, and language and education policy at York University. I have a very unique course, which is comparative Indigenous language policy, Canada and the Americas. I am so happy that there is the possibility now of actually having a comparison between Canada and the Americas, because Canada lagged so far behind practically all the other countries of this hemisphere in developing a federal-level document that recognized and related to Indigenous languages. We are way behind Mexico, the United States, Colombia and Bolivia, of course. The comparator I had to use in Canada was all the language laws, such as they are, in the provinces, but especially the Nunavut language laws that were developed in 2008.
From 2002 to 2008, I was directly involved in developing ideas for the Nunavut government on a strong bilingual education in which Inuit language rights would be recognized. I am going to speak to that in particular.
As you undoubtedly know, the Nunavut project exists largely because Inuit leaders negotiating with Canada were driven by the fear that they might lose their language. The leaders of the time were largely residential school survivors who did not want a repetition of southern-dominated, English-dominated education. They wanted something different.
If we look at Nunavut schools today, I think they would be very disappointed. There is a very low graduation rate. The last time I looked, it was the lowest in Canada. Less than half of Nunavut communities, only 11 out of 25 in 2017, had Inuktitut as a language of instruction, even up to Grade 3. Basically Nunavut, apart from the shining star of the example in Clyde River that we just heard, is an English-dominant system.
This is a great paradox, because on paper, Nunavut has the best legislation of any jurisdiction in Canada and the Americas to support the teaching of an Indigenous language. Three territorial acts were passed in 2008 -- the Inuit Language Protection Act, the Official Languages Act of Nunavut and the Education Act -- which mandated the government to incrementally extend Inuktitut, or Inuktut as it is called now, year by year throughout the grades so that a Grade 12 graduate would be assured of having full fluency both in written and spoken Inuktitut as his or her birthright delivered by the school system.
Today, we’re two months away from the date on which this right was supposed to take effect, July 2019. But instead of celebrating the accomplishment of a fully bilingual system, which would have been a model for Canada and the world, the Government of Nunavut has felt the need to introduce a bill to delay the delivery of bilingual education beyond Grade 3.
So if you have the impression that in the 10 years since 2008 the Government of Nunavut, and particularly the Department of Education, has done practically nothing to promote Inuktut in the schools, you would be right. Instead of developing an Inuit teacher development program to provide the teachers required by their own education act, they chose to continue to recruit more and more monolingual southern English speakers to the point that 75 per cent of the teachers presently in the school system are southern hires unable to teach Inuktut and teach in Inuktut.
If this trend continues and Inuit teachers in the lower grades retire without being replaced, in a few years, by 2026, the number of southern hires in the Nunavut system will be 100 per cent and the Inuit teachers zero. That is a far cry from the intentions of the founders of Nunavut, a far cry from the stipulations of Article 23 in the Nunavut land claim, which required that public services, including education, be delivered by Inuit at a proportional number to the population of the territory, which is 85 per cent. Yet, by failing to respect Inuit language rights as set out in the Education Act of Nunavut, the system has produced only a limited number of high school students needed to occupy the positions of delivering public services in the majority language of the territory. So it’s a double whammy.
You’re all aware that the term “language vitality” is a commonly used measure of a language’s ability to meet the needs of its speakers both as individuals and as members of a collective. UNESCO uses a set of vitality measures to assess a language’s sociolinguistic status as a means of helping communities and policy-makers to adopt measures to prevent loss and promote gains.
Generally speaking, Inuktut is classed by UNESCO as vulnerable rather than safe, safe being the highest category, vulnerable following that and various degrees of endangerment.
I think Senator Patterson mentioned in his question the recent Statistics Canada survey of language use in Nunavut, a very detailed and very excellent report, which suggests that the language is sliding downward towards clear endangerment.
Of course, special needs of certain regions such Kitikmeot are part of the package. Iqaluit is also an area which needs special attention. Otherwise, in Clyde River and Pangnirtung for example, the language is relatively stable, but not Kitikmeot, not in Iqaluit, and not totally in Rankin either.
So Statistics Canada leaves the education system out. But, as we learned from the residential school period, schools have the power to “devitalize” children’s language and replace it with the colonizer’s language. And here I have to cite Fiona Walton of UPEI, who has extensive experience case in Nunavut education: “the shadow of colonialism falls on all of us, both Inuit and Qallunaat.” I have no doubt that this colonial shadow has materialized in the school system which, as a de facto policy goal, is contributing to the decline of Inuktut vitality, with the effect of transferring children’s strongest language from their mother tongue to English. Even in the recent study, there is justification for thinking that some children now believe that their mother tongue really is English and not Inuktut. This is dangerously close to a policy of linguicide, which is forced replacement of a mother tongue to, in this case, a colonial language.
Given the problematic case study that Nunavut is, the question before us is whether the present Bill C-91 can be a tool for hope that Inuktut will stop its downward spiral, stabilize and then strengthen. We have clear proof in the voice of NTI and the voices of many Inuit parents, not only in Iqaluit but also represented across Nunavut by the Coalition of District Education Authorities, DEAs, that Inuit want to turn things around. They want Nunavut to work and they want it to work in Inuktut.
Does Bill C-91 show clarity on UNDRIP Article 14, which is the right to an education system in children’s own language, under control of their own language group, which is the standard that we use for French and English and minority settings in Canada? So we shouldn’t set up a hierarchy in Canada of belonging, that somehow Indigenous languages are inferior to settler language; far from it. In fact, I think we have to say we should take great pride in what has been done in reconciliation between English and French, and it largely has been in the area of language. As Graham Fraser, one of the great commissioners of official languages, said, what race is for the United States and class is for Great Britain, language is for Canada. It’s the prism through which we order the country and we take care of its citizens, including citizens with specific language characteristics, specific language territories, specific language needs. That’s what we’ve done with our Official Languages Act.
One of the templates I always ask myself when I see Indigenous language policy is how would that work in Quebec? Would Quebec be satisfied, for example, with having 75 per cent of its teachers as anglophones, with their language losing vitality and then, thanks to a federal bill, somehow they can pick up their vitality and become a full-service language? I don’t think so. We have to really use the standard of our official languages in minority settings as a guide — although sometimes not a perfect guide — to policy and a guide to funding.
We can’t forget either that this bill doesn’t really appear to deliver a commitment to redress infringements on rights under section 35. It’s wonderful that the bill does mention language as one of the rights. It doesn’t mention which specific language rights are in that bill, so it seems that the basket, yes, has a language category, but it is still somewhat empty.
Many of the people who appeared before the House of Commons committee, and I believe before your committee, have said that they would have liked the bill to have included the specific UNDRIP articles, especially 13, 14 and 15, and also the Truth and Reconciliation Commission articles.
We see that although 13, 14 and 15 are the focus of this bill — and, by the way, that was a recommendation from a report of a national congress on truth and reconciliation and language policy that we had at Glendon College back in 2016, a paper that we delivered to the PMO. We delivered it to the ministries in Ottawa just weeks before the announcement of this bill. We think that it was catalytic in convincing the federal government that a bill dealing with Indigenous languages should focus on 13, 14 and 15 — but we don’t see a parallel commitment to 10, which is the TRC recommendation on education. It could be that it’s the matter of the Ministry of Canadian Heritage and Multiculturalism, which generally doesn’t deliver long-term support; it delivers project support. Even though it was the lead ministry -- and it should have been the lead ministry of all three ministries: Heritage, Crown-Indigenous Relations, and Indigenous Services -- I don’t know whether that inter-ministerial commitment is there. I think it may have been that the Heritage ministry didn’t really act as a proper lead of all three, and therefore there may be a weakness in the bill coming from a weakness in the failure to articulate the mandates of those three ministries — now three ministries, originally two — focused on language in the bill.
But let’s be optimistic and imagine that there is a positive intention in the bill — given the wording, we can’t speak of a “duty” — to ensure that the monies flowing to Indigenous peoples for the purposes of implementing this bill are, first and foremost, going to flow to rights-holding Indigenous government bodies.
If this is the intention, and since NTI is such a rights-holding body and the GN isn’t, this could provide NTI with sufficient financial leverage to positively affect Government of Nunavut policy. Maybe there could be a serious plan to develop Inuktut-speaking teachers and a strongly bilingual school system.
There is a caveat. It may be that the Government of Nunavut’s refusal to support Inuktut isn’t primarily a matter of finances but an ideological one: the shadow of colonialism which harms both Inuit and non-Inuit alike. Perhaps it’s a matter of the department uncritically supporting vested interests which required systemic discrimination of Inuit and Inuktut -- with language policy as a proxy -- in order to become established in the years following the creation of Nunavut, but which by now have become dysfunctional, entrenched roadblocks to any reconciliatory opening to change.
The Chair: Professor Martin, your seven minutes have passed. Could you please summarize your next statements?
Mr. Martin: Let me conclude by saying that there is no question that Nunavut will be a test for Bill C-91 and the Government of Canada’s good faith. It is also a test for Nunavut. As Sandra Inutiq, the former Language Commissioner of Nunavut, said, “Why did we bother having Nunavut if it wasn’t going to strengthen our language?”
Qujannamiik. Thank you.
Senator McCallum: Thank you for your presentations.
My question is for Ms. Kotierk and Minister Joanasie. Why do you think Inuktut is not the working language of the Nunavut territory?
Ms. Kotierk: Thank you for that question. As Ian Martin pointed out, yesterday marked 20 years since the creation of Nunavut, and when we look at the mandate documents from each government, starting from the Bathurst Mandate, or Pinasuaqtavut, there are reiterations or aspirations indicated that Inuktut will be the working language of our territorial public service.
However, we’re not there yet. We have not achieved that. I suspect that each mandate coming forward will continue to state that we want Inuktut as our working language. But if there are no concrete efforts and programming put in place to ensure that occurs, those words will just continue to be aspirational.
I know Ian Martin has questioned whether or not resources are actually the reason and that maybe an ideological change needs to occur, but one of the things I’ve become aware of since I’ve been in my role is that since the creation of Nunavut in the 1980s, there were discussions between the Department of Finance of the Government of the Northwest Territories and the federal Department of Finance which talked about Inuktut as the working language. At that time, they decided they would have a discussion at a later date to determine how many resources would be required to ensure that Inuktut becomes the working language of the new territorial public service. That discussion, to my knowledge, has never occurred, so resources have never been provided to the territorial public government to ensure that Inuktut become the working language of our territory.
Mr. Joanasie: To add to that, given the number of Inuit who are in the workforce right now, we have what’s called the Inuit Uqausinginnik Taiguusiliuqtiit, which is the language authority that has been set up through the Inuit Language Protection Act. They have been tasked with assessing the number of Inuit Inuktut speakers in the public service and seeing what level they’re at. We are able to provide an incentive for Inuit to use the language in the workplace. We’re trying to work more and more at it, but I think with that, we need, as a government, to do a better job in letting Nunavummiut know they have the right to work in their own language. I think that’s something that, once we get more and more awareness about it, is going to grow exponentially.
Senator McCallum: Thank you.
Senator Patterson: Ms. Kotierk, you are a champion of Inuktut and I salute you for that. You work closely with ITK on what started as a co-development process and broke down. We’ve heard there has been no response to the thoughtful amendments presented by Inuit who work together from all across Inuit Nunangat.
When the minister came here, I challenged the minister about what was going to be done for Inuktut, which is clearly left out of the bill, and he said, “We’re in bilateral discussions.” He acknowledged there a special ministerial representative has been appointed.
What have those bilateral discussions led to? What interface have you had with the minister's special representative to date? We’re on the eve of finalizing this bill. Where are we at now?
Ms. Kotierk: Thank you, senator, for the question.
In 2016, when the Prime Minister announced there was going to be Indigenous language legislation, as Inuit we were very hopeful and ready. We pulled up our sleeves to work closely with the federal government.
Initially, we had wanted to see stand-alone legislation focused on Inuit language. When we realized that was not going to be an option, we compromised, in my view, and said that we’ll work with you and figure out how we can massage what we need to see in the legislation.
As you know, Bill C-91 was proposed. We indicated that we were not happy with that. We’ve compromised again and suggested that there be an annex, which we have provided to you, included in this bill.
Since then, the minister appointed the ministerial representative. We were keen to work with them because we’ve tried to work within the process, trying to achieve what we want to see in Inuit Nunangat, that Inuit are able to walk with dignity and receive services that are available and comparable to other Canadians who receive services, but in their own language rather than relying informally on relatives, whether it be a niece, nephew, grandchildren or children.
I am very disappointed to report to you that even though a special representative was appointed, there has been a lull in going back and forth. We thought there was a time crunch and that we were going to work really hard and feverishly to get something accomplished and revised with the proposed legislation. Unfortunately, there has not been a response to what we’ve proposed. We never received a formal response to the annex that we proposed. The last we heard is that the special representative provided a briefing to the minister, but there has been no movement since then.
I must say that in between the responses there have been time gaps, so my impression is that there is no urgency to work through the issues that Inuit have.
Senator Patterson: Thank you.
I guess what I need to ask you, then, Ms. Kotierk is this: What are the bare-minimum changes that Inuit need to see in order to feel heard on this legislation and like they are a true co-development partner? What does the committee need to do with this bill?
Ms. Kotierk: With respect, I feel the annex we have provided is the bare minimum. We have already compromised. I have explained that we expected that we would have stand-alone legislation. I know that Minister Rodriguez and his staff have been working with us in Nunavut on a teacher training breakout initiative to see how they can increase the number Inuktut-speaking teachers. That is welcome, but in my view, that’s piecemeal.
We want to see that Inuktut receives objective standards similar to French and English within Inuit Nunangat. I expect that, for instance, my unilingual, Inuktut-speaking aunt will be able to receive programs and services without having to rely on relatives who are not trained interpreters and without breaching confidentiality issues.
I think every Canadian should be able to expect that kind of basic human right. The way the system is set up right now, there needs to be an ideological and systemic kind of reform to how things are viewed. In my view, if we do bare amendments and change a few adjectives here and there, it will not address the issue of receiving essential services in Inuktut.
Senator Patterson: Thank you.
Senator Pate: Thank you to all of you. You answered part of the question, which is, “What’s needed?” If there are any other recommendations that you would have for us, I would certainly appreciate that.
But I would like you, particularly given your last comment, to talk about the impact for those who are criminalized. Each time I’ve been up North, I’ve been struck that everyone in prison is Inuit, but virtually no one administering the justice system and the prison system speaks Inuktut. In situations of violence against women, that can even result in reliance on perpetrating family members to translate. Sometimes that means someone who may have been the victim of violence is expected to translate for the perpetrator. I have noticed that is an issue. I don’t know if there is anything else you would like to add to that or if you could share with the committee any other issues pertaining to that.
Ms. Kotierk: Thank you. I think there are many examples of life-and-death situations, whether it be in the health care system, the justice system or the school system, where Inuit are put in a vulnerable and disadvantaged position because they are unable to understand what is going on around them because the language spoken is not their first language or a language they can understand.
I would encourage you to take a look at some of the outcomes that have come from Nunavik in northern Quebec with the Viens commission. I know that some public information and media attention shared about how they had examples of Inuit who were in a disadvantaged position in the justice system because they were not understanding what things meant and made decisions based on that misunderstanding, which would then have a detrimental effect on their own lives.
Senator Sinclair: Thank you all for your presentations. I found it very helpful and quite informative, and it raises a lot of questions about the bill. One of the questions I have, of course, will be, at the end of the day, whether you think the bill is worth supporting or whether we need to change it before we can support it.
I wanted to ask the minister a question. Based upon the information we’ve heard, particularly from Professor Martin, one of the problems has been that the educational system has not been able to certify and hire sufficient language speakers to be able to teach in the language, and that has contributed to the decline in the use of the language.
Are there any plans by the Government of Nunavut to change its certification process or establish a certification process that recognizes that people who are able to speak the language will have a leg up on southern teachers who are coming and who don’t have access to the language, have not spoken it and can’t teach in it?
Mr. Joanasie: We are looking at different ways of getting more Inuit-speaking teachers into our system.
To give you a little more context on education in Nunavut, of course, Senator Sinclair, you were part of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, with the residential schools. The federal day schools in Nunavut are fairly new. It is within two generations that they have been operating, and so with that we are still catching up with the rest of Canada, so to speak. In a span of 20 years we have been trying to get on par with Canada.
There have been some success stories of getting Inuit teachers into the field. From Nunavut Arctic College, we had Ms. Mearns here earlier talking about the partnership with Memorial University, which we find very promising. This year, I believe that 92 students are enrolled in the Teacher Education Program, the highest it has been over the span of the program.
We want more and more Nunavummiut to take that on as a career path. We know there are Nunavummiut who have a bachelor's degree in education, but they have gone on to other careers that are not in the school system. We want to see if there is some way we can entice them back into the school system.
Suggestions have been made to provide some training to substitute teachers and then laddering it into a bachelor of education program. We are looking at different ways of getting more Inuit teachers, specifically Inuktut teachers. This is where I want leaders such as Ms. Kotierk and others around the table that can help us convince Nunavummiut that teaching is a viable and rewarding occupation.
However, on top of that, we need Inuit students with master's degrees and PhDs who will lead that path on getting more teachers, principals and educational leaders trained in the highest qualifications that we look for. That is a big thing.
Senator Christmas: This is addressed to any panellist who may wish to answer it. The title of Bill C-91 is “An Act respecting Indigenous languages.” We noticed that Bill C-92 specifically references First Nations, Metis and Inuit.
Hopefully the Government of Canada and yourselves will be able to negotiate a fair inclusion of Inuit into this act. But if that fails, do you think that the name of the act should be changed to simply say First Nations and Metis? Maybe that’s a hard question to ask but what is the consequence if the government fails to come to an agreement with you, to your satisfaction, of how Inuktut should be treated in the act?
Ms. Kotierk: Initially when we were working and realized that we would not have stand-alone Inuktut legislation, we suggested that it be a First Nations, Metis, Inuit language legislation. And that was based on the premise that we wanted distinctions-based legislation.
I am an optimist. You are saying, “If the government doesn’t.” But I think that you, as a senator, if I may be so bold, have a role to play in how this legislation could be amended. On behalf of Canadians who are not living in dignity, I hope you are courageous. I implore all of you to make the amendments that we require so that Inuit, who are Canadians living in Nunavut, can receive programs and essential services in Inuktut.
I will not respond to the question because I still have some hope that you will make the right decisions and make the right amendments that we need to see in this legislation.
Senator Christmas: We certainly hope that your hope is justified.
Ms. Kotierk: I hope so, too, although I know hope is not a plan.
Senator Coyle: I think you probably answered my question in what you just said, so I won’t ask that question; I will ask a practical one.
I want you to know that, as a senator sitting on this committee, I fully support where this panel and others we’ve heard from are coming from.
My question is about capacity. Let’s assume the act goes the way we want it to go. Just like when Nunavut was created, there was a great hope — and there still is a great hope — for language in the public service regarding delivery from the territorial government. Capacity seems to be a bottleneck here. So the act comes into effect with what you want. The devil is always in the details. How do we work hard to break through the log jams that have been in place? Because now there will be more requirements — which I appreciate — to deliver more services in a language that we’ve seen is vulnerable.
What are the big things that need to happen to make sure that not only do we meet the aspirations that were set out 20 years ago in the creation of Nunavut, but this new act which adds even more in sync with what was envisioned 20 years ago, in terms of federal government services and language acquisition for the population of Nunavut?
Mr. Joanasie: Thank you for the question.
Our Government of Nunavut has tabled in our legislature Uqausivut 2.0. It is our language plan within government and it is all for Nunavummiut. The four main pillars of that plan are language learning; language in the workforce; language services, not just within the government but within the private sector as well; and, lastly, language revitalization.
This language plan enables our government to ensure that all of our departments have a language plan in place that will be used over the course of the next four years, up until 2023. We do have a plan in place and it is about implementing it.
You are saying that capacity has a bottleneck. I think I mentioned before that we do have an assessment system to see where people are at with their language skills and abilities. We need more people who are able to do the assessments.
There are many components to it, but we do have a plan in place. We need to promote it and ensure that Nunavummiut know what it is about and how they can participate.
And it is not just the private sector. The federal government within Nunavut does have, under our legislation, obligations. Our elders are losing out on benefits, on critical, essential services and programs that they are entitled to, but because it is not available in Inuktut, they lose out. This is a real thing that people are facing.
Senator Coyle: Thank you, minister.
Ms. Kotierk: Inuit are very pragmatic, sensible and very patient people. I think that if the amendments that we are suggesting were included in the legislation, Inuit would know that that does not mean once the legislation is passed to expect essential services in Inuktut. I think we are clear that we expect to see essential services in Inuktut as the capacity increases.
In terms of teachers in Nunavut, we know that in 2006 the Government of Nunavut put out a strategy to increase the number of Inuktut-speaking teachers. It was a great plan. However, it was not resourced and not implemented. So we find ourselves today in the place we’re at.
I find it interesting that Minister Joanasie indicated that they need help to convince Nunavummiut to become teachers when we know that more than 1,000 Inuit substitute teachers are currently on the payroll for the Government of Nunavut. And we know there was a report by Paul Berger that Inuit want to become teachers, but they need information on how to become teachers. They need help, assistance in knowing how to navigate the system in order to be trained to become teachers.
It is also interesting that the Government of Nunavut, when we look at the recruitment page to become teachers, is very focused on bringing in teachers from out of Nunavut, talking about having an adventure in Nunavut.
Those all speak to the ideological changes that need to occur in our territorial public government to ensure that we see the spirit and intent of the Nunavut agreement fulfilled.
I find it quite interesting and extremely offensive, in fact, that yesterday, when we marked 20 years of the territory of Nunavut, the premier thought it was a good day to announce three new deputy ministers who are all non-Inuit. What is the vision and the spirit of the creation of Nunavut if not to ensure that Inuit are represented in the territorial public service?
The Chair: Thank you.
We have run out of time, but I would like to thank our witnesses.
Minister Joanasie, thank you for being here.
President Kotierk and Professor Martin, thank you.
We now welcome Josepi Padlayat, President, Avataq Cultural Institute. He is joined by Zebedee Nungak, language specialist.
I believe that Mr. Nungak will deliver remarks. You have the floor. If you could shorten your remarks, it would be much appreciated. We don't have a lot of time, unfortunately.
Zebedee Nungak, Specialist, Language File, Avataq Cultural Institute: Qujannamiik. Thank you.
[Mr. Nungak spoke in Inuktut/Inuktitut, with no interpretation.]
I will summarize what I just said. I assumed that there was interpretation.
This morning, listening to a minister of the Government of Nunavut, David Joanasie, and Aluki Kotierk, President, Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated, speaking in Inuktitut, our language, if it made you somewhat uncomfortable in your chair, my commentary about that is there should come a time in the future when one of my sons or daughters comes here in front of a panel of senators — your replacements sometime in the future — and be entirely comfortable listening to my children speak to your replacements in Inuktitut without being uncomfortable at all. This should be one of the goals and objectives of being in Canada, that we can speak our language in front of lawmakers and have them be entirely comfortable and not fidgeting in their chairs.
It is a miracle that I am speaking my language because I’ve gone through 12 years of federal “education” with not a dot of Inuktitut in it; six years in a federal day school in my home community and six years in Ottawa. This is my hometown. I know where all the best duck hunting and fishing spots are in the city.
We come here, 2,000 miles, to speak before a panel of senators, and we’re told by the good people running this show that we have to keep our commentary and speeches short, which is not new to me. I’ve been here before. I was downstairs in the constitutional conferences in the 1980s, so time constraints are nothing new to me.
To make the speech and have the impact that I want to make, I’ll read word-for-word some of the commentaries I’ve delivered on CBC North radio in Inuktut and in English which relate to this particular piece of legislation you’re examining.
The first one is called “Government Assisted Linguicide.” Why are we here? Why are you here? Why are we in this setting?
Canada’s federal government possesses unsurpassed expertise in dead and dying Indigenous languages. In 2011, Canada conducted a National Household Survey and issued statistical information which stated that only three Indigenous languages, Ojibway, Cree and Inuktitut, had any chance of survival. The data collected in that survey was dramatic, but didn’t prompt the government to do anything towards saving any Indigenous languages from certain extinction.
It is worth remembering that the federal government had a primary role in the erosion and degradation of Indigenous languages. I will restrict my comments to what I know of Canada’s role in drastically weakening Inuktitut in Nunavik, which is the Inuktitut name for northern Quebec, where we come from.
The federal day school system, which ran from 1958 to 1978, operated exclusively in English. Inuit in continuing education programs in Churchill, Manitoba, and many southern cities were all “educated” in English only. Let me borrow the analogy of a federal law that allows medically assisted suicide. What the Government of Canada has done to the Inuktitut language can be called government assisted linguicide; that is, government policy helped reduce Inuktitut to its present greatly weakened state.
I am not overstating anything here. I have personally lived this process along with my contemporaries. Anyone in my generation who can still speak the language is extremely fortunate, as I am.
The National Household Survey of 2011 provided a statistical picture of Inuktitut’s condition in the four regional land claims areas of Inuit Nunangat. Under “proportion of residents that speak Inuktitut,” Inuvialuit of the Western Arctic rated 20 per cent. The Inuit of Nunavut rated 89 per cent. The Inuit of Nunavik rated 99 per cent — that’s where I come from — and the Inuit of Nunatsiavut rated 25 per cent.
These are very sobering statistics. If we look at these numbers from the negative perspective, they’re even worse. Among the Inuvialuit, the language is 80 per cent dead. In Nunavut, it is 11 per cent dead. In Nunatsiavut, it is 75 per cent dead. In Nunavik, we may congratulate ourselves with Inuktitut being only 1 per cent dead, but there are some unpleasant realities.
The 99 per cent of the language we in Nunavut still possess is badly degraded and eroding daily. An elder from Nunavut recently said that with the drastic changes in lifestyle, we have left whole segments of our language behind. The present dismal condition of Inuktitut deserves much official attention, especially from the Government of Canada. Canada’s refusal to recognize Inuktitut as an official language in Inuit Nunangat should at least accommodate the next best thing: a generous, permanent funding program to save and revitalize Inuktitut, one of the original languages which existed before Canada came into being.
I forgot to mention in my Inuktitut remarks that the language you heard David Joanasie and Aluki Kotierk speak this morning was a language vibrant in 1534 when Jacques Cartier first discovered the shores of what would eventually be Canada. It was the language of our ancestors in 1608 when Samuel de Champlain set up the first French colony on the shores of Quebec City. It is the language that I spoke myself downstairs during the First Ministers Conferences with my co-chairman John Amagoalik, with simultaneous translation being provided. Canada facilitated that without any fuss. Now we are before you because there is Indigenous languages legislation.
The next piece is called “The Government Dictate.” For over four decades, I’ve had reason to deal with a variety of legislation drafted by federal or provincial governments on matters of importance to Inuit. Bill C-91, An Act respecting Indigenous languages, tabled by the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Multiculturalism in Parliament on February 5, 2019, is the latest of these. This legislation — 15 pages long — is a product of what Canada called “co-development” with Indigenous peoples over 18 months. We took part in that process. We took full advantage of the opportunity accorded us by Canada.
The contents of the bill are very sparse considering the gravity of the issue being addressed, that of Indigenous languages in Canada. Remember, Canada is an expert on dead and dying Indigenous languages. One might expect the bill to address two fundamental points. One, what will be done about Indigenous languages already dead? Two, how are languages which have been determined to have a chance of survival going to be treated?
The two main points I’ve noted from reading Bill C-91 are, first, the Minister of Canadian Heritage may enter into different types of agreements or arrangements in respect of Indigenous languages with Indigenous governments, governing bodies or organizations. Two, an office of the commissioner of Indigenous languages will be established.
A lot of paper space in the bill is taken up for terminology and definitions, as if much has to be said about very little.
So, the Minister of Heritage can enter into different types of agreements or arrangements with Indigenous entities in respect to Indigenous languages. What struck me was that the minister should have authority to engage in such activities as part of his normal duties without having to be enabled by an act of legislation. It should be part of his job description from 9:00 to 5:00. If ministers were sitting around idle, waiting for such legislative instructions, no wonder Indigenous languages are dead and dying.
The second item in Bill C-91’s contents is the establishment of the office of the commissioner of Indigenous languages. This seems to be another overdue action that the government should have acted on upon learning how endangered Indigenous languages were. Establishing a commissioner for Indigenous languages should not have had to wait for enabling legislation. The government here is simply catching up on things that should have been done long ago.
Furthermore, the government need not have gone through the charade of pretending this process to be a “co-development.” In the end, with what we have now before us, the government simply dictated what it wanted and did not want to do. In the future, Inuit should avoid this sort of “co-development.” Colonialism continues to rule government actions.
I’m sure I’m over my time, but I came here from 2,000 miles away, so I’m going to beg for your mercy for one more commentary, which I call “Recognizing the Recognition.”
Listen to this statement from Bill C-91:
This enactment provides, among other things, that
(a) the Government of Canada recognizes that the rights of Indigenous peoples recognized and affirmed by section 35 of the Constitutional Act, 1982 include rights related to Indigenous languages.
Now, my grasp of English, which is not my first language, is not at all perfect, but this sounds like the government is “recognizing a recognition” of rights to languages. Even after reading it over several times, I’m still mystified about whether this string of words is doublespeak, a trick sentence, or even if it’s proper English. I have to dig into total recall of what I was taught in Mr. Ferguson’s English class in Laurentian High School in Ottawa about 150 years ago.
Then I have to calm down and ask myself: How can a recognition be recognized without any recognition being gained for that which ought to be recognized? I’m talking about the language in the bill you’re examining.
Remember, this draft legislation is called “An Act respecting Indigenous languages.” If lawyers drafting this were sane and logical, the first sentence could have perhaps read: “The Government of Canada recognizes the languages of Indigenous peoples as official languages of Canada, each language applicable in its geographical area of ancestral use.”
It’s a good thing I’m not a lawyer and a good thing I don’t work for the government. I would have had this in your Bill C-91.
For Inuit, Inuktitut would gain official language status nationally in all four Arctic land claim settlement regions. The reference to section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, took me right back to 1987, when the last of the four First Ministers Conferences on Aboriginal rights took place.
One of the raging debates then centred upon the alleged contents, or lack thereof, of Aboriginal rights inside section 35. Many governments argued that section 35 was an empty box, devoid of any itemized content. Aboriginals argued that section 35 was a full box, packed with rights.
The full box/empty box arguments never resolved anything. The last First Ministers Conference on Aboriginal rights in 1987 ended with the Aboriginal parties rejecting the government’s offer of recognizing a “contingent right to self-government,” whereby governments were the source of such a right. Aboriginal parties believed they held an inherent right, whose source was ancestral and predating the formation of Canada.
Here we are in 2019 trying to make sense of draft Indigenous languages legislation that recognizes a recognition, which includes rights related to Indigenous languages, without actually hitting the target of most advantage to severely endangered and dying languages.
Inuktitut in Canada deserves plain, straight recognition as an official language. Presently, through this legislation you’re studying, Canada only gives it a winding, detouring doublespeak.
Nakurmiik. Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr. Nungak.
One question quick from Senator Patterson.
Senator Patterson: Thank you very much, Mr. Nungak, for referring to the meetings that were held in this building after the repatriation of the Constitution to define and put flesh on Aboriginal rights.
You’ve pointed out the oddity of the section in the bill that recognizes a recognition that’s already in the Constitution under section 35, and I think you called that second best. I wonder what you would advise.
I’m seeing nothing in this bill for Inuktut. We already have an official languages commissioner in Nunavut, so we don’t even need an official languages commissioner. However, I was wondering if you would agree that at least this second-best recognition of Indigenous languages as a right included under section 35 is worth approving in this bill. Even though it’s second best, is that one reason why we should try to find a way of sending this bill to the Commons and approving it in this committee?
Mr. Nungak: Well, I have absolutely no idea how bills are processed, sending them back, how they’re amended, who amends them and what sort of infighting goes on to get a word like “existing” either inserted or deleted.
However, what I can say is this: When the federal government announced its intention to co-develop this legislation, we were almost dancing in the streets, because there has never been any co-development. It’s a federal dictate. “Here is the law. Whether you like it or not, this is it,” is the colonial norm.
I thought Canada would at least be aware that Inuktitut has official language status in the Northwest Territories. In fact, two dialects of the language, Inuvialuktun and Inuinnaqtun, are recognized as one of the nine official languages. In Nunavut, two dialects, Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun, are official languages.
Territorially speaking, in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, Inuktitut already has enhanced legal status, and I thought, “Yes, that’s something to build on, and Canada must be aware of it.”
In the “co-development” process, we nursed it along with Canada by drafting an Inuktitut-only, stand-alone legislation, as we wanted to see it in federal legislation. They didn’t want that help, but we thought we might as well take the opportunity for Inuktitut to become enhanced not just in the two territories but in the province of Quebec, the land of Bill 101, and the province of Newfoundland, where Inuit live.
We’ve never seen one penny of federal money for Inuktitut language preservation in Quebec or Newfoundland. I call ourselves the wretches from the provinces because there are funds through Aboriginal funding of Inuktitut language preservation to Northwest Territories and Nunavut but not to Quebec and Newfoundland.
We thought that Canada would know all this and then work from there to get the Inuktitut language two or three legs up as an official language in Inuit Nunangat. We don’t want it shove it down the throats of Nova Scotians or any other places in Canada where Inuit don’t live, but we thought it’s practical and natural to have it as an official language where we live, where we are the overwhelming majority, as Inuktitut-speaking Inuit.
My boss and the President of Makivik Corporation had a good meeting with the previous Minister of Heritage, Mélanie Joly. We had an excellent meeting with her last year. Then, over the summer, a new minister was appointed and things went from sunny ways to dark days. It became, as I said in my commentary, a federal dictate and not a co-development.
I don’t know what instructions to give you to send it back wherever or to try to amend it, but we had hopes that were not fulfilled in this bill because Inuktitut has gained nothing specifically, and that’s disappointing.
If we don’t get it through this legislation, I am determined to push for Inuktitut as an official language in the self-government negotiations about to take place for our region on the basis of inherent right.
If it ends up being disappointing here, we’ll be pursuing it with another avenue. Canada will not hear the last of this. Even if this passes as is, we are determined to bust out and to become part of Canada’s political and legal structure in the language that we speak and that our ancestors spoke. Nakurmiik.
The Chair: Unfortunately, we’re well over time. I know you’ve come a long way, but we have another panel to hear.
The committee is now pleased to welcome, from the Canadian Indigenous Languages and Literacy Development Institute, Mr. Jordan Lachler, Director; from the Six Nations of the Grand River, Ms. Karen Sandy, Director, Six Nations Languages Commission; and from Kontinónhstats, The Mohawk Language Custodian Association from Kanehsatà:ke, Ms. Ellen Gabriel.
Thank you all for taking time to appear before us this morning. We will begin opening remarks in the order in which you were introduced, starting with Mr. Jordan Lachler.
Jordan Lachler, Director, Canadian Indigenous Languages and Literacy Development Institute: Good morning, senators. Thank you for inviting me here to this meeting on the unceded territory of the Algonquin people. I’m Director of the Canadian Indigenous Languages and Literacy Development Institute, or CILLDI, which is based in Treaty 6 territory at the University of Alberta, in Edmonton.
Our mission at CILLDI is to support the long-term and multigenerational sustainability of Indigenous languages. Our main activity is our annual three-week summer school, where we offer courses in language teaching, language analysis and language revitalization strategies to nearly 100 Indigenous students from across Canada.
Now in our twentieth year, we also work in partnership with Indigenous communities to support language documentation efforts, including the development of important language resources such as grammar sketches and textbooks and the creation of modern language technology such as spellcheckers and intelligent online dictionaries.
Today we find ourselves at a crossroad in Indigenous language sustainability in Canada. One the one hand, more and more first-language speakers are leaving us each day. On the other hand, we can point to inspiring stories of individual young people across Canada who have achieved high levels of proficiency in their own traditional languages through an extraordinary level of commitment and dedication. The crux of the challenge is that there are very few communities, perhaps with the exception of some from my co-panellists here, that have so far been able to take this level of revitalization to scale.
As Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde asked when he came before this committee last month, “If we don’t focus on fluency, what does it matter?”
For us, a focus on fluency means creating opportunities for teaching and learning while understanding the different needs of speakers and learners. For the speakers, it means creating pathways for them to become certified language teachers. At the University of Alberta, we have several initiatives that are working to tear down the barriers that language speakers have faced in gaining teacher certification.
For younger learners, whether on reserve, in urban centres or somewhere in between, they face a dual challenge. They need both to learn the language for themselves and their families, but they need also to learn to teach so that they can pass the language on to as many members of the next generation as possible.
Innovative programs that are partnerships between Indigenous communities and universities can play a key role in tackling these challenges. To take just one example from south of the border, the University of North Dakota has a Lakota language teaching and learning program which allows learners to study the Lakota language intensively while at the same time training to become certified language teachers.
While a large scale, full-time K to 6 immersion school is beyond the capacity of most communities today, the necessary foundation can be laid through the development of these pathways for learning and teaching, and the creation of a critical mass of fluent adult speakers with the skills necessary to help pass on the language, both inside and outside the classroom.
Speaking for myself as a non-Indigenous person living in Canada, I also wanted to share my perspective on the role of the commissioner of Indigenous languages as proposed in the bill. Part of the mandate of the office of the commissioner is to promote public awareness and understanding in various ways as it relates to Indigenous languages, their role in Indigenous societies and how supporting revitalization is an important component of reconciliation. I think it is important for the commissioner to be able to go beyond these worthwhile goals and to help the broader Canadian public to understand that the challenge of Indigenous language loss is much like the challenge of climate change. Both are catastrophic, man-made and getting more dire every day that they go unaddressed.
But rather than positioning our efforts as an attempt to simply fix mistakes of the past, I would hope that the commissioner would be able to help Canadians see this as an opportunity for us to reimagine a better future together. Just as with climate change and environmental concerns more broadly, it is crucial to engage with individual citizens to demonstrate how, beyond just awareness and understanding, simple actions on their part can support language revitalization.
These can be very easy steps, like learning the correct name for the language that is at home on the land that your community rests on, being able to give basic greetings and statements of thanks in the language, supporting signage in the language in the public space and encouraging learners on their journeys toward fluency. These are crucial public engagement strategies that can be developed and supported at the national level through the office of the commissioner.
In closing, I will share an important learning that I was given. I was teaching a course on community language planning in the Cree community of Maskwacis in central Alberta in 2015, when the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action came out. We discussed them in class, particularly those that related to language. When we came to Call to Action number 14, which calls upon the government to enact legislation that recognizes that “Aboriginal languages are a fundamental and valued element of Canadian culture and society,” several of the Cree teachers objected. They didn’t view their Cree language as fundamental to Canadian culture and society, but rather as fundamental to Cree culture and society.
As we discussed the issue, we came to the shared understanding that while Indigenous languages may not be a part of Canadian culture, respect and support for them absolutely should be.
It is our hope that this bill, imperfect though it may be, will be the next step in helping Canada move forward toward that better tomorrow.
Thank you for allowing me to their these thoughts with you today.
Karen Sandy, Director, Six Nations of the Grand River: Thank you.
[Ms. Sandy spoke in her Indigenous language, with no interpretation.]
My name is Karen Sandy. I am a Wolf Clan citizen of the Cayuga Nation at Six Nations of the Grand River Territory, where I was born and raised. I work for the Six Nations Language Commission.
I want to thank you for giving us this opportunity to respond to Bill C-91. I also want to acknowledge and extend gratitude to our fluent speakers back home: our elders, teachers, instructors and learners, because they are the ones who ensure the continuation of our distinct identity.
To establish the context and reality at Six Nations, we consist of the Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, Mohawk and Tuscarora Nations. While we have over 26,000 citizens, there are fewer than 50 first-language speakers in our community, so our languages are critically endangered right now. The Six Nations have remained unified as one mind, body and heart under the Great Law of Peace since long before contact with settlers. Early relations between Haudenosaunee nations and European nations resulted in two significant Wampum agreements that incorporate the main tenets of the Great Law.
The first is the Guswenta, or the Two-Row Wampum. It was a mutual agreement made between the Haudenosaunee and the Dutch, and it signified agreement between the parties to travel down the same river -- the Dutch in their own vessel or ship, and the Haudenosaunee in a canoe -- never to interfere in the affairs of the other.
The Guswenta emphasizes the distinct identity of the two nations and a mutual agreement to coexist in peace without interference in the affairs of the other.
The second significant Wampum agreement is the Covenant Chain, which established a silver chain that tied the immigrant/settler’s ship to the Haudenosaunee canoe and to the Tree of Peace. The three links of that chain represent peace and friendship forever. As long as the sun shines upon the earth, as long as the waters flow and as long as the grass grows green, peace will exist.
The Covenant Chain solidified agreement that the Haudenosaunee and the British would meet regularly to polish the chain and maintain and strengthen their relationship.
As the Haudenosaunee community, we are unique in many ways besides our large population. The process of colonization has created a rich diversity among our people. We are one of the few communities that still have our traditional government that functions along with our elected chief and council, and most of the confederacy meetings are still spoken in our language.
We have six languages to protect, revitalize and maintain to ensure the future generations of our coming faces are able to connect to the strength, pride and belonging that is embedded in our languages. One of the biggest challenges we have in our community is the six languages that we are trying to revitalize.
More importantly, knowing our languages ensures the continuation of our ceremonies. Language revitalization is a priority for Six Nations and is an integral component of our community plan. Despite challenges of underfunding, we have established a number of Haudenosaunee language programs. We have become quite resourceful by piecing together different funding streams and making partnerships. That is just one of the things that we have learned to do over the years with the lack of committed funding.
The goal is to create a critical mass of language speakers so that our language will be spoken in the community as an ordinary means of communication.
As I mentioned, funding for these programs is accessed through various like-minded community sources, such as other departments, organizations and private donors. By private donors, I am often referring to the instructors and staff, and that includes personnel who just donate to the programs.
Our language community is motivated and determined. It was a grassroots effort that established an immersion school 30 years ago which, sadly, still operates out of the lacrosse arena. It is a fragmented system with the funding sources, and it is just one of the problems that we had to endure.
Although Six Nations has established an array of language programs and it continues to develop capacity, there is still a profound need for the Government of Canada to live up to its obligations to compensate for the damage to the languages and cultures of our people, which resulted from the colonial and paternalistic efforts of assimilation -- the residential schools, day schools and the paternal line status, et cetera.
Six Nations of the Grand River requires stable, long-term, predictable and sustained funding to support the protection, revitalization and maintenance of our languages, provided as core funding and not based solely on proposal submissions. The Government of Canada has confirmed their commitment to reconciliation with Indigenous people and their commitment to the Calls to Action from the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada to guide their actions.
We emphatically state that any legislation on Indigenous languages must adhere to the principles outlined in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Call to Action 14, with particular attention to the responsibility to provide sufficient funds. Aboriginal languages and cultures are best managed by Aboriginal people and the communities, and funding for Aboriginal language initiatives must reflect the diversity of Aboriginal languages.
Six Nations of the Grand River understands that along with our inherent and constitutional rights to preserve our languages comes the responsibility to develop and maintain strong programming opportunities and initiatives based on our Haudenosaunee values. The federal government has a moral, ethical and fiduciary obligation to provide the funding required by Six Nations. We have the knowledge and capacity to do the work in our own community and support regional, national and international efforts. However, we require the funding to do so.
Concerning the development of Bill C-91, we, as the most populous First Nations community working to protect and revitalize the greatest number of languages, were not duly consulted. We were not afforded an opportunity to participate on either the AFN Chiefs Committee on Languages or the technical committee on languages. We were not provided any updates related to the progress being made on these committees, nor was information requested from us to provide input into their activities.
At Six Nations, we had some concern regarding the content, or lack thereof, in the current text of Bill C-91. We reviewed much of the system of previous witnesses, and we support many of the issues and concerns that have been raised. In addition to the many concerns previously expressed, we add the following.
The reference to “entities” throughout the document is overly broad and could detract from First Nations’ control over their own languages, so we suggest “First Nation community mandated entities” to ensure they have received mandates from those in control over their language.
With respect to 5(b)(vi), any research and studies must be Indigenous led and approved initiatives. The text should indicate that research and studies must demonstrate the principles of First Nations principles of ownership, control, access and possession. It is important to ensure there is an agreed upon understanding of what the “rights related to Indigenous languages” are, as this term appears throughout the document.
In general, the act must focus on First Nations jurisdiction, control and powers, instead of those of the Prime Minister and the commissioner. The current focus on the powers of the commissioner and government minister maintain the same colonial and paternalistic patterns that led to the current state of our languages.
In terms of recommendations, all future activities related to the joint development of the legislation must be largely driven by nations all as determined by First Nation communities. There needs to be a clear consideration to link bottom-up and top-down activities, and the process to develop this legislation was mainly top down.
There should be reference to UNDRIP Article 19 in the bill to ensure any decisions are made with the free, prior and informed consent of First Nations before any decision and/or actions are made under the act or its regulations.
First Nation jurisdiction or powers in relation to their own languages must be recognized and promoted in this act.
The minister must share decision-making and regulatory powers with First Nations.
Any languages act must be able to respond to the various language families in Canada.
Overall, the wording is weak, and there should be explicit funding for language revitalization.
While the Indigenous languages act, I believe, is necessary to protect and advance the coming phases, it will ensure continuation of our identity and civilization. It has been on the back burner for far too long.
The Chair: Ms. Gabriel?
Ellen Gabriel, Representative, Kontinónhstats - The Mohawk Language Custodian Association from Kanehsatàke: Greetings and thank you.
[Ms. Gabriel spoke in her Indigenous language, with no interpretation.]
Thank you for inviting me. I am Turtle Clan from the Mohawk community of Kanehsatà:ke. I have written a submission, which I also gave to the parliamentary committee, but I don’t necessarily want to follow it because I am building upon what was previously said. But I do want to quote an elder who said something after the Indian residential school apology. I will say it in my language.
[Ms. Gabriel spoke in her Indigenous language, with no interpretation.]
It took over 100 years to get us to this point. It is going to take at least another 100 years to bring back our languages to life.
I know that Indigenous languages have languished in obscurity, people thinking that in another place and time, later on, when they get older, they can relearn the language. I grew up hearing the language. Both my parents were Mohawk and Kanien'kéha speakers, my uncles and aunts. I heard it all the time. But I was denied that right when I went to school.
Because of that, I lost part of my language, but I’ve been working in the language since 1991. I am an illustrator. I also worked as an art teacher for the Mohawk immersion school. I can tell you that as we toil about this bill, there are political entities that want to take the funding and decide for themselves how this funding will go.
It cannot be stressed enough that the people who are the experts are those first language speakers with experience in teaching, not any political organization, not any political leadership, but the first language speakers and those teachers with experience who understand how to teach a language. My language is 80 per cent verbs. It would take approximately five to seven years to learn, to become a fluent speaker in Kanien’kéha if they heard it every day. That’s a lot. It is not enough to have an app and to learn how your colours are said or to learn your numbers. It is a complex language. It is a language that talks about governance. It is a language that is based upon the land.
People talk a lot about reconciliation. I want to quote a friend of mine for whom I have the deepest respect. He is legal counsel for the Cree, the Eeyou Istchee, Paul Joffe. He said, with regard to such Indigenous peoples, that such harmony cannot be achieved within a colonial framework. Rather, it must take place in a contemporary context that respects human rights, including the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
What I’ve seen and what I have experienced is that political posturing comes into any kind of bill. They should not allow any political posturing in this bill because language is precious. UNESCO has stated the urgency and the dire threat to Indigenous languages. That threat is found mostly in Canada, one of the richest countries in the world. Can you imagine? Why? Because assimilation still continues; colonization still continues. We cannot enjoy the full rights to our self-determination without having the right to be able to teach our children and youth their ancestral language.
We may call them ancient languages, but they are very much alive today. And I can tell you that, without a doubt, it enriches your life when you learn your own language. Latin can be broken down, and you can understand why they call certain plants or medicines these things. When you are with a first-language speaker who thinks in the language, you get the breakdown of what these terms mean.
[Ms. Gabriel spoke in her Indigenous language, with no interpretation.]
It means their minds and hearts are on the ground; that’s when you are grieving. I can tell you that because of the Indian residential school system, we are nations of grieving people. We are nations of grieving people that have not yet been able to find the peace and freedom we had centuries ago. While we don’t want to live the way our and setters lived, because it is not possible — we are too individualistic in today’s society to do that — we do want to respect the ancestral teachings of the land-based transmission of knowledge. If we do not have access to our lands, then our language can only take us so far. It will stop. It will be abrupted once again.
I am very pleased that the previous panel mentioned something about Bill 101. I have the deepest respect for my francophone neighbours. My father learned French before he learned English. His first language was Kanien’kéha, but the neighbours were farmers, so I heard three languages. But in the province of Quebec, I don’t know if people understand how difficult it is. If you are an anglophone, that’s one thing. But if you are an Indigenous person, that makes it even more trying, more difficult to have that kind of prosperity that you need, because if you don’t speak French in a certain way and at a certain level, you will not receive a job. That’s why a lot of our people leave the province; it is because of that.
Instead, we should be uplifting. As the UN declaration says, those institutions that were damaged by colonization, those institutions in which the religious doctrines of superiority and racism have brought us to the point where we are looking at Canada to say, “Please help us with our languages because you hold the purse strings” -- if we had the money to be able to pay, as we do post-secondary students, the youth or even adults to go to school, then let’s do it, because that’s what is needed. We are not going to be successful in revitalization and maintenance if we don’t have adult speakers to teach the children, if we don’t have those first-language speakers to teach the second-language speakers exactly the meaning of what they are saying.
We are losing those first-language speakers. We have lost the transmission of knowledge. So I want to say that if this is going to happen, we have to have authority and jurisdiction on our territories for our languages, our curriculum, our schools and our governance. We cannot afford to wait any longer for any more political posturing.
Linguistic rights scholar Tove Skutnabb-Kangas coined the term “subtractive education,” in which she explains that it subtracts from a child’s linguistic repertoire instead of adding to it. This is what the Indian residential school system has done: assimulative education. We need to come with fresh eyes to be able to revitalize our languages.
For funding, because we always have project funding, we are forced under exhaustive reporting measures; funding from year to year; funding for activities but not human resources. There is no funding for curriculum development — that’s excluded. We are jumping through hoops to try and revitalize our languages, and we have been nickel-and-diming it. I can tell you that if this had been a predominantly male activity, I’m sure we would have found the funding a long time ago. It has been the women in our communities, and some of the men, who have brought the languages to where they are today, to try and maintain them.
We need core, long-term, sustainable funding for experienced Indigenous languages organizations that have led the way in Indigenous languages preservation and revitalization.
I think we need to examine the context in which we are living. Some of our people are thinking that it is not important. When I was growing up, people thought, “It is not important for my child to continue to learn Mohawk; it is important for them to learn French and English.” We are also challenged by the mentality and attitude of people in our community. We are our own worst enemy in this case.
I have recommendations for you in my submission. Regarding adult immersion stipends, refer to RCAP, which recommended, in 1986, the creation of an endowment fund of $100 million for a language foundation. And please pass Bill C-262 for the implementation of the UN declaration.
I can’t emphasize enough that this is an urgent situation. Language must be given priority and a special place because, without our languages, we have lost who we are as Indigenous people. Thank you very much for your time.
[Ms. Gabriel spoke in her Indigenous language, with no interpretation.]
Senator Pate: Thank you to all of our panellists. We’ve had some important and thought-provoking presentations.
Ms. Gabriel, I know you’ve done work in your community, and for the benefit of women, the entire community and all of us, actually, for many decades. Much of that work has been done, as I understand it, on project funding. What does that do to a community?
You mentioned the endowment fund and some of the funding issues have been raised. For those of us who have not worked in spheres where we rely on project funding, can you explain what that creates in terms of the thinking, the ideas, the limitations on progress within communities, organizations and for individuals?
Ms. Gabriel: Project funding means that as a consultant you don’t have any benefits. For a while, I didn’t even have access to EI. You have to be creative in how you budget for yourself.
We have one full-time director who is paid by the band council, but the staff is all project funding. If you are going to have project funding, then you can’t have the continuity of a program. There is always that question: Will it continue? If you don’t have health benefits, if you don’t have EI, that makes it tough. People start looking elsewhere.
I happen to have a very stubborn and passionate regard for the language that I grew up hearing, so I have stayed because I sincerely believe that this is one of the healing ways for our people to overcome the impacts of colonization. But you are very fragile. You don’t know from one year to the next whether you are going to have a job.
As I said, we are losing our speakers. If we are not teaching those children, how are we supposed to continue those programs? Project funding is definitely not that. You have to be incorporated; you have to have exhaustive reporting financially and in your activities. We have to justify revitalizing our language, and to me, that is disturbing.
Senator Patterson: Thank you for your powerful testimony.
I was disappointed to hear from Ms. Sandy about the failure to consult the Six Nations of the Grand River. And I noted Ms. Gabriel’s concern that this has been a top-down process, even though the Minister of Canadian Heritage came to our committee and actually bragged, saying he was proud of the co-development process. We’ve heard from the Inuit that they were, I think, very disrespectfully treated in the co-development process as well.
Ms. Gabriel, you said you were concerned that this bill has been subject to political posturing and that political entities want to take this funding and decide how it will be spent. Could you talk a bit more about the consultation process and the co-development process and how we should deal with this bill given that new monies may be available under the bill? Frankly, though, I hope it doesn’t all go into the official languages bureaucracy here in Ottawa.
How do we deal with this problem of making sure that community-driven initiatives are supported and not diverted to political organizations?
Ms. Gabriel: To clarify, when I asked Minister Joly if these were consultations, she said, “No, they are engagement sessions.”
One of the important things is we don’t want any middle people. We don’t want to go under the National Indian Brotherhood, where you can only have two years of a funding and we can’t apply until 2025. We need it to go directly to the people on the ground working in language — no middle people. For sure we want accountability, transparency and people to have their incorporation, but it needs to go directly to places like the cultural centres. Post-secondary institutions are also vying for that and they have helped in a certain way, but we’ve been forced into partnerships with universities to do their research. We don’t want that any more. We want to control our own research. We want to be able to increase the number of people who are working on the ground in languages. It has to go to those centres that have experience.
We have agreed amongst ourselves in cultural centres that we want everyone to have the same opportunity to start revitalizing and maintaining their language, but we are all at very different levels. For us, we have almost 30 years of experience, if not more, on language revitalization. We want the utmost opportunity for every single one of our citizens to have access to the language. Language standardization and the technological tools that are needed, all those cost.
We also want the most important resource to be funded, which is the human resources that you need. I agree there is a certain amount of advocacy that NAOs can do, but they should not take any of the money. It should go directly to the communities and not the band councils. I want to emphasize that — not the band councils. The money has to be used strictly for the language. I know they like to mix things with education. Yes, education is a component of it, but we need to focus strictly on the language and on those who have experience in it. Those who have experience in it need to help those who are just starting their language vitalization.
I hope that clarifies things.
Senator Sinclair: I will ask you the question I tried to ask the other panellists. Assuming that the government will not agree to any changes to the legislation, is it worth supporting or not supporting for the Senate? What do you think? Should we let this bill go through, even if the government decides they don’t want to make any more changes to it?
I see, incidentally, that they did make some amendments in committee today.
Ms. Sandy: As I mentioned before, I believe the intent is good. It has been on the back burner far too long. I’m glad it’s getting some notoriety now.
It’s hard to say, really. I think there have to be amendments. I don’t think it can go through without the amendments, but if it does, I don’t know.
Senator Sinclair: The risk we run, of course, is if we make amendments and it goes to the House of Commons and they don’t approve the amendments, then it comes back to us and we have to decide whether to agree to their refusal. The question really is: Should we defeat it if they won’t amend it?
I think Mr. Lachler said at the beginning that this is a good first step. Should we accept it as only a first step and hope that we can do something better down the road?
Mr. Lachler: From my own perspective, listening to my co-panellists, the list of problems with the bill is very long and quite serious. Having worked in this area and as someone from the U.S., knowing that we would never even get close to having a meeting like this, let alone having an actual bill that says anything remotely as positive as some of what is in this particular bill, coming from that perspective, I can see the benefits of this as at least the next step.
It’s a small step and it’s a long road, but if it at least keeps that conversation moving forward, then I think there’s a benefit to it.
As a non-Indigenous person and a non-citizen, I defer to the viewpoints of those who have much more to gain and much more to lose from whether this legislation becomes law or not.
Ms. Gabriel: You know what? Like I said, we can no longer waste any more time. If this bill is going to at least pass with the amendments — and I’m not sure what they are, but I would be curious to know what they are — I would say yes, with the hope that in the future that it could still be amended and strengthened. I think that political will needs to understand the human rights-based approach that needs to be implemented.
There was mention of section 35, which recognizes our inherent rights. Well, that’s something that could be built upon. What are those inherent rights? Our inherent rights are our languages and our right to self-determination, and that emphasizes that this bill needs to understand that it must be human rights-based, which means that everything about our human rights and our right to self-determination is interrelated. It’s indivisible and universal. It’s this holistic thing of who we are. Our languages are in our DNA. We think. It’s part of who we are.
I don’t want to wait for another government like the previous government who could care less and who did not respect our rights. It’s almost like saying yes, we’re going to accept the crumbs. It puts us between a rock and a hard place, but I think that we have to -- it’s not something that I say lightly or easily. I think we need the help now. If there is political will with whoever is coming into government next time and whoever is going to help us, we need to strengthen the bill, but I hope the amendments are what we are looking for, which is that we have the authority over our languages.
If you’re saying no, then where do we go? Where are we going to go? The budget that just came out doesn’t contain new money. It’s not much money for language revitalization. If you want people to work for minimum wage and not have benefits and project funding, sure, go right ahead and say this is a wonderful budget. But we are forced into that place again, and I am not very comfortable in it. I wish we could have had all the amendments before it came to this committee. And I think that we, under duress, would have to say yes to this bill.
Senator Sinclair: I understand. Thank you.
Ms. Sandy: I agree with what my colleague has said. Someone mentioned it’s the first step and it’s a good intent. There’s a lot of work that needs to go into it yet, and I agree that it’s best to get through it now and then we continue to work on it and strengthen it.
Senator Tannas: We heard testimony earlier this morning, Mr. Lachler, from another university person who said that Canada was a laggard in this and that we were far behind the U.S., Mexico, Bolivia, everybody.
What I heard you say is the opposite. Where are we? Could you give us your version of where you think Canada is in terms of the work that we are doing to right this situation?
Mr. Lachler: At the risk of splitting hairs, I might say that we’re both right.
Senator Tannas: We need to change chairs. You need to be a politician.
Mr. Lachler: There are some amazing things happening in Canada at the individual level with learners who have committed themselves through thousands of hours of language learning under really dire circumstances and have brought themselves to a level of proficiency that most of us so-called university experts would not have believed would have been possible.
We’ve seen programs like the Mohawk immersion schools that have survived for decades with nothing resembling the funding that they would probably need in order to survive if anyone would put it out on paper beforehand. They survived through the will of the people who make these things happen.
I could go across the country and point out the amazing things that are happening mostly at that very grassroots level. There are some organizations and some higher-level entities that are doing good work for sure, but so much of it is really happening at that personal level, at that one-to-one level or that family level. That’s where we see so much of the action happening. That’s why it’s so important, as Ms. Gabriel said, that the funding goes to the people doing the actual language work and not these higher-level and potentially more political institutions.
At the same time, there is so much to learn from other countries in what they’ve been able to do in terms of supporting their Indigenous languages. In that respect, Canada is right up there with my own home country in the shameful and perpetuating legacies of colonialism and, as our previous panel said, of government-assisted linguicide. There are still so many roadblocks to people who want to commit to learning their language. The challenge so many of us face, even with people who have found that drive within themselves to want to recapture the language, is to create those pathways and remove those barriers that have been placed there over the last 100, 200 and 300 years of colonialism.
So many of those are still in place and there is much we can learn from our countries about ways to tackle those issues.
So I would say the glass is both half full and half empty. There is a lot we can learn from other places and there is a lot we can learn from individuals here in Canada about what works and what can work in moving the languages forward. I think we are best served when we keep our ears open to all of those possibilities.
Senator Tannas: Thank you.
The Chair: We are out of time. On behalf of all the senators, I would like to thank our three panellists this morning — Jordan Lachler, Karen Sandy and Ellen Gabriel — for appearing.