Mr. Speaker, I will begin by saying hello to my friends, my relations. It is good to see everyone today.
Let us start with a hard truth: we have had our languages taken from us. Canadians must be generous people and not allow these languages to die.
We have been walking a long pathway, and that pathway can lead to a Canada of great hope and promise. This proposed law is about hope: hope for the future, hope for the present and hope for our children.
In this great structure of Parliament, we have power and resources. In the beginning, we were told that our work was for all Canadians. We must all work collectively together, since Canada has written the promises in how processes unfold. We made a covenant, an agreement, together. We are related. If things have not happened right, we will change things to help respect one another.
Treaties are about respect and brotherhood. Indigenous peoples have always had treaties. The Cree and the Blackfoot made treaties using common sense. For example, there was to be no fighting in the winter, as it was too cold and not good to move children, women and the aged from their homes to different locations at that time. If one tribe made war, it sought out the other chief and explained the reason it was making war. Quite often, it was that the young warriors had too much energy, and they were bothering the whole camp. The old people knew that the best way to do things was to send them off to war against the enemy they knew. The two chiefs would talk and one would be given time to move the women, children and old people, and it worked for them. Later, in peacetime, they would talk about it.
The creation stories we tell about Wesakechak are about treaty. These world treaties are about water, earth, air, fire, and of course, the Great Spirit. For instance, when a child is born, the mother's water breaks and this signals that the child is to be born. He then gets his first breath of precious sacred air, and he is a living human being. He is then wrapped in the warm hide and fur of an animal and joins the warmth of the fire and the life-giving milk of his mother. Soon he is playing with the other children outside on their own land, which happens to be Canada.
When the Creator finished creating the land, sea and air creatures, he called everyone forward and told them to ask for gifts they wanted to have for themselves. Thus, he made treaties with all life on earth. Many asked to serve mankind. They were warned about mankind and what he would be like as the best and worst of all creation. They accepted and understood his warnings. For their understanding and sacrifices, they were granted a place in the hereafter. They would and should be honoured by men, women and children in ceremonies, which indigenous people still do to this day.
It is from these teachings that we respect air, fire and water in a spiritual way. They are included in all our prayers and ceremonies. It is a good way to live.
We all have our own languages, understandings and ceremonies. As indigenous people, we respect the earth and all the children of the feathered, furred, scaled, two-legged, four-legged and winged citizens.
Mankind is the only creation that breaks treaties continually. The others have never broken their sacred treaties with us.
From our own common sense, we must pray for the earth and all who dwell here. For over 100 years, we have signed treaties between our different peoples and countries. The original idea was not about subservience but about respect.
Languages must be used to be useful. They must be used by our children in school, in the home and in the rest of society. Our languages must be on TV so that people can see and understand why, where and when and can see what is happening in our Parliament. It is important to have our languages.
I saw a written sign at the entrance to a graveyard in Lac la Ronge, in northern Saskatchewan. It said, "If we could not as brothers live, let us here as brothers lie".
Man is represented by fire. Interestingly, women are represented by water. With just a single word or a single glance, she can elevate or destroy us. Personally, I would rather be a good brother to my fellow man than perish in a dirty flood of prejudice, jealousy, anger or fear.
Language can convey respect and meaning. It represents culture, and it defines who we are, our self-identity. It is about learning, education and knowledge.
Elder Dr. Winston Wuttunee asked me to talk about how our language is important and related to our belief structure. There are four elements: water, air, land and fire. Language is related to these four elements. When we take a word in Cree and break it down, there are additional meanings within that word.
Let us take water as an example. Water is women, life and connection to all of creation. It is beauty itself.
Let us look at air. There is fresh air and dirty air. It all has an impact on how healthy we are. It is life. It is breath. Animals fly in air. We need good air to be healthy.
Let us look at land. We live and we die. When we die, we become the land and the land is our relatives. It feeds the grasses. It feeds the bison. It feeds us. It is us.
Think about fire. Fire is also life. It keeps us warm. It lets us cook and survive. It cleans the land. It is also men. It works best with water.
Let us take one word in the Cree language, nikamoun, which means “to sing”. Nika means “in front”, and moun means “to eat”. Nikamoun, therefore, means "to be fed song". If we break it down further, it could mean "to be fed food by the one in front". This could also be the Creator. To take it a bit further, it means "whoever is in front is feeding us". This is where the greed for money becomes our sustenance. This has quickly become a starvation diet for us all, nature and mankind too. Do we have the responsibility and the ability to respond and learn to save ourselves, our children, mankind, and our world?
Without language, who are we as individuals? We become without a past, unable to understand the thoughts of the past and unable to understand our ancestors in ceremony. They, in turn, are unable to understand us when we cannot communicate in our language.
Our modern Parliament has a role to play in helping indigenous peoples. We can add to the scale of justice by ensuring that our Canadian languages, our indigenous languages, do not become museum pieces relegated to the back of anthropological shelves on linguistics but instead are living, alive, and adapted to a modern world while remaining spiritually connected to the past.
I have dreamed of this moment when the Canadian state, which has for far too long tried to ignore and terminate these languages, would be part of the process in Parliament of breathing life into our common languages.
I thank my colleagues, the House leader and Canadians. I thank our ancestors, who never stopped living. I thank the unborn, who will soon carry the spirit bundle of language into the future. I thank them very much.