Evidence of meeting #94 for Procedure and House Affairs in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was dene.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Before we go to Mr. Simms, to follow up on that, we're not having the four provinces because they don't do translation, but one of those provinces puts in their Hansard “translation as provided by the member”, so if it's not accurate, that would be your problem. People would know that it's your translation. That's the way they've handled that.

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

David Graham Liberal Laurentides—Labelle, QC

Translating for Hansard should be reasonable, because you can translate after the fact.

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Go ahead, Mr. Simms.

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Coast of Bays—Central—Notre Dame, NL

It's something to consider for our Standing Orders, Mr. Chair.

Thank you very much, Robert. This was really good. I enjoyed that. You were as eloquent as always.

We were just talking about the House, the parliamentary precinct. I want to talk about your riding. This is the same questioning I had for Mr. Saganash when he was here. He brought in an absolutely startling fact, which was that there was no word for “member of Parliament” in Cree until he showed up in 2011. In translation, it's “someone who represents”. They use those words. I find that astonishing. I would like you to comment on Mr. Saganash's situation.

Also, how do you communicate with your community, your riding, householders, social media? How do you do that in the languages?

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Robert-Falcon Ouellette Liberal Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Saganash had an excellent point. One of the issues I faced when I arrived here on Parliament Hill was that there was no word for “MP” in the dialect in the west, so after much consultation with a number of elders and going back to some linguists at universities, the term otapapistamâkew was chosen—

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Coast of Bays—Central—Notre Dame, NL

That's totally different from what he told us.

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

Robert-Falcon Ouellette Liberal Winnipeg Centre, MB

That's one who represents or speaks on behalf of others.

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Coast of Bays—Central—Notre Dame, NL

Okay. It's the same concept.

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

Robert-Falcon Ouellette Liberal Winnipeg Centre, MB

It's the same concept, yes. It's otapapistamâkew. It's a wonderful word, but it was difficult. Even when I arrived I wanted to have that title on my door, and I spent a long time, probably about one year, arguing with the House of Commons administration about whether I was allowed to have that one Cree word with English and French—MP, député, otapapistamâkew—at the same time, and I'm not allowed. My staff held my hand back from taking a marker to write it on the sign, but I will wait for the process to come to a conclusion.

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Coast of Bays—Central—Notre Dame, NL

My constituents do that to mine all the time, so go for it.

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

Robert-Falcon Ouellette Liberal Winnipeg Centre, MB

About 22% of my riding is indigenous, composed of many different nations. I have Oji-Cree, Dakota, Michif Métis, French Métis—many different groups from across Canada. I have Inuit people as well, but I also represent Filipinos. Generally we work in English.

For me, the issue that we need to look at is that the state has a certain role to play, and if Parliament is to be representative of people in this country and about what we are as Canadians and what we want to be, then all languages that are native or indigenous to this land should have the opportunity of being heard in the House at some point, if it's required by an MP.

It's important because if people can't see themselves in the institutions of the state, then why should they be part of or participate in that state? I still hear many elders say they are not Canadian citizens because indigenous peoples only received the right to vote in the 1960s. It's still very difficult to convince people in many first nations communities that the state, Canada, is here for them and that we all work for everyone, because they don't believe that yet. They don't see it.

This is why I say Parliament does have this role to play in trying to demonstrate in a most symbolic way that we are all in this together.

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Mr. Richards is next.

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Banff—Airdrie, AB

Thanks. Welcome.

Going to your question of privilege and how it all came to be, obviously I know the basis of it, but in preparing that question of privilege and thinking about it and making a decision to come forward with it, did you reach out to other members for discussions about that, either before the question of privilege was raised or with anyone afterwards in arguing it with other members before the ruling was made by the Speaker? Can you maybe just walk me through what kinds of conversations or discussions you might have had?

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

Robert-Falcon Ouellette Liberal Winnipeg Centre, MB

I had a conversation with some members and the House leader's office to find out some of the procedures I could use, as I'm a new MP. I could have submitted it to a committee, but obviously some committees are sometimes very busy. I understand that you have an awful lot of work to do. Would you have the time to study it? At what point would I gain enough support?

I thought it was important for me to raise in the House because it was one of absolute privilege, I believe, about being understood. If I speak in the House, I expect to be understood by others, by my fellow MPs, because otherwise it negates what I'm saying. It's as if I'm not even there. It's like dead silence or a black hole of time and words, and no one understands what I say, and if you can't debate me, whatever our ideologies are or whatever our different ideas are, then that would serve no purpose. It's important that I have the ability to be understood.

I learned that the Senate has been doing this for a number of years, that other legislatures in Canada have been doing this, that there were other legislatures in the history of Canada that have been doing this. When you read the parliamentary procedures, you learn that there is a strong history and tradition about how we conduct ourselves in our legislature, and if other Parliaments can do this, like the Manitoba legislature in the 1870s, I don't understand why we can't do this here in the Canadian Parliament, which has access to a large number of resources.

I'm not asking for a billion dollars or even a million dollars. I'm asking for a few translators to have the opportunity to come when it's appropriate and when it's needed to offer translation.

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Banff—Airdrie, AB

You mentioned the Senate and the process that they have in place. What's your knowledge and understanding of it? Was that the type of approach you were looking for in the House of Commons, or what is your position on that?

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Robert-Falcon Ouellette Liberal Winnipeg Centre, MB

The Senate uses translation once in a while, as required. It was actually Senator Charlie Watt—who is not quite retired, or perhaps he has retired—who fought for this around 10 years ago. He spent a considerable amount of his own resources. One issue they faced was around dialects. We all speak a bit of a different language, and we don't have a central state structure. As we know, indigenous nations in Canada do not have a central state structure. There is no central indigenous government with an Académie française that everybody can consult to find out the correct word.

How is French supposed to be spoken? That institution determines that we speak it in a certain way. We speak French. The right word is “ordinateur”, not “computer”.

They decide what the words are. They decide what the word for “MP” is. Perhaps Monsieur Saganash's word and way of saying it is better than otapapistamâkew. Perhaps it's his word we should be using, or perhaps my word is the better word, but if you don't have the resources of the state, a central government helping people, working in collaboration, allowing people to come together, and the experts who actually come up with these terms, then these languages will die. Indigenous languages are actually dying in this country.

I heard the previous witness say that perhaps they are endangered. They are all endangered. Cree is endangered. It's one of the most spoken languages on the prairies, and the statistics do not tell the entire story. Statistics Canada, I believe, gets the wrong thing, because people feel an awful lot of shame because they can't speak their language. I don't speak the language very well. I feel an awful lot of shame about that. My parents didn't teach me, and my grandparents refused to teach me, saying, “It's not useful. You don't need it. It's going to cause lots of problems.”

There are also a lot of people who say, “What makes me a man? What makes me an indigenous man?” When I go to ceremonies and I can't understand what's being said all the time, what does that do inside? I sing the songs and I have to think, yes, that word means this, and what does that word mean? If you have to translate for other people, then they have say, “Well, you're pronouncing that word wrong.” Your ancestors can't understand what you're saying; you're asking for their help, but they can't understand you.

In Parliament, the role that I see—my dream, actually—is that in fact perhaps we're not going to be able to save every language out there—let's be realistic—but maybe we can save Inuktitut, maybe Cree, maybe Dene, maybe Anishinaabemowin, maybe four, five, or 10 languages. There are others that are so far gone that the critical mass of speakers is just not there in society to even offer the professional translation services and interpretive services that would be required in a large institution like Parliament.

This is what is needed.

Sorry. I don't mean to take up all your time.

12:15 p.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Banff—Airdrie, AB

I have a colleague here who wants to get a question in. Would that be okay, Mr. Chair? I have one more question, but would it be okay to allow Mr. Reid...? It might need a little extra time.

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Okay. Sure, go ahead.

12:15 p.m.

Liberal

Robert-Falcon Ouellette Liberal Winnipeg Centre, MB

I dream of the day when an indigenous grandmother can turn on the TV at home and not have to watch an English-language program with her grandchildren that she's trying to look after. Instead she can turn on CPAC and watch the great debates of Parliament, because there are great debates that go on every day in our legislature. She would be able to hear it in Cree, to hear it on a channel in Inuktitut, in Dene, and watch those debates and be informed about what's going on in our public institutions. She can feel proud that they can hear their language there. The little children will be able to hear it in the background and say, “That language is important. I should try to speak that language.”

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Banff—Airdrie, AB

Yes.

I think I have a better understanding of where your position is now. It ties into the next question I wanted to ask.

I know when the Speaker made his ruling, Mr. Saganash indicated—I think it was to the CBC—that he had been working to try to negotiate a solution. From what I've heard from you today, it sounds like your goal is maybe different from what I had understood it to be, and it's not simply about having some interpretation provided.

I asked you about the Senate model. It is actually a broader goal than that: it's to make sure that you're preserving some of the languages and encouraging their use elsewhere as well.

I just wanted to know whether you were aware of the negotiation that was taking place that Mr. Saganash referred to. What do you know about that, and what are your thoughts on that?

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

Robert-Falcon Ouellette Liberal Winnipeg Centre, MB

I don't specifically know too much, but I will say is that everything has to start somewhat small. I can't expect tomorrow that we have a full interpretive service and linguistic service with 10 Cree linguists who understand every dialect at the snap of the fingers, but what I'm hoping is we build something over time. I know there have been indigenous MPs who have been in the Conservative Party who are Cree, and who have been in the Liberal Party, and even the NDP. I'm hoping that as more indigenous MPs become elected over time, it builds up. I hope that the more we use it, the more there becomes the opportunity. We're using it maybe 1% of the time, then 5%, 10%, and it becomes something more casual and we become used to it. Then it doesn't count as something that's exotic or different or strange, but something about which people then say that maybe we need to offer this on TV or online on its own little channel. These are things that build up over time.

What I'm hoping is we take our time to actually do it properly, to lay an excellent foundation, because I really do want to save these languages. We are nearing the end. This is it for indigenous languages.

I meet people who come into my office all the time. They say they speak Cree, and I start speaking with them a little. They can't carry on a conversation, yet they say they speak Cree. They want to speak it, and they understand it. The grandparents can speak it and understand it. Their children can only understand it, and our kids can't do any of it.

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Larry Bagnell

Go ahead, Mr. Reid.

12:20 p.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Banff—Airdrie, AB

Thank you, Mr. Chair, for the indulgence.

March 22nd, 2018 / 12:20 p.m.

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair, for the indulgence.

As a fellow vest wearer, I have to start by saying how envious I am of that amazing vest you're wearing.

A really long time ago, 25 years ago, I wrote a book on languages in Canada. It was dealing with official languages, not with aboriginal languages. One of the things that really sank in to me was how remarkably little government measures are able to assist languages to survive and prosper, or alternatively, how they can crush out a language that has vitality. There are many examples one can look at, and an obvious one for me is the attempt of my own...

My ancestors come from Ireland on one side. There are attempts to save the Gaelic language. They made it the official language of the country and they still have great difficulty in overcoming this problem. It's an interesting story to look at.

I'll throw out one of the things I observed with languages for you to think about. It may not be a good idea, but one of the things to think about is that a language that is divided into many subsidiary dialects within the language seems to have less ability to survive. Looking at a European example of this, I look at the fourth official language of Switzerland, which is Romansh. The Romansh romance language is divided into three dialects, which seems to have greatly weakened its ability to survive. In other areas they've tried to make the languages more homogeneous, and within the language itself that involves a certain amount of internal compromise.

I'm wondering whether if that second route was chosen it would help with the survival of the Cree language, which I gather has significant internal distinctions. I simply ask that question to hear what you think about that.

12:20 p.m.

Liberal

Robert-Falcon Ouellette Liberal Winnipeg Centre, MB

I agree with that.

If you go to France, you can see that the Langue d'oc still exists. It is a kind of dialect, but it is a different language that includes a lot of French words. But ensuring the very survival of the language is extremely difficult.

You're right, it is very difficult, but I think the great thing about a centralized state that we have, a federation, is that there are the resources of the state to allow the linguists to sit down together to come up with the common terms.

The great thing about Parliament is that we deal with everything. We have debates about everything. We talk about transportation, about security. We talk about health. Do those terms always exist? Are they always the same? If they're not, it's going to force people, the experts, to sit down somewhere and decide on the term that we want to use. Then it's going to take the education system, with Indigenous Services, to make sure these words get out to the communities and the schools and that the teachers in the schools use them.

Then if also we know that there is employment for interpreters, the universities will have the opportunity to end up training people to a professional standard to offer those services. I used to have a program at the University of Manitoba. I was a program director there in the aboriginal focus programs, as a university professor, and one of our certificates, combined with Red River College, was aboriginal languages, but we couldn't run the program because we didn't really have any jobs for people to go to, because there was no need. We don't need Cree.

However, I think if there was an opportunity, people might take up that language and be a language defender, a language warrior, and go out there and promote it and use it every day, and use it at home and in their workplace. We all know what Quebec did in the 1960s. It was quite incredible. They went from having....

No French was spoken on the island of Montreal. A lot of people did not like Bill 101, but it still forced the state and the businesses to recognize that speaking French was important.

I lived in Quebec City for 13 years and I understand the mentality. Language structures our thoughts. It is incredible. When I speak French, I think completely differently than when I speak English or Cree. It is really fascinating. If we lose the indigenous languages, we will never get them back.

Words can describe important things. At one point in the year, a flower can be different, although technically it is the same flower. But the word used to describe it may vary with the time of year. The elements that make it up can be useful to a physician at some points of the year but not others. We would lose all that knowledge of the elders because young people do not understand all those words.

Something has to be done, but no one is doing anything. That's why this is historic.

It's historic because you have the opportunity of doing something that no one else has done before. We always talk about the importance of language, but no one actually takes any action in this country. There are very few resources. Everyone says, “Well, you know, maybe we'll write a little children's book here, a little children's book there, with a couple of Cree words and a couple of French words and a couple of English words, so maybe people may understand what's going on”, but it's not enough. We need the state. We need the instruments of the state to help, because it is an important and symbolic way of supporting and making sure that some of these languages survive. Not all of them will, I kid you not, but at least a few will, and that's your importance here.