Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise today to participate in such an important debate, a debate that in my opinion has been a long time coming. It is great to see this legislation being put forward, and it is great to have an opportunity to contribute to this.
It is safe to say that this legislation is coming as a direct result of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report, a report that highlighted and underscored the need for the Canadian government to take action with respect to truthfully and in an honest and sincere way moving toward reconciliation as it relates to the indigenous communities throughout Canada.
I would like to start by acknowledging that we are on the ancestral lands of the Algonquin Anishinabe people. I am pleased to rise today in support of Bill C-91, an act respecting indigenous languages.
Over the past two years, Canadians have increasingly learned about the ill-conceived government-led policies, such as the Indian residential schools policy, day schools and child welfare, all of which contributed to the erosion of indigenous languages. We know this through the testimonies given by indigenous peoples, from the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, the Task Force on Aboriginal Languages and Cultures and, most recently, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.
We know that the survivors of residential schools were abused and shamed for speaking their languages, and many did not pass their languages on to their children for fear they would be discriminated against. It is in this context that I acknowledge the dedication and hard work of first nation, Inuit and Métis language speakers and indigenous knowledge keepers who are working to keep their languages and cultures vibrant and have been advocating for support for their languages for over a century.
Many Canadians may not have a deep understanding of why it is so important to indigenous peoples to see their languages reclaimed, revitalized, maintained and strengthened. Through various testimonies from indigenous peoples, we have heard how indigenous languages are core to the indigenous identity: the relationship to self, to family, in some cases to clans, to community, to governance and to land. As reported by elders to the 2005 Task Force on Aboriginal Languages and Cultures, language, culture, spiritual values and the sense of identity are inseparable concepts.
That is one of the reasons great efforts are being made in communities to keep their languages alive. The fortitude and dedication of those who work to keep languages spoken in their homes and communities comes from the heart. It comes from who they are. Indigenous languages hold world views that guide behaviours, attitudes and beliefs that reinforce responsibilities to the land and to each other.
Past governments tried to coerce indigenous peoples to assimilate and abandon their cultural practices, including their languages. The results of this have had a detrimental impact on multiple generations where indigenous peoples were made to feel ashamed for speaking their languages. The intergenerational transmission of oral history, storytelling and culture was profoundly interrupted through the imposed prohibitions on languages and on ceremonial and cultural practices.
Language specialist Mary Siemens once conveyed the link between indigenous languages and cultural identity, stating:
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 travelled on. We have specific words to describe the seasonal activities, the social gatherings, and kin relations.
In the words of indigenous knowledge keepers, ancestral languages are the key to identities and cultures. Each of these languages tells us who we are and where we came from.
The 2005 task force on aboriginal peoples and culture re-emphasized that when it said that language is embedded in indigenous peoples' relationship to the land. The languages arose here and are profoundly different from languages spoken and developed elsewhere in the world. The structures of indigenous languages reflect the distinctive philosophies based on relationship to the land. Thus, first nations, Inuit and Métis languages have more words to describe nature through their many references to geography, weather, wildlife and so forth.
Consider the diversity of indigenous peoples in Canada and the various states of language vitality. Compare that to the reports and studies that support the notion that being immersed in language and culture lead to better health and well-being. Fostering indigenous identity through languages is healing indigenous families and communities from the detrimental impacts of colonialization, and gives children and youth pride in who they are.
Whether indigenous languages are supported at home, through adult immersion, on the land, in language camps, in language nests or through master-apprentice programs, more awareness of the richness of indigenous languages is permeated in the young minds who will grow up knowing who they are, who their ancestors were, and where they come from.
It is supporting the reclamation of the languages that we tried so hard to take away. There are times when we hear stories of indigenous youth and young adults who are experiencing the challenges of intergenerational trauma and navigating the transition from youth to young adulthood. We hear how becoming more involved with their language and culture is positively contributing to their self-esteem, self-worth and pride in who they are.
There is so much to be said about the healing aspects of learning the languages and ways of one's ancestors. Language is so important to our identity and culture. In the Anishinabe context, for example, there are ceremonies to mark each stage of life, from birth to end of life on this earth. Their importance is to help young people find their purpose in life and learn their responsibilities as daughters or sons, parents, grandparents, aunts or uncles.
To add to this complexity and to highlight an example, there is a different terminology used for aunt and uncle that links one as a sister or brother of one's mother or father, thus defining the kinship role and responsibility to the family.
These languages are both profound and complex. There are differences from the English and French languages that simply get lost in translation. There are concepts that do not exist in other cultures or, by extension, in their languages.
On a more spiritual level, a late elder underscored the relationship between language and the ability to understand and take part in ceremonies, by saying that if one is going to do something about languages, indigenous people should be able to do their ceremonies. If they cannot do the ceremonies of their people, there cannot be a spiritual basis for their language.
Indigenous children and youth have a rich cultural and linguistic heritage to be proud of. This means that supporting the reclamation, revitalization, maintenance and strengthening of indigenous languages contributes to preserving indigenous cultural identity and enhancing well-being.
lt is also important to note that the preamble of this legislation acknowledges indigenous languages as fundamental to the identities, cultures, spiritual beliefs, relationships to the land, world view and self-determination of indigenous peoples. The fundamental concepts to seriously consider and appreciate are the nuances expressed in indigenous languages that tie so closely in relation to the land, family, community and nation that is often lost in translation.
This is why elders and fluent speakers of indigenous languages are crucial in helping those wanting to learn their languages. Their wisdom is especially needed in decoding terms and phrases to the root words to reveal the true meaning and cultural relevance that lend themselves to the importance of indigenous identity.
Teaching the languages must be done with awareness of the important values these languages carry. That is why the provisions of this legislation intend to do that, through providing support for establishing culturally appropriate methods of teaching and learning the language.
Mr. Speaker, I wish to thank you for the opportunity to speak about indigenous languages as the core to indigenous identity, and about the importance of supporting this bill.