[Member spoke in Cree, interpreted as follows:]
Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to be able to speak Cree in this House and to be given that privilege. It makes me really proud to speak my own language in the House, and I thank everyone for this opportunity.
Before I speak to Bill C-91, I would like to begin by offering thanks to my parents. I would like to thank my mom for teaching me how to speak Cree. I would also like to thank the people of Waswanipi, who helped me to make it here and speak my language. I am really thankful to the people of Waswanipi.
I also want to thank all the Crees across the Cree nation, as well as all aboriginal people across Canada. They also helped me make it here so I could speak about the things we have gone through in the past and will be facing in the future. I would like to thank all the people who have stood by me so I could be given the privilege to speak my language. I always think about the people who came before me and have passed on. I always remember them.
Members know a lot of us speak our indigenous language, and it is something that helps us in our lives. In things one thinks about and goes through, one's own language is something that helps. When I first came here eight years ago, I asked if I could speak my native language to ask questions or when I rose to speak to bills. It is something I asked for, and I was told that I could only speak English. That was all I was told.
I felt really sad when that happened, but I did not let it go. I kept asking to speak my language, and now I am able to speak my own language in the House, and everyone can hear me speak it. It really touches my heart to be able to speak my language in front of everyone, and I want to thank all members for helping me achieve this.
Regarding Bill C-91, there are things I agree with, but there are also things that have not been included. I will speak about those today. I will stand by all members in order to make this bill pass, but if we want things to go well, we are going to have to do it the right way. We are going to have to try to bring in the things that have not been included in this bill. These things are needed to make it right, and this is what I am going to try to do before the bill is passed. This is what I am going to ask. I am going to help.
I remember when the Prime Minister spoke to us about a year ago. He spoke to us for a while, and I stood to answer, and when I was done speaking, I went up and spoke with him. I thanked him. I even told him I could help him if he needed help. I would allow myself to, with all of us working together, when it involved indigenous rights across Canada or our people who are still struggling.
I remember when he spoke to the chiefs in Gatineau and talked about the bill. It has almost been three years since he spoke about it. I remember when he brought it up. Everyone stood up and thanked the Prime Minister. When I saw that happening, I stood too. I was really happy when he brought that news to the chiefs. I was happy when he said that the bill would be written, that we would try to speak our indigenous languages. I was really happy, but I was not sure if he understood what was going on when everyone got up, that he had made everyone proud. I do not know if he understood that part.
Those were some words in Cree as an introduction to my speech. I will come back to Cree in my concluding remarks, but I see that the time is moving fast.
The vast majority of indigenous languages in this country are endangered, and there is a critical need to address that challenge. There is an urgent need at this moment, as we speak, to address that challenge. Our languages are important. If the legislation fails to reflect the intent of the bill, we are not doing our indigenous brothers and sisters in this country any favours.
It is important for the future of indigenous languages. As I said in Cree, I was there when the Prime Minister, almost three years ago, made the announcement and promised legislation. I feel it has arrived here almost too late.
I remember, after 30 years of attending Assembly of First Nations meetings, that I had never seen a standing ovation like the one I saw. Never. As I was watching from the back, I stood up too. I said to myself that I hoped the Prime Minister understood what was going on. I hoped the Prime Minister got the cue.
We know that communities such as the Inuit expected the bill to reflect their needs and submissions and to respect what they call co-development. What I understand of the situation right now is that co-development does not mean co-drafting. There seems to be a major distinction.
The government had expert advice from language experts who made recommendations. I personally know some of them who made submissions to the government.
The creation of the indigenous languages commissioner is not as good as it sounds. Having a national commissioner fulfills TRC call to action 15 on paper, but we also must address call to action 14.
Let me read call to action 14. It states:
We call upon the federal government to enact an Aboriginal Languages Act that incorporates the following principles:
i. Aboriginal languages are a fundamental and valued element of Canadian culture and society....
ii. Aboriginal language rights are reinforced by the Treaties.
iii. The federal government has a responsibility to provide sufficient funds for Aboriginal-language revitalization and preservation.
iv. The preservation, revitalization, and strengthening of Aboriginal languages and cultures are best managed by Aboriginal people and communities.
v. Funding for Aboriginal language initiatives must reflect the diversity of Aboriginal languages.
I would add urgency, because that is where we are today, given the situation.
As the minister proudly quoted, the Assembly of First Nations praised this legislation, saying it had been co-developed with it, and that parliamentarians must support the bill. Yes, I think we will all support it at second reading.
The Inuit organization ITK said that there should be Inuit-specific legislation. It said that the proposed indigenous languages commissioner would be “little more than a substitute for the Aboriginal Languages Initiative Program”.
I have heard from many indigenous leaders throughout the country on this proposed legislation over the years. We have been talking about it for a long time.
The bill fails to define aboriginal languages. We have two official languages in this place and in this country. They are called “official”. Should indigenous languages be considered official languages in this country? That is one option. I admit there are pros and cons. Should indigenous languages be given special status, given their historical value? That is another option.
I also want to raise the point that while the bill recognizes that the right to indigenous languages stems from section 35 as the basis of that recognition, it fails to mention articles 11 to 16 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. We know that the concept of aboriginal rights is vague and general. However, we have a precise document in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Let me read article 13, which states:
1. Indigenous peoples have the right to revitalize, use, develop and transmit to future generations their histories, languages, oral traditions....
2. States shall take effective measures to ensure that this right is protected....
It is a clear concept. On one hand, we have in clause 6 of the proposed legislation recognition that this right exists, but one might certainly ask if the bill protects those rights. That is a fair question.
I see that my colleague from Rouge River is nodding with approval.
I know my time is limited, but I want to mention a few things I would have liked to see in the bill. First, there is a glaring omission in the preamble. The preamble paragraphs are clear and strong, but the ninth paragraph says this:
Whereas a history of discriminatory government policies and practices, in respect of, among other things, assimilation, forced relocation and residential schools, were detrimental to Indigenous languages and contributed significantly to the erosion of those languages;
What is glaring is that it forgets the sixties scoop survivors. I have many sixties scoop friends, and none of them speak their languages. I know a lot of Indian residential school survivors like me—I attended for 10 years—still speak their languages. However, the sixties scoop survivors had less of a chance.
Second, my friend referred to subclause 5(g):
advance the achievement of the objectives of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as it relates to Indigenous languages.
Advancing does not mean implementing. It is a very subtle distinction.
Third, the bill should have included the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in clause 6.
There are many other omissions, but my time is running out.
[Member spoke in Cree, interpreted as follows:]
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank you for allowing me to speak my Indigenous language again. I would like to ask my friends if they have any questions.