Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
Madam Chair, distinguished committee members and colleagues, thank you for inviting me to appear as part of your study of Bill .
As you mentioned, I am accompanied by Hélène Laurendeau, Deputy Minister of Canadian Heritage. I thought I was also going to be accompanied by Stephen Gagnon, but he is not here. He must be going through security. He will join us shortly.
I want to start by recognizing that we are gathered on the ancestral lands of the Algonquin Anishinaabe. Two weeks ago, on the same lands, I had the privilege of introducing this historic legislation in the House of Commons. This is legislation that's long overdue. That's because, according to UNESCO, three-quarters of the 90 indigenous languages spoken in Canada are endangered, and if they die, so will a huge part of our identity.
Since work began on this bill, many indigenous groups and people have told us how critical this legislation will be for them, their children and their grandchildren.
Just the other day, we heard from Olive, an elder from the Oneida Nation of the Thames in southwestern Ontario. Olive's mother tongue was Oneida. It was the only language she spoke until the age of seven, when she started school. At school, Olive was punished for speaking her language. The shame it brought wounded her deeply. It was then that she decided she wouldn't teach her kids Oneida so she could spare them the humiliation she felt.
Today, there are only 45 fluent Oneida speakers left in Canada, and none of them are under the age of 65. The indigenous languages act is for people like Olive, whose community is losing its language at an alarming rate.
So we must therefore act with urgency to revitalize and strengthen indigenous languages. We have already waited too long.
Today, I will focus on two key matters related to the bill. First, I will speak about our dialogue and engagement efforts. Second, I will speak to the question of funding: how our government is going to support the revitalization of indigenous languages.
Madam Chair, let me start with engagement and co-development. This legislation had to be developed with respect to the rights of indigenous peoples.
From the outset, my departmental officials asked indigenous groups how they wanted to be engaged to participate. We did not impose a structure. We designed a process together. To achieve that, we worked with our partners: the Assembly of First Nations, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and the Métis National Council.
Each of the partners launched their own independent engagement with indigenous language experts, practitioners and academics across Canada. During that period, Canadian Heritage officials conducted 20 roundtables.
The feedback from all of these sessions, along with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's Calls to Action 13, 14 and 15, helped create the 12 principles used to co-develop this legislation.
The Department of Canadian Heritage then held intensive discussions with about 1,000 first nations, Inuit and Métis people. This included working respectfully with key indigenous organizations and governments, such as the Council of Yukon First Nations in Whitehorse, the Manitoba Metis Federation in Winnipeg, the Nunatsiavut government in Nain, and self-governing and modern treaty governments across the country.
Our online portal also connected over 200 questionnaires and electronic submissions.
We also provided funding to the First Nations Confederacy of Cultural Education Centres, the Native Women's Association of Canada, and the National Association of Friendship Centres to conduct their own research in engagement.
These voices—the voices of elders, knowledge keepers, indigenous women and young people—are echoed in the indigenous languages act.
Participants told us that indigenous languages should be recognized as a right; that each indigenous language, culture and history is distinct and unique;
that the needs of elders, women and children must be addressed. That a language commissioner should be created. That communities need sufficient, predictable and long-term funding. And that each of the groups and nations were at a different place in their path to the revitalization and preservation of their languages. This is exactly what the legislation contains.
For example, some communities would like to focus on training teachers. Others want to prioritize immersion programs or developing dictionaries. Indigenous peoples told us clearly that a one-size-fits-all approach will not work and that they are best placed to determine what will work, not government. We agree with them. Our legislation incorporates all of these considerations and elements, and more.
Madam Chair, I'd like to turn our discussions to funding.
For the first time in our history, there is legislation that commits to adequate, sustainable and long-term funding for indigenous languages. We're exploring funding models to decide how funds would be best used and distributed.
Again, it is indigenous peoples, not the Government of Canada, who know what is best for their communities. We know that they do not want project-based, annual funding. They want the flexibility to determine their own priorities. The latitude to define concrete approaches that will allow them to reclaim, revitalize and maintain their languages.
This bill is not about creating national bureaucracies and bigger project-based programs. Instead, it is about getting the investments to the people and organizations in a long-term and sustained manner through multi-year agreements that will ensure reports on progress. In fact, the bill states that the Minister of Canadian Heritage must consult with diverse indigenous governments and other indigenous governing bodies, to provide sustainable, adequate funding. This is important and it demonstrates our commitment to indigenous peoples, their communities and their future.
The indigenous languages act was developed in close partnership with indigenous people. It is truly their legislation. Its impact will be felt by many generations, including people in Olive's community. Despite the odds, Olive has worked hard to retain and maintain her language and she's helping her people regain a language that was taken from them.
The students have gone from speaking no Oneida to being able to carry on a six-minute conversation in their language. People in the neighbourhood are starting to speak to each other in Oneida, and that gives a strong feeling of pride that comes from knowing who they are. This is why this legislation is so important.
Five generations of harm inflicted upon indigenous peoples have brought us to where we are today. Reconciliation is a long and difficult journey and it requires a broad approach, one that includes improving access to clean water and reducing the number of indigenous children in foster care. The indigenous languages legislation is another step toward helping the next five generations and beyond.
I welcome feedback and amendments that could make this legislation even stronger. We must, however, move forward with purpose, and we look for support from all parties to pass Bill without delay.
I'm now ready to take your questions.
Thank you very much, Mr. Breton. I think I have your three questions straight in my mind.
You are right that this bill is close to my heart. Here is why. Today, I am speaking French and English, but neither of them is my mother tongue. My first language is Spanish. I learned French and English at the age of eight. I can only imagine the pain, the grief, I would have felt if I had been told that I could not keep my mother tongue and I had to choose another one. That would have been horrible. But that was the experience of so many children in indigenous communities all over Canada. So many children were snatched from their homes and told that they no longer had the right to speak their own language. The intent was to snatch from them their language, their culture and their identity.
I always say that our language is our identity. It is our past, our present and our future. We want to tell our stories to our children in our own language. That is what makes it essential and why we have to act now. We should have acted long ago, but we are acting now by introducing this bill.
The bill moves us forward in terms of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
The bill responds to Calls to Action 13, 14 and 15, that deal with the country's legislation and obligations in respect of indigenous languages.
The bill requires the government to provide stable, sustainable and adequate funding in order to preserve, maintain and revitalize indigenous languages everywhere in the country. We have put that in writing.
The bill is unique in that it is extremely flexible. It will allow indigenous peoples, different nations and groups in all regions and all provinces to determine what is essential for themselves. No two indigenous languages are in exactly the same situation. As I mentioned earlier, in certain places, only a handful of people who speak a language are left. In others, the languages are more vibrant, although the people who speak them may have many challenges to meet.
Who are we in the government to tell indigenous peoples what is good for them and what they must do to revitalize or protect their languages? It is not for me or for the government to tell them; it is up to the indigenous peoples.
The bill provides enough flexibility for the different indigenous groups, wherever they are and whichever language they speak, to meet their own needs in their own way.
[Member spoke in Dene as follows:]
Sı Denesųłı̨ne hesłı̨,
[Member provided the following translation:]
I am a Denesųlı̨ne Woman,
[Member spoke in Dene as follows:]
dırı dene ɂa yastı
[Member provided the following translation:]
I am speaking in dene
I am a Dene Tsuut'ina person. I speak my language. I say that with pride.
I'm looking at this legislation from that framework. I'm looking at it from the framework of all the Dene-speaking people, all the Cree-speaking people and all the people speaking every indigenous language across Canada. From our perspective, there are some things that we would like to provide. These are suggestions based on conversations that we've had. I want to highlight two things.
The NDP, as you know, including me and my colleague Romeo Saganash, supports the use and education of indigenous languages done in conjunction with first nations, Métis and Inuit people. We want to see the three TRC calls to action related to indigenous languages succeed but not be rushed through. I feel that this legislation is being rushed through. That makes me nervous because I am one hundred per cent behind retaining my language and passing it on. All indigenous communities, first nations, Métis and Inuit, are thinking that. I know that you want to make the right choices, move this along and support it.
You said that you're open to amendments. Are you? There are some suggestions provided by the people who speak the language, the educators, the service providers, the parents, the elders and the list goes on. With that, how can you ensure that this bill is not pushed through without proper consultation with a broad range of people across Canada?
As I mentioned before, the principles have been adopted together with the various groups. Why? This is the core, the base of the bill. The bill is based on those principles. The bill is based on our response to calls to action 13, 14 and 15. It's based on the fact that we want to advance UNDRIP, specifically the sections related to indigenous languages, and want to make sure that money is there for the long term, so that it's stable and is sufficient for the priorities of the different groups in the various regions.
There are many things related to the principles, but the key thing is that we're recognizing indigenous languages as a fundamental right within section 35. This is a right for the indigenous people—and it is a right. How do you tell your stories? How do you communicate? How do you feel proud about yourself, your past, your culture, all the things you had in common once upon a time that, because of a succession of government, you've lost?
The element of the principles is fundamental, as is the fact that our government announced that we were supporting UNDRIP. That has to have a meaning. It has to be something concrete. Our answer to it is passing the bill, in which there's a direct reference to section 35 stipulating that indigenous languages are a fundamental right.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Good afternoon, colleagues.
Good afternoon, Minister Rodriguez. Thank you, Pablo, for coming in, for leading the department, for being a wonderful minister, for having a great vision and for moving bills forward, especially this bill, Bill , which will preserve, promote and revitalize indigenous languages.
I have a short story to tell you about my days in aquaculture when I travelled extensively around the world. I visited Scotland, the Isle of Harris, I believe. We were there talking about salmon farming and such, but we were out one night and there was a language spoken that I had never heard before. I was quite curious about the language. It was Gaelic, Scottish Gaelic. I was very surprised. I didn't understand it all, or very little of it, but I was fascinated by it. I was fascinated by the pride with which it was spoken, by just how people in that community were so very proud of the history of the Gaelic language, and by how they were preserving that language.
I'll fast-forward to two years ago. I was at my mother's house for Christmas dinner, and my nephew was there. My nephew is a student at StFX, and he started speaking Gaelic. I was shocked by that, that StFX offers a course in Gaelic; it is in Nova Scotia. The fact that the university, StFX, is offering courses in the Gaelic language, teaching that language.... Again, it is about preserving that language and educating the youth in those communities about how important that language was, Scottish Gaelic.
With respect to Bill and the preservation of indigenous languages, I absolutely respect and understand what our government is doing there. As you said earlier, is the bill perfect? No. Is there an opportunity to look at amendments or other scenarios? Sure. There is one thing you did say that was of interest to me. I want to go back just to the funding side because, obviously, there have been different questions, I think, from all three parties with respect to the funding. Will there be long-term funding over years to preserve the languages, Minister? Is there a commitment for long-term funding?
I'm pleased to hear the words that you used, “indigenous languages as a fundamental right”. I take that seriously and to heart. In my understanding, I'm pretty sure I mean it differently than the government does, because what I'm hearing is language spoken and we talk about funding, and there is no clear funding. There is no description of the indigenous groups who would access the funding.
There's this understanding that all indigenous people live on reserves. That's what I'm sensing and what I'm hearing when I read this. I want clarification when we say “all first nations, Métis and Inuit”. To me, that would be inclusive of all the reserves, then the Far North, the Inuit people and all the three territories, and then the Métis, and in the provinces, all the languages that exist.
As my colleague pointed out earlier, many of us do not live on reserves. We live in municipalities and cities, and we, at this level, want to make sure that our organizations would have access to the funding. Therefore, for that purpose, I'm looking for specific funding that language keepers and educators and everyone else is looking for.
That said, I did hear you say that you're open to making amendments, right?
Thank you for your question. This is perhaps the most difficult part to explain. I will do my best to answer your question.
We had two options in designing the bill. We could have waited until we had all the data, all the details, for the 90 indigenous languages to come up with a funding formula. This is what we often see in the provinces when it comes to funding education. However, while we would have done that, the languages would have continued to erode. In addition, our partners had made it very clear to us that we needed to act now, even if it just meant establishing some kind of baseline to determine what the best practices were.
As we establish agreements, which will be defined according to the needs that First Nations, Inuit and Métis have presented to us, we will create the database. In partnership with the commissioner, we will use the database to establish, for example, during a five-year review, a more precise funding formula that can be based on the population in question.
So far, the data have been too variable and the needs too different for us to have been able to define them all in the bill. That is why we decided, with our partners, to provide the capacity for funding through funding agreements. These will be long-term, so that we can measure the results and determine the types of practices that work well. This will allow us to design a funding formula that can be incorporated into the legislation later. For the time being, we intend to do this by taking into account the needs as defined by our partners.
In addition, during our consultations, we learned that various groups had taken a number of very specific measures. Some groups focused on educating young people in school, while others created programs to promote culture. If we had tried to define the full range of measures and programs in the bill, we would probably have forgotten some. In addition, we may well have stopped funding things that deserved to be funded.
In partnership with our colleagues, we decided to do the opposite, that is, to commit to providing funding based on the needs determined by our partners. From there, the commissioner can help us determine which practices are most effective.
That is how the bill was designed.
I’m not sure whether Mr. Gagnon has anything to add.
There are 90 indigenous languages, 75% of which I understand are at risk, in a multitude of communities across our beautiful and very large Canada. I am of Acadian descent, and I know what it is like to fight for your language. My generation had it easy, but it was different for my parents, great-grandparents and ancestors. French was the language of shame, of people who had little hope for a future. So I am sensitive to this whole issue.
In addition, I share Ms. Jolibois' concern about the objectives of the bill and the difficulty in achieving them. As a lawyer, however, I would like to focus on clause 5 of the bill, which sets out the purpose of the act.
Let me give you the example of the Mi'kmaq, who I meet quite frequently in my riding. There is a large reservation on the Quebec side, in Listuguj. On the other side of the bridge near where I live, not far from home, there is a smaller reservation called Eel River Bar. There are also the Maliseet of Edmunston. Among the Mi'kmaq, I learned in powwows that there are different ways of naming things depending on whether the Mi'kmaq come from the Gaspé Peninsula in Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia or even Cape Breton. They don't always agree on how to refer to something, and I'm not talking about accent, but vocabulary. The Mi'kmaq in Nova Scotia are quite advanced. They have a dictionary, and there is even a mobile app that translates tourist questions into Mi'kmaq, including “Where is the airport?” and “Where is the bathroom?” It is incredible. It's well done, and a lot of progress is being made.
From a practical perspective, is there a common denominator for all these communities that represent the country's 90 indigenous languages, a denominator that could be used to achieve the purpose of the act? Has there been talk of a dictionary, a lexicon, a college, a school? What seemed to be rallying everyone?
As you know, I've appeared before your committee in the past and I've given an explanation of the Métis nation and the people, our geographic territory and so on. I won't get into too much of that, other than, again, to reaffirm the Métis nation is a distinct people. We have a distinct language known as Michif, although many of our people still speak other indigenous languages. For example, in the Métis village of La Loche, the Métis there speak Dene. In the Métis village of Île-à-la-Crosse, many speak Cree. In other provinces, particularly Manitoba, many of our people speak Saulteaux. So it's not only that the Michif language is important to us, but Michif is the official language of the Métis nation. Our nation is located in western Canada.
I know the legislation also addresses the need to redress grievances or historic wrongs, and the Métis nation is no different. We remain to see reparations from Canada, particularly with respect to the relocation of our peoples within our homeland. We became internal refugees within our own homeland, dispossessed of our lands and resources. We're the subject of a unilaterally imposed system, which we dispute, which so-called extinguished our title and rights to our lands and resources and to our harvesting rights. So I guess we have reasons to celebrate this bill going forward.
In particular, we also suffer the consequences of residential schools. As I've mentioned in the past, I was a former student of the Île-à-la-Crosse boarding school. I was there for 10 years. We still have to be dealt with by Canada. Of course, many of us were severely affected by that experience. We were also victims of the sixties scoop and the exclusion of many federal programs and services provided to other indigenous peoples over the years. Finally, with the Daniels decision in 2016, and the federal government clearly being viewed as having a responsibility, or at least the jurisdiction, to deal with the Métis on a nation-to-nation, government-to-government basis, I think we're currently on a level playing field, and that's a good thing.
Over the past three years we've seen unprecedented growth in the relationship with the Government of Canada. Through the current , we have the permanent bilateral mechanisms, which for the first time in the history of the Métis nation led us to budget 2018, where we are now in a substantial way on a distinctions-based approach, provided programs and services to citizens of the Métis nation, services we did not have in the past. Of course, we're looking forward to budget 2019, where we are hoping we will have further allocations to the Métis nation.
We've waited a long time for this to happen, and it's finally happening. We're particularly pleased that this government has engaged us on a nation-to-nation, government-to-government basis through a partnership between us in areas such as co-development of legislation. This particular piece, the indigenous languages bill, which hopefully will end up being an indigenous languages act, was co-developed, as I say, with the national representatives of indigenous peoples and nations, the Assembly of First Nations, the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and the Métis National Council, the national government of the Métis nation. I think this is unprecedented.
We have been engaged in a meaningful way, not just with consultations but actual co-development, at both the political level and at the officials level. I sincerely thank and for the work they've done, and the for his accepting at the outset that he must deal with us in a distinctions-based approach, first nations, Inuit and the Métis nation, and also recognizing section 35 as a full box of rights and that the inherent right contained therein includes the right to our languages.
Over the last 25 years or so, the Métis National Council and its governing members, particularly Métis Nation-Saskatchewan through the Gabriel Dumont Institute, and the Metis Manitoba Federation through the Louis Riel Institute, have been working quite diligently on looking to recapture, revitalize and promote our languages to be spoken once again. Unfortunately, I would say we have less than 1,000 fluent Michif speakers in our homeland. The majority of them are over the age of 65. The Gabriel Dumont Institute has been doing a good job, as has the Louis Riel Institute, on capturing the language on video and through audio. They produce videos and printed materials to help promote the language.
I notice that member of Parliament Georgina Jolibois, from the riding where I live in northwest Saskatchewan, is present. She'll know that the Métis village of Île-â-la-Crosse has been very active in ensuring that the language is kept alive. This year they're celebrating their 20th anniversary of language in the school. It's a big year for them.
I believe this piece of legislation—this act—is something that will be of significant benefit to indigenous peoples and nations, particularly to the Métis nation. We know that it will enable us to be further engaged with promoting and preserving our language and having a space in the larger picture within Canada. The language and our cultures are so important.
This is where I come back to what I've said before. The Métis nation is not a people of mixed ancestry. Perhaps it was initially, but we evolved as a distinct people and nation with our culture, language and our political consciousness. We are a polity. We are a cultural group. We're not simply people of mixed ancestry, which is a notion we totally reject. Of course, we know there are others in this country now stepping forward claiming the label of Métis. We just want to ensure that this doesn't confound matters as we move forward.
In closing, I want to remind the committee that the Métis nation will be celebrating. I use the term “celebrating”, because over the past three years, we've had such tremendous progress with this current government that we can celebrate—not just mark—the 150th anniversary of the Métis nation joining Canada through the Manitoba Act as the fifth province of Canada. We can actually celebrate, because we have cause to celebrate. We look forward to celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Canada-Métis nation relationship next year.
With that, I'm prepared to respond to any questions that you may have.
It is very important. Language is such a critical part of who you are as a people, and in this case, again, the Métis nation. The language, Michif, is such an important language to us, as are other indigenous languages, as I mentioned earlier, that some of our people speak.
Ours is a rich culture; however, like other indigenous peoples, we have suffered many years of oppression, of repression of our rights and, in the case of the Métis nation, of exclusion, including exclusion from the comprehensive claims processes; exclusion from the specific claims processes; exclusion from, for example, the first nations and Inuit health branch—there's no Métis there; and, exclusion from a lot of general programs and services that were provided to other indigenous peoples.
We were excluded from, first of all, the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement and from the Prime Minister's apology. We were excluded from the mandate of the TRC and, as I say, because of that, we were excluded from the recommendations, although we do benefit from the recommendations, this being one example of that.
After all of these years of exclusion, marginalization and repression, still today we're persecuted or prosecuted for exercising our harvesting rights, our hunting and fishing rights.
When you have a government or a Parliament that is prepared to recognize at least part of who you are—and in this case, an important part, a language, that's so very important to us.... If we can't enjoy our own languages and our own cultures, in the end, while rights are important, they become meaningless if you cease to be who you are as a people. This is going to very much fortify the respective cultures and languages of indigenous peoples and nations.
It's a question that I've been pondering for a while. The easy answer is to just put in several billions of dollars and we'll work it out, but I know that's not going to happen.
I know there are many languages. Some are endangered. Some are extinct. People are trying to revitalize some. It's going to take a lot of work. There's no easy answer to that.
Our past experience has been with the previous fund, which wasn't adequate. For various reasons, the Métis nation had a difficult time accessing it. We've been marginalized for so long in the federal system that when it comes to the Métis or the Métis nation we have a much more difficult time doing that.
About two years ago, I did write a letter to the then minister of heritage without really putting a lot of dollars and cents to what I was doing. I was basically suggesting that a Louis Riel institute or Michif institute be established with an endowment fund of perhaps $80 million, and we would work from that in terms of doing the things that needed to be done. I don't know if that's enough money, but we need to start somewhere.
I believe this bill is going to set the foundation for us moving forward. The amount of monies that we'll eventually be able to get is something that still needs to be discussed, but it has to be substantial. How much, I don't know, but we all feel that our languages are important, and they are important to us, but how do you weigh that? What's the balance? We just need to work it out.
I think what we have right now with this co-development, this partnership, if I can use that term, will enable us to move forward on the issues of financing. I wouldn't want to see the issue of financing hold up the bill, because we do need a foundation. We do need the recognition that this bill gives us, but of course we need to find ways to move forward in the long run.
Initially, the genesis of the Métis nation was through the fur trade and basically the voyageurs from primarily the Montreal and Quebec area. Historically, the mixed ancestry people evolved as the Acadians further evolved inland as the Québécois, and it's only in the far reaches of western Canada where the Métis evolved as a distinct indigenous people.
Through time, we developed the language known as Michif, basically for simplicity. The nouns are French and the rest of it is primarily Cree. It's a new language developed within the Métis nation, the Métis people. The Gabriel Dumont Institute and the Louis Riel Institute have been doing a lot of videotaping and putting out materials to capture that.
Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation in North Dakota was actually the first one to put out the Michif dictionary back in the late 1970s, I believe. A lot of the people on that Indian reservation still speak Michif, still play the music and still dance, but they are not recognized as Métis in the United States. You're either an Indian or you're not, but our nation still extends there.
There are somewhere in the neighbourhood of about 1,000 speakers left, but they are all getting older, like 65 and older. There are initiatives like the one at the high school in Île-à-la-Crosse. For the last 20 years, it has been teaching it in the schools.
It's starting to come back, but we certainly need assistance to enable us to go forward. We need to find ways and means to do that.
Basically, it's a holistic approach that's needed. This is just one of the pieces.
With this current government we've been engaged in the permanent bilateral mechanism which deals primarily with programs and services. In last year's budget we had somewhere around $1.5 billion in terms of early learning, child care and housing. In this upcoming budget we're looking at allocations for health and education.
That's one piece of it. We also have section 35 rights and reconciliation tables that Minister is engaged in with our five governing members. We're hoping that leads to dealing with section 35 rights.
We also have, of course, the co-development of legislation, this one being one of them. We also have the child and family services potential legislation in the works. That was co-developed as well. Unfortunately, it's very sad that the framework legislation on the recognition and implementation of rights framework is not proceeding. I'm not sure; perhaps it is, but I haven't heard much about it.
For the Métis nation we require something like that because we've been excluded from the comprehensive claims process. We've been excluded from all these processes. We need to have a process that engages the Métis nation. We would have hoped that would be in place.
Now, in terms of this particular bill, the “whereas” clauses are quite favourable to the Métis nation. It recognizes that languages are one of the rights that are protected by section 35 of the Constitution. It makes it clear that the indigenous peoples who have these rights are those who are contained or mentioned in subsection 35(2), which of course includes the Métis nation. So, it's incremental.
It also recognizes that it's based on the principles contained in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and in the 10 principles that the federal government brought out last year.
We're moving forward, in a way, on a holistic basis. Again, this is only one piece but it's such a critical piece. Language is so important. You've heard that over and over again from everyone who comes forward. If we could get this building block accomplished at this time, and if we can get other building blocks brought forward as well, eventually we will get to a place where we can truly say within Canada that we have a country where everyone is accommodated; everyone is helping to build this nation, or these peoples, and we're moving forward.
I've been engaged in international—
Let me put it this way. The government of the Métis nation has adopted criteria as to who is eligible to be registered as a citizen of the Métis nation, not who is of mixed ancestry—we have no control over that. Pretty well all indigenous peoples in this country are of mixed ancestry, but they're not Métis.
In terms of us, we do have registries, yes. The Métis Nation of Alberta has a registry, and of course you're from that province. Those who meet the criteria are registered as citizens; they have that right. If they don't meet those criteria, then they're not registered, because they're not part of, or citizens of, the historic Métis nation. They may be people who have moved—in the case of Fort McMurray—from Newfoundland, for example, or somewhere else in the east. They would not qualify.
When you say a brother and sister, I don't know the exact circumstances of that, but it seems strange to me. Either the one should not have been registered or they both should have been registered.
Basically, when we talk about the Métis nation, we're talking about a distinct people based in western Canada, although some now live in other parts of Canada, and they're entitled to be registered as citizens of the Métis nation. If you're in Australia, you're entitled to be registered. It doesn't matter where you live in the world, as long as you're a descendant of the historic Métis nation, as long as you're entitled to be a citizen. We're going on the basis of nationhood as a sociopolitical group and as a historic people.
We acknowledge the traditional territory of the Algonquin people. We thank you for the invitation to discuss this important bill.
I am Tracey Herbert from St'uxwtews First Nation of the Secwepemc Nation in B.C. I have the privilege of being the CEO for First Peoples' Cultural Council, and I'm here with my colleague, Dr. Suzanne Gessner, to offer recommendations to the standing committee for consideration.
Let me start by saying that for many years, indigenous peoples have had a strong desire for legislation to protect our languages. I'm so happy to be here today with you to discuss how we can work together to strengthen Bill so it can support the work we need to do as Canadians to revitalize the languages that come from this land we now call Canada.
The First Peoples' Cultural Council is a first nations-led provincial Crown corporation with a mandate to support the revitalization of first nations languages, arts, culture and heritage in British Columbia.
The organization provides funding, resources and training to communities. We monitor the status of first nations languages. We also provide technical advice and policy recommendations for first nations leadership and government.
The introduction of Bill is a concrete step towards reconciliation by the Government of Canada. We're very pleased to see this bill. We support legislation for languages.
I'm going to speak to a few key amendments that could strengthen the bill to make it more responsive to the needs of indigenous communities and languages. A full list of amendments has been submitted to the committee in writing.
I want to start with the preamble, which states:
Whereas the Government of Canada recognizes that all relations with Indigenous peoples must be based on the recognition and implementation of their right to self-determination, including the inherent right of self-government;
In contradiction to this recognition, the bill specifies that powers, duties and functions resulting from the act will be carried out by the minister or the commissioner. We therefore recommend the establishment of a national indigenous language organization governed by indigenous experts at arm's length from the Department of Canadian Heritage and the office of the commissioner.
This organization can support this work and would develop a national strategy for indigenous languages. I'll underscore three main reasons for its creation.
An organization is needed to provide broad, comprehensive management of the bill's implementation. A national organization can protect funding and programs into the future if government changes, for example, based on the model of the tri-agency, the CBC or the Canada Council for the Arts. I also see the development of an organization as a strategy for ensuring ongoing investment in indigenous languages.
As well, it will keep the implementation of Bill at arm's length from government, political organizations or the commissioner, and empower language experts and technicians to lead the work.
First Peoples' supports the creation of a commissioner to raise the profile and the value of Canada's indigenous languages, modelled after the Commissioner of Official Languages, with primary roles of ombudsperson, auditing and reporting.
While these roles are already specified within the bill, it seems that the commissioner is also meant to play a role in supporting efforts to reclaim, revitalize, maintain and strengthen languages. In order to effectively monitor the work, the commissioner needs to be independent from those supporting and carrying out the work.
The commitment to providing adequate, sustainable, long-term funding for the reclamation, revitalization, maintenance and strengthening of indigenous languages in clause 7 is crucial. However, this clause currently describes a non-specific consultation process to be undertaken by the minister in order to meet the objective of funding. This denies indigenous self-determination, and the process as described will prevent effective and efficient distribution of funding.
As we see it, the biggest challenge with Bill as it's currently written concerns the provision of funding. Bill creates only an obligation for the Minister of Canadian Heritage to consult on the subject of funding. It does not create any obligation for any amount of funding to be provided. We want to see long-term financial support for our languages. Our elders, knowledge keepers, speakers, language teachers, learners and those with expertise and commitment must have access to resources. Ultimately, the bill must guarantee investments that respond to the needs of indigenous communities and are protected from shifting government interests.
We recommend that the minister must fund a national indigenous language strategy in order to meet the objective of providing adequate, sustainable, long-term funding for the reclamation, revitalization, maintenance and strengthening of each indigenous language in Canada. The proposed national organization could work in collaboration with the minister to develop a strategy and funding framework.
First Peoples' also wants to shed light on some omissions.
First, indigenous languages in Canada include sign languages, which have been marginalized even more than spoken languages. They must be given explicit recognition.
Second, more than 50% of indigenous people in Canada live away from home communities. Indigenous peoples have the right to their language no matter where they reside. This point needs to come across strongly in the bill. Urban-based programming must be included in a national strategy.
Third, the ownership of intellectual property rights of each language must be protected. For example, clause 24 of the bill discusses research activities that may be undertaken by Statistics Canada or Library and Archives Canada. We do not support this clause of the bill. No non-indigenous entity should hold or curate indigenous knowledge. We recommend that the principles of ownership, control, access and possession with respect to indigenous languages be clearly outlined in the bill.
Finally, what are the indigenous languages being given recognition? A schedule should be added that lists the languages to which the bill applies. Regulations could set out the criteria and processes for adding languages to the schedule.
We support legislation to recognize and revitalize languages. We respectfully ask that you consider our recommendations to strengthen Bill . We have outlined several key points for consideration of amendments. Our two main arguments are that the implementation of Bill C-91 must be led and directed by indigenous people, which we suggest could be done through the creation of a national organization. The wording of the bill must obligate adequate, sustainable, long-term funding. It is not enough to consult about funding. We need a commitment to funding to make this work happen. In our experience, working in partnership with community, we know that language revitalization is entirely possible when supported by sustainable long-term funding.
Kukstec-kuc for listening. First Peoples' has a web page with multiple resources on legislation. We also have research providing detailed costing estimates. I know that there was some discussion about how much this is going to cost. We're very happy to assist the standing committee and the minister in any way we can.
[Witness spoke in Oneida Sign Language, interpreted as follows:]
I am Teyuhuhtakwiku. I am Haudenosaunee. I am Oneida Nation, and I am Turtle Clan.
I have been working with the Oneida Language and Cultural Centre in revitalizing Oneida Sign Language.
I will share with you that through colonization my language, my culture and my identity have been lost. Our language, our culture and our identity have been strengthened through the revitalization of Oneida Sign Language. We live here on Turtle Island and we need to consider all of the languages of Turtle Island, including sign languages. Through decolonization, I'm able to reclaim my identity, reclaim my people and reclaim my cultural ties as an Oneida person.
When we work within the two row, there is respect given for each other and we don't cross each other's paths, but respect that each brings different things to the table and also that we move along through this journey side by side.
I will share with you in comparison some of the differences between American Sign Language, which is used with the majority of deaf people in Canada, and Oneida Sign Language. The first one I will give you is “a celebration” or “a ceremony” in ASL, which is like so. However, in OSL, it is identified by showing a fire, the people around the fire and calling to the Creator, which really is what identifies with our culture.
I've jumped ahead in my speech, but I'll come back a bit and share with you our thanksgiving address. In our thanksgiving address, we give thanks for Mother Earth and for the strawberries and medicines, sacred tobacco, the water, trees, animals, the birds, and Grandmother Moon, the sun, the stars, the thunders and the four beings. We give thanks to the Creator.
We need to encourage all those within Turtle Island to develop their indigenous sign languages and work together.
Again, we come back to that two row wampum, where we work together side by side, but our paths do not cross.
Thank you for inviting me here today to share with you my experiences.
Marsha's father was a chief in a longhouse. When she was a young girl, she would attend a lot of ceremonies, when she was available, because she went to the school for the deaf in Milton, Ontario, but that's another sad story.
When growing up in that society, as she showed you, the celebrations would carry on, much to her chagrin and her non-understanding because there was no person there to explain to her what was going on because it was spoken in the Oneida language. Even if—much like with Debbie today—there were an interpreter there, when the Oneida language was spoken, her hands would just drop and then wait until English was spoken again. That part of being that close yet so far removed from our language, our culture, our traditions, our songs and our dances has impacted Marsha a great deal.
We have five children who are deaf: three girls and two boys. We have nine grandchildren; seven are deaf and two can hear. When Marsha was a child growing up, there were many instances when she was alone. She was the only native girl at Milton, so you can imagine the treatment she got there. She was never good enough and always was looked down upon.
Look where she is today. I asked her the other day, “When you were a little girl, did you ever envision coming to show the Oneida language to a standing committee on Parliament Hill?” She said, “No, never.” But we are here today, through her commitment, her effort, her being an elder within the deaf community who is looked up to, and her strength to keep going on this route, to walk this road that no one has ever walked before.
We've travelled across Canada. Marsha is the eastern Canadian representative for indigenous deaf women in Canada. That honour was granted to her two years ago in Edmonton because they've seen the qualities that she has shown here tonight: her commitment and her love for the language and for her people.
It's like when she said shekoli a while ago. It's not evasive. It's not in your face. It's down and it's away. It's a sweeping hand gesture. A lot of our gestures are like that. We've taken from the natural world and incorporated it into what we do to be non-offensive, to encourage you to come, look and learn. We've provided those opportunities for ourselves and our family.
Our family has driven this because, like I said, the number of our people is 14. However, in our community, it might add up to 20. The Oneida has a high number of deaf people, and we've been encouraged by them. Now the hearing population of Oneida is coming through, as well, with its teachings of the language. People are saying that they can remember more easily when they use sign language, that it helps them. We can see a definite improvement in the revitalization, in the fire, the rekindling of our flames for our language.
What I was saying earlier was that shekoli is like that. That's “hello”, and the next words, when you meet someone, are skʌna’kó: kʌ́, and that means, “Are you well?” That's the beauty of our language. The love in our language is that almost immediately you ask a person how they are, truly, and not just how are they doing and walk away. No, it's “How are you? Are you well?” In return it is asked of you, “Are you well?”
We have come to a point where our youth are picking that up again. For a period of time I got mad at my dad, when I was younger. I said, “How come you never spoke the language to us, to my brother and me?” We had to go with our grandparents to really get an understanding of our language. I was really mad. He said, “I never wanted to teach you something another man could beat out of you.” After he said those words, I wasn't mad anymore.
That's the direct effect that colonialism has had within our people, within our families, within our structure.
Now we're regaining that back to the point that whenever anybody talks about youth, not only our youth, but other youths as well, having no respect, well, in learning that language and learning to put those words together, that teaches you respect right there. You carry that out. Elders respect you and they encourage you to learn more, because that's the way they were brought up. Their first language was Oneida. That's why it's so important that we can carry this on and Marsha can share that with her grandchildren.
I say that because she was such a lonely little girl. Now, together, we've made our own little tribe where she is not alone anymore. The strength, the compassion, the understanding, and the caring that are in our language we try to incorporate into our signs.
She showed “animal”. An animal will paw for its food, and it will paw at the ground. In American Sign Language a bear is this way; ours is this way. He will leave his mark on a tree and you'll know he's there, so you'd better watch out unless you want to meet him.
Insect, bug, in American Sign Language is this way, and ours is like this, because that will draw your immediate attention: “Oh, there is a spider on me, there is something crawling on me, and it's probably an insect.” We have tried to take our natural world and combine it into our gestures, into what we can present to Kwan ni”y’oht, the smallest, to Kwan ni”y’oht, the biggest of our people.
I hope with the demonstration we have put on here today we will help you to understand that.
Yaw^ko. Thank you.
We see a difference between the work that needs to go on to support making revitalization happen and the work of a commissioner. Again, they're the ombudsman. They take the complaints. I don't think they necessarily are the best option to support communities to deliver language revitalization programming across Canada.
First Peoples' is more than a grant-maker. We also provide training and a lot of support and work in partnership with communities to gather language data. We publish the status of languages report every four years. We've trained 475 people on language revitalization this past year alone because of the $50 million in funding that we received from the Province of British Columbia. We work with our advisory committees, our indigenous Ph.D.s and specialists, to develop plans and strategies that create outcomes that are going to result in language revitalization, strategies such as immersion through the mentor apprentice program and language nests.
It's complicated work and it can't happen without support. You don't solve the problem just with funding. There also has to be collaboration. As my elder, Marsha, just said, we have to walk side by side and collaborate over tribal areas where we share a language. Individual first nations need to work together, and we need to share our resources and support each other, and first nations people who have a desire and a passion for their languages should be supported to learn those languages no matter where they live.
I see the national organization as a strategy to have the opportunity to invite indigenous experts in revitalization to guide the work to support people across Canada as they're revitalizing their languages, similar to First Peoples'. We have a limited role, not taking up a lot of money, because I think that's what we had discussed in our consultations. People weren't keen, and I certainly wasn't keen at first because I thought we have what we need in B.C. We're taken care of. But there is a huge value in coming together across the nations and collaborating and sharing and supporting each other in this work, and I think that's only going to happen if we have a national entity.
Thank you to all of you for coming.
Indigenous language and language itself is a subject very dear to me. I pride myself on learning the language, and it's probably because of multiculturalism when I was younger. Similar to what Max said, people like my brothers, who are much older than I am, originally didn't want to learn the language and neither did I. When you're younger, you want to assimilate—not even integrate; you want to assimilate—as fast as you can and shed any differences, but later you realize those differences are awesome, and they're what makes Canada great.
I feel one of the challenges with this bill has to do with the number of languages and the small number of people who speak them. Recording, revitalizing and maintaining them will be the biggest task, and I think we're going to have to look at some very innovative and modern ways to preserve them. It's not going to be your conventional professor or teacher. You're going to have to digitize in a very interesting way because there are a lot of dialects. I hadn't thought about sign language before.
I want you to be aware of that, and I think your point that the indigenous should not just be consulted but that they should spearhead this is very important.
Why do you have a great concern that the data itself should not be in the hands of StatsCan, but in the hands of indigenous handlers themselves?
Sure. We started in 1990. We're a provincial Crown corporation. We have a board of directors of 13 directors and then we have an advisory committee made up of a representative from every language in British Columbia. Our mandate is to revitalize language, arts, culture and heritage, so it's a holistic approach to cultural revitalization.
In early times, we supported cultural centres and found, though, that in order to support the languages we needed to support more organizations, more types of organizations, and shifted to supporting and prioritizing language revitalization. For many years we had a very limited budget. We were supporting 32 languages and 90 dialects with about $1 million a year. We acted as a non-profit, raising money, bringing in resources from multiple sources. In some years we could have up to 11 different funders.
Over time we worked with communities to identify the types of strategies that worked to revitalize languages. We decided to focus, in 2006, on immersion types of activities and focused on creating speakers in the community through early childhood development and language nests, through mentor-apprentice. We are now, in the last few years, really focusing on supporting communities to develop language plans where they collaborate with other communities that share the same language and focus on investments that are in multiple domains. One could say we have a school, that we're teaching the children, and revitalizing the language, but in fact, one needs to invest in multiple domains from baby all the way to elder in order to revitalize the languages.
We're really trying to shift with the $50-million investment from the B.C. government. We were able to share the story of how languages could be revitalized through a business plan that talked about the different areas we would invest in. Again, all these ideas and programs come from this reciprocal relationship with the community, because communities are the experts. We'll try something and they'll say that it doesn't quite work and we need to make a shift.
Thank you, dear colleague.
Mrs. Herbert, I am a francophone from New Brunswick, so I am of Acadian descent. The battle for languages and the identity of culture through language touches me very much. It is my reason to be, and I imagine it is the same for you.
We heard from some witnesses earlier. We talked about a lot of things two hours ago. There are at least 90 indigenous languages in Canada, and 75% of them are at risk.
The purpose of the bill before us is to support indigenous peoples in the reclamation, revitalization, maintenance and strengthening of their languages. You said earlier that you didn't think that clause 7 is strong enough because it talks about consultation.
I'm not going to have a legal debate with you. The first two sentences may not be strong enough, but the minister really insisted that the bill is based first and foremost on what the indigenous communities have argued. The primary purpose of the bill is to meet the needs of these communities, and not the other way around, meaning that it is not the government that imposes its vision.
Correct me if I'm wrong or if you disagree, but clause 7 states that the minister must consult the diverse communities. It states the following:
in order to meet the objective of providing adequate, sustainable and long-term funding for the reclamation, revitalization, maintenance and strengthening of Indigenous languages.
Doesn't this second part reassure you?