Indigenous Languages Act

An Act respecting Indigenous languages

This bill was last introduced in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in September 2019.

Sponsor

Pablo Rodriguez  Liberal

Status

This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment provides, among other things, that

(a) the Government of Canada recognizes that the rights of Indigenous peoples recognized and affirmed by section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982 include rights related to Indigenous languages;

(b) the Minister of Canadian Heritage may enter into different types of agreements or arrangements in respect of Indigenous languages with Indigenous governments or other Indigenous governing bodies or Indigenous organizations, taking into account the unique circumstances and needs of Indigenous groups, communities and peoples; and

(c) federal institutions may cause documents to be translated into an Indigenous language or provide interpretation services to facilitate the use of an Indigenous language.

The enactment also establishes the Office of the Commissioner of Indigenous Languages and sets out its composition. The Office’s mandate and powers, duties and functions include

(a) supporting the efforts of Indigenous peoples to reclaim, revitalize, maintain and strengthen Indigenous languages;

(b) promoting public awareness of, among other things, the richness and diversity of Indigenous languages;

(c) undertaking research or studies in respect of the provision of funding for the purposes of supporting Indigenous languages and in respect of the use of Indigenous languages in Canada;

(d) providing services, including mediation or other culturally appropriate services, to facilitate the resolution of disputes; and

(e) submitting to the Minister of Canadian Heritage an annual report on, among other things, the use and vitality of Indigenous languages in Canada and the adequacy of funding provided by the Government of Canada for initiatives related to Indigenous languages.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Votes

May 2, 2019 Passed Concurrence at report stage of Bill C-91, An Act respecting Indigenous languages
Feb. 20, 2019 Passed 2nd reading of Bill C-91, An Act respecting Indigenous languages
Feb. 20, 2019 Passed Time allocation for Bill C-91, An Act respecting Indigenous languages

Indigenous Languages ActGovernment Orders

May 9th, 2019 / 4:05 p.m.
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Conservative

Robert Gordon Kitchen Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the member for North Island—Powell River on board with the Veterans Affairs committee, which she recently joined. It is great to work with her.

She have may recognized in her research that before the study we are doing right now, we did a study on indigenous matters. In particular, we have gone to the northern part of Canada to Yellowknife. When we were there, we met with a lot of our Canadian rangers. We found out there were multiple languages in the north.

I would like to hear the member's thoughts on how the legislation might be of benefit to them or actually be a detriment to them.

Indigenous Languages ActGovernment Orders

May 9th, 2019 / 4:05 p.m.
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NDP

Rachel Blaney NDP North Island—Powell River, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am so honoured to sit on the committee, working for veterans in our country. I appreciate working with the member on those very important issues.

We should all be curious about multiple languages. I think about my last event I referred to earlier. Four nations put together a website with different words and were looking at how to merge sentences, and all of that part as we learn a language, and how one community would say one word differently than how another community would say a similar word.

The nuances of indigenous languages across the country are extremely profound and mesmerizing. It is an honour to learn them. I hope the legislation moves forward to engage with that. I do not think it is enough. I worry that it will be short-term, not long-term. A lot of people in my riding who focus on indigenous language talk about the need for stability with respect to resources to do the long-term work.

Hopefully it will be a step in the right direction. I know indigenous people will make it a step in the right direction because of their hard work. I just wish there were more.

Indigenous Languages ActGovernment Orders

May 9th, 2019 / 4:10 p.m.
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Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I certainly found the speech by my hon. friend from North Island—Powell River extremely moving because of her deep connections within the community, but I am still not certain and I am struggling.

I plan to vote for this legislation. I will soon have an opportunity to say why. However, given the stress of knowing that this bill is not everything that is needed, yet is a step forward, I am wondering on what side she is going to land and how she is voting on this bill when we come to vote.

Indigenous Languages ActGovernment Orders

May 9th, 2019 / 4:10 p.m.
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NDP

Rachel Blaney NDP North Island—Powell River, BC

Mr. Speaker, what I will say to my constituents is that I am still struggling with that problem.

I take that struggle as a sacred commitment to the work that I do and the place that I do it. It is hard, because I hear the voices from my riding saying that they know this is a step, but it is not a good enough step, and they are disappointed. At what point do we stand up and say a little bit is not good enough? When a society in this country was based on beating language out of children until they did not have it anymore, at what point do we say that we need to do better?

I will struggle with that. When I am asked to make that decision, I will be happy to talk to every single one of my constituents about my reasons.

Indigenous Languages ActGovernment Orders

May 9th, 2019 / 4:10 p.m.
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NDP

Sheri Benson NDP Saskatoon West, SK

Mr. Speaker, I want to begin my remarks, as many have today, by saying that we meet today on the traditional and unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinabeg. I hope that one day we will begin all our daily proceedings in this place with this acknowledgement. I also want to acknowledge that my riding is situated in Treaty 6 territory and on the ancestral homeland of the Métis people.

Tansi. On behalf of my constituents of Saskatoon West, I am honoured to offer a very small greeting in Cree. I do not speak the language. Of Canada's 70-plus indigenous languages, Cree is the most widely spoken in my riding of Saskatoon West.

We know that the ancestral languages spoken by the first peoples of Saskatchewan and Canada are at risk of not just decline but in many cases of extinction.

Of all the people reporting an indigenous mother tongue in Canada, the third-highest proportion lives in Saskatchewan. For centuries, Saskatchewan has been the ancestral home of many first peoples, including the Cree, Assiniboine, Saulteaux, Dene, Dakota, Atsina and Blackfoot. Many people would not know that we have five indigenous languages spoken in my riding: Cree, Ojibwa, Dene, Dakota and Michif. Indeed, most would not know that the vast majority of indigenous languages in this country are endangered and that there is a critical need to rise to the challenge and ensure their preservation, protection and promotion.

While Bill C-91 seeks to preserve and protect indigenous languages in Canada and to try to put our colonial past behind us, I find it deeply flawed. Sadly, I do not believe it would accomplish all that it is set up to do.

My esteemed New Democrat colleague from Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, who helped draft the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, expressed at second reading some significant concerns about the effectiveness of the legislation that he hoped would be addressed by the committee. I thought I would share his concerns.

First, the bill does not provide or indicate that significant funding will be dedicated for the protection of indigenous languages in Canada.

Protecting and promoting indigenous languages requires stable and long-term financial support based upon the needs of indigenous communities and provided within the principles of free, prior and informed consent. However, for four long years, instead of a federal government taking decisive action to protect, preserve, promote and invest in indigenous languages, the responsibility to educate our young people has continued to fall primarily on dedicated teachers, elders and individual speakers. These community leaders and language keepers have done an amazing job in building curricula and facilities, creating teaching materials and doing fundraising to help protect their languages.

One of those leaders, who lives in my riding of Saskatoon West, is Belinda Daniels. Belinda is a member of the Sturgeon Lake First Nation and an educator and teacher with Saskatoon Public Schools. Belinda comes from a generation of Cree people who grew up feeling shame and trepidation for trying to learn their own language, so as an adult, Belinda founded the Nehiyawak Summer Language Experience, a Saskatchewan language immersion summer camp that has been held annually for the last 13 years at Wanuskewin and is open to anyone wishing to learn Cree.

Belinda is a true leader, and I want to thank her for all her great and hard work in preserving and promoting the language of her people.

Belinda and others working hard to teach indigenous language need a federal government that will provide substantial and meaningful financial support to help them preserve and protect our traditional languages and cultures in Canada, but there is no such provision in Bill C-91, and the government rejected all opposition amendments that sought to provide this assurance.

A second shortcoming of the bill relates to the status given to indigenous languages. During the drafting process, the government was reputedly told that the status of indigenous languages in Canada must be defined, yet this bill provides no such framework. New Democrats would like to see indigenous languages recognized as official languages or given special status and would like to see this recognition articulated and implemented in collaboration with indigenous peoples.

A third issue, which I have already raised in the debate today, pertains to indigenous rights, and specifically to articles 11 to 16 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The bill before us today does not include within the text, and therefore the legally binding sections of the bill, the inherent rights of indigenous peoples to their languages, as articulated in the UN declaration.

New Democrats wanted to see articles 11 to 16 explicitly referenced in legislation, and we tabled an amendment that would do so. However, it was defeated by the government.

I have two final points I wish to raise that are particularly troubling to me and to others.

First, for some reason the government failed to include the sixties scoop in the preamble, where the bill references the racist and discriminatory policies and laws of the Canadian government that were detrimental to indigenous languages and contributed significantly to the erosion of these languages.

Over 20,000 indigenous children were stolen from their families, placed into foster care and adopted by non-indigenous families by the sixties scoop. During this time, the Saskatchewan government implemented the “adopt an Indian Métis” child program, or AIM, as it was called. AIM, promoted sometimes through classified ads in local newspapers, encouraged the adoption of indigenous children by non-indigenous families. This program was jointly funded by the Canadian government and the Province of Saskatchewan.

The sixties scoop and AIM were distinct racist government policies to devastate indigenous families, and in so doing to deny indigenous children and their families their basic human rights, including the right to their indigenous language and culture.

Bill C-91 should have acknowledged these racist government policies to ensure we all understand how we got here today and why a bill like Bill C-91 is so needed.

Finally, Bill C-91 would not require that the indigenous language commissioner be an indigenous person. This is the office that would oversee the progress of this legislation, yet government members rejected the NDP's attempts to ensure indigenous oversight over the bill's implementation.

Although government speakers promised at second reading to work with opposition parties and other members of the House and to be open to amendments that would improve the bill, I feel this legislation has found its way to the floor of the House today with virtually no opposition amendments of substance included.

To recap, the government rejected opposition and other members' calls to define the status of indigenous languages in Canada, strengthen indigenous oversight over federal programs, explicitly refer to our country's obligations under UNDRIP, include significant moments in our colonial history and, finally, to provide adequate funding so that indigenous languages can enter into a new era of revitalization.

Clearly, colonialism is not yet behind us, and I urge all members of the House to do better.

To end, I am profoundly disappointed—I think that would be the word— that this Parliament has missed the opportunity to really and truly co-create with indigenous people an indigenous language bill that would have truly transformed people's lives.

In closing, I want to acknowledge the work of my colleague, the member for Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River. This member has shown parliamentarians how to collaborate and work together on legislation. She has proven that working together yields positive outcomes. Her leadership on her own private member's bill, Bill C-369, is nothing short of commendable.

Unfortunately, when it came to Bill C-91, her leadership and knowledge as an indigenous Dene woman were discounted. Despite the great personal cost of her efforts, we are being asked to support a bill that falls well short. I quote her words:

While the bill would be a step forward, to what goal and to what end are we walking toward? Is the goal one of half measures that would marginally improve indigenous language education in Canada, or is the end goal one of fundamental change to Canadian society that fully respects the needs of indigenous languages, recognizes their place in our culture and creates a generation of indigenous youth who speak the same languages that generations of people before them spoke?

I wish we were today debating a bill that was the fundamental change my colleague had hoped for.

Indigenous Languages ActGovernment Orders

May 9th, 2019 / 4:20 p.m.
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Scarborough—Rouge Park Ontario

Liberal

Gary Anandasangaree LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Multiculturalism (Multiculturalism)

Mr. Speaker, it is deeply troubling to hear that the NDP has chosen not to support this bill.

I do want to point out two key aspects of the bill that we have heard about a number of times today.

The first is with respect to UNDRIP. In the purpose part of this bill, in paragraph 5(g), it is very clear that the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is incorporated into the text of the bill. I just want to point that out.

The second point is with respect to amendments. Bill C-91 as revised is available to all members. All of the amendments are underlined. It is very clear that a number of amendments offered by different parties went through. I fully reject the premise that we did not incorporate amendments from opposition members. There is one amendment from our friend from northern Quebec. There are many others that we incorporated. I am really disappointed in the position taken by the NDP.

What is the member's solution to making sure that indigenous languages are protected? We have heard many times from many communities the dire need to have indigenous languages protected. If we as a Parliament cannot get this done within the remaining days of this Parliament, it will be considered an opportunity missed. It would be very disappointing to many communities around the country.

Indigenous Languages ActGovernment Orders

May 9th, 2019 / 4:20 p.m.
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NDP

Sheri Benson NDP Saskatoon West, SK

Mr. Speaker, I anticipated that my hon. colleague might bring the issue up. I respect the fact that he has pointed out a number of times the reference to UNDRIP in the bill. In my comments I mentioned that it is not in the binding part of the bill. That is an extremely important distinction.

I did not at any time say no amendments were accepted. In my speech I talked about the ones that I thought were very important and should have been included in the bill to make it much better.

In no way has anyone on this side of the House delayed the government's ability to do this work quickly and to do it properly. I heard the parliamentary secretary speak of being open to amendments. I think the amendments that eventually were included in the bill by the government were not all the substantive amendments that were suggested. For that reason, I find this bill to be very lacking.

I did not in my speech talk about whether I would support the bill. I wanted the government to understand that there are a lot of problems with the bill so I mentioned those in my comments.

Indigenous Languages ActGovernment Orders

May 9th, 2019 / 4:25 p.m.
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NDP

Anne Minh-Thu Quach NDP Salaberry—Suroît, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for pointing out that Bill C-91 contains a number of flaws.

Inuit communities, in particular, were not heard and their needs were not taken into account in the drafting of this bill. Eleven measures proposed by the Inuit were not included in this bill. Why were they not included when the government claims that this bill is the result of extensive consultation?

We know that the majority of Inuit in Nunavut speak Inuktut. I believe the figure is 84%. They were not consulted and they are not getting any funding under this bill that would have allowed them to support their communities and to ensure that funding is provided by indigenous and Inuit peoples only.

Indigenous Languages ActGovernment Orders

May 9th, 2019 / 4:25 p.m.
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NDP

Sheri Benson NDP Saskatoon West, SK

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my hon. colleague for highlighting another aspect of the bill that I did not have the opportunity to talk about in my remarks. That is the objections from Inuit people about the lack of mention and protection and consultation with governments as well.

I am a non-indigenous person who does not speak an indigenous language. It may be fine for me and the parliamentary secretary to say that this is a good start and that we should get on with it, but it is not. It is not talking about my identity and my culture. It is not an either-or kind of thing.

As the member who spoke before me mentioned, it is important that we pause and listen to one another and do the good work that we are meant to do. I am trying my hardest to do it but it is very difficult with what is contained in the bill.

Indigenous Languages ActGovernment Orders

May 9th, 2019 / 4:25 p.m.
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Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to start by acknowledging that we are standing here on the traditional territory of the Algonquin peoples and express to them our deep appreciation for their extraordinary hospitality and patience. Meegwetch.

My riding in this place, as you just spoke it, is Saanich—Gulf Islands. Saanich is an anglicism of a Sencoten word for the nation of the traditional peoples of the lands that I have the honour to represent in this place. I am still struggling to pronounce it properly. According to my friend and colleague, who is also my MLA at home, Adam Olsen, who is from the Tsartlip First Nation, it is “Wsanec”, but I am still not pronouncing it right. However, in the Sencoten language that comes from that nation where I live, I raise my hands to you, Mr. Speaker, and to all my friends and colleagues in this place, and everyone in this place is my friend, and say hiswke hiswke siam. I do not have a Sencoten translator in the booth, so I will translate that this means “honour, honour, thanks and respect”.

One of the chiefs of my territory explained to me that her grandfather told her that standing with one's hands up in the air actually represents a tree and that the trees of our territories protect us, sustain us and that we are in a relationship with them.

Today, we have heard a lot of people in this place speaking of how language is a critical, if not foundational, indispensable part of culture. I have learned so much from my friends who are Sencoten speakers about how true that is.

I am very blessed to live on the southern tip of Vancouver Island on the coast of the Salish Sea, the most spectacularly beautiful, blessed place in this country. When we translate the word for “humans” in the language of the peoples of the territory in which, through their generosity and patience, we live, it comes out the “human people”. When we translate the word for “salmon”, it comes out the “salmon people”. The word for “whales” is the “whale people”. The word for “trees” is the “tree people”. In the creation stories that come from that culture and those peoples, the Creator actually took people and said, “You're a hard-working people; we'll make you the salmon.” Some people were scattered like stones across the water and became the islands themselves. The more I learn about the culture, mythology, stories, traditions and languages that come from the place I represent here, Saanich—Gulf Islands, the more I feel compelled to say that I am the member of Parliament for the human people in Saanich—Gulf Islands, and for the salmon people, and for the whale people and for the tree people. It is an extraordinarily different world view and it is communicated through language.

Currently, at the University of Victoria there is a groundbreaking program at the law school, which is under the direction of Professor John Borrows and other indigenous scholars. It is now offering degrees in indigenous law in the same way our law schools in this part of the country offer degrees in common law, which is the one I learned. I got my degree at Dalhousie University. At the University of Ottawa one can get both a common law and civil law degree. In Quebec, there is a different tradition of civil law. At the University of Victoria there will now be a degree program in indigenous law.

The programs that are taking place are bringing law students into the culture of Tsartlip. There are four first nations communities within my riding: Tseycum, Tsartlip, Pauquachin and Tsawout. The Tsartlip program involves indigenous scholar Sencoten speakers to communicate how the relationship with the land dictates the law. It is extraordinary and it is growing. The Tsartlip First Nation has an immersion program where children are currently learning Sencoten as they learn English.

They are learning from a program that uses a teaching method that comes from Hawaii. It makes us so happy, as other members have said, to hear the children speak the traditional languages that skipped a generation. Through all kinds of colonialism and oppression, whether it was the sixties scoop or residential schools, the languages were almost lost. What a tribute to the persistence and resilience of indigenous peoples that the languages were not lost.

Turning to this bill, I had 10 amendments that went to committee. I tried hard but they were not successful. They were derived from the testimony of many people, indigenous organizations and groups before committee. I desperately regret that this bill excludes the interests and concerns of Inuktitut-speaking people. The ITK's evidence and their quite extraordinary leader, Natan Obed have gone unheard, and that is a tragedy.

I was particularly directed by a brief to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage on Bill C-91 from the First Peoples' Cultural Council, because their headquarters is in my riding of Saanich—Gulf Islands. The council had many criticisms and wanted amendments. In its brief to the committee, the council said:

We support legislation to recognize and revitalize languages. We respectfully ask that you consider our recommendations ta strengthen Bill C-91. There is an urgency to pass this legislation before the end of this parliamentary session. However, the greater urgency concerns lndigenous languages themselves.... The need to act is urgent. Nevertheless, in spite of the current status of lndigenous languages, we know that reclaiming, revitalizing, maintaining and strengthening them will be possible, with adequate, sustainable and long-term funding that is held and directed by lndigenous people.

The disappointment is large that we do not have at this point that commitment to sustainable, long-term funding. We do not have the amendments. One of my amendments was to ensure that we recognized in Bill C-91 that this is within the context of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It falls short.

I want to explain briefly why I will be voting for this bill, while I recognize it falls short. One reason is that I am amazed by the work in indigenous languages of Chief Dr. Ron Ignace of the Skeetchestn First Nation, also Shuswap. He has asked me to vote for this bill. He worked hard on the bill. He told me to get this bill through. That weighs on me. He has written a book on indigenous languages, on his own nation's language.

Also, I have been asked by the very group whose testimony I just read in part, the First Peoples' Cultural Council. The council said that I have to vote for Bill C-91. The council wants to get it through and get it passed.

Here is my commitment, here in this place, standing here now.

I heard the wonderful speech of my colleague from Markham—Stouffville and agree that voting for this bill is not to say that we have accomplished what needs to be done. Voting for this bill does not mean we think this bill meets what is required of us in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission calls to action. Voting for this bill is a pledge and a promise to do more.

We must do more. We must protect indigenous languages across Canada.

Protecting languages, restoring languages is not accomplished by Bill C-91, but if we do not get this passed now, we have less to cling to. My promise and my pledge is this: As leader of the Green Party of Canada, I will make reconciliation will central to our electoral campaign. Real justice, real reconciliation will be central. When we come back in larger numbers after the election, we will come back to insist that stable funding be provided, to insist on the inclusion of Inuktitut, and to insist on the things that we are honour bound to provide to ensure the protection of these languages.

Indigenous Languages ActGovernment Orders

May 9th, 2019 / 4:40 p.m.
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NDP

Sheri Benson NDP Saskatoon West, SK

Mr. Speaker, I have learned a lot from the member in my first term as a member of Parliament.

I have worked in the community and I have worked from the other side with governments, and my concern is that governments—not individuals, but governments—tend to check boxes off and say they have done something. That is my concern with this piece of legislation. It does not go far enough.

I want to echo her comments to say that regardless of the outcome today—and I think we understand what the outcome will be, as the government has a majority—that I will also continue to work to improve this piece of legislation.

I would like to give the member an opportunity to make more comments on that.

Indigenous Languages ActGovernment Orders

May 9th, 2019 / 4:40 p.m.
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Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is always the question of whether the perfect is the enemy of the good, but this bill is so far from perfect. On the other hand, because of the requests that have made to me directly from indigenous peoples, I think we are better off to pass it now. If I had heard from anyone in indigenous communities, and particularly communities in my riding, that they did not want it passed, I would lean toward voting against it.

I voted against the environmental assessment bill that is currently before the Senate. I think, in a word, that it is putrid. It falls so far short of promises that to pass it makes things worse, because that is when the box we ticked off sets environmental assessment with the wrong architecture in concrete for good.

This is different. This is not the wrong architecture; it is just not enough. We can go back after the election, and if enough of us who are worried that this bill is not good enough make the pledge, we can insist and make it an election issue.

I do not take anything for granted. All of us are up for interviews with our employers to find out if we are rehired or if our contract is suspended, but when we come back and if we come back, we can fight to make sure this program is properly funded.

Indigenous Languages ActGovernment Orders

May 9th, 2019 / 4:40 p.m.
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Independent

Hunter Tootoo Independent Nunavut, NU

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands for committing to stand with me.

We have heard from the government how important this piece of legislation is, and members from the opposition are saying the same thing. If the legislation is so important, Canadians deserve to see how their representatives stand through a recorded vote, rather than just seeing it agreed to on division.

Indigenous Languages ActGovernment Orders

May 9th, 2019 / 4:40 p.m.
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Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, procedurally it only takes five members of Parliament to insist on a recorded vote. I think we can find among our numbers enough members who see the benefit of knowing how members voted and of allowing constituents to see how they voted.

Anyone who votes to support the bill in this place should be honour bound to take it to the next steps, the next stages, that are so clearly missing in the bill right now. Those who vote against it are only voting against it because—at least according to the speeches from the New Democratic Party caucus—although they have a commitment to the principles, they find the bill inadequate. I would hope that all of those members who are re-elected will join anyone else in this place who says they voted for it on probation, in principle, but we have to fight for more.

Indigenous Languages ActGovernment Orders

May 2nd, 2019 / 11:25 a.m.
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Scarborough—Rouge Park Ontario

Liberal

Gary Anandasangaree LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage and Multiculturalism (Multiculturalism)

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today in support of Bill C-91, an act respecting indigenous languages.

I would like to acknowledge that we are gathered on the unceded ancestral lands of the Algonquin people.

Before getting into the details of the bill, I would like thank our colleagues, particularly the members of the heritage committee, who worked very diligently to get this bill through the committee stage, as well as those who are not committee members, such as our friends from Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou and Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, for their dedication and hard work in supporting this bill.

I am also pleased to speak about the need for Bill C-91. As members are aware, Bill C-91 has been co-developed by three national indigenous organizations, namely the ITK, the AFN and the Métis National Council. It is in direct response to a number of very important things that have happened both in Canada and internationally.

First and foremost, it is in direct response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report's calls to action 13, 14 and 15. I will elaborate on that later.

It is also a direct result of our commitments to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. As members are aware, Bill C-262 is now in front of the other House. It was adopted by this House and is something our government and the Prime Minister have committed to implementing.

There are many ways to look at languages, but however we look at them, they are one of the most important elements of our lives, one of the most important aspects of connection to the people, the land and their way of life.

In Canada, there are currently 90 indigenous languages. As we mark UNESCO's International Year of Indigenous Languages, we have to understand that, sadly, 75% of those 90 languages are on the verge of extinction. That is quite shocking. For some languages only one or two speakers are alive. I was recently in London, Ontario, and met with some elders from the Oneida Nation. They have 48 speakers of their language. Sadly, those 48 speakers are all over the age of 65. Not a lot of young people are speaking the Oneida language. That language is probably at risk of becoming extinct within the next generation. It is something that is quite urgent. Given the history of failure on the part of successive governments to protect languages, I think it is long overdue that we entrench this into law once and for all.

When we speak about how we got here, it was through a process of colonization on the part of the government in the last 152 years formally as a country, but since settlers first came to North America. We know that over the decades, languages were eroded, primarily I would argue because of programs put together by the government. Of course, one of the most important aspects of it is the effects of residential schools on generation after generation of indigenous people who have lost their language. We know that residential schools played such an important role in that.

I want to quote from the Prime Minister's speech at the Assembly of First Nations Special Chiefs Assembly on December 6, 2016, where he stated:

We know all too well how residential schools and other decisions by governments were used as a deliberate tool to eliminate Indigenous languages and cultures. If we are to truly advance reconciliation, we must undo the lasting damage that resulted.

I just want to walk colleagues through an experience I had this past month.

I went to Moosonee and met with Tony, who is a residential school survivor. He is in his sixties and is originally from the Moosonee area. When he was about five, he was taken to the St. Anne's Indian Residential School, along with his siblings. They were there for about 10 years. During that time, the entire way of life he was used to was taken away from him. He basically lost his language and lost his spiritual connection to his people. He was unable to reconnect with his family, because his sisters and brothers were separated in separate dorms. He was simply unable to connect with his family when he got back. He went through a very difficult process in establishing himself. He is now a very successful businessman. He has four children. He was trying to tell us how important language is to him, but sadly, he is unable to speak the language and pass it on to the next generation. I think that is the critical moment we are facing today.

Another comment was from a Tlicho elder and language specialist, Mary Siemens. She talked about the connection between indigenous languages and cultural identity. She said:

Our culture depends on our language, because it contains the unique words that describe our way of life. It describes name-places for every part of our land that our ancestors traveled on. We have specific words to describe the seasonal activities, the social gatherings, and kin relations.

That is a profound quote that describes the connection she has to the language and culture.

I want to walk through some of the major elements of this legislation. First and foremost, this would be a framework. It would be a living document. We have been putting together a framework that would look at indigenous languages in a holistic way. It would be dynamic and would allow for a distinctions-based approach to the protection of indigenous languages. It would not be an Ottawa-based solution to the challenges of indigenous languages. It would be a framework that would allow indigenous communities, based on the notion of self-determination and respect for each of the nations and language groups, to define what was important to them and define how those languages would be protected. The bill would be required to be reviewed every five years in this House as well as outside. It would adapt as languages grew and as situations changed so that support would continue as we continue the reconciliation journey together with indigenous peoples.

Just to put it in context, when we have a language like Oneida, where we have only 48 language speakers, and we have languages like Cree, which has many more speakers, the needs and the ways to protect these languages are different. What may be important for one group may not be the same for others. I think the framework we have put together really contemplates that. It would allow for this level of flexibility to ensure that it was distinction-based and that it enabled each and every community to establish an action plan for themselves.

I want to talk about one of the other major aspects of this bill. That is the establishment of a national commissioner of indigenous languages. This is something that is very important.

For the first time, we would entrench in legislation a commissioner who would oversee indigenous languages. The commissioner would be supported by three directors, and together they would work with indigenous communities and nations to develop programs and processes that would allow communities to advance their requirements.

When we look at the framework for the indigenous languages commissioner, we have a concrete plan that would be a starting point. It would not be an end point; it would be a starting point that would turn the tide on the loss of these languages.

From that, there would be support from the federal government, which, as we can see in budget 2019, would be a significant investment in the right direction. We would invest $333 million over the next five years to support this initiative. This is currently being debated as part of the budget implementation act. As we know, it would be a significant change from the $89 million over three years we currently have, which is roughly $30 million a year, for the aboriginal languages initiative. This significant change in funding would accelerate the protection of indigenous languages.

It is very important that we protect indigenous languages. I bring it back to my personal experience, which I have spoken about previously in the House. I know that the Minister of Canadian Heritage has also spoken many times about languages. For both of us, the primary language we speak at home is neither English nor French. We both came to Canada at a relatively young age. My family speaks Tamil. At home, it is the primary language. Over the last 35 years, there has been a serious conflict in Sri Lanka over one language and the ability of people to use that language and access services in that language. Over 100,000 people have died as a result of it.

The language I speak at home is foundational to my life. It has defined virtually every aspect of who I am, how I live my life and what I do and do not do. If I did not have that connection to the language, I would be a different person today. The struggle I have is that I have two young daughters, who are eight and 10, and I struggle with how to pass it on to them and make sure they speak the language fluently and have the opportunity to learn and understand the culture and the context the way I was able to understand. Regrettably, I actually do not read or write the language, but even then, I am able to understand it and live in that world. It is a struggle I face.

Relatively speaking, this is a language that has incredible international support. It is institutionalized in many universities. It is the official language in countries like Singapore, Malaysia and elsewhere, so it is protected. When we compare that language with indigenous languages, it is a completely different situation. We have failed to support, revitalize, protect and expand indigenous languages, and that is why time is so critical. That is one of the reasons our friends opposite, in both the Conservative Party and the NDP, worked very closely with us in getting this legislation through the committee process as well as through this House.

The urgency of implementing this legislation now cannot be understated. I have visited communities in the last several months that have gone from having six language speakers to five. There are many like that around the country. My colleagues probably have a good sense of that as well.

This cannot wait until the next Parliament. We cannot defer this to the next generation, because sadly, there will not be a next generation that can speak the language or protect and preserve it.

A couple of months ago, I was in Victoria at the Royal British Columbia Museum. It has an indigenous languages exhibit that really speaks to how languages are looked at right now. We are at a point where certain languages are only available in museums. The last speakers were recorded by academics, and they are preserved, but there is really no process or plan to revive and revitalize those languages. That is the primary reason for the urgency of the legislation before us.

Finally, on the overall aspect of reconciliation, Canada has played an important role in keeping these languages in the state they are in today. This did not happen because of indigenous people. This happened because of government policies. Government policies need to change to support this process of revitalization, and that is a major responsibility of the federal government. It is the other impetus for us to support the bill and push it forward.

Our commitment to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is critical. It is something that the government and the Prime Minister have accepted, and we are in the process of implementing it. Implementing this legislation is an important step and milestone as we look at actually entrenching the principles of UNDRIP in law.

This loss of languages is dire. It is critical that we revive them and support them through revitalization. It is also important to recognize that over the years, language has been a form of resistance. Even though they lost these languages, we know that some people, late in their lives, even with their last breath, were speaking their language, were speaking their mother tongue, and that was important, because it was a form of resistance.

We need to acknowledge all the language keepers, all the people over the years who have struggled to keep these languages alive: the languages nests, the elders, the communities and the schools where languages are taught. We need to thank them for the enormous amount of work they have done to support these languages to keep them alive. It is an appropriate way to close, because it is their strength and their commitment that will allow indigenous languages to be revived and revitalized and used in daily life. I hope that one day we can celebrate the survival of all these indigenous languages.