THE STANDING SENATE COMMITTEE ON ABORIGINAL PEOPLES
OTTAWA, Wednesday, April 3, 2019
The Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples met this day at 6:45 p.m. to the subject matter of Bill C-91, An Act respecting Indigenous languages.
Senator Lillian Eva Dyck (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: Good evening. I would like to welcome all honourable senators and members of the public who are watching this meeting of the Standing Senate Committee 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 people. My name is Lillian Dyck, from Saskatchewan, and I have the honour and privilege of chairing this committee.
Tonight, we continue our pre-study of Bill C-91, An Act respecting Indigenous languages. Before we begin, I would like to invite my fellow senators to introduce themselves, starting on my right with the deputy chair.
Senator Doyle: Norman Doyle, Newfoundland and Labrador.
Senator Tannas: Scott Tannas, Alberta.
Senator Griffin: Diane Griffin, Prince Edward Island.
Senator Patterson: Dennis Glen Patterson, Nunavut.
Senator McCallum: Mary Jane McCallum, Treaty 10, Manitoba region.
Senator McPhedran: Marilou McPhedran, Manitoba.
Senator LaBoucane-Benson: Patti LaBoucane-Benson, Treaty 6 territory, Alberta.
Senator Pate: Kim Pate, Ontario.
Senator Lovelace Nicholas: Sandra Lovelace Nicholas, New Brunswick.
The Chair: Thank you, senators.
This evening, I would like to welcome to the committee Ms. Claudette Commanda, Executive Director, First Nations Confederacy of Cultural Education Centres, and Ms. Lorena Sekwan Fontaine, Indigenous Academic Lead, Associate Professor, University of Winnipeg. We have another panel on video conferencing, and they are all paying attention and smiling now. Good evening. Thank you for the time for meeting with us this evening. By video conference, I welcome Ms. Tracey Herbert, Chief Executive Officer, First Peoples’ Cultural Council. She is joined by Suzanne Gessner, Research and Development Linguist.
Claudette Commanda, Executive Director, First Nations Confederacy of Cultural Education Centres: Thank you, senators. I am very honoured to be here to speak on behalf of the First Nations Confederacy of Cultural Education Centres to present to you our position relating to Bill C-91.
I make this submission on behalf of the First Nations Confederacy of Cultural Education Centres. Our organization was established in 1972. It is a non-profit, First Nation-controlled national organization born out of Indian control of Indian education. We are a membership of 50 community-based cultural centres across Canada. We represent the language and cultural diversity among First Nations, and we serve over 400 First Nation communities nationwide.
Our mandate is the promotion, protection, revitalization and maintenance of First Nations languages, cultures and traditions. We are program development and program delivery support for our communities’ respective languages and cultures. We are independent from the Assembly of First Nations or any other political entity. Our organization is First Nations based with community-driven cultural centres, and we are inherent and treaty rights holders.
Our organization supports Indigenous languages legislation. However, we have serious concerns with Bill C-91.
FNCCEC were not co-developers in the drafting of the languages legislation. The Department of Canadian Heritage recognized the well-established expertise of our organization and supported our organization in hosting our own engagement session for cultural centres and language community experts. From our national engagement session, our organization collectively put forward key recommendations as necessary elements of the languages legislation. I do believe that you have each received a copy of our report. I will point out five key recommendations.
The first is distinction-based language legislation. Legislation cannot be a pan-Indigenous approach.
Funding must not be proposal or project driven. Our languages must no longer be viewed or administered as projects.
Funding must be legally protected as permanent and adequately resourced core funding for each First Nation community.
First Nations communities must have ownership, control, access and possession on the implementation of the legislation, its regulations and language funding.
FNCCEC must be given full participation in the implementation of the legislation and have a vital lead role in the language commission and any program that is born out of the legislation, including the establishment, implementation and activities of the commission.
It becomes readily apparent that Bill C-91 bears little resemblance to the recommendations made by our organization to Canadian Heritage.
Our concerns with Bill C-91 are what is and what is not contained in the bill.
The bill does not contain the recognition of First Nation languages as the first or original languages. It does not contain a provision identifying the amount of funding to be invested into languages. It does not contain a provision on the protection of languages. It does not contain a provision on the protection of the funding. In essence, Bill C-91 does not contain a provision to compel the government to permanently fund Indigenous languages.
We have concerns with what the bill contains. There are 18 paragraphs in the preamble that speak about the importance of Indigenous languages and Indigenous peoples’ involvement in protecting and advancing them. The preamble is the best part of the bill, but we know it doesn’t have the same authority as the substantive parts of the bill. Actually, there is only one section in the preamble that speaks to a commitment to adequate, sustainable and long-term funding.
Here are the must-haves. Five paragraphs in the preamble need to be removed and placed in the purposes of the act. These paragraphs are numbers 10, 11, 12, 13 and 14
I will begin by emphasizing the most important paragraph, number 14:
Whereas the Government of Canada is committed to providing adequate, sustainable and long-term funding for the reclamation, revitalization, maintenance and strengthening of Indigenous languages . . . .
Paragraph 14 must be the opening clause of section 5.
In addition, paragraphs 10, 11, 12 and 13 also need to be in section 5, “Purposes of Act.”
Section 5(d) states:
. . . establish measures to facilitate the provision of adequate, sustainable and long-term funding for the reclamation, revitalization, maintenance and strengthening of Indigenous languages . . .
However, the problem with this section is that establishing measures is not a commitment to funding and it is unclear who will be eligible for funding or how the funding will be divided and distributed among the three Indigenous peoples: First Nation, Inuit and Metis. This uncertainty raises concerns because the bill does not define how the funding will be disbursed, and it is open to interpretation that the funding will be made accessible to non-Indigenous organizations and groups. Will this be the case?
The bill contains vague wording and uncertainties. For example, section 2, “Definitions,” reads:
Indigenous governing body means a council, government or other entity that is authorized to act on behalf of an Indigenous group, community or people that holds rights recognized and affirmed by section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982.
What is the definition of “other entity?” Who determines what and who constitutes an “other entity?” Does this open the door for self-identified entities? What does “authorized” mean? Who is to determine what “authorized” means?
Another example is the word “diverse” in reference to Indigenous governments and organizations used in sections 7, 13, 15 and 16. What is meant by diverse? It is unclear who these diverse Indigenous governments or organizations are. Here, again, the question is asked: Does this open the door to self-identifiers posing as Indigenous governments or organizations?
The bill makes references to “the minister must” or “may consult.” Consultation is not consent. It may simply mean a discussion and then the government does what it wants. Sections should be amended to require the consent of First Nations for their long-term funding for their languages and for the appointment of the commissioner and the directors.
The bill also contains inconsistencies, such as section 25, “Support offered by Office.” It does not include the phrase “Indigenous organizations,” but yet previous sections do include the phrase “indigenous organizations,” such as section 5(e), 7, 8, 13, 15 and 23, and then section 26 now includes “indigenous organizations.” Our question is, why does section 25 not include “indigenous organizations?” What is the reasoning for omitting “indigenous organizations” in section 25?
The bill should be distinctions-based. The bill lumps all Indigenous peoples together without distinction. First Nations have over 635 communities with over 60 languages and dialects. We need to recognize the distinction between First Nations, Inuit and Metis. There is no mention of honouring and protecting the treaties in the substantive parts of the bill.
Section 5(c) says Bill C-91 will:
. . . establish a framework to facilitate the effective exercise of the rights of Indigenous peoples that relate to Indigenous languages . . . .
However, First Nations have the right of self-determination and self-governance. Therefore, neither the federal government nor any other body can impose a framework on how First Nations can exercise their language rights. This lies with First Nations to determine their own language laws and exercise of rights.
In addition to the aforementioned elements of section 4 in the engagement recommendation, we further recommend that neither duplication of existing structures nor a new bureaucracy be established. It is critical that funding must not go to political organizations, and the terminology of the bill must be strengthened to give it legal teeth. There should be distinct Indigenous commissioners: one to represent First Nations, one to represent Inuit and one to represent the Metis. The mandate and priorities of the office of the commission should come from First Nations, not from the federal legislation.
We have amendments to Bill C-91.
Amendment 1: An amendment that creates an Indigenous panel that establishes the criteria to recommend suitable candidates for the commissioner position.
Amendment 2: An amendment that identifies funding amounts and affirms and guarantees funding and the protection of permanent sustainable funding.
Amendment 3. An amendment that addresses the disbursement and distribution of funding to First Nations, Inuit and Metis, and the mechanisms on the flow of funding to communities.
Amendment 4. An amendment that clearly acknowledges the rights of First Nations to pass their own language laws through their own inherent authority.
Amendment 5. An amendment to include treaties whereby the honouring and protection of the treaties be in the purposes of the act, section 5.
Amendment 6. An amendment that guarantees the funding is not proposal-driven but core funding for First Nations communities and well-established First Nations language and cultural organizations. In closing, cultural centres’ expertise is integral to language protection, language development, cultural health and in building strong cultural identity for children and youth. The enrichment of community health and self-esteem for First Nations youth depends on the transmission of knowledge from our elders to our youth. This is the paramount reason why the survival of languages and culture is critical.
As stated by Ojibwa elder, the late Elmer Courchene, “If we do not revitalize our languages, we lose the spirit our people, we want to save our languages for the future survival of our generations.” This is why our national organization, and our work remains steadfast.
Respectfully submitted, chii megwetch. Thank you.
Lorena Sekwan Fontaine, Indigenous Academic Lead, Associate Professor, University of Winnipeg, as an individual: I’d just like to thank the Senate for inviting me here this evening. I feel very honoured to be here.
Although I’ve spent a number of years studying and writing on this topic, the most significant expertise that I have is very personal. Both my parents and my grandparents were forced to attend residential schools in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. That experience detrimentally impacted the transmission of our ancestral languages. The impact continues today in the dominant educational system where Indigenous children do not have rights to be educated in their ancestral languages.
I have been working with three individuals that I would just like to mention because it’s really our collective work that informs the presentation that I’m making tonight.
The first is Dr. Fernand de Varennes, who is now the UN Special Rapporteur on minority rights and who most recently prepared a UN handbook for implementing language rights. I have also been working with Andrea Bear Nicholas and David Leitch, who have expertise and knowledge on language rights and language revitalization. They both have published and spoken on these topics across the country and internationally. It is our collective expertise that informs what I’m about to say.
The main point that I’m going to focus on this evening is that Bill C-91 must recognize and affirm the right to intergenerational linguistic transmission through publicly funded schools in which Indigenous languages are taught and, where possible, used as the language of instruction. I will support this main point on three grounds.
The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples clearly identifies that Indigenous peoples and their children have the right to education in their ancestral languages. This right includes a duty for the government to take effective measures, whether inside or outside their community. The education of most Indigenous children in schools is conducted in English or French, and this is the primary cause of the ongoing erosion of Indigenous languages in Canada. That reality is overwhelmingly supported by international research.
Canada has ample expertise with language rights. Minority language rights have been entrenched in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms for 27 years. An important lesson from this history is that language rights exist to protect and promote linguistic communities but are enjoyed and enforceable by individuals. They also generate positive duties owed by government.
The purpose of section 23 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms has been identified by the Supreme Court of Canada. They defined the purpose of section 23 as:
to preserve and promote the two official languages of Canada, and their respective cultures, by ensuring that each language flourishes, as far as possible, in provinces where it is not spoken by the majority of the population. The section aims at achieving this goal by granting minority language educational rights to minority language parents throughout Canada.
Outside of Canada, countries around the world have legislated the right of children to be educated in their ancestral language. The right to transmit language through education to children has been recognized in legislation in Bolivia, Norway, Finland, the Philippines and Peru.
Today, there is an increasing demand for Indigenous language education in Canada. I work at a university where our classes are now full of students that are wanting to become fluent language speakers. Last night I received an email from a Cree language teacher in Saskatchewan informing me that there were no more spots available for a Cree language camp that I wanted to attend with my daughter this summer. I was informed that that camp sold out in two hours. The language classes at the university that I teach at had to open up different slots for communities and their families to learn Cree and Ojibwa. The overflow of these classes has put a demand on language teachers in Manitoba. University students across the country are demanding more Indigenous language classes. Many want to become fluent speakers as well.
But the reality that we face right now is that our language speakers, our language resources, are of an aging population, and most of them are over the age of 60. In five to ten years, we may lose the majority of our speakers. With that, we will lose our languages. We need to start producing speakers.
Our challenge right now is that we need Indigenous language training programs. We need support for certifying teachers and teacher aides in culturally appropriate methods of teaching. We need to support existing immersion programs.
In Manitoba, we are facing a crisis shortage of language teachers. For the most part, most First Nations communities are not speaking languages at home, and our educational systems have to play a critical role in the revitalization of our languages.
I’ve been perplexed over the past couple of years during the development of this bill because there has not been an emphasis on language rights to education for Indigenous children. I am also perplexed that we’re not demanding that this right is being recognized by this government. There’s very little coverage on the news, there’s been very little coverage in our local newspapers, and I often wonder whether we are stuck on whether a little bit is enough for Indigenous peoples.
I have witnessed other countries where Indigenous youth and other youth have taken to the streets to demand that their languages be taught in schools. I attended a gathering in Wales last year, and I spoke to a number of young people who said it was their parents that demanded that their rights be taught in school and that their children have a right to be educated in Welsh.
I’m struck that we don’t have more uprising in this because our languages are dying.
I also want to emphasize that inter-generational transmission is only possible for the next five to ten years in most communities because our language speakers are aging. Our priorities need to focus on producing speakers. We need to raise our children as speakers, and without education we are going to lose our languages. Meegwetch.
Tracey Herbert, Chief Executive Officer, First Peoples’ Cultural Council: We want to acknowledge the traditional territory of the Lekwungen-speaking people here in Victoria, B.C.
We thank the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples for the invitation to speak about this important bill. I am Tracy Herbert, and I am from the St’uxwtews First Nation of the Secwepemc Nation. I have the privilege of being the CEO of the First Peoples’ Cultural Council here in Victoria.
The First Peoples’ Cultural Council is a First Nations-led Crown agency with a mandate to support the revitalization of B.C. First Nations arts, language and culture. The organization provides funding, resources and training to communities and monitors the status of B.C. First Nations languages. We also undertake research on language revitalization and provide technical advice and policy recommendations for First Nations leadership and government.
Let me start by saying that for many years Indigenous peoples have been asking for legislation to protect our languages. I am happy to be here today to discuss with you how we can work together to strengthen Bill C-91 so the act can support the work we need to do as Canadians to revitalize the languages that come from the land we now call Canada.
The introduction of Bill C-91 is a concrete step toward reconciliation by the Government of Canada. Today, we want to advocate for one key amendment to the bill as it is currently worded. This amendment would strengthen the act and make it more responsive to the needs of Indigenous communities and languages, now and into the future.
The commitment to provide adequate, sustainable, long-term funding for the reclamation, revitalization, maintenance and strengthening of Indigenous languages is crucial. In our presentation to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, we, along with other witnesses, recommended a number of amendments. Some recommendations from witnesses were incorporated by the committee and others were not.
At this point in the process, we need to emphasize that clause 7 is not adequate. This is the one point on which we want to focus today. We understand the current amended wording of clause 7 to be as follows:
The Minister must consult with a variety of Indigenous governments and other Indigenous governing bodies and a variety of Indigenous organizations in order to meet the objective of providing adequate, sustainable and long-term funding for the reclamation, revitalization, maintenance and strengthening of Indigenous languages.
Clause 7 describes a non-specific consultation process to be undertaken by the minister in order to meet the objective of providing funding. We foresee that the process as described will prevent effective and efficient distribution of funding, as Bill C-91 only creates an obligation for the Minister of Canadian Heritage to consult on the subject of funding and does not create any obligation for any amount of funding to be provided.
We are requesting a change to ensure long-term financial support for our languages. Our elders, knowledge keepers, speakers, teachers, learners and those with expertise and commitment must have access to resources. Ultimately, the act must guarantee investments that respond to the needs of Indigenous communities and must be protected by shifting government interests.
We recommend the following amendment to clause 7: The minister must fund a national Indigenous language strategy in order to meet the objective of providing adequate, sustainable and long-term funding for the reclamation, revitalization, maintenance and strengthening of each Indigenous language in Canada.
Our organization has conducted international research of Indigenous language policies in 10 countries in order to identify correlations between the different aspects of Indigenous language legislation and government spending on Indigenous language revitalization. Having a defined action plan or language strategy as part of legislation is a predictive factor that positively or negatively correlates with high and low levels of government spending respectively. A language strategy also provides the framework for robust measurement and evaluation of the effectiveness of actions undertaken. This will ensure that the government investments are used wisely. Further, we recommend that a national Indigenous language organization be created to work in collaboration with the minister to develop the strategy and the funding framework.
We keep on getting asked, do we have any idea what the commitment to provide adequate, sustainable, long-term funding means? The federal budget was released or March 19, and it states:
To support the implementation of the proposed Indigenous Languages Act, Budget 2019 proposes to invest $333.7 million over the next five years, starting in 2019–20, with $115.7 million per year ongoing.
I can tell you that this is not adequate funding to do the work required.
In British Columbia, we have more than 50 per cent of the Indigenous languages in Canada, with 34 languages across 203 communities. We have been, as an organization, supporting these communities and their language work since 1990. We have a very good idea of what language revitalization costs for languages at different stages of vitality.
We were involved in the co-development process for the bill. I served on the technical committee and the costing committee with the Assembly of First Nations. As part of that work for the costing committee, our organization provided a detailed breakdown of the cost of three representative communities to reclaim, revitalize and maintain their languages. Using this information and additional research, researchers for the Assembly of First Nations developed costing estimates aggregated for the country as a whole. For 10 years, adequate funding is estimated to range from approximately $200 million to $900 million per year. This includes costs for K-12 language education, as well as lifelong learning in the community. This investment varies depending on the number of language revitalization and language education strategies in each community. It does not include estimates for Inuit or Metis initiatives. The amount provided in budget 2019 is not adequate.
We believe the most effective way to ensure adequate, sustainable and long-term funding is to revise clause 7 to mandate funding of a national Indigenous language strategy as outlined above.
The First Nations in British Columbia have a lot at stake, with the number of languages that we have and their current state of vitality. Only 4 per cent of our First Nations population is fluent in an Indigenous language. As the previous speaker stated, we have a short time in which to create new speakers. However, we have seen in B.C. communities that they have achieved great progress with support, and there is hope for each language if we all work together. Each language is a gift that comes from the land, and every Indigenous person deserves the opportunity to know their language, their history and their laws.
In conclusion, we respectfully request that the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples consider this important amendment in their review of the bill. We would be very pleased to provide any additional information as needed to assist the committee’s work. Unfortunately, there are many international examples where the well-meaning words of legislation have not resulted in concrete progress for Indigenous languages and their speakers. We strongly believe that the inclusion of mandatory funding for a national Indigenous languages strategy will ensure that the intent of Bill C-91 is fulfilled.
Thank you for your time.
The Chair: Thank you very much to all our presenters.
Senator Patterson: Thank you very much to all the witnesses on this very important subject.
Ms. Herbert, could you describe the co-development process that you were involved in? How did it go? Did you make representations about your proposed clause 7 in the co-development process? I’m just wondering if you could describe generally how meaningful a process that was for you.
Ms. Herbert: We were welcomed to sit on the technical committee for the national body of the AFN. I was there supporting Ron Ignace, who is the chief representative from our province. We were quite engaged. Here in British Columbia, our organization hosted engagement sessions. The AFN had engagement sessions, as well as the Department of Canadian Heritage, and my colleague, Dr. Suzanne Gessner, travelled across Canada. I believe there was a lot of good data and information collected.
I personally didn’t sit at the table where our lawyers were drafting and writing the bill, though I think they took a lot of good information to that table, from what I understand. There was quite a bit of going back and forth with the Government of Canada and with the various bodies wanting to put forward their ideas.
I think the legislation has good bones, but there are some key elements that are a bit ambiguous and that I think would be very easily strengthened. You know, only so many people can sit at the table for co-development. I was happy, though, to contribute at the technical committee level.
Senator Patterson: Thank you.
Senator McPhedran: Thank you to all four witnesses for providing us with such a rich variety of information. It is hard for me to start with choosing one question, but I will opt to try to make sure that I understood clearly what you, Elder Commanda, said was the most important preamble paragraph, which should translate into the act.
If I understood this correctly — and please feel free to clarify for me — you were highlighting paragraph 14 in the preamble, which as I read it, is:.
Whereas the Government of Canada is committed to providing adequate, sustainable and long-term funding . . .
Have I gotten that correct?
Ms. Commanda: Yes.
Senator McPhedran: Okay. Here is my question. What we have now in the act is, under the “Purposes” section — section 5 — we have 5(d), and as far as I can see, the wording from that paragraph 14 has been replicated in 5(d). It starts out, “The purposes of this Act are to,” and then there subsections (a), (b), (c), and (d) seeks to:
. . . establish measures to facilitate the provision of adequate, sustainable and long-term funding . . . .
If I’m understanding the point you are making about this connection of the two, it is that “establish measures” is not sufficient and that this is where you want to see a specific reference to guaranteed funding.
Ms. Commanda: That’s right.
Senator McPhedran: Thank you.
Senator Coyle: Thank you very much, and welcome back to the Senate of Canada. It was so wonderful to have you with us for the first day in our new chamber.
Senator Patterson: Yes.
Senator Coyle: We are very honoured to have you back in this capacity. We were calling you Elder Commanda that day, Ms. Commanda.
We are hearing from everyone the need for some enhancements or amendments to this legislation. When we met with the AFN, Perry Bellegarde, he said, “Let’s get this piece of legislation done.” He is anxious that we don’t miss the time frame and that we don’t mess with it too much so that it will cause us to not have any legislation at all. I guess that is his concern. But our job as a Senate committee is to really give it a good review, with your input, and to see what we can collectively come up with. So we really appreciate what you have brought to us today.
Ms. Commanda, have you been in conversation with the Assembly of First Nations on the amendments that you are recommending? If so, what’s the reaction? Also, have you been in discussions with the Canadian Heritage folks, and what kind of reactions have you been getting there?
Ms. Commanda: Thank you for your questions. I really appreciate them, and thank you for inviting me back to your chambers. I’m very honoured to be here.
As I stated earlier, we were not involved as co-developers. We were not involved at the Chiefs Committee on Languages, nor involved with the legal drafting. After our engagement session in March 2018, we put forward a request to the National Chief and the Minister of Canadian Heritage — at the time, it was Melanie Joly — and we had requested participation at the Assembly of First Nations table, and then we were invited to become part of the Technical Committee on Languages, similar to Ms. Herbert’s position.
We’ve been very active in putting forward our position as a national organization of cultural centres, as well as with our voices at the community level, because this is who we are as a national organization, community-driven voices and the work that we do for our communities.
We held discussions with Canadian Heritage related to our position with respect to the Indigenous languages legislation. We have provided both the Assembly of First Nations and the Department of Canadian Heritage with a copy of our engagement session report, which outlines our recommendations. That’s the extent of our discussions with both the Assembly of First Nations and with Canadian Heritage. As we can see from Bill C-91, our recommendations were not included.
Today, I received a copy of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage’s amendments to Bill C-91, and our recommendations or amendments are not included in there either, so we have concerns with this.
Senator McCallum: Thank you to all the presenters that are here today.
My question is for Professor Fontaine. I want to start off with your quote: “Without education, we are going to lose our language.” What I’m focusing on is the type of education that our children are getting.
When I visited the Cree program at OCM and Isaac Brock in Winnipeg, I saw the teachers trying to fit Indigenous teachings and knowledge transmission into the provincial curriculum. We are always trying to fit our worldview into Western educational systems, and that’s a big part of our problem.
In today’s world, our children and young adults have to look at learning their language and trying to succeed at higher education at the same time. The fact that obtaining a higher education is a widely accepted goal in our communities suggests that elementary, middle and secondary schools are critical in preparing students to succeed, and these are institutions more representative of Western education than any other. This educational system remains too often directed toward cultural assimilation into the dominant society. Therefore, the hope for Indigenous education lies, first, in explicit identification of features of western tradition, or worldview, that produce many of the problems that we are immersed in, which I have gone through and then I had to decolonize to go back to the land-based education I had before I went to residential school; and second, in the active reconstruction of Indigenous systems which result in the experiential system of learning, which is where we want to be. With that, it includes the fluency of language but, more importantly, transmission of our spirituality, moral and ethics of our culture.
My question is: Do you think that the language bill is capable of understanding and supporting the active reconstruction of Indigenous systems of learning?
Ms. Fontaine: I’ll go back to my point that we need teachers in order to teach our children the language. We need opportunities to train those teachers. I’ve been working with an organization in Manitoba called the Manitoba Aboriginal Languages Strategy for five years now, and the first thing that we identified was that we are in a crisis shortage of teachers. Unless we have systems in place to properly resource those teachers and to train them to train speakers, we’re not going to have the opportunity to teach children about the land in our language. It’s just a pure fact.
The teachers that we do have that sit on this committee are between the ages of, I’d say, 60 and up. They’re not supposed to be teaching. They’re supposed to be enjoying life at this point. Yet, they’re still dedicated because they know that they are the only ones around now. They have a vision of what they want in an educational program, and part of it is land-based education because they know that the language and the culture and the land go hand in hand. They want to bring kids out on the land and teach them. This bill should be providing us with the resources to do that.
If you look, we have a good system in place in Canada, an educational system that protects minority languages. It allows for teachers to be trained. It allows for schools to be developed. It allows for the French community to teach about French culture in their schools. Unless we have concrete rights in the bill that allow us to do similar things, we won’t be teaching children on the land or in the language. So I think that has to be a key element.
If the bill recognizes children’s right to education, I do believe that we can create those institutions and those systems because they will be resourced, and we’ll have language teachers that are trained. Most importantly, we’ll be focusing on the goal that I think should be in all First Nations communities, which is to produce speakers. We need educational systems that are properly resourced to do that. If we identify in the bill that children have a right to education, that Indigenous people have language rights, I know that there will be resources that the federal government will be required to provide to ensure that we have educational systems and we have teachers.
I know that the elders that we work with in Manitoba that are teachers right now have talked about a dream about bringing kids on the land in schools and teaching them. Our language is so interconnected with the land, and they want kids to be able to know that. They want them to know our history. They want them to know who we are, and the language contains that. I just have to emphasize that I think that we need clearly defined rights in order for us to be able to do that.
Senator Lovelace Nicholas: My question is to Tracey Herbert. To what extent should the federal government institutions be required to provide interpretation services and translation in Indigenous languages, for example, like the courts and government services buildings? What is your input on that?
Ms. Herbert: I think those things are important, especially where this is a high threshold of Indigenous language speakers. In our case here now in British Columbia, we have so few fluent speakers, but I think that would be something that we’ll be really interested in 10 years from now. Currently, what we’re trying to do is document all of the languages and to hold ownership of that documentation within our communities and to create fluent speakers. We currently don’t have the capacity to offer translation services in B.C. I think for other provinces, however, that is an important aspect of this bill, and certainly we have heard that from the Inuit.
Senator Lovelace Nicholas: Thank you.
Senator LaBoucane-Benson: My first question is for Ms. Herbert. I am very interested in the amendment that you put forward about funding a national Indigenous language strategy. I’ve often thought there’s more information about what a commissioner does in this act and very little about what the language strategy is in this act. Could you spend a bit of time fleshing that out? I think Dr. Fontaine gave us a very good piece of that strategy about recognizing children’s right to education in their own language. I think that’s a good strategy statement. Do you have any other strategy statements that might fit nicely with that?
Ms. Herbert: Certainly, we’ve undertaken a lot of research, and we’ve been doing this work since the 1990s. Where you have a defined plan and evaluation models so you can make sure whatever you’re investing in is actually working, and we’ve undertaken quite a bit of that with our work here in B.C., it really supports success.
We did undertake research looking at what the predictors of success are in language revitalization, and this stood out as a key success: Those places that have a national language strategy or an action plan, they actually invest money in that action plan, and they have success in creating speakers and success across multiple domains where languages are used. New Zealand, Wales and Spain are a few of those countries, and we’re happy to share that research with the committee.
What we’re looking at in a plan would be looking at the status of a language, language acquisition, language use, critical awareness and then developing a corpus or having language data in the hands of Indigenous people.
Senator LaBoucane-Benson: So you’re talking about collecting some baseline data and having something to measure against as we go. The minister and folks that came at the very beginning said we’re going to build this thing, we don’t really know what it’s going to look like, and we’re going to co-develop it or whatever. I feel a little uncomfortable with that. I think we should, in the bill, bake in some critical measures, things that we can look at and say that this is what we’re doing.
Do you have any ideas on that, or if Dr. Fontaine or Elder Commanda have any ideas about specific things that we can put in this bill that would direct where that money might go broadly? For example, Head Start programs. I was meeting with Grand Chief Dumas today, and we all know that the really good research around success by six. If we can imprint language in children’s brains by the time they are six, they have a much better chance of retaining it in their life and being able to use it. The Head Start programs are interesting to me, or preschool or elementary school programs. Is there anything we can talk about in this bill that would direct where that money might flow logically, based on research?
Ms. Herbert: We certainly, in British Columbia, have been targeting areas where we’re developing the corpus, collecting language data. We invest in language nests. We’re creating new fluent speakers through mentor apprentices. We’re developing language plans at the community level and funding language on the land. Our partner, the First Nations Education Steering Committee, is investing in language teachers and Indigenous schools. We’re coming together as a group, those in our province who are investing in languages, to coordinate our efforts more.
Ms. Commanda: Thank you for that question. Speaking from the perspective of cultural education centres, the cultural centres need to be part of this. We’re of the position that the funding has to go to the communities. The funding needs to go right directly to the communities, and the cultural centres are community-based. There is diversity in our cultural centres, and we find our cultural centres from coast to coast to coast. Our cultural centres serve as either the first or second level of support for their bands, their band schools or the communities. They develop and deliver those very specific language programs for their communities. They are directly involved with daycares, head starts, language nests and even families, bringing families together for language learning. It’s so critical. Language development and language learning — critical.
Years ago, in 1972, when the cultural centre movement was born, their main mandate was to develop those healing programs relating to the impacts of residential schools. So 47 years later, the mandate now, or the priority, is language fluency. We need language speakers. We need those teachers, and our cultural centres are working to produce those teachers, but yes, we need the resources so we can enhance the capacity. Thank you.
Senator Pate: Thank you to all of you for being here and for your presentations.
Elder Commanda, in particular I’d like to thank you as someone who has had the privilege of knowing your grandparents, your parents, your children and your grandchildren. I know all of you are language speakers and leadership in your community. I thank you for your submissions about that.
Yesterday, Ellen Gabriel talked about something you also mentioned about the challenges of project-based funding and the reasons why. I think you’ve made a strong case for that.
We’ve also heard that the legislation may or may not be consistent with Jordan’s Principle. I’d like to ask all of you to comment on that but also ask all of you what your view is of the impact of this legislation on the ability of Indigenous women, in particular, as keepers of traditions, cultures and language, to actually help preserve the languages and those of their children. I think you’ve each given part of that, but I’d like to provide you an opportunity to perhaps expand on that.
Ms. Fontaine: I think that’s a very important question, because I’m a mother and I realized in my 20s that the reason the language was not passed on in my generation was because of what happened to my mother in the schools. My grandmother only spoke Cree. She didn’t speak English. In order to speak to my grandparents, words had to be translated. My grandmother valued our Cree identity and culture immensely. They tried to pass that on to my aunts and uncles and my mother, but because my mother had experienced so much abuse in the schools, she came out thinking that we’d be better off learning French or English, that we would do better in society because of that. I think that that has had so much damage not only on my generation, but I think on Indigenous people as a whole. Those schools were designed to extinguish our language and culture. They took away a mother’s ability to pass on the language and culture. We weren’t allowed to do it.
The result of that is we’ve inherited a great deal of shame. I think that shame still exists. I think, as a society of Indigenous peoples, we often wonder, do we have value in our language? Is it worth saving? We’re not speaking it in our communities. There’s a lot of band governments that aren’t using it now. I think part of that has to do with that abuse that happened in the schools that is so prevalent. That was our right as mothers and grandmothers to be able to pass along the language and culture that way.
I think in order to offset that damage, we have to focus back on a way to pass the language and culture on to children. We can’t do that in our homes right now because we’re not speaking the language in our homes. Educational institutions have to play that role right now, and we have a basis for that. We have language rights for minority languages. We have schools. I attended one. My daughter is attending one now. By the time she was in Grade 1, she was writing and speaking in French. We can produce another generation of speakers if our focus is on education. That’s why I’ve tried to emphasize, in all the work that I’ve done, that our focus has to be on the right to educate children in our languages. It’s essential.
As a mother, that is what I am advocating for right now because I can’t provide the language. I can the culture to a certain extent. I know that if we have schools, we can produce another generation of speakers. Then mothers, our next generation of mothers, will be able to reclaim that role again.
Ms. Commanda: I’d like to add, and to answer your question, Senator Pate, the role of women in language development and language survival and the role of women in this language legislation, it’s critical, absolutely it is. Because we, in our traditional worldview or traditions, have an inherent role: the inherent role of women in our communities, a ceremonial role, an educational role, a social geopolitical role, and also because we are the mother tongue. We pass on that language and that learning to our children, our grandchildren and all members of the community.
The second thing that I would like to speak about with respect to your question, when you look at cultural education centres, women are the lead in our centres. We have 46 cultural centres, and 90 per cent of the women of our cultural centres are the executive directors. They are the caretakers, the caretakers of the land, the caretakers of family, the caretaker of language. They are the healers and the builders. So it’s critical. Our women are already doing this role as language developers, as language keepers, as language healers. So it’s so important that we continue to have a role, and especially with this language legislation.
Ms. Herbert: I just want to share that we’ve had a huge success with our mentor apprentice program in British Columbia that we’ve had since about 2006. What we do is we match a fluent speaker with a committed learner, and 80 per cent of the mentors are female. This is a community-based program that happens over three years where we support the mentor and the learner with coaching and training. We see people developing some really good fluency over that three-year period. This is language that takes place on the land, in the home, in the living room. It’s really outside what can often be a hostile environment in the education system. These young women that participate bring that language home and share it with their families. So we are seeing some mother tongue transmission, and that’s really a positive thing.
The other point is that we’re employing people through our language programs. We’re employing and holding up our experts. These people hold knowledge and language that no one else holds in the entire world. Why aren’t they being held up and treated well in the education system? Why aren’t they allowed to go and teach at our universities and in our schools without so many barriers and problems and so much hostility? That’s what we’d really like to see — a lot more flexibility and to have our education systems embrace our experts and treat them with the respect and value that they deserve.
The Chair: Thank you very much.
On behalf of the senators present, I would like to thank our presenters here. We are at the end of our time. We’ve actually gone a little overtime. Thank you very much for your great testimony this evening. I would like to thank Elder Claudette Commanda, Professor Fontaine, Ms. Herbert and Professor Gessner. Thank you very much.
Continuing our work on the pre-study of Bill C-91, XXX the committee is pleased to welcome, via video conference, Ms. Imelda Perley, Elder-in-Residence, Mi’kmaq-Wolastoqey Centre, University of New Brunswick, and with us in the room tonight, I welcome Ms. Wanda Wilson, President, Saskatchewan Indigenous Cultural Centre, and Mr. Robert Matthew, Principal, T’selcéwtqen Clleq’mel’ten/Chief Atahm School. Thank you all for taking the time to appear before us today.
Imelda Perley, Elder-in-Residence, Mi’kmaq-Wolastoqey Centre, University of New Brunswick, as an individual: Honourable senators, I want to dedicate a moment of silence. We lost a speaker today at the Penobscot Nation. I want to take a second to offer our prayers to every speaker and every community that loses a speaker across our nation, just a moment to acknowledge all the ones that went before us.
Thank you. I have on my paper what I call:
[Editor’s Note: Ms. Perley spoke in Wolastoqey.]
In my language, that means, “Let’s protect our Indigenous languages.” I will start with a prayer that is said in some of the schools in our territory, and it is an honour code.
[Editor’s Note: Ms. Perley spoke in Wolastoqey.]
It translates to: Grandmothers and grandfathers, thank you for the language that you have saved for us. It is now our turn to save it for the ones not yet born. May that be the truth we all live by.
I lit a sacred fire to bring the blessings of our ancestors. I have a bowl of water that represents my identity of our Wolastoq territory. I have an eagle feather. I have a shaker to call on all of our ancestors so that the sky will listen as we discuss this very important topic.
I begin, honourable senators, by greeting you from Wolastoq territory of the Wolastoqiyik, people of the beautiful and bountiful river of Wolastoq, renamed without consultation with my ancestors, initially from Champlain, as Saint-Jean-Baptiste, then after the French and English war, renamed again, without consultation, to present-day St. John River. How quickly an identity can be erased by colonial gestures of marking territories.
Our language is tied to Wolastoq, and although our great-grandmother river has been renamed, we grandmothers struggle to keep intact our identity as the colonial languages, that are legislated, survive, while our Indigenous languages are destined towards extinction due to language policies. Our Indigenous students are allowed to learn their language in classrooms; however, in our territory they must choose their language over French. One may say that’s good, that’s okay. However, how do we as a shared society limit the choices of only Indigenous learners? Not learning French in a bilingual country limits the economic opportunities of our Indigenous students. We may as well say, “Learn your Indigenous language but you won’t qualify for jobs that include a bilingual preference.” This is in regard to some of the education policies that are going to be attached to this bill. The assimilation policies are still thriving when we witness the language shift from 100 per cent speakers in my youth to less than 100 in my 70 years of grateful life. English use is so prevalent in every aspect of our lives.
Our cultural values are absent within the other legislated, protected languages, meaning French and English. Our Indigenous languages are unique in being gender-free and teach us the gift of our relationship to all of creation.
Our Indigenous languages do not objectify and, therefore, using the protected, legislated languages that objectify clearly assaults our worldview. Our great-grandmother Wolastoq is more than a resource; she is a relative. Our earth mother is more than land and resources; she is our teacher. Our languages should be a first resource that needs to be protected as long as grandfather sun and grandmother moon endure.
Honourable senators, keep in mind that as our Indigenous grandchildren begin their lives in the other protected legislated languages, they lose their connection to their sacred kinship to their environment family, their ancestral worldviews, their ancestral stories, their natural laws, their traditional songs, their sacred ways of healing, their identity, their ability to transmit their ancestral knowledge to those yet to be born.
In the spirit of truth and reconciliation, let’s mark this year of Indigenous languages applauding remaining speakers, celebrating language teachers, supporting new and existing language programs and honouring the history of first languages by legislating internal protections for our treasured identities found within our Indigenous languages.
As I was reading the summary, I noticed one key word, and I would really recommend that it be replaced. In the summary, the Minister of Canadian Heritage “may” enter into different types of agreements. Here in New Brunswick, we have a history of realizing that “may” is not as promising as the word “shall.” We have the New Brunswick Education Act of 1962. Under section 7, the minister may prescribe or approve programs or services which respond to the unique needs of Mi’kmaq or Wolastoq children in accordance with an agreement entered into under paragraph 52(b). Now, we had a problem with that word “may,” and I thought that four years ago we had finally changed the legislation and they changed the word “may” to “shall.”
I just feel — and I think we all feel — there is a difference between the word “may” and the word “shall.” That would be a consideration especially at number 8, where it would say, in the spirit of self-determination, “The Minister shall cooperate with Indigenous governments or other Indigenous governing bodies.” I really want that relationship, as opposed to the middleman provinces. I want to get the work done that’s waiting to be done, that’s waiting to be passed on to the next generation.
We always seem to have these hurdles, and we were always on a waiting list. We are hoping that we can advance it more by eliminating the need to put the provincial governments in between us to get the work done. I would rather we work as government to government. We work with Indigenous government, Indigenous governing bodies and Indigenous organizations to coordinate efforts and efficiently and effectively support Indigenous languages in Canada in a manner consistent with the powers and jurisdictions.
The only other thing I added is there is no element of official languages. I really believe in creating sacred spaces. Now, I heard in the last group of speakers that you had that there was a question posed about where translations would be made. I recently had an encounter at our local courthouse. There was a young Indigenous offender on his first offence, and I realized there is no Indigenous sacred space in the courtroom, or at least in the justice building, so that I could go and do a ceremony for this young man before he faces the judge. So I went to the courthouse and asked for a private room. Of course, I was not allowed to do any ceremony in the courthouse, so I went outside. Then I went to the Law Society and I asked the Law Society to make sure that there are sacred spaces where ceremonies and language can be provided to all our people in public places.
A hospice is another place that is absent of our languages. When our elders are crossing over, we have to jump over so many hurdles just to be able to do that ceremony or to bring language to that person who is crossing over.
Public spaces need to be part of this legislation to understand that there should be room made in public and not just in our Indigenous communities. Of course, we need to feed our communities, but we also have to feed the places where there have been boundaries where we are supposedly Indigenous but they are not Indigenous if they cross that line. We are asking for that consideration of sacred spaces where language can be built, shared and learned and where language can be protected so that we do not feel that we are offending somebody because we are taking our languages to a public place.
Thank you for listening. I am excited to see many ears that will listen; many minds that will kind of think things over; many hearts that will take to heart all of our testimonies; many hands that can change the policies or make recommendations; and many feet that will do the footwork that needs to be done to get this passed as soon as possible so that when we put the moccasins on our newborn babies, we can tell them, “Your language is protected.” Thank you.
Wanda Wilson, President, Saskatchewan Indigenous Cultural Centre:
[Editor’s Note: Ms. Wilson spoke in her Indigenous language.]
Thank you for having me to sit with you this evening. I just gave you greeting in the Nakota language and said it was very nice to see you all tonight, and I thank you all for inviting me to speak on this very important topic.
I am the president of a cultural centre in Saskatchewan that is a regional cultural centre. There are 75 First Nations in Saskatchewan and five linguistic groups, and one of the linguistic groups has three very distinct dialects, so we generally say that we have eight linguistic groups that we deal with. Because we are a culture and language centre, our mandate is to protect, promote and preserve our culture and our language.
The most important thing for me, for the work I do and the people I work with, is that languages are sacred to us. They have a spirit. They are alive. We honour them in very different ways, particularly in our ceremonies. Our languages are inherent so they reside within us. They are part of us, and it goes to forming our worldview and what makes us a whole person.
We believe that language is a human right and our language keepers keep our sacred knowledge. Our first-language speakers are crucial to our entire system. We are losing them on a daily basis, and there is a very strong urgency to do something before we lose all our first speakers. First speakers are crucial because of our system of being. I don’t know how else to explain that.
I was born and raised through ceremonies so all my teachings are to do with our lodges, our ceremonies and how that relates to everything else in the world. When I’m in one of our lodges, I can see how everything we are and everything we do — and it is not just our people, it is everybody — is all tied to natural laws. Natural laws apply to all of us, such as reciprocity, humility, kindness and generosity. Those types of natural laws are all inherent in all of our ceremonies. Our ceremonies assist us to govern our behaviour. When we are in ceremony, we only speak our language. We learn how to govern ourselves as individuals, as part of a whole and also in the role we have as a woman, a man, a young person and an elder. All of those are very strong teachings in our ceremonies. That’s where we learn those principles. As well as that, we have our spiritual well-being that we take care of. It is very important to us to take care of that. We do that through our ceremonies.
Our language holds our traditions and our protocols. Our first-language speakers have words that don’t have an English translation and that you can only learn through a ceremony or through participating and being around a lot of the functions that happen.
Through colonization, our traditional systems were interrupted. A lot of horrific things happened to our people in attempts to assimilate them, so our focus became survival. I came in at the end of one of her discussions where she was talking about shame. That was very prevalent and very prominent. My mom went to a residential school for, I think, nine years, and the trauma she went through and the things that she did talk to us about were just — it is unbelievable that people can actually survive that. She just passed away this past August. But I took her back home, and while we were driving down the road, I said, “Do you want to go to the east side of the reserve?” and she said no. She started telling me these stories of the Indian agent and how he was just naming people. I was thinking that I was sitting beside a person who is living and actually remembers. People tell us to forget it happened or get over it, but here I am sitting beside someone living who actually experienced that. To me, that was really profound, and it provided that spirit for me to protect. I have seven grandchildren now, and I feel that I have a responsibility to them as well. Now we have these adverse, intergenerational impacts that we have to overcome on top of trying to recover our languages and our traditional government systems that governed everything we do. Now we have that to overcome.
I and all of you are all the result of our ancestors’ prayers. Somebody at some time prayed for all of us in this room. That is why, with our people, there is so much passion around language, and we just never gave up. A lot of our things did go underground, and we are so grateful that we have those people who carried those torches, even when we could not see them.
So now we have all that to deal with. In order for us to start dealing with that, we have to understand and be able to speak our languages. That’s where I’m coming from on the importance and the extreme value of our language.
When we first started talking about the language act and all that stuff, I went into full panic mode. I felt like, you know, when you put something in a box, the world of whatever you put in that box becomes restricted or limited to the walls of the box. I was not really comfortable with it at first, and I was actually quite vocally opposed. It took me talking to a lot of people and through ceremony to start understanding and not to fear it, but to try and embrace it in the best way we can and to have strength in those prayers and strength in what our ancestors prayed for. We are praying now for our future generations. Someday we will all be ancestors, and we are hoping for the benefit future generations will have during our prayers. Do I do support the act now? I think there is some improvement that could be done, and I will get into that in a few minutes here.
We have broken bonds and broken systems that have to be restored to make our people whole again. It will not happen overnight, and it won’t be a very easy process because we have issues of shaming and all kinds of other issues to get over and to help our people deal with that when we are working in the communities.
Our languages are extremely descriptive. Sometimes when you sit there and you listen to people trying to describe something that we are dealing with in this day and age, it is often funny and humorous. You will often hear people having a grand old time over a very serious topic because they are trying to describe what this actually means with words. We also deal with developing words to describe a computer. It just ends up being a big laugh when we are trying to do it, because there were no computers, and you have to describe the energy going from the head, and it is never the same. So our languages are very polysynthetic — a term I often hear used — because one word doesn’t describe. You could go to one community and say, “How do you say ‘computer’,” and they will tell you, and then go to another one and ask them, and it will be completely different, even though it is the same language. So it is very descriptive as to how the language is used. The basic governance principles and as you relate it to natural laws, that is extremely similar. In almost every language, you can find that.
When we are talking about the act, some of the statements that were made, particularly in the preamble, referring to UNDRIP or the Calls to Action or those types of things are good statements. I was happy to see them in there. But as I was reading the act, it doesn’t start flowing into the articles of the act because you kind of forgot what you are talking about at the beginning, and then it kind of went this way. And I thought, okay, read it again. So it kind of fell off a little bit there.
The biggest part of the act is it doesn’t address an adequate funding system or even a process of how to disburse the money. We have communities that are in really dire straits. The language that I spoke here a moment ago, there are less than 20 speakers who speak that language in Saskatchewan. They are all over 70. Those are our first-language speakers. I am a second-language speaker. Those are our first-language speakers. Those are the ones that have the chest of gold, of all the stories and traditions that are in there. They don’t have anyone to tell them to because no one understands. So there are dire language groups that are in bad shape and really need some support.
We don’t have the luxury of time when you are dealing with a lot of people. I mostly work with elders, and when you are dealing with a lot of older people, there are a whole bunch of issues. You can’t work eight hours a day. We can only use them for a couple of hours a day, and then we have to give them a bit of a break. We are doing intensive work, recording creation stories, roles of various individuals in the community, because you didn’t only have a role as a woman. You had a role assigned to you, and that was your role to do. I’m trying to think of an example of different kinds of roles. There are people who carry bundles, as we call them, and those are sacred objects that are in the bundle, and someone has that responsibility of carrying that. Some of them are games. Everything we did was a ceremony. Even our games were ceremonies. We need to bring that all back, and we do still have people living that and actually carry those bundles. They are starting to bring them out and teach us that. Part of teaching is to have fun, so we can play games and have fun doing it.
One thing that is also missing is there needs to be a bit of a transition period so we can do planning and preparing for the infrastructure. Because of the dire condition of the language in a lot of communities, there is not a lot of infrastructure. What I mean by infrastructure is not a formal educator. When I talk about curriculum, it is a little bit different than an educator would talk about it. Where I work, we do develop curriculum, and we try to have it based on our culture and language. It goes through an intensive process of knowledge keepers, language speakers, and we have our own elders council at the centre. Everything we have goes through them. For us to develop that takes a lot of time and effort, and we go through a lot of processes to ensure that we are using proper techniques.
We don’t use a lot of reading and writing. We are getting away from that because it is getting to be too predominant. We can’t put our language in a box because it won’t work when it is in a box. We use different techniques. When you have a little baby, you are sitting there and you are talking to the baby. You are just speaking to the baby. You are relating. You are doing actions, showing emotions, all of that. That baby starts learning that language. When they get to school, they get the pen and the paper and they start learning how to write the language.
What we are doing is teaching second-language speakers who don’t have any of the language. We are giving them the pen and the paper at first, and that’s too intimidating when you are learning a language. We took the position that there are enough schools and people doing language teaching through formal education processes. Our education processes are different types of methodologies that we use, and one of the ones that we use is the total physical response. That is action-based learning. We use the ASLAM, Accelerated Second Language Acquisition Method, which is learning by sight, pictures, emotions — those are the types of methodologies we are using. Mentor Apprentice has extremely positive results, but it takes a lot of resources to do some of these methodologies.
Those are the kinds of things that we are doing, and building that infrastructure is going to take some communities a while. Language is best learned closer to the source, closer to home, so it really needs to have the focus on community and not the process to administer it. We are just really famous for having all these grand ideas and building this great big giant infrastructure that takes away from the original objective.
Back home, I went to many of the engagement sessions that the Department of Canadian Heritage and AFN conducted, and those reports are all available online. The common message was: Don’t build another bureaucracy. We don’t need that. Try and find a process so our resource can say go to where they’re actually needed. That’s what the act talks about.
The adequate and sustainable funding talks about accountability. When I read that part, I was thinking we’re just one of the most accountable people in the world. There’s one place where they have only three employees, and they’re delivering a language program. One employee spends all day every day writing reports and being accountable. It’s just the nature of the beast. We don’t only have that accountability for financial resources. We have accountability to our future generations. We have accountability to our ancestors. Those are all our teachings that we learn in our lodges.
One thing that isn’t even addressed at all in the act is intellectual property and copyright issues. I have a big problem with that, working where I work, because a lot of times we’ll develop materials, and people will take it and just start using it. One of the elders told us once, “They come and sit with us and learn all this knowledge and information, and then they make these books and sell it back to us. In essence, we’re buying our own culture back.” I have a big issue that it’s not being addressed in the act. I believe it needs to be.
Having a central location for a clearinghouse or the other things they mention in the act, research and assessments, I don’t believe those need to be in a central location. That’s where we’ll start losing the spirit and intent of what we’re trying to do. Those need to be close to the community, and the research needs to be done and retained there for those purposes. Why would anyone anywhere else need to have that information or that language? Why does that need to be anywhere else but that community?
Disabilities are another thing. I know it was mentioned in there. The first rendition that I read talked about sign language, and it just said “sign language,” talking about a disability. The second one I read says “Indigenous sign language.” I have to say something now, because we actually have revived Plains Indian Sign Language. That sign language was developed hundreds of years ago to help a tribe that couldn’t speak the language of another tribe, to communicate. It’s very different from the CNIB sign language, where deaf people actually learn that language. Those are two different signs. I think that’s not reflected in there. The intent was to accommodate that, but it kind of dropped that.
I have an autistic grandson. He’s 16 and non-verbal. He’s extremely intelligent. He builds all kinds of stuff and universes on his computer. He needs to learn his language, and he needs to learn it differently than all of us need to learn it. That needs to be accommodated too. Is that a disability? I don’t see it as that, but it would be defined as that. Those types of things are not embedded in the act right now, and I think it could be easily addressed in the act.
Accrediting teachers is also a role. It was never intended, if you read all the engagement reports, for the language commissioner to be such a big body and to have all these big responsibilities. Accrediting teachers should be left at the regional levels, where the First Nations can build and develop that capacity and be able to control, develop and refine it.
Where I work, translation services are a huge burden, because it’s very expensive. Right now, when we do that, we’ll go through five or six people to have it approved, and we’ll still get criticized on how we’re using a term. Let’s say somebody came here and said, “I want to hear Wanda’s whole speech in Cree.” Are we going to be obligated to spend a whole bunch of resources on having that translated? If so, that’s good. I know people are now speaking particularly Cree, and I’ve heard that in the House of Commons and the legislature in Manitoba. That’s fine if that’s done, but I don’t think it should come from the resources this act is trying to support. That should be from another pot of resources. I understand how expensive translation services are. I can see you have translators sitting back there. There are quite a few of them sitting here, and the cost of all of that is going to eat at what we’re trying to do, which is to have our people speaking their first languages the way it was meant to be.
I’m trying to rush through because I know I have only a few minutes.
The Chair: I’m sorry to interrupt, but we are running a little short on time. We do have to have some time for questions.
Ms. Wilson: I’m finished. I was just rushing through everything.
Robert Matthew, Principal, T’selcéwtqen Clleq’mel’ten: Whikawituk. The easy translation is: Hello, all of you. Nothing fancy about that.
I’m the klikmalta. The klikmaltais a teacher. Klikmaltanis the place where we learn. When you I say, Takhalt klikmaltan so halton, it is chief, Regional Chief of Adams Lake, which we call Histalan, the watershed is histalnekwau, and the people are herstalnak.
I am actually not from there; I am married in there. I was given a choice. I made the choice I’ll move there when I get married because my wife was starting a school and said she would never move, which is good, because I spent 17 years in a public school and had left for various reasons. Looking at the amount of change you could actually effect as an educator, it’s a huge machine that grinds forward in British Columbia. Education to fit into the economy, don’t question anything, materialistic, individualistic. Was that really where I was at? So I left the public school.
We moved to Chief Atahm School. I take very little credit for what they have done because they started years before me. It was five years before I showed up. Four young ladies wanted a quality education that could lead on to university, trades or technical, but with a strong language and culture background, and a role for elders and parents in the school system. Things have changed in the last 30 years, but back then there was no role for First Nations language and culture or parents or grandparents in the public school. It was, “It’s none of your business. Send your kids.”
Mount Currie started the first band school in 1971. Everybody in British Columbia knows if you have a building, a certified teacher and a promise to graduate at some point in the future, you can start your own school. So these four young ladies started the Chief Atahm School.
They had many problems trying to be successful, so they reached out to other places. Rather than fix a broken system, why don’t we visit other places that are doing it right? So there are many delegations to New Zealand and to Hawaii. Our good friend Dorothy Lazore from the Mohawks came over, and Carol Gobb out of Arizona.
We actively wanted to change our school. How can we actually do this incredible challenge of both?
When you look at the curriculum and what you learn, when you learn both things in the language, you learn math, language arts and science. You can learn anything. The only thing we don’t teach in our six years of immersion is English.
Over the years, where we are at now, they started 28 years ago, is a Nest program, based on the Penala model of Hawaii: Babies to age three in home-like setting surrounded by language.
We had to raise money for this. We actually had it delivered, a customized trailer, as of a couple of weeks ago. So instead of another old, condemned house somewhere across the reserve, we’re actually now in a new building and they love it. An elder, a young semi-fluent person and a trainee, so there are three, and it’s babies to three years of age, nursery kindergarten, full immersion and grades 1 to 4. There’s six years of immersion in our language where they speak the language all the time. They teach everything except English. So that means here is a cost. I’ll go back to money in a minute, because everything costs money.
If you’re going to do our language and teach PE, you learn the word for ball and you learn the word for throwing the ball, like a basketball. All these things mean if you’re going to actually run an immersion program, it’s very hard and it’s very expensive because you need the teachers and all the curriculum.
When you look at public school, when they want to do a new course in British Columbia, they bring 20 of their best teachers together, put them aside and pay them a pile of money. They come up with a draft, they pilot the draft and they have huge teams of experts paid.
Then the province has a publishing company publish these books which are acceptable in B.C. public school, so that when the teacher comes to school, he doesn’t have to make the material or find or research it or record or draw the illustrations. I was there. They give you the curriculum. I taught Grade 10 math. I have taught many years of all the subjects. When you show up, you’ve got a framework, a curriculum, in-service and first-level service. You’ve got a school board office that has helpers, a provincial ministry — a third level — helping you as a teacher. If you’re in a band-run school, you have none of that. For British Columbia, now we do, starting up with the First Nations Education Steering Committee and a First Nation’s Schools Association offering second- and third-level courses.
So where are we at and what am I going to focus on? I’ll focus quite a bit on money. We decided a long time ago what we wanted to do; we just had to find the money. We didn’t rely on anybody outside. We had to do it ourselves. We want to be linguists, anthropologists, historians and sociologists, and we have nobody coming in to tell us what to do. We have nobody coming in showing us what to research, how to do the desktop publishing or videotaping. Learn to do it yourself. It’s expensive. We were going broke and we hired outsiders to come 25 years ago to do all this for us. You train your own people. They may leave but they have to come home sometime, and then they come back with skills.
Money is, in some places, a dirty word. To me, money is magic. You can turn it into salary. With digital material, every three years you got to replace your computers, and every four years you have to replace the software. That’s the nature of the beast. That’s expensive. Nowadays you can’t even pirate your program. You buy the disk and make a bunch of copies and hand them out. Now you have to go and subscribe and they keep track of it so you have to buy individual subscriptions for all your people. It costs money.
A brief story: When I came there, again, this was a group of powerful women, and I really appreciate the words of these other speakers ahead of me. When I came there and I was going to become part of this small group starting the school, they had a plan and they asked, “How much money will this take to do this?” I was raised as a good solid education administrator, and you say no, no, no, yes. That’s the administrator. I was taught that in public school. If somebody comes to you the fourth time, you give them everything they want. I made the mistake of telling my wife, “You can’t do this.” She and everybody in the room were rip-roaring mad. They said, “We weren’t asking for permission to do it. We’re asking how much this would cost.” I said, “You have a couple of elders, you need the old Macintosh computer, you need a printer, you will need elders,” and so they said, “Figure it out, you’re the administrator.” I came back and said at minimum this was $104,000. They said, “Okay, that’s all you need to tell us. You can leave.”
To me, the money is quite important, but before the money comes a vision, principles, goals, objectives and a buy-in with a core group of people. I think we have 15 and they’re still with the school. My mother-in-law is 87. She says, “I can’t teach much longer.” We have five elders who are still with the school. Five of them passed on, but the others are there.
So money is very important, but they’ve managed to raise it for 25 years. It’s hard because you have a little community and you have 400 or 500 band members, and every three months, here he comes again wanting money, another bingo or another something or other, and we would. The problem is you spend so much time raising the money. Where should my energy be going? It should be going into the educational plan of the school and it should be going into the research. The thing I love is land-based research. There are many other things, but I spent a lot of time finding money. I spend six months finding money and another six months accounting for it and only a month to spend it.
My point is the legislation, to show real commitment to our language, it should be expressed in adequate and sustainable long-term funding. It’s taken us 100 years to get to this point. You started residential schools in Kamloops in 1890, day schools in 1870, industrial and residential school in 1923, and integration in 1968, so you are looking at 100 years of complete oppression.
I’m saying at the minimum, I’m not asking for 100 years of funding, but can you give us 5 or 10? Year-to-year funding doesn’t work. How can you promise your workers any kind of salary, equipment or supplies in the future? I’m with a band-run school, and it’s year-to-year renewable funding. Proposal-based is great. I’m good at it. I feel badly because I have a lot of money. I think I brought in $600,000 this year for our little school. But that means that somebody else is not getting any money, because it’s proposal competitiveness based, and we shouldn’t have to compete with each other for this money.
Year to year, if you start something, it takes a year to pilot a brand new idea, whether it’s in your school or your community, and then you evaluate it the second year, and then you tweak it the third year, and in those fourth and fifth years you should be getting a tight program, if you’re allowed to have a four- to five-year cycle. If you’re not, maybe you don’t go past that first and second year and you are stuck there.
If you’re doing the curriculum, it’s the same. We write our own curriculum, but we pilot for a year and we have to mark it all up. Are there better ways to say this with our group of editors the second year? In the third and fourth years, if you’re going to do a Grade 4 math, complete in our language, that’s hard work and it takes four to five years.
What we do is we have our goal, we beaver our way but we run out of money and it stops right there till we get more money. We need an illustrator because we don’t have one, so let’s wait until we find money for one. An editor, a keyboarder, the binding machine breaks down; so the money is what drives the machine. Right now, we have a lot of money only because, but other people aren’t that lucky.
The other part of this is we need to be able to define ourselves how the money is spent. I hate it when I look at a grant proposal that cannot be used for capital, cannot be used for ProD, and all this “cannot” stuff. The plan we have is huge. It includes ProD and— it includes travel, it includes brand new equipment and it includes a lot of stuff. When you’re getting your grants, you say I got a grant for this and I have to look for another because it doesn’t pay for this. I’ll get another grant, and suddenly you are trying to patchwork this up in one year. Remember, one year renewable and you start all over again.
If we could have a chance to realize that there are places — I can’t speak for anybody else but our own little place — that have their own vision already. We don’t anybody telling us what to do. We have our own principles, mission statement and values written down, already vetted by the parents, and they revisit it every year.
The second thing I want to say is legislation must be precise so that future governments don’t reverse the legislation or diminish it. Otherwise, it will be just another promise. That’s the key. It has to be in stone.
Schools are central in all communities. Everybody wants a school to pass on values and beliefs that are embedded in your language. First Nations schools have played and will continue to play a vital role in language revitalization because they are our centre, whether we like it or not.
In British Columbia, we have 134 out of 208 bands. We can look at that oppression of the Indian Act and the residential schools and say it’s dealt with and this is the hand we’ve been dealt. This is the four or five elders, the 4 per cent we have in British Columbia, in our tribal area. We’re at the point that, yes, we’re angry about the resources. We’re angry at the curriculum. We’re angry at a lot of things, but we have to get over it.
The energy we have for the language is so absolutely important. There was a great fellow in Spokane. He said, “Rob, you can’t spend time defending it, arguing, trying to convert the unconverted. The energy you are going to put in has to be positive and constructive, period.” I agree with him.
First Nations schools have a role. The role is not just hiring a teacher to teach language, because with any school system there’s a lot more to it. How do you train your teachers? It was mentioned here. Now we’re running up against the faculty of education, universities, putting language and methodologies in there. We’re making headway in British Columbia, but there could be a lot more. There is teacher training. Who teaches them? You have to teach courses and create courses. That costs money. Then you have to implement it. Getting your young people to go to school to learn language and become teachers costs money.
Doing the research. We believe that we are defined by our land and language; all people are. Everybody has a homeland somewhere. We have a homeland. Williams Lake, the McBride, to Tete Jaune Cache, to the Rocky Mountains, Arrow Lakes, back to Kamloops. That’s our territory. We are the Secwepemc. Map-makers, whether it was Dawson or Tait or any of those, they couldn’t pronounce it. They had many different pronunciations that eventually became Shuswap, but they’re all incorrect. We are the Secwepemc. If we really believe that, and I really believe that we are defined by our land, then we need to educate within our school system, our little school, about the land. Where is it, how is it named, stories — everything related to the very important parts of our territory. It costs money. You want to go up there and spend the summer doing field-based research? Video camera, audio tape, photograph, illustrators — it costs money. How do you train them? Topnotch equipment; not some junk, but topnotch equipment. A good digital camera starts at $5,000 or $7,000. That’s just a start, if you want a cheap one.
The schools can do that. They can research, gather and work with universities. We have immersion teachers. We can tell the universities this is what kind of teachers we need for our future. We’re trying to work. We are affiliated with NVIT, SFU, UVic and trying to work with them.
There’s more to education than just hiring an elder to teach the language. Second- and third-level services. Other educations have a school board office and a provincial office of education that offer teacher support. They have unions, whether it’s CUPE with teacher aides or B.C. Teachers’ Federation. The teachers receive it. We’re in isolation, so we don’t get those second- and third-level services. How do we get them? We’re trying to use the First Nations Education Steering Committee and a First Nations Schools Association so they’re funded.
The last thing I’ll raise is the principles and meaning. Why do all of this? I believe it’s worthwhile. Why not just learn English? I’ve heard this: You can’t make any money. I don’t care about making money. I don’t care if the kids make any money or not. Well, why educate them?
When we asked 25 years ago, we were trying to figure out what’s an educated human being. What’s worth educating? Let’s write it down. The elders did. They went for a retreat and said, “We’re not coming off this mountain until we actually agree on a couple of things. One is when we teach, whose culture? When we teach language, we have lots of language cultures around us.”
They came back with: We will teach in our schools — Secwepemc is our language. Secwepemc culture. We will respect all others, but we’ll only teach our own.
And the principles: What is the foundation that has kept us going and strong is five words. These are Secwepemc principles, and this is part of our founding document, Chief Atahm School, T’selcéwtqen Clleqmél’ten. K̕wseltktnéws, all my relations. We believe that’s the most important thing we can teach a child: how to consider everybody else first and themselves second. We all know that today’s — I’m going to coin this. Nobody here can use this because I’m going to copyright it. The world is one big selfie. What is a selfie? You’re in the centre and everything else is in the background. That’s today’s society. Everybody has their cameras and selfies. I was out walking here by the House of Commons. They were taking pictures, sure, but it’s themselves with the House of Commons in the background. They are the centre. What we try to do is turn our camera the other way in our school, look at others first and yourself second.
How do you teach generosity? When you cut fish, you give away a third immediately to the elders, a third to the community. You only keep a third. When we skin our deer in October, you give away a third, a third. You only keep a third. When we do roots in May, the same principle. When somebody comes in, you find them a chair and give them water and food. Don’t ask if anybody is hungry, because they will always say no. Give them food. If they eat it all, give them some more. If they don’t eat it all, don’t give them any more food. How do you teach people? It’s hard, because today’s society is not that. It’s a me-me-me, I-I-I type of living. T’selcéwtqen is a principle.
Another principle is do it yourself. Finish the job. Sort of help yourself. So that’s what we try to do with our staff and our funding: run it ourselves as best we can. But we also try to teach that in our school system. Start a garden, finish a garden. Start a woodwork project, finish it. Start anything and finish it. We think that is a useful principle.
Another one is take time for yourself. There are many parts to your soul, yourself. Be the best person you can be. Have a sense of the spiritual. There are greater powers in us, and we should recognize that, and we will know that or they will be in our stories.
Then there’s the intellect. If you’ll notice, it’s a complete reverse of a public school where it’s all intellect, cognitive domain, egghead. The effective domain is somewhere down here. Ours is the reverse.
We think that within our language, everything that’s worth knowing is in the language. Everything worth knowing you can put in a story — a traditional story, or make one up. So stories are central.
Back to each language, we have to respect that the legislation cannot infringe on our autonomy; otherwise we will reject it like we rejected every other person who has come to research us and poke and prod us and see what we do there. The answer is no.
As an educator, I would like to see the legislation have observable outcomes — and this is education jargon — that at a certain time you actually can observe whether you are successful or fail. If you’re successful, you carry on; if you fail, you change it. So I don’t know. There’s section 25, and there are a number of sections here I’ve referenced. I just want to say it should have in this review process, the five years, an honest benchmark. As an educator, if they haven’t finished Grade 7 math, I’ve got my benchmarks and I’ve got to reteach it. I’ve got to change it up. That’s the past, and we push on. The same with the legislation, having some serious reflection in the future if it’s the first time we’re doing this.
I want to finish off with the money part. I’ve been talking about money? I completely agree with these other people here. We need to have a vehicle that funnels the money down to me, elders and teachers — the people are buying the computers, not another bureaucracy, not another pouring the money on the top and nothing comes out the bottom. We tried that model in the 1960s and 1970s. It doesn’t work. Even in our organization, I cringe when I see the number of staff being hired. I need to pay good salaries here, not pennies. So streamline and have the resources get to the places it’s supposed to, allowing the people there to go ahead and make mistakes and have a dream and a vision, and move forward, and not rush in and rescue them or tell them what they have to do. Looking at the thing of the commissioner and outside, who is to judge if you’re doing well? Let’s give people a chance.
That’s what I’d like to end with. The language has power. We believe that. When the children leave our school, we have had 10, 12 years from babies to Grade 10. We are building a new high school in our language centre right now. I want them to have a strong sense of who they are — the land and the language. Because they are going to run into a lot of challenges. But if they have this inner cultural identity, this inner strength, they will be able to put up with any of it.
My daughter left. I told her if people are bugging her, they have a problem. Let them keep their problem. You have no problem. You are actually okay the way you are. And she said, “Yes, I will just do the work.” She’s off to university. But you need to have some strength. It’s very easy if you’re confronted just to walk away and be pushed out of the school.
There is strength. I believe it. Do we make money on it? I don’t think it matters because what we’re looking at is a whole person who can play a role within their family and their community. We all have that role. With a good education system, we may find it and be able to live it and not necessarily make us money as if we have to go to a trade school or other types of schools.
The last is celebrate. We celebrate all the time. We don’t tell anybody. We just do it. Last week we had cooking with elders in the language. We had singing, storytelling, mapping and field trips. We have a conference coming up in May. We have summer courses through our affiliations. Many things we just do as soon as we get the money, otherwise it’s always on hold.
“Cooksjam” is an easy word that you can remember. It means thank you.
The Chair: Thank you for your presentation. We have run out of time, but we will take a very short questions.
Senator Lovelace Nicholas: I would like to welcome Imelda from my territory. That was a very touching speech you made. You brought up the fact that this legislation would not recognize our languages as official languages. Also, the minister may cooperate with the provincial governments. Could you tell us why you are concerned with these two?
Ms. Perley: Well, one is about the official languages because we know our languages are official but they are not considered official and they are not protected in legislation like French and English. I just want that same essence, that our languages were here first and therefore they should be plastered all over saying the first language of this territory is this language. That would respect that there was a language here before French and English. Our kids need to see that. That’s the official part that I like.
The other part is with “may” and “shall.” I don’t like “may” because it sounds like we might do this. It is up to the minister to say I may, I may not. But if you say “shall,” it is more promising.
Senator Lovelace Nicholas: There is also the point that the minister “may” cooperate with the provinces. Now, do you have a problem with that?
Ms. Perley: No, I don’t mind, but I didn’t want the provinces. It comes from the government, then it goes to the provinces, and then it has got to be sitting there for a while until they hire their people, and then it comes back down to our Aboriginal government. It is going to take too much time.
Senator Lovelace Nicholas: Yes, I agree. Thank you so much for your answers.
The Chair: On behalf of the committee members, I would like to thank our panel members this evening. You gave us a fulsome discussion on the importance of language and some of the problems with Bill C-91, and I thank you for that. Thank you to Imelda Perley, Elder-in-Residence, from the University of New Brunswick; Wanda Wilson, President of SICC in Saskatchewan, and Principal Robert Matthew from British Columbia.
(The committee adjourned.)