THE STANDING SENATE COMMITTEE ON ABORIGINAL PEOPLES
OTTAWA, Thursday, April 4, 2019
The Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples met this day at 1 p.m. to study the subject matter of Bill C-91, An Act respecting Indigenous languages; and, in camera, for the consideration of a draft report.
Senator Lillian Eva Dyck (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: Good afternoon. Before we begin the meeting, we have a motion that needs to be agreed to. We have received documents in English only. Is it agreed to circulate the English only documents during this meeting with the French translation to follow?
Hon. Senators: Agreed.
The Chair: Agreed. Thank you, senators.
Good afternoon, I would like to welcome all honourable senators and members of the public who are watching this meeting of the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples, either here in the room, on television or listening via the web. I would like to acknowledge for the sake of reconciliation that we are meeting on the traditional, unceded lands of the Algonquin Peoples. My name is Lillian Dyck, from Saskatchewan, and I have the honour and privilege of chairing the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples.
Today, we are continuing 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.
Senator Doyle: Norman Doyle, Newfoundland and Labrador.
Senator Tannas: Scott Tannas, Alberta.
Senator Duffy: Michael Duffy, Prince Edward Island.
Senator McPhedran: Marilou McPhedran, Manitoba.
Senator Coyle: Mary Coyle, Nova Scotia.
Senator LaBoucane-Benson: Senator Patti LaBoucane-Benson, Treaty 6 territory, Alberta.
Senator Pate: Kim Pate, Ontario.
Senator Lovelace Nicholas: Senator Lovelace, from New Brunswick.
The Chair: Thank you, senators. I would like to welcome to the committee via video conference, from the Gabriel Dumont Institute of Native Studies and Applied Research, Ms. Karon Shmon, Director, Publishing; and Mr. David Morin, Curriculum Developer. Here in the room we have Mr. Blake Desjarlais, Director of Public and National Affairs, Métis Settlements General Council.
Thank you for taking the time to meet with us this afternoon. We will begin with Ms. Shmon.
Karon Shmon, Director, Publishing, Gabriel Dumont Institute of Native Studies and Applied Research: Tansi. It’s our pleasure to be here, and we are pleased to have this opportunity to address you this afternoon.
I will give you a brief history of the Gabriel Dumont Institute. It is the education and culture arm of the Métis Nation Saskatchewan, and we were founded in 1980, so we’re approaching our 40th anniversary. At a cultural conference in 1976, our elders and community people said that we need an institute of our own to preserve our culture and heritage, and so that’s what we have been doing over those 40 years, with a dual mission to look at their culture and heritage and to educate the Metis people in the province of Saskatchewan with the creation and delivery of services and programs that give people work with related skills.
The flagship program SUNTEP, the Saskatchewan Urban Native Teacher Education Program, is proud of the 1300 graduates that have graduated from the program since 1980. So all the schools in Saskatchewan are influenced by the presence of 1300 Metis teachers who affirm Metis culture and heritage for kids and who inform non-Metis about our culture and heritage. They made a big difference.
Our publishing department has created over 200 Metis-specific resources in the form of books, videos, apps, posters and our Virtual Museum of Métis History and Culture is one of the largest repositories of documents using audio, oral histories and images related to Metis history and culture. It’s free on the web, and we get many visitors to that site each month.
Michif is very important to us. It’s a language of the Metis and can be traced to the fur trade where Metis were accepted as the middle men and women of the country. Michif was formed by the incorporation of French nouns and Cree words and their related syntax. The language was a language that the Metis could call their own. It is a unique language that did not exist prior until the Metis created their own language.
Since that time, Michif has evolved into additional languages in Saskatchewan which we refer to as northern Michif and French Michif, and, of course, heritage Michif, which is the most endangered. This language was taken from many of our elders who were told not to pass on the language in order for their children to succeed in today’s society, which has now left the language critically endangered.
The criteria that the United Nations has set forth for what makes a language critically endangered is the age of the speakers — ours are between 65 and 85 — the fact that they’re not in proximity with one other and have very few opportunities to speak with one another and to use the language, and their adult children and grandchildren do not speak the language.
Some of the other causes that have left the language critically endangered are the dispersal of the Metis land bases from the 1870 and 1885 resistances. At that time, Metis were first across the homeland. Awful as it is, First Nations persons were relegated to reserve lands. They were kept together as a community where their languages could be maintained and some of them are thriving to this day.
Our people were spread out, but also for cultural safety, they had to hide their identity and it was of no advantage to say you were Metis after that point.
Even as our veterans enlisted in all of the conflicts Canada has been involved in, when they were asked their ethnicity, they were informed that there was no such thing as Metis and the person enrolling them would look at their surname and assign that as their ethnicity.
We were not recognized in Canada’s constitution until 1982 after a long, hard-fought advocacy by Harry Daniels. Those are factors, plus residential school and day school impact, the Sixties Scoop, and then the influence of settlers’ society to speak English. Our people were told, “If you want your kids to succeed, they should be fully capable in English. Your language is of no advantage.” So a lot of us weren’t taught by our parents and grandparents because they thought they were the doing the best thing for us at the time.
Again it’s critically endangered. We don’t have a homeland we can go back to. Some of the other ancestries have a homeland, for example, people from Britain can go there and pick up a language there. People from France can go there and pick up French. We don’t have a place where our language and culture are going to be able to be revived from except for here in Canada. So with the state of Michif being what it is, we feel this bill is very important to our people.
I’m going to pass the microphone to my colleague, David Morin, at this point.
David Morin, Curriculum Developer, Gabriel Dumont Institute of Native Studies and Applied Research: Hello. I’m just wanting to give a background of what Gabriel Dumont Institute has done for Michif already. We’ve created many resources. We have been incorporating Michif translations and narrations into our children’s books for over 15 years.
Michif is an oral language, so it’s really important for us to include narrations and audio for all of the Michif that we do.
We developed some apps as well. We have Michif To Go, which has over 11,500 audio-clips of words and over 500 phrases. We have a recently released Northern Michif To Go, which has over 18,000 translations. We have the Michif Lessons app, which has various lessons, things on animals, body parts, weather, love.
Those three are also available on our website, metismuseum.ca, because we understand that not everybody has access to smart phones or tablets. We want that available to people.
We also created an early reader series. We saw that there were not a lot of books for young children that were just starting out in pre-school and kindergarten, so we made 27 books on nine different themes relating to Metis history and culture, and translated it to Michif, added CDs so that they have the audio component. We have another nine of those books currently in development.
Another thing we have is partnerships with schools in Saskatoon. We have a partner school in both the public and Catholic school divisions, where they incorporate Michif right into their classes.
We’ve held community classes and university classes on Michif. We have done language banking. We’ve done that through interviews with Michif elders, as well as holding Michif language-banking gatherings where we talk about different themes like toys and games with our elders.
We also incorporate Michif into signage around the institute to help promote the language. Other organizations are doing work with Michif, like the Louis Riel Institute in Manitoba. They also make books and CDs. They have videos on the web. They also do classes.
The last thing I want to say is that Bill C-91 is extremely important to revitalize, promote and preserve Indigenous languages like Michif. When a language is lost, you’re losing a whole world view. People think in different ways when you’re talking in different languages, and we don’t want to lose that from this country.
This bill will allow us to do what we can to revitalize, promote and preserve the language. It will allow us to make more children’s books, more apps, develop more technology, create more speaking communities and help more people learn the language. This bill might even allow us to do things we haven’t even managed yet.
Thank you for listening.
Blake Desjarlais, Director of Public and National Affairs, Métis Settlements General Council: Thank you very much, honourable senators, for taking the time to meet with me today. Tansi.
[Editor’s Note: Mr. Desjarlais spoke in his Indigenous language.]
My name is Blake Desjarlais. I am from the Fishing Lake Métis Settlement. It is a Métis Settlement in Alberta.
As some of you folks may know, there is a land base for the Metis people in Alberta. It was set aside by King George VI in 1938. That land base has been relatively forgotten by many, and so have our people and stories.
We went to the House of Commons committee on this very same topic, and we wanted to discuss with them some of the areas that the Metis settlements need support and national advocacy for.
We’re a group that sought, through a litigation case started in 1985 and concluded in 1990, an amendment to the Alberta Constitution Act, which recognizes the Métis Settlement people as the Crown relationship holders in Alberta. Through that relationship, we’ve been able to protect the land in fee simple title. Along with that, it was important for us to protect the attitudes, the language and the personality that comes along with the land.
I say that in a mindful way and to try and encourage you folks to think about it that way. The land has its own attitude and mind. It has its own way of living. It is its own person. It speaks to us in its own language, and that language is reflected in how we speak, and we want to speak to it as if it were to speak to us. What I mean is it is a reciprocal relationship stemming from the relationship you have immediately by being born there.
Being born in my community of Fishing Lake, I was born into that language and attitude. But it’s suffering; it’s crying out to us. It’s in a place where it’s unable to be retained by my generation.
We’re the first generation of English speakers. My parents weren’t English speakers, nor were my grandparents. We’re the first English-speaking generation, and I fear that the next generation may not have the opportunity at all.
This comes from being very forgotten. We’re not a member organization of the Métis National Council or the Métis Nation of Alberta association. We’re simply half-breeds who have been reserved to areas in northern Alberta.
I say that with the most amount of confidence, because we’re a really beautiful people once you get to know us. You come to visit our lands, and you will see that although we struggle to sustain what we have and to keep the lands that we have protected, we also want to be able to ensure that future generations are able to enjoy the things that we were once able to enjoy.
An elder once told me the most sacred thing Metis people have is the land, and the most devastating thing that has ever happened to them was that relatives across the country were disenfranchised from it. Some of our relatives here from the Gabriel Dumont Institute have spoken to the fact that they have been unable to retain their language because of the loss of land. It is extremely important we protect the land and stories that are with it and contained in it.
When we’re talking about language, we’re talking about much more than just words spoken. We’re talking ideologies, the relationship we have with the land and about how we communicate with our children and grandparents.
It’s very difficult. My mushum — my grandpa — was unable to speak to me in English. He was only able to speak me in Cree. So that’s the language we speak in the Metis settlements.
Over the last 100 years, we were very close with our First Nations relatives, and we trade, communicate and go to dances with them. Sometimes they even beat us at the occasional jig-off. It’s rare, but it happens.
It’s a beautiful thing that the language does to our communities. It brings us together. This is a time in our country where we need more togetherness and less division.
This is something First Nations have been able to be strong advocates for, and I’m glad they’ve been able to do the work they’ve done in order to make space for other Indigenous groups like the Inuit and, of course, the Metis people.
The Metis settlements, not only have we been unable to retain the language in recent years, we’ve been unable to get the recognition of who our people actually are on the ground. It’s a sad story in many ways.
When I first started to work for the Métis Settlements General Council and with many of your colleagues here in Ottawa, various ministers and MPs, I quickly realized the story of the Metis settlements and contemporary Metis people has been lost, and our suffering and stories have been lost, and what we seek to protect.
I’m grateful to be here on behalf of my community of Fishing Lake. The elders spoke to me this morning, and they told me to ensure that I spoke to the fact that they need a space in this. They need a voice in this work too. Our elders want to be champions. They want to be able to go into our schools and where our people are. They want to host activities and have dances like they used to.
I’ll share a little story with you. My grandmother, my kokum, she’s from Cumberland House. She married a half-breed, my mushum, and she moved to the Fishing Lake Métis Settlement. She was disenfranchised after she married my mushum, but what kept them together for that time was the language. My grandmother used to always say that the language does so much more than just allow us to communicate. It literally brings our minds together.
For example, the word otipimisiwak. That’s a Cree-Metis word meaning “free people.” That means something to us. It’s not just who we are. It’s what we hope to be and what all of our ideologies come to be. We want to be free people.
That is really important to us, but to get to that goal, we have to protect the language. We have to teach our children that to be otipimisiwak means to act in a way that is respectful to the land, to each other and to our relatives. That’s the power that language has. It has the power to teach our children who we are.
That’s how we teach. We don’t have the kinds of institutions that the Western world has. We don’t have universities, libraries and things like that. We have the land. We have the lakes. We have the rivers. And we have our elders and our stories. That is how we learn the language.
If we lose that, we won’t be around much longer, and I say that with the most amount of emphasis, that we won’t be around if we can’t protect our language. It means so much to us. It’s connected to the land. Imagine being able to speak to the land. That’s what we do. We speak to it. It’s our mother. It gives us food. It gives us life.
We had actually tabled an amendment in the house committee on this bill and they defeated it. And all we simply requested was an amendment to include the Metis settlements as a necessary partner in this work, and it was defeated at that level. We were really disappointed by that because we were unsure why. Why would a group, the only land-based Metis in the entire country, be neglected from having a position to protect our language?
We were devastated by that and I’m still devastated by that. So I’m hoping that the Senate could help in some ways to ensure that amendment does take place in some fashion. I do have the amendments with me today. It’s simply a line item that changes an area that includes the Metis settlements. We want inclusion. We want to work together with Canada. We want to be able to protect this language that is native to this land.
Our Cree is albeit, a bit different than the Cree that our First Nations relatives speak. It’s similar to Michif in some ways but it is definitely Cree in many ways, and that’s the result of 100 years of living on the land.
So the recognition is part of it too. Not being party to the Métis National Council and not being party to the Métis Nation of Alberta Association has left a vacuum for us. We want to fill it, and we want to be partners in this work. So recognition is a big part. The amendment is a big part, and, of course, the capacity for this work on the ground. We want to help our elders. We want to have them go into our schools. We want them to be in our offices, in homes, going around working in the community, speaking the language. They want to have an active role in our young people’s lives. And I really want that too.
I’m not sure how the time is doing but thank you very much.
The Chair: We’ll stop for questions. I’m just wondering about the amendments that you have. If you would like to actually table those with us.
Mr. Desjarlais: Sure. I only have two copies, unfortunately.
The Chair: We can have copies made.
Mr. Desjarlais: It was from a concerned MP, Mr. Yurdiga from the Fort McMurray-Cold Lake area. He had heard concerns from our Buffalo Lake Métis Settlement. Some of the senators have actually been to Buffalo Lake. They’re very concerned about the language loss and the representation because we want to protect this unique Metis language that lives in the settlements. It’s a live language, and it’s unique to the Metis people in the contemporary setting.
The Chair: Thank you. The floor is now open to questions.
Senator Doyle: Thank you for being here. I was looking at your website and it says that you provide basic education, skills education and university education. Is that done through the institute or does the institute provide programs in the regular school system? How do you support it? How do you fund it?
Ms. Shmon: The operations are funded by the Province, some of those programs are, and the part that our department does is federally funded. We provide them through affiliation agreements with two universities in Saskatchewan, the Saskatchewan Polytechnic and the regional colleges. They have accreditation status already, and I think we would actually be able to get accreditation status. But people may want to question the validity of the programs, but when they’re accredited through those well-established institutions there is no questioning. A Bachelor of Education is a Bachelor of Education.
A lot of it is provincially funded through the tax base and some of it federally funded. We don’t actually provide the programs in the K to 12 school systems. We support them.
Senator Doyle: Good. Also on your website you say your mission is to promote your renewal —
Ms. Shmon: I’m sorry. We can’t hear.
Senator Doyle: Your website says that your mission is, “To promote the renewal and development of Metis culture.” Would that include a specific Metis language? You don’t have a specific Metis language right now, do you? Excuse my ignorance on that.
Ms. Shmon: We see language and culture as being inextricable. In Saskatchewan we recognize the three forms of Michif. As Mr. Desjarlais had pointed out, they have morphed from the original one, which we call heritage Michif, into being more regionally influenced. So northern Michif has a lot of Cree in it, and Michif French has a lot of French in it, but we don’t want to call any of those dialects because each group that speaks them considers what they speak a language unto itself.
Senator Doyle: So would the bill that we have before us address your needs in that regard?
Ms. Shmon: Yes, I believe it will because there are a couple of ways that people come to support things. One is through a moral imperative, and another one is through a financial imperative. When something is considered the law in Canada, I think people have more adherence to what that bill will say that should be happening with Indigenous languages. We feel it is a step in the right direction.
Senator Doyle: And you were fully consulted on this bill?
Ms. Shmon: I’m sorry. The audio is cutting out.
Senator Doyle: Pardon me? Were you fully consulted in the development of the bill?
Ms. Shmon: Yes, we were. The institute was contracted by the Métis National Council along with the Louis Riel Institute to lead engagement sessions that would provide the background on Michif and recommend what we felt the bill should contain. So I feel there has been a lot of consultation take place.
Senator Doyle: Good. Thank you.
Senator LaBoucane-Benson: First, I just want to thank the folks from Gabriel Dumont for their presentation. I’ve long admired the work you do. I need to comment on how great the backdrop is with “Metis Rising.” I can’t take my eyes off that. That is strategically well placed. Well played.
I also want to thank Mr. Desjarlais for coming. We actually had a bit of a sidebar and realized that our great-grandfathers were brothers. So it’s good to have a cousin here.
I’m really pleased that you brought up that concept of otipimisiwak which I’ve heard an elder say an interpretation is to be the boss of ourselves. I was told that a long time ago and I have internalized that thought and that concept in the work that I do. It’s a powerful concept.
One of the things that I’m doing in thinking about this bill and for sure your amendment — I’m glad you brought it — is to ask you what is the most important principle in language reclamation? If you were going to say the thing that needs to happen the most, what would that principle be?
Mr. Desjarlais: That’s a very good question, and I think that community is probably the principle. Without the community being together, there’s no language transmission. So ensuring that the principle of community is there and instilled in our young people. It’s already in our elders. They visit non-stop, them. But it’s our young people. They need to see that in action, and a space needs to be provided and the capacity needs to be provided for that space so that community can flourish. Because it’s left to initiative then. The language is really left to individual initiative if it isn’t present in the community in that way. So communitarianism is a big aspect of ensuring the language survives.
Senator Tannas: You mentioned Buffalo Lake, Mr. Desjarlais. And I’m sorry, I stepped out of the room for just a minute. I apologize if you covered this, but your community is in the same situation as Buffalo Lake, is that right? You were recognized by the Alberta government and given a land base with good wishes, right, and that was about it?
Mr. Desjarlais: That’s essentially it. In 1938 when the government — we lobbied very hard, our ancestors at that time, to ensure that the Crown set aside land for us because we were in the Treaty 8 area and Treaty 6. There was a lot of Metis people there so you hit the nail on the head with that. They left us about in 1990 with a great deal of land and resources, without any capacity. And we were left there.
I’m from the Fishing Lake Métis Settlement. That’s where Buffalo Lake gets its membership from, actually. Those are my relatives there too. Yes, same situation. We’re on a protected land base cannot be mortgaged. The Crown has disabled its ability to relinquish the land under an amendment to the Alberta Act. I also have three other pieces of Crown legislation known as the Metis Settlements Act, the Metis Settlements Accord Implementation Act and the Metis Settlements Land Protection Act. These four pieces of legislation together make up the land base that is the Metis settlements.
We have a form of self-government and that enables a council of 44 to create legislation and policy that are published under the Alberta Gazette, which has equal force to Alberta. However, we lack the kind of capacity and things like that to ensure we have the right proofs in order to do some of those things, so we’re trying to increase that capacity dramatically.
Senator Tannas: I apologize. This may or may not be the right forum, but this has been going through my mind. I’d like to understand the politics that seems to go on. If I’m being rude, you can say so. But am I to understand that your settlement, Buffalo Lake, is neither member of the Métis Nation of Alberta or the Métis National Council?
Mr. Desjarlais: That’s correct.
Senator Tannas: And therefore, really, you’re worried, and we’ve heard from other organizations that aren’t plugged into the big national outfits, that they don’t think it they will get anything out of this.
Mr. Desjarlais: That’s correct; we haven’t been consulted. This is the furthest we’ve been consulted. The most conversation we’ve ever had about this bill is right now. We tried to ensure that the government heard us. We met with the minister several times in the government to address this concern, and they said they’re sticking by the Prime Minister’s word, and the Prime Minister had said we’re working with national organizations, and that’s who we’re working with.
Senator Tannas: But if you were neither a member of a national organization or welcomed to be a member by a national organization, how will you get dollar one out of this?
Mr. Desjarlais: It’s this. We have to keep using our own resource, talking to many of you folks. I’m glad to have met many of the senators here today to discuss some of these issues of representation of Metis.
It’s maybe a classic strategy that’s being employed by the government. I’m not exactly sure. I’m always wary when the government makes actions similar to this. In the instance where you treat one group of people in the same class differently, that is the near definition of apartheid.
We’re definitely not getting the level of service that the Métis National Council is getting. We’re not nearly close. We’ve received zero federal dollars, for example, on any program, nearly.
Last year, we tried to seek some money for the early-learning child care dollars, and we were told, no. We literally have daycares that are shut down in the settlements.
It’s a huge oversight. I’m not sure how this happened. I’m not sure if it’s because we happen to be in Alberta. I don’t know why this is the position of the government. But we do want to work together. We want to protect our land. We eventually do want to work with other Metis groups. But when you’re struggling at that level for resources and the other Metis groups don’t seem to have sympathy for that, we can get very little work done.
Senator Tannas: Thank you.
Mr. Desjarlais: Thank you for the question.
Senator Coyle: Thank you to all of our presenters today. My question will be for you, Mr. Desjarlais, because I really want to get at the central issue here, which is serving all through this legislation, in appropriate ways.
I want to congratulate first, though, the wonderful work we’ve heard from the Gabriel Dumont Institute. My understanding is you are not looking for amendments to the bill.
Ms. Shmon: No.
Senator Coyle: I just wanted to clarify that before I proceeded.
I’ve read your proposed amendment and we’re all studying this bill very carefully. I just want to understand, if you could help us, exactly what’s at the crux of this concern.
The paragraph you’re referring to here, and it’s line 9, on page 3 of the legislation, are you concerned that if you’re not inserted in this specific language that you will be excluded? Are you not covered by section 35?
Mr. Desjarlais: We are in fact covered by section 35. We’re not sure. We thought this would be a regular amendment, really. But we are trying to ensure that proper consultation does take place with our communities, and we’re trying to ensure the proper representation is there in the legislation.
Senator Coyle: I really want to understand, because when I look at page 6, Article 8, the whole bit, where it says to whom the minister may cooperate with, I just want to make sure that it’s broad and specific enough at the same time that you feel included there. So it’s got the territorial and provincial governments, it’s got Indigenous governments, and you are?
Mr. Desjarlais: Indigenous government.
Senator Coyle: Or other Indigenous governing bodies, and you have a council. So the governing bodies at each of the settlement levels and you have the government body. And you probably have other Indigenous organizations that are part of you. Within that paragraph, would you see yourselves reflected there?
Mr. Desjarlais: I would say so. On paper, yes, of course. If I were to read this plainly and if I were the government, I would say, of course, the Metis settlements.
But that’s not the case in practice and that’s evident by the development of this legislation. If they meant section 8 there, that would have been employed in the development. But we’ve seen clearly that the government is wanting to exclude us on these aspects, and they’re claiming various arguments at different levels. They’re saying it’s because of our relationship with the province sometimes, where the federal government doesn’t want to impede on their section 91 rights because we’re enfranchised with the province under section 92.
But, as you might have heard, there’s a Supreme Court decision in Daniels that clarified that. And that’s what we said. We said federal government. But they’ve taken the position that they did prior to the decision. They haven’t changed. The government hasn’t changed from the position they had prior to the ruling and after. Nothing has changed for us. We’re still being treated as if we’re simply members of the province. They could bend this in some ways to preclude us, I guess, from some of those conversations, as evident to this point. We’ve asked many times to try to get awareness on our topic on this one.
It wasn’t until, I believe, a former member of the house committee went in front of the house committee on this topic and actually asked the question: Have the Métis Settlements been talked to? And everyone looked around the room. No one said anything. So he was quite concerned. He brought it up with us quickly, and then we were also very concerned and said that we truly tried to ensure that the government understood our position on this one. They want to fast track it and work with the groups they were comfortable working with. I guess we happen not to be one. So I don’t see ourselves reflected in this, and I fear that if we weren’t explicitly named, we would be excluded. I do believe we would be excluded without the amendment.
Senator Coyle: Thank you for that clarification and for your efforts.
Mr. Desjarlais: Thank you very much.
Senator Lovelace Nicholas: Welcome here today. What are your feelings on this legislation not being recognized as part of the Official Languages Act?
Mr. Desjarlais: I think that’s quite an obvious setback for the government in some ways. It’s kind of contradictory because if Canada is looking to be a place that is diverse and honest and seeks not to be hypocritical, Indigenous languages should be the first languages protected in this country. They’re beautiful languages. I’ve had the opportunity to work with various Indigenous groups across the country, and I’ve learned that every single one of them tells a story, and that story is of Canada.
The Chair: Do our other witnesses wish to make a comment?
Ms. Shmon: I can’t say we disagree with Mr. Desjarlais. It’s really important that this have some substance to it and is fully supported. So I’m with him on saying that time is of the essence right now. It’s critical that this legislation protect and help revitalize Indigenous languages, because we are already on the losing end time-wise of being able to do that, and we can’t delay it any longer.
Senator Lovelace Nicholas: So you’re not concerned about this not being part of the Official Languages Act, then?
Ms. Shmon: We are concerned. I don’t know if those acts get changed once they’re in place, but I believe that the faster this Bill moves along the better it’s going to be for Michif. If it has to be changed, the Constitution has been changed a number of times, section 35. Maybe that will take place later, but we can’t be delaying this, especially with the way the elections change who supports this kind of work.
Senator Lovelace Nicholas: Thank you.
Senator McCallum: Thank you for your presentations. My question is for Mr. Desjarlais. I wanted to make a couple of comments.
When you look at the preamble of the bill and at some of the items, it clearly takes in your very unique circumstance of being the only land-based Metis in Canada. That itself deserves special attention and needs to be brought forward.
When I see that you aren’t with other Metis groups — which I understand that you need to be separate from them — that puts you in a very vulnerable and unique position. I believe your relationship with the federal government supersedes the relationship you have with your province, and that is discriminatory, along with the Prime Minister only speaking to national organizations. I don’t know how he has the authority to say that when he’s supposed to be consulting with all Canadians, especially ones in unique situations.
With this bill, if it does go through, your community will not be able to get funding at all?
Mr. Desjarlais: That’s correct.
Senator McCallum: The problem with the bill is it’s a pan-Canadian model, which leaves out quite a few people, especially your group. They say they’re going to look at the unique needs of communities, the unique governance structure, which you have. It’s one of its kind in Canada. This pan-Canadian model would address it.
If there’s any way that I can help you or we can help you challenge this, I think it really needs special consideration. Do you have any recommendations you could give us on how we could help in that way?
Mr. Desjarlais: I’m not sure if you had a copy or if copies were made already — they were made. We have an amendment.
Senator McCallum: I saw that.
Mr. Desjarlais: That’s one level, I suppose, that could take place immediately in order to get past the concerns of recognition and capacity. We believe that this could be a floodgate kind of work for us. If we can focus our capacity on the one thing we care about a lot, which is language, and make sure the government, our allies and you folks understand that we’re fighting to protect something that we believe is unique, we can get an amendment on this one. I believe other amendments can take place on other legislation in the future, which will become a regular part of the change in this country, to recognize Indigenous people.
It takes courage, of course, by folks like you to make the amendment possible for us. As you say, we’re a vulnerable group. At most, we are 8,000 people who are trying to protect this land base. We are literally living on the land base trying to protect it. Their capacity is low. That’s an issue too. We want to be able to bring down the funding that is associated with this in our own way.
We don’t want to implement a program that was designed and consulted elsewhere because that would harm our language. We want our elders to be the ones who are empowered and have the stories to speak to the communities. We don’t want strangers doing it. We want our community to have the power, and we want to work with them on the development of this work.
We do believe the amendment would help to try to bring down some of that funding specifically because if the Metis settlements are listed here, I believe they would be required to.
Senator McCallum: You had brought up that sense of ownership. When you talk like that, it is self-determination. It is self-governance. That’s what this issue is all about. You cannot move forward without your very specific situation, which is getting your Michif and Cree languages.
Mr. Desjarlais: It’s everything about who we are. I think the very basic principle of self-determination is to be able to speak your own language, be able to teach your children that language and be able to have a reciprocal relationship with the land in that language. That, to us, is culture. That’s who we are.
Senator Duffy: Welcome to all of our witnesses. I’d like to direct a question to Mr. Morin. You talk about apps and how you’re using modern tools to communicate your historical language and to make it available to people.
I was wondering if there is a Metis program or broadcast, one, on CBC; two, on APTN; and three, I wonder about the communities in Alberta. Do they have community radio there? The CRTC has been very keen on providing community-based radio stations so that people can use their language, whether on call-in shows or by disc jockeys, whatever, who use the language. In other words, it’s conversational and allows people to learn as they listen. I just wonder, since you’re so high tech on the apps and so on, what else you have going in that field.
Mr. Morin: We personally don’t have anything with APTN or CBC. Those are things that we can look forward to in the future. I think a really good idea that we’re throwing around is to have video podcasts, so working with our Michif speakers so that we’re live broadcasting on our YouTube channel. GDI has a YouTube channel. We host videos. We have our Michif gathering videos on there.
In the future, we’ll be set up to be able to do these things live and then capture them so that people can watch them later. That’s one technology aspect, as well as capturing the audio from those video podcasts. I know many people have podcast apps and listen to podcasts on various topics. You could listen to those podcasts on your commutes to work and listen to the language teachings of the elders.
Up North there’s the MBC Radio network, and I think they have daily Cree lessons on that radio station in northern Saskatchewan.
Senator Duffy: That’s great. Do they trade programs and so on? Are you networked? What can we do to help you with that, to spread the good news to smaller communities? Or have you already got that organized?
Mr. Morin: No, we don’t have that organized yet, but I think promotion is a very large part of this. People don’t know about the various things that we do at GDI. We have so many great resources, but then maybe people in Ontario don’t know we exist.
I did a presentation for teachers in Ottawa years ago, and they were shocked at the resources available to them because they didn’t know about it. The promotion aspect of revitalize, preserve and promote is a huge factor in this bill so that Michif is recognized as a language in this country and not just a word anybody knows exists.
Ms. Shmon: The issue of capacity has come up a number of times, and I think the institute is doing a lot with a very few people on staff.
I think if we had more of us — we’re a publisher as well and we have about four people working in the department. Yet, when we look at other publishers they have maybe a staff of 10 to do that. They have one person doing promotion. We’d really like the capacity to be able to share our resources and to make those connections with broadcasters, whether it’s on television or radio, and get these resources more broadly used.
Senator Duffy: I hope the CRTC is listening and they can make that part of their future requirements for radio stations in those areas, to open that up to that part of the community. It really enriches the programming and provides a good public service that I’m sure people would appreciate. Good luck with this, and thank you for telling us about it.
Senator Patterson: I’d really like to thank the witnesses.
Our committee did a study on the Metis, as you may know, the people who own themselves, and we had a wonderful visit to Batoche in connection with that study. Our former chair was a well-known Metis leader, Gerry St. Germain. I hope we are sensitive to your special interests and issues. I’d like to thank Senator Coyle. She asked the question I was going to ask about the amendment.
I’d like to ask Ms. Shmon and Mr. Morin about the responsibility you were given to undertake consultations on the bill, as I understand it, by the Métis National Council. I’d like to know a little bit more about the results of those consultations.
We did hear some very heart-rending testimony yesterday from First Nations people that they had expected more from this bill, that it doesn’t contain clear commitments to core funding as opposed to that frustrating year-by-year project funding where they still have to struggle to report on, and that there should have been a focus on education, where the most important work on language revitalization needs to occur.
I’m wondering if you could give us a bit more information on the results of your consultation and whether there were expectations higher than what was delivered in the bill.
Ms. Shmon: I was leaving that work for the institute, so I’ll respond. The results were remarkably consistent. One of the issues was that the funding to conduct the consultations was rather late in coming, so we had to have one where we brought the speakers last time. This was probably a good idea because, as we’ve said, they are dispersed and not necessarily in specific communities. The speakers got together, a group of about 50, and the legislation is a bit of a foreign topic to them, but they understand that this will help put Michif and other Indigenous languages in an important place in the Canadian legislation. We see that as capacity being forthcoming with that legislation.
I need to make one point, because we have conducted this work for the Métis Nation of Canada, they are seeing the way they’re defined in the legislation as nation-to-nation, not as an organization. I also respect the settlement’s right to see themselves as a nation. You would find that all of the First Nations. There will be groups that oversee them when they’re affiliated with them, each one is its own nation. There’s the Métis Nation Saskatchewan, of each province across the Metis homeland. There are nations within the nation.
The urgency was the core message we got. Urgency is one, capacity is another. Again, owning ourselves, being people who govern themselves, that concept that it’s best left to the society at the community level on how to go about that.
We did a 10-point idea so that the — capacity was there. One of them has to be the innovation aspect where you’re allowed to try something and even fail, because when you fail at something you find out what you’re not going to do next time and head in the right direction. Whether this is tied to formal education, but lots of education takes place on the land and in communities and in households. We see that being part of our mandate as an educational institute, to not just think of it going through formal educational processes but of helping people within their homes and communities revitalize the language. I don’t know if I answered enough in your question around the results.
Senator Patterson: Thank you.
Senator Pate: Thank you to all of you for being here. Yesterday we heard from a number of witnesses about the role of women in Indigenous communities in terms of being the holders and keepers and transmitters of language and culture, and the leadership role that women play as caretakers of the land, family and language.
I’m curious in what ways this legislation, if at all, would impact the ability of Indigenous women in your communities in those roles. In particular, as caretakers of traditional, cultures and language and how that would help to preserve the things all of you have been talking about today in terms of the work you’re trying to do to keep your language and culture for the benefit of your children and next generations.
Mr. Desjarlais: We talked about this one this morning when I talked to the elders a bit. Just to give you a bit of perspective, it’s all women, all of them. They’re the community builders. They’re everything in the community. They’re really the glue that holds this together. No one else is stronger in our community, no one else has taken up the kind of work that the women in our community have.
I just want to speak about my own mother. She’s a mother of eight. I’m the youngest of eight. She was widowed some time ago and had to raise children, and she did so with such grace, dignity and respect for her fellow community, and she made it look really easy. I think about that often as this is what is keeping our nations alive, the knowledge that the women in our communities have and how powerful they are. There’s actually a powerful Metis woman from my community here as well, Gabi Fayant, this is how it works. She’s my boss right now, making sure I say the right thing. That’s important in our communities, ensuring that when we talk about support, it’s really about the women in our community, the support they need in trying to get their children the education they were once given by their mothers.
Men in Metis communities, for a very long time, were fur trappers and traders. We are also farmhands and things like that, so we had to go away a lot of the time. I’m sure many of the senators here remember a time when our dads had to be farmhands for a whole summer and they wouldn’t speak our language there. They would come back and who was speaking to the kids? It was our moms and grandmas. They’re literally the community. I don’t know how to put any more emphasis on that. We owe them so much.
Do I see them reflected in here? I don’t think so. I would like to see an amendment giving them recognition for their role in language revitalization. They’re our critical institution. Women are our critical institution in communities because they do so much for the protection of culture and language that is unmeasurable. Is there some way there could be an amendment to acknowledge the role of Indigenous women in the community, I think that would be a positive position. I also recommend consultation with grandmothers and women on the ground in the communities about what they would need in support of their work in doing that. I’m no expert in that, of course, but they are. I think if there were more time given to try to talk to the women who are doing this work on the ground with zero resources, it could be a very beneficial conversation for the country.
The Chair: Thank you. We’ve come to the end of our time. On behalf of the members of the committee, I would like to thank our panel presenters today. It’s been a very interesting discussion. Thank you for appearing before us and giving us all the information and some key amendments as well.
Welcome back to the meeting of the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples. We are continuing our work on the pre-study of Bill C-91. The committee is going to welcome a witness via video conference in a bit. We’re having a technical issue, and hopefully they’ll be able to make that up in the next few minutes. We have here in the room Ms. Corinne McKay, the Secretary-Treasurer of the Nisga’a Lisims Government.
Thank you for taking time to be with us today. Ms. McKay, you have the floor, following which you will be questions from the senators.
Corinne McKay, Secretary-Treasurer, Nisga’a Lisims Government:
[Editor’s Note: Ms. McKay spoke in her Indigenous language.]
Good afternoon to members of the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples. I am happy to see you all. Name is Corinne McKay. My Nisga’a name is translated to mean pearly fin and it comes from our house. Our chieftain’s name is Sim’oogit Hay’maas.
I am the Secretary Treasurer of the Nisga’a Nation, one of four nationally elected officers within the Nisga’a government. The other four are officers the President who provides her regrets, and our Chairperson of the Executive and our Chair of the Council of Elders.
It gives me great pleasure to appear before you representing the Nisga’a Nation to speak on Bill C-91, An Act respecting Indigenous Languages.
As background, on May 11, 2000, the Indian Act ceased to apply to the Nisga’a Nation and we became British Columbia’s first modern treaty nation.
After 113 years of negotiation, the Nisga’a Final Agreement recognized our right of self-government, law-making authority, 2,000 square miles of Nisga’a lands owned in fee simple and constitutionally protected hunting and fishing rights in approximately 27,000 square kilometres in the Nass Area.
Under the Nisga’a government chapter of the Nisga’a Treaty, the Nisga’a Nation also is the authority to make laws in respect of protection, promotion and preservation of the Nisga’a language and culture.
Recognizing that the Nisga’a Final Agreement is a tripartite agreement between the Nisga’a Nation, the Crown in right of Canada, the Crown in right of British Columbia, the Nisga’a Nation takes the position that the protection, promotion and preservation of the Nisga’a language and culture is an obligation of all three parties to the Nisga’a Treaty.
Through the Nisga’a Final Agreement, the Nisga’a Nation, Canada and British Columbia negotiate funding for the provision of delivery of programs and services to the Nisga’a Nation through five-year Fiscal Financing Agreements. We refer to this as the FFA.
We are of the position that funding for the provision of Nisga’a language, culture programs and initiatives may be negotiated through our Fiscal Financing Agreement and not through a provincial advocacy organization or organizations like the Assembly of First Nations.
Through our Chairperson of the Council of Elders, the Nisga’a Nation is currently finalizing a strategic plan for the revitalization of the Nisga’a language, culture and traditional practices.
Our Interim Nisga’a Language and Culture Authority, led by fluent Nisga’a speakers, is currently concluding its second round of community consultations in our four Nisga’a villages of New Aiyansh, Gitwinksihlkw, Laxgalts’ap and Gingolx and our three Nisga’a urban locals of Terrace, Prince Rupert, Port Edward and Vancouver. These are all in the province of B.C.
In these consultations, the authority is hearing from Nisga’a citizens their ideas, questions and concerns in respect of the revitalization of our Nisga’a language and culture.
At present it has been determined that less than 5 per cent of the Nisga’a population of approximately 7,600 can speak the Nisga’a language fluently, the majority of which are 60 years of age and over.
In closing, I leave with this committee the World Health Organization quote that for every dollar invested in youth, we save $7 in social costs. We need to rebuild the confidence of our people, our youth, and language and culture is the very being of who we are as Nisga’a.
I provided copies of a Nisga’a profile, and if I did not bring enough for all members of the Senate committee, I do commit to providing additional copies, because I know senators don’t have enough to read.
A copy of a PowerPoint presentation and a document that is essentially the presentation that we made at the Fiscal Financing Agreement table where we maintained that funding should flow through our Fiscal Financing Agreement and not to compete with the national organization that is comprised of 634 First Nations.
In the strategic plan that was prepared by our Chair of the Council of Elders, in the first numbered bullet under the vision of the Nisga’a Nation Sayt-K’ilim-Goot which means “one heart, one path, one nation”, states: “our Ayuuk language and culture are the foundation of our identity.” We can look at this in the psychology classes that are being taught in university, where students are taught Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, where there is a need for love and belonging and security. So that’s what we maintain our language and culture provide to our people. We see this as a way to support our people, especially the younger generation, to unravel the past history that has not been so kind to our people, and to reinstate and rebuild the confidence of our young people. We see the opportunity that this bill provides to us. We don’t see the resources required, but we do see the opportunity.
I would like to thank you for the opportunity to bring the views of our Nisga’a Lisims Government forward this afternoon. Thank you.
The Chair: We have our video conferencing up, so I’d like to welcome Tina Jules, Director, Yukon Native Language Centre of the Council of Yukon First Nations. If you would like to do your presentation now.
Tina Jules, Director, Yukon Native Language Centre, Council of Yukon First Nations:
[Editor’s Note: Ms. Jules spoke in her Indigenous language.]
I’m from the Eagle Clan. I was raised in Teslin, but I live here in Whitehorse, Yukon.
Thank you to the Government of Canada for making reconciliation a priority and for the effort to co-develop Bill C-91 with Indigenous peoples.
A critical and vital step as it regards reconciliation is to sincerely and genuinely support Indigenous peoples with restoring, revitalizing, protecting and preserving our traditional languages through to the point where we can all be assured that the perpetuation of our languages is valid, living and vibrant language is guaranteed for our future generations, as is equal to the English and French languages.
Reconciliation, as it regards our languages, requires the federal government to acknowledge and respect the autonomy, independence and capability of Yukon First Nations governments to design, plan, implement and evaluate their own language programs and to reverse the language shift that has happened due to the past colonization and assimilation policies of the federal government.
There are 14 Yukon First Nation governments in the Yukon, 11 that have land claim agreements with self-government agreements. Yukon has the largest number of First Nations with self-government agreements in Canada from a territorial-provincial perspective.
In terms of our languages, we have eight language groups in the Yukon. Those are Tlingit, Southern Tutchone, Northern TutchoneHän, Gwich’in, Kaska, Upper Tanana and Tagish.
Given the critical state of First Nation languages in the Yukon, all Yukon First Nations have made language revitalization a priority with emphasis on the need to create speakers with the proficiency levels to replace the last generation of people that were born into their languages.
It is envisioned that with the new generation of fluent speakers that we plan to create, that will also create the foundation needed to have immersion programs from conception to grave in our communities and on our lands.
Although Statistics Canada has reported an increase in the number of speakers of our languages, this type of data refers to the increase of speakers at the beginning level of language proficiency or those who are able to have a conversation.
As Yukon First Nations people, we have our own data. We know that all of our First Nation languages in the Yukon are in a critical state. It is a state of emergency as it regards our languages.
Wefive, or 36 per cent, of our communities with no more than two to five fluent speakers of their language. We have another five communities, 36 per cent, with fewer than 10 fluent speakers. The remaining communities in the Yukon have fewer than 25 fluent speakers. If this had been English or the French language, a state of emergency would have been declared long ago.
This is a state of emergency for Yukon First Nation languages. Our languages need immediate support under the control and direction, however, of local First Nation governments. That support is needed to create a new base of fluent speakers, a critical mass of new fluent speakers at the highest level, and that is needed to get our languages to the point where our languages were before colonization and residential schools. A living language for future generations needs to have speakers at the highest level of proficiency with the ability to tell stories, share histories, create poetry and prayer, engage in debate, present positions and so forth.
At a minimum, we need to create speakers at the highest levels of proficiency as do the English and French speakers that achieve the twelfth level of the language benchmarks for French and English language standards in Canada. We need to have our communities where our languages are fully spoken and used throughout our communities, in our homes, daycares, schools, and post-secondary institutions, as well as in the post office, nursing station and hospitals, the RCMP station, in our restaurants and government offices; just as English and French-speaking Canada has the privilege of doing so.
Yukon First Nation languages comprise 11 to 13 per cent of all Indigenous languages in Canada. The reason for 11 to 13 per cent as research varies, reporting 60 to 73 Indigenous languages in Canada.
This is very significant in considering the funding model and funding mechanisms that will be put in place to support adherence to and the implementation of Bill C-91. Is this a bill designed to support each and every one of the Indigenous languages in Canada?
It is our hope that Bill C-91 is being developed to ensure the revitalization, survival and perpetuation of each Indigenous language in Canada. If this is the case, then we respectfully ask and we implore you to search your hearts as we request that Bill C-91 supports each Indigenous language in Canada as opposed to funding models and mechanisms based on per capita formulas.
Using the per capita formula will contribute to the further erosion of our already very weak languages in the Yukon. Yukon First Nations have unique and specific political, linguistic and geographic circumstances that must be considered as it regards Bill C-91 and its implications including the number of self-government agreements in place, having eight of the Indigenous languages in Canada, the number of remote communities and the extremely low number of fluent speakers.
We ask that the legislation consider the political landscape of Yukon First Nations, having the highest number of First Nations in Canada in one region with self-government agreements. These First Nations have a direct relationship with the federal government already.
Two of our First Nations already have language acts and language revitalization strategies or plans complete with implementation plans already in place. What they need is support for funding that is needed to create a pool of fluent speakers in the immediate future. Time is not our luxury.
The few fluent speakers we have that can pass on the language are in their 70s and late 80s and 90s, and many are not in good health. As the weeks go by, we are losing our fluent speakers. All Yukon First Nations need immediate, direct funding to design and implement language immersion programs that will produce fluent speakers as soon as possible. For some communities, this needs to be accomplished in the next one, two and three years.
We do ask that with Bill C-91, the immediate priority and focus is on creating fluent speakers at the highest levels, that true respect is given to First Nations with self-government agreements as they should have full autonomy over their language programs and receive funding directly, and that funding models and mechanisms support each individual Indigenous language in Canada, as opposed to divvying up the funding using per capita formulas.
We ask that the Senate note that it is not policy, organizational development or bureaucracy that will create fluent speakers. We ask the Senate to focus and give priority and immediate action to creating fluent speakers in our communities and help us to create that critical mass we need to create immersion programs at the early learning level in our K to 12 education system, post-secondary levels, communities and on our lands.
Such action on the part of the federal government would demonstrate that the federal government truly does believe and respects that Yukon First Nations with self-government agreements are, in fact, another level of government in Canada as per our land claims and self-government agreements.
And we request that the federal government be truthfully and sincerely committed to walk the talk of reconciliation by providing immediate supports for creating a new generation of fluent speakers for all Yukon First Nation languages. This will, in fact, help us to restore what was taken from us with the residential school policy of the federal government in the past.
Thank you for giving us the time to speak. Thank you for the opportunity on behalf of Council of Yukon First Nations and the Yukon Native Language Centre.
[Editor’s Note: Ms. Jules spoke in her Indigenous language.]
Senator LaBoucane-Benson: As I was listening to Ms. McKay, it strikes me that — and I’ve had a chance to briefly look at the information that you’ve sent out for us — in the information you provide a step-by-step plan that your nation has for language revitalization. And I very much appreciate that. In your mind, do you have a key principle of language reclamation? Do you have some thoughts to share with this committee about when we boil it down, what are the most important pieces of language revitalization for your nation?
Ms. McKay: We have resources. We have a dictionary. We’ve got a newer version of the dictionary. We have teachers who were trained to deliver the language in the 1970s. They’re still with us. They would be the mentors, and they would share their knowledge. We’ve secured their services through a language authority. They are the individuals who are out in the communities carrying out the consultations.
We provided through the strategic plan, which was distilled down to the presentation that you received through the submission of our Fiscal Financing Agreement presentation. We have the outline of how we see ourselves continuing the work that began in the 1970s, with the recognition that we need to do more.
Over the years, as our provincial funding cuts were then translated into cuts to programs in the schools, one of the challenges is that our language courses were also affected, and the lack of resources to maintain employment opportunities for those teachers.
We have resources that are, for lack of a better term, scattered. We have some that are with our post-secondary institution. It’s called Wilp Wilxo’oskwhl Nisga’a Institute, the Nisga’a House of Wisdom. We have some resources there. We have some resources with our school district and with our language authority. We have some resources with our NLG Ayuukhl Nisga’a Department, that keeps all of the historical documents and archives.
We need to take it to the next level to coordinate and have a language authority that delivers the same standard of information. If you’re teaching Grade 1 Nisga’a language in the community of Gitwinksihlkw, it will also be the same standard that is being taught in the neighbouring community.
So wherever it’s delivered, there will be a standard. We’re optimistic. We have renewed motivation and energy for this work, and we have individuals, like our Chairperson of the Council of Elders, who are committed to bringing this forward.
One of the first issues he tackled following the election was to coordinate a strategic planning session where he engaged elders and youth. Much of the work that was compiled in the strategic plan was derived from that strategic planning session.
The principles are to follow the vision to ensure that the language and culture are the foundation of all. All else is based on that.
Senator LaBoucane-Benson: I think what I hear you saying is that you use culture, maybe traditional pedagogy around ceremonies and culture, as well as resources that you’ve developed that are maybe the technology, and use them together. Would that be accurate?
Ms. McKay: Yes. We had our language teacher involved in the early days of the B.C. program called First Voices. If you search their website, you’ll find the Nisga’a language. You’ll find various words that were recorded by many elders, many of whom are no longer with us, and we’ve preserved those words through that technology. But there’s much more to be done.
The Chair: Ms. Jules, did you wish to add anything to that?
Ms. Jules: I didn’t realize the question was directed towards me as well.
Senator LaBoucane-Benson: The question is around principles of language reclamation and language revitalization. From your perspective in the Yukon, what is the best practice of reclaiming language that you would like to see happening or that you’re doing right now?
Ms. Jules: There’s widespread recognition that we need to create fluent speakers. We’ve done a good job of creating beginning speakers, people who can say hi, hello, how’s the weather, and so forth.
What we haven’t produced since before contact are fluent speakers who are able to use the language in everything they do, all day long, for all kinds of purposes, whether it be traditional or contemporary communication purposes. We’re finding that it is working, with examples from the Tlingit in Alaska; the Mohawks in Squamish recently, in B.C.; as well as the Hawaiians and Maoris, is full immersion. There are different ways to go about it. Some folks are approaching it with adult immersion programs that are full time, and they’re actually producing the results needed for proficiency. With Hawaii, they start off with the language nests and then the kids go on to immersion schools.
One of the things I was thinking about before this presentation is that looking at schools like Hawaii and the Mi’kmaq, we really have to pay attention to their achievement results. At the immersion school in Hilo, since the 1990s, their average graduation rate is 100 per cent. It’s unheard-of in Canada. To me, it says a lot for Canada. It’s an investment, considering the disproportionate numbers of people we have in the criminal justice system, children in care, and so forth.
Senator Murray Sinclair made an excellent speech March 13, I believe it was, in Ottawa, at the national dialogue session. He was talking about the over-representation in many sectors of society.
To me, it’s an investment of the federal government to support First Nations in creating healthy language communities, which, in turn, helps us to create positive self-identity, dignity and pride in who we are. It would probably save Canada money in the long run.
To get back to your question, best practice is immersion, and that’s what we’re striving for. We have one First Nation that’s having results already. Champagne and Aishihik First Nation have invested $1 million of their own funding to support a full-time immersion program, and it is working.
We want to see a lot more of that. Of course, we need to develop plans. But before we even develop plans, we need to build capacity at the First Nation level so that you have strong, capable First Nation language departments that can set up and run these programs.
When funding is divvied up by community, or on a per capita basis, what happens to our small communities is that we don’t get enough funding to run these kinds of programs, to build the capacity that we need to build.
I talked about bureaucracy, with funding mechanisms and funding models. I just came from one of our remote communities in Ross River with 200-some-odd people there. They didn’t get their funding from the federal government for their language until October. How are you supposed to run programs when you don’t have regular funding coming in?
So that’s a part of it too. Yes, we can say we need immersion programs, but we need to have the support to be successful — not just with funding but with the infrastructure and the operations end of things as well.
That’s what I was trying to get across. If we’re talking reconciliation, true reconciliation, then a part of that is to support First Nations to regain their languages to a point where they were before residential school, before colonization, and to walk that talk. That’s the first step of reconciliation, of restoring our relationships.
One just has to see the young people from Hawaii and how they talk, how they walk and how well they’re doing in life to see the results of Indigenous peoples that have their languages intact. With your language comes your culture and your history. When I introduced myself, it was very short, but it spoke of my history, my heritage, my family’s legacy, where I’m from, the migration stories, my values, and everything like that. We just don’t talk like that in English. Our future generations have every right to be able to see the world in that way and to understand it.
Senator Coyle: Thank you, Ms. Jules and Ms. McKay, for being with us here today, and thank you for the work that you’re doing.
The bill before us, Bill C-91, what are your impressions of the bill and what should be doing with that bill here as the Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples?
Ms. McKay: I’ll take the liberty of going first.
I read the bill and what struck me was the recognition of Indigenous governments. I didn’t read in there, “national organizations.” If it was in there, I obviously was reading selectively.
In this bill, what we saw were the opportunities to move forward in tandem. I know that there’s disappointment over the resources or the lack of resources; however, we see the potential. We’ve seen the recognition of the work that’s been done through the collaborative fiscal policy. We see a way forward to be engaged in like fashion with the Indigenous languages to address the issues that have been raised regarding funding, and what was raised by Ms. Jules was the per capita funding. What we have done through the collaborative fiscal policy was an expenditure-based model, what it truly costs to run a First Nations government and we see the potential opportunity to address a collaborative policy development for Indigenous languages.
We are ready with our strategic plan. We had actively engaged and participated in the consultation process. We met with Stephen Gagnon and invited him to our museum and took him on a tour. We introduced him to our language authority members, and we couldn’t emphasize enough the readiness of our people to move forward to take the next step. We are going into a strategic planning session in late May, and we have in our treaty the ability to create laws for the Nisga’a language and culture. We intend to consider that option.
We know that without that ability to draw down the legislation for our language, we don’t have the framework within which to work. We can use that to provide the framework forward to continue the work and to support it in a meaningful way.
So we, as a modern treaty nation, are ready. We know that the resources that will come through this bill are finite or limited, but we also know that we can’t just sit idly and condemn the lack of resources without committing our own resources to support our language and take ownership of it. That’s how we see it.
Senator Coyle: Thank you. Just to clarify: You see it as a positive next step and you’re ready to take advantage of it as soon as it goes through?
Ms. McKay: Yes. And if I can add: The cooperation to support Indigenous languages, paragraph 8, the minister may cooperate with provincial governments. The language in here states:
In a manner consistent with the powers and jurisdictions of the provinces and Indigenous governing bodies and the rights affirmed by section 35 of the Constitution.
So that’s positive from where I sit, because we know our treaties are protected by the Constitution, section 35.
Senator Coyle: Thank you very much.
Ms. Jules: Thank you. Thank you, Ms. McKay, for your comments as well.
We see the legislation as definitely positive and a way moving forward to ensure that there are mechanisms in place to support our languages in the future beyond this government and beyond our time as well. It’s an opportunity to ensure that there are resources for our languages going into the future.
One of the items that’s of note is the relationship between culture and language. The language act that — council put forward or has passed in my community. In its preamble, it blatantly discusses the relationship between culture and language and that it is not separate; that the two are intertwined.
Again, I go back to my brief introduction on how much culture was embedded in the language that I shared with you, how much of my history and heritage. It is truly inseparable.
I think that’s an important aspect to make sure that it’s reflected in the act, as well as with the self-governing First Nations, which is a strong and a real political reality here in the Yukon. Given that 11 out of 14 of our First Nations have self-government agreements, and some even have their language legislation and others are developing it, the proposed act, Bill C-91, needs to consider the spectrum of language revitalization.
We have one language in the Yukon where, years ago, the last person that was able to tell long stories and to fully utilize the language passed away. We do have a number of speakers who are able to speak parts of language, and we have one person who is really trying hard to relearn the language. That’s at one point in that spectrum.
Then you have another First Nation that has their own language act, a full-time immersion program running and a language department with tremendous capacity, yet still needs further funding. So the needs are different. The act really needs to consider where different First Nations are on that spectrum, and the fact that it’s not about looking at bands or First Nation governments; it’s about looking at it from the perspective of the sake of each language in Canada, for the sake of that language, how many speakers does it have? Does it have capacity to support that language going forward and surviving into the future?
Sometimes in my work, it just gets so busy. What brings me back home and secures my vision is when I think about the language itself, from a pure language perspective. That’s why I asked that one question about: Is this really an act about our languages, or is it going to get politically blurred? Because if it’s for the sake of our languages, then let’s look at it that way.
The other part is ensuring that with all the criteria that are in place for funding and with the role of the commissioner, just to take another look at — and I don’t have the act in front of me right now — is there anything in there that is attempting to control First Nations? Because First Nations are capable of designing, implementing and evaluating their own programs. If there are any provisions that this act might put in place where there’s oversight where it shouldn’t be, that needs to be eliminated.
The Chair: Thank you. We’ve come to the end of our time. On behalf of the committee, I’d like to thank Tina Jules, from the Council of Yukon First Nations; and Corinne McKay, from the Nisga’a Lisims Government.
Welcome back to the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples. We are continuing our work on the pre-study of Bill C-91.
The committee is pleased to welcome with us this afternoon Ms. Shannon Gullberg, Official Languages Commissioner of the Northwest Territories; and Ms. Helen Klengenberg, also Official Languages Commissioner, from Nunavut.
Thank you both for taking the time to appear before us today. We will begin with opening remarks from Ms. Gullberg, followed by Ms. Klengenberg.
Shannon Gullberg, Official Languages Commissioner, Office of the Official Languages Commissioner of the Northwest Territories: Good afternoon. I apologize that my statements haven’t been provided to you in writing yet today, but I can certainly do that if you wish. Please bear with me.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you this afternoon in regard to Bill C-91. This is a critical issue, in my opinion, and deserves your attention.
Let me start by quickly giving you some background about my office and the Official Languages Act of the Northwest Territories, in case you’re not familiar.
The Northwest Territories Official Languages Act was passed in 1986 and was modelled strongly after the federal act. That act recognizes 11 official languages, including English, French, and nine Indigenous languages.
The act recognizes certain rights when dealing with the legislative assembly, the courts, and when requesting services from the government. There have been a number of amendments to the legislation over the years that changed some functions.
Currently, there is a Minister of Official Languages, who is responsible for promotion and protection activities, and then there is the Languages Commissioner, who is responsible for addressing complaints.
I was appointed to the position by the legislative assembly in 2015, and my term will expire this October. The office is independent and functions out of a storefront office that houses other independent statutory officers, including the Privacy Commissioner and the Human Rights Commission.
I give you that to set the stage a little bit in terms of where I’m coming from today. No one person has all the answers to support Indigenous languages; certainly not myself. However, let me provide you with what I would say are the dos and don’ts when establishing legislation that’s supposed to protect and support languages.
I’ll start with the don’ts. The first don’t, in my opinion, is no fluff statements. Bill C-91 states as its purpose broad supports for Indigenous languages in a number of areas. There are a lot of lofty goals set out in clause 5.
Unless the federal government is prepared to provide money and resources to support these initiatives, these statements are, in my opinion, fluff.
The resources required to support these initiatives would be significant. Learning and cultural activities are expensive. Language programs and educational activities, including their development, can be very expensive. The technology required to support Indigenous languages is significant. Unless the federal government is prepared to put in place the resources to support these initiatives, these lofty statements are doomed to failure.
Second, do not rely on the federal Official Languages Act principles to support promotion and protection of Indigenous languages. As I stated, the Official Languages Act of the Northwest Territories was created strongly after the federal model. In my opinion, this was and continues to be a big mistake.
The Northwest Territories Official Languages Act uses federal legislation concepts such as significant demand and nature of the office to define the public’s right to request services in the various official languages.
In the Northwest Territories, those terms have not been further defined as they were in federal regulation. However, even if they were defined, those concepts in no way protect languages that are in danger and that do not have the health of the English and French languages. Language rights should be broad and purposive if they are to have meaning. Again, this will require significant money, time, energy and a commitment to true Indigenous language rights. Renewal and revitalization should not be limited by such arbitrary conditions and stipulations.
In addition, I want to point out that the Northwest Territories legislation further limits language rights through the concept of designated areas. In other words, your language rights are based on languages most commonly spoken in that area. Again, I would caution against using such a principle that further limits and erodes language rights.
I can tell you that issues regarding these terms — significant demand, nature of the office, designated areas — have been highlighted by language commissioners since the inception of my office. I would urge you to think outside the box and develop regulations and other tools that are truly designed to protect Indigenous languages. Practically speaking, this will likely result in an equitable, though not equal, treatment of Indigenous languages based on the health and stability of various languages.
That was somewhat alluded to in what I just heard from the previous witnesses.
As stated by John Packer in his paper, Towards a consistent approach in the management of linguistic diversity, the government is challenged to satisfy legitimate demands that may vary among groups and that may compete for public resources. In principle, the state should act to the maximum of its capacities, taking into account varying needs, interests and general welfare.
Third, don’t mix functions. Maintain the independence of a commissioner’s office.
I’m not sure exactly what is contemplated in regard to the establishment of the commissioner’s office in Bill C-91. However, I would caution against an office that provides both the public awareness and promotion function in addition to the complaint function.
In my opinion, it is imperative that any such office should be able to investigate complaints in a completely independent and unbiased manner. This is impossible, in my opinion, if the offices are playing dual roles. I would urge you to split those functions to maintain the integrity.
Now to the dos. Do consult broadly with Indigenous groups and communities. I was pleased to see that clause 7 in Bill C-91 provides for broad consultation with Indigenous groups. In my opinion, this is essential.
I recall a meeting in Kakisa, Northwest Territories, last year. The chief was clear: The community did not need the government to tell them what they needed in order to preserve their language. And he’s right.
I recently wrote a paper that will be published as part of a book of the International Association of Language Commissioners’ AGM in Toronto in June. My thesis was in regard to the need to consult at the community level in the development of legislation and policies. It is only in that way that one will be able to understand community needs, wants and issues of concern.
Second, look at alternative means to settle issues. I was pleased to see clause 26 of the bill, the alternative dispute resolution provisions. It is my experience that many Indigenous people do not and will not complain. While this is an overgeneralization, I think the statement holds true and is likely based on historic discrimination, residential schools and other tragedies and issues.
On the other hand, when I attend in a community and when the coffee pot is on, the people can speak in an informal manner and they will discuss their issues. The same people may never file a formal complaint, but that does not make their concerns any less valid or any less important.
Having alternatives available to address concerns and clearly state them in legislation is imperative. I can say that while the Northwest Territories Official Languages Act does not provide for alternative dispute resolution, I’m actually using it in regard to a current complaint. The issues in the case are in regard to health care, and they’re complex. I have garnered the support of the complainant, officials within the health authority, officials within the Human Rights Commission and others to come together to resolve issues in a more complete and lasting way. In my view, if the office was simply to provide recommendations to the minister, it would not have the same potential to address issues so completely.
The good news in that case is that everyone is on board with looking at such alternatives.
Third, work with other governments. It is my opinion that it is imperative for the federal government to work with other governments and agencies in addressing issues with respect to Indigenous languages. Many of you are likely aware of the birth registration issue that was forefront in the Northwest Territories. In 2014, a woman complained to my office that the Department of Vital Statistics refused to allow her to register her baby using Dene fonts and that honoured her Dene heritage.
When I was addressing the issue, I did a scan of other jurisdictions and was surprised to find that no jurisdiction had really tackled this issue. Roman orthography is the standard in Canada.
After a lengthy review and in dealing directly with the Minister of Health and Social Services, amendments were made to the Vital Statistics Act. However, that isn’t the end of the story. As you can appreciate, there continues to be work on a transliteration guide and working with other governments to ensure issues are not created. For example, on the federal level, how will passports be dealt with? These are significant issues the government still needs to address.
I’ll leave it at that for now. Again, I thank you for this opportunity today and wish you the best in your deliberations.
The Chair: Thank you. Ms. Klengenberg, please go ahead.
Helen Klengenberg, Official Languages Commissioner, Office of the Official Languages Commissioner of Nunavut: Thank you, chair and senators, ladies and gentlemen. I am very pleased to be here. My name is Helen Klengenberg. I am Inuk.
[Editor’s Note: Ms. Klengenberg spoke in Inuinnaqtun.]
I live in Iqaluit. I am originally from Nunavut. My language is Inuinnaqtun, and I also speak Inuktitut in my capacity as Official Languages Commissioner for Nunavut.
I would like to share some stories with you. I’m also sharing with you some legal opinions that I’ve received on Bill C-91. I may not go through them today. However, I may refer to them and make some comments and give you some answers as questions arise.
As you know, Nunavut was created on April 1, 1999. A few days ago, we celebrated our twentieth anniversary. In the creation of Nunavut, the Nunavut Act was established. I should go back to the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement, which was ratified in 1993 by the Government of Canada, which is constitutionally protected under article 35.
On April 1, as I mentioned, Nunavut was created. Nunavut exercises its powers delegated to it by the Government of Canada and provided for in the Nunavut Act. The Government of Canada has expressly granted powers to legislate on, most notably the protection and enhancement of the Inuktitut language provided this does not diminish English and French-language rights. Hence the creation of the Inuit Language Protection Act, which was created in 2008. The Inuit Language Protection Act was created in 2008 alongside the Official Languages Act for Nunavut.
This act provided the legislative framework to create our government and for it to function in the Inuit language. To protect our Inuit language, the language act was subsequently enacted to provide the basis for the use of Inuit by governments, government institutions, non-government organizations and the private sector. For a long time, parts of the act were not enforced because they had not been enacted in the Nunavut legislature.
On July 9, 2017, our legislature enacted those sections, section 3 of the Inuit Language Protection Act, where every organization in Nunavut was to comply with our Inuit languages act. These organizations now had to provide signage, personal services, Inuktitut service and reception services in the Inuktitut language as well as to provide correspondence, translation and interpretation services to Inuit when they requested services.
That section was enacted on July 9, 2007. At the same time, I asked for a legal opinion as to whether the federal government was required to comply with our legislation. It came back that yes, they are part of the requirement, because we are constitutionally protected through the Nunavut Act. The Government of Canada, when doing business in our territory, is required to provide services in our language. They are to provide translation and interpretation services.
I want to share a little story. I know I have seven minutes, but I want you to hear this story because it gives you an idea of the bureaucracy I go through to ask the federal government to comply with our Inuit languages Act in Nunavut.
It started with a letter of complaint from an elderly couple in one of our small communities in Nunavut. Their granddaughter took it upon herself to write me a letter and make an official complaint that the Canada Revenue Agency had written to her grandparents saying that they owed money for taxes and interest on top of that, and it was all in English and French.
As you know, many of our elders in Nunavut are unilingual Inuktitut speakers. They don’t read English or French, but they kept getting these letters saying they owed money.
To make a long story short, I went through many channels of the federal government to find out who was responsible for saying that the federal government is to comply with our legislation, and who is going to tell the civil servants of Canada in Nunavut that they must comply with our Inuit languages protection Act. No one to this date has given me that answer.
I went through the secretary to the Treasury Board of Canada, because that individual is responsible for HR services for all of the public service in Canada. I got a no. Inuktitut is not part of their requirements to provide that service.
I went to, first of all, the Canada Revenue Agency secretary. I believe he’s called the secretary. He basically told me that no, they don’t provide Inuktitut services. However, with my continued arguments, they were able to provide and resolve that issue with the elderly couple and basically ended up providing translation and interpretation services to them, and it was resolved later. However, they continued to say we did it because it was the right thing to do, but they’re not required to provide Inuktitut services.
The last person I went to was the secretary to the Clerk of the Privy Council. I thought perhaps he might be the person to help me out here, because I tried all the top civil servants, and no one was willing to make a decision about whether or not Canada should comply with our language act.
To make the story short, I got a letter back saying that they’re looking into this. At the same time, they were also looking at the Indigenous languages Act for Canada and would have to get back to me on that.
It has been over a year since I received that letter, and I still haven’t heard from the secretary of the Privy Council. I may have to write back to remind them. I definitely will have to remind the office of that.
It’s frustrating when we have language legislation and the law says that they have to comply. The Government of Canada has to comply with our Inuit Language Protection Act, and the Government of Canada signed a declaration saying that we would be operating in our own language when we created the Government of Nunavut.
They have their signature saying that we would operate in our language, and then, on the other hand, they turn around and say, “No, we’re not required to comply.”
It’s frustrating and difficult to carry out my responsibilities when the Government of Canada has offices in Nunavut, and many of their clients are Inuit. I don’t know how they function without providing Inuktitut services.
In our situation, I think what they’ve done is provide the service anyway. However, they don’t have to provide the services, but they do it anyway. That’s not good enough for us.
I want to talk about the position of Commissioner of Indigenous Languages proposed under clause 13 of Bill C-91 because I think that the office will not have the powers and responsibilities that I have in Nunavut. I think it will be a duplication of services and an unwise use of public funds that could be used instead to enhance what is already in place in Canada. There are many jurisdictions, as we heard from my colleague in the Northwest Territories, where there are organizations wanting to provide their own programs and services, and we have that in place.
I believe it is the same in Nunavut as it is in the Northwest Territories. The only existing legislation that protects us and provides us to use our language is the Inuit Language Protection Act.
I just want to talk a little bit about clause 7 of the bill. It’s probably the most encouraging statement in the entire bill. It allows the Indigenous governments and Indigenous governing bodies to develop their language plans, budgets and strategies. The responsibility does not lie with the federal government, which in many cases is good. However, as Inuit organizations, Inuit Indigenous and Indigenous governments we have to be on our toes to ensure that we are on the federal government to provide those services.
We don’t know what adequate means. I think we, as Inuit and Aboriginal people all across Canada, have to tell them what adequate means.
In my opinion, having offices across the country is a better idea than a central agency because it would use what’s already there. When the federal government is in the jurisdiction of Nunavut, we want them to come through our Office of the Languages Commissioner. When they’re operating in Nunavut, we want them to comply with the Inuit Language Protection Act so that they provide service in Inuktitut. Why would they be in existence other than to provide services to Inuit or everyone in Canada in the majority of language? The majority of language in Nunavut is Inuktitut. Eighty-five per cent of our population is Inuit.
I also want to make my last statement to help ensure that the proposed Commissioner of Indigenous Languages has the responsibility to consult, work with and cooperate with each jurisdiction that already has their own language commissioner on all matters relating to issues of language legislation and compliance. I don’t see that in the bill.
So often we hear about things being done about language legislation. The federal government, for example, had consultations on this language legislation and our office did not hear from them about when they had planned to be in Nunavut. That is another reason why I think it is crucial for them to work through the language offices.
The Chair: I’m sorry to interrupt you, but if you could wrap up soon, we’re running out of time.
Ms. Klengenberg: I will wrap up now, because I believe you have the legal opinion that’s provided for the bill. I will leave that with you. If you have any questions on these, I would be happy to answer them.
The Chair: Thank you very much.
Senator Doyle: My colleague Senator Patterson had to leave a little bit early today, but he told me to welcome you on his behalf — I’m sure he knows you and you know him — and to thank you for being here and for your presentation.
He had a question written down that he wanted to ask, but you’ve answered it, actually. He was saying that it was his understanding that the federal government is, indeed, required to provide government services in Nunavut in your language. He wanted to know if they were doing it in a sporadic kind of way or if it was a good, consistent service that you were getting. Obviously, you’re not, but maybe if he was here, I’m sure he would follow up and say we need the federal minister back here again so we can ask that question on your behalf. Do you think that would be a good idea?
Ms. Klengenberg: Yes, that question needs to be asked, because my only other course of action is to take the federal government to court. That is the last thing I need to do.
Senator Doyle: Right.
Ms. Klengenberg: We don’t have that kind of money to throw away. That would be a very useful question to put to the minister and I think that would be wonderful if you could do that.
Senator Doyle: Was your office consulted widely on the drafting of Bill C-91?
Ms. Klengenberg: No. However, I made myself available to them and made my own presentation, at length, in writing. Two people came to my office afterwards, and I was able to give them my verbal presentation as well.
Senator Doyle: And your recommendations?
Ms. Klengenberg: Yes, and my recommendations.
Senator Doyle: Thank you.
Senator LaBoucane-Benson: First of all, I want to thank both of you so much for being here today. I have to admit that before your presentation, I wondered what a commissioner does and why we would spend money on a language commissioner when there is so little money in the budget. My thoughts were that it should go right to the community to do language learning, but your presentation helped me to understand your job, what you do and how important a commissioner might be.
My question to both of you is: Do you think there should be a national commissioner of language? And if so, what do you think their responsibility should be? I assume you’ve read the proposed legislation. What do you think their job should be? It’s all of Canada. Even though your jobs seem complex, you have a limited geography to deal with and, in one of your cases, one language, and in the other case, more languages. What do you think a national commissioner’s primary role should be, and would you change any of the pieces in the legislation around the commissioner?
Ms. Gullberg: From my perspective, it’s all going to depend on exactly how the rights get framed in the end, but in my opinion, the commissioner is someone whom, at the end of the day, if you do establish certain rights in legislation, you want them to be able to have the ability to take steps when somebody believes their rights have been violated, be that through recommendations, directives or some other manner.
My concern is that the way it is set up, it almost looks like that commission and directors would be doing the policy and promotion and all those sorts of things, and also being the office that you would complain to.
I can advise that the first version of the Northwest Territories Official Languages Act actually had that, where it was the Languages Commissioner who did the promotion and protection and helped with the negotiations with the federal funding. But it would also be the same person the people would complain to.
That was fraught with issues. So that was part of the reason when they did a review of the act in 2010 — was to separate these functions out.
So I would say most importantly, the commissioner should have an oversight role to hear complaints but be independent and unbiased from the day-to-day workings of the legislation.
Senator LaBoucane-Benson: Thank you.
Ms. Klengenberg: The language commissioner is more in our territory that it is in the Northwest Territories, where the enforcement entity of the Official Languages Act, including English, French, Inuktut, Inuinnaqtun and Inuktitut. Then there’s the revitalization of the programs that are administered through various organizations, as well as the Government of Nunavut, where it’s under a department.
I am focussed on the enforcement of the acts to make sure our laws are being adhered to. We don’t have any program funds. The program entity is under the auspices of a minister of languages, who is responsible for ensuring that our languages are being kept up and all the materials are being developed and whatnot, whereas I am the enforcer in our territory.
In terms of the national languages commissioner, I think it’s going to be very difficult to be a national languages commissioner. You’re going to be stepping on a lot of toes, trying to do the same thing everyone else is doing in all of Canada.
If you’re going to go with a languages commissioner of Canada, you must look at it from how their responsibilities are being carried out through a national perspective. How are our language laws being carried out? Are the languages of the Aboriginal people being looked after and adhered to? And they must make sure the Government of Canada is enforcing their compliance or obligations to the Inuit Languages Protection Act in Nunavut to ensure that the declarations of Indigenous peoples are being carried out.
It’s going to be very difficult to come up with a proper office that is not going to be stepping on other people’s toes. But I can certainly see having someone I can call and say, “The federal government is not complying with our legislation. See what you can do.”
My preference would be to have someone who knows the Government of Canada. It’s such a big bureaucracy. Whom do you go to? I don’t have any one person I can call and say, “I’m having trouble with the Northern Affairs people in Nunavut.” To me, I think it’s a waste of money to set up a bureaucracy when you already have bureaucracies in Canada that are doing a really good job of providing resources and assistance to the communities.
Establish the language commissioners in the provinces or territories where they’re needed, or with the self-governments; work with them to develop what they need; and provide the resources to the territories and the provinces in terms of funds needed to carry out their work.
The federal government is no longer hidden or no longer an entity that’s unaccountable. We are more knowledgeable now about how it governs itself and how it operates in any community or country. They’re not a private enterprise and must be accountable to people in the country and we know that we can and how to hold them accountable.
Senator LaBoucane-Benson: I notice that neither of you spoke about doing research, and yet there’s a research piece in the commissioner’s role. Would you recommend doing research?
Ms. Gullberg: Yes, for sure.
Senator Tannas: I was going to ask a question on behalf of Senator Patterson, but I think it’s more or less been answered. He wanted to make sure you got on the record the redundancies that you would see and that you contrast a little bit your power over what you see in the bill for the federal language commissioner. I think we’ve had a good discussion about that, so I will say thank you.
Senator Christmas: Again, thank you very much to both of you for being here. You’ve really enlightened us a great deal because of your own experiences being language commissioners.
As you know, one of the roles of the national language commissioner is to investigate complaints. Ms. Gullberg, you mentioned in your testimony that your office has received very few complaints, and I can imagine there are probably cultural reasons why people don’t complain.
What alternatives would there be, in your mind, in addressing issues where people are dissatisfied with the language services they are receiving?
Ms. Gullberg: I can give you another example. One of the things the N.W.T. legislation allows for is for the commissioner to initiate investigations. Just this past year, I did a report. Again, I was hearing from people saying, “My MLA, from the assembly, I can’t understand them in my language, and I’m not getting good services over the TV via broadcasting.” Things like that.
So I initiated an investigation and prepared a report to the legislative assembly. While they’re still working through this, they have increased language services in the assembly.
What was interesting is that you were having the same kinds of issues raised here in the Senate. So I followed those. You’ll forgive me if I quoted some of the newspaper articles about senators who also wanted to exercise their language rights in the Senate and in Parliament. That’s really helpful.
I absolutely agree with Ms. Klengenberg that you don’t want to step on each other’s toes, but I believe there’s also room for a great deal of information sharing and support in the system. I think things like that are prime examples of where that occurs.
The Chair: On behalf of the committee members, I want to thank our two witnesses, Shannon Gullberg and Helen Klengenberg, official languages commissioners from the Northwest Territories and Nunavut.
(The committee continued in camera.)