Thank you, Madam Chair.
[Witness speaks in Cree]
That's just a little bit in Cree. I am very happy to be here.
[Witness speaks in Cree]
I am thanking you all, as relatives and friends, and acknowledging the Algonquin people for their ancestral lands on which we gather. The presentation is about seven or eight minutes long. I know that some bells will ring, so I'm going to get right into it.
I want to thank the members of the committee and thank you all for inviting me here today to speak to you about Bill .
You have heard about the importance of our languages to our cultures and to our people. First nations languages, we say, are national treasures. They are essential to who we are as indigenous people, first nations people. Our culture, our identity and our overall well-being comes from our languages. They are unique to these lands and to these territories which is why we always say they are Canada's national treasures.
I would like to address you by speaking today on why we are calling for the support of this bill. We have four months left before June, so timing is of the essence.
Number one, the proposed bill answers first nations' calls for the government to recognize, affirm and meaningfully support and provide funding for first nations' languages. We want our languages to be our living languages, sourced from our lands, expressing our creation stories and alive in our ceremonies and daily lives. Our languages are essential to our very identity as indigenous people.
The legislation recognizes that our languages are essential to the transmission of our cultures and traditional knowledge for future generations including our values, histories and world views.
Bill acknowledges that discriminatory government policies and practices were detrimental to our languages and were key in the erosion of indigenous languages.
Bill also marks the first time that Canada has upheld indigenous language rights as existing aboriginal treaty rights as recognized in section 35 of the Constitution Act 1982. Through this act, it's like we're filling up section 35 and the language rights there in section 35.
To have a full discussion regarding the pre-existing aboriginal treaty rights, indigenous perspectives and case law must be considered. Cases such as Sparrow, Van der Peet, and Delgamuukw provide clear direction in that regard. Here's a quote from Van der Peet:
Courts must take into account the perspective of aboriginal peoples themselves. In assessing a claim for the existence of an aboriginal right, a court must take into account the perspective of the aboriginal people claiming the right.
The proposed legislation is consistent with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to action and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, both of which are supported by first nations and both of which Canada has pledged to honour and impalement. Here I refer to TRC calls to action numbers 13 to 15, and the UN declaration's articles 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 8, 11 to 16, 18, 20, 22, 23, 25 to 27, 31, 33, 34, 36, 37, 39, 40 and 42 to 46. We did encourage the elaboration of these articles in the body of the legislation. They are not yet included, but there are references to the UN declaration.
Indigenous people's languages qualify us for the right to self-determination, as upheld in the UN declaration, and language is a defining characteristic for our nationhood.
I've always said it this way: Five elements are needed for the inherent right to self-determination to be recognized not only within the nation state called Canada, but globally. Your own languages, your own lands, your own laws, your own people and your own identifiable forms of government.
Language is one of those five. It's fundamental to our existence.
This legislation commits the government to providing sufficient sustainable and long-term funding toward the revitalization of our languages.
This legislation includes provisions to ensure that the government consults with indigenous governments and governing bodies to provide adequate, sustainable and long-term funding for the reclamation, revitalization, maintenance and strengthening of our languages.
The purpose of this legislation responds to the need for multi-faceted approaches. We need schools on the reserve, as well as in rural and urban settings to create and implement effective bilingual and immersion education programs, beginning with preschool-age children.
We need programs that inspire all of our people to speak our languages—regardless of age—to renew the vibrancy of our communities as our cultural places. These approaches must be developed and driven by first nations peoples.
The level of financial investment will be substantial and the need is immediate, including seeing the federal investment for language revitalization and related activities in this year's federal budget.
Number two is that passing this legislation is important for indigenous peoples and for all Canadians.
According to a 2017 Nanos research survey, 74% of Canadians were already found to be supportive of the development of an indigenous languages act, so this is good politics for the Conservatives, for the NDP and for the Liberals. Canadians want this and see the need for this. It's good for everyone. You talk about this word, “reconciliation”. This is it in action, so it's good. Everybody is supporting this.
We say that Canada must revisit its vision as a multicultural, multilingual country in a way that includes the original peoples of this land. Canada as a nation was in part formed through nation-to-nation treaties. Indigenous languages were used in the making of these treaties. We can only fully understand our shared history with our ancestral indigenous languages.
We have met with francophonie representative organizations and they understand the importance of the recognition and affirmation of our language rights. This legislation will not displace the rights of other language groups. It is part of recognizing indigenous language rights, because all languages matter.
The health and socio-economic benefits of knowing one's language and culture expand beyond the individual, to building strong communities, stronger first nations, and a stronger Canada. People who acquire fluency at a young age are more successful in school and, therefore, more successful in life. Studies have shown that. You know who you are and where you've come from. You're more successful in school.
Think of this as the business case. You're investing in the fastest-growing segment of Canada's population, which is young first nations men and women, and you're going to have huge returns on investment in the future. This is the business case that can be made if people can't get their head around fundamental human rights or inherent rights, aboriginal rights or treaty rights. It makes sense.
A culturally appropriate implementation of this legislation can help first nations and Canadians heal from our shared history of residential schools. It's time to begin to reverse the damage of harmful policies and to reverse language loss. A healthier and stronger Canadian society embraces peace, diversity, respect and inclusiveness. It's a society where everyone lives in freedom and dignity, and our strength lies in upholding these fundamental principles.
The United Nations proclaimed 2019 the International Year of Indigenous Languages. Let's let Canada be an example of what it means to not only celebrate but actively support indigenous languages by passing this legislation and furthermore, by supporting an international decade of indigenous languages.
Action is needed now because no indigenous language in Canada is safe. The urgency of language revitalization cannot be understated and we cannot stall. I acknowledge that there are some limitations to legislation, so how do we make sure we can move forward as soon as possible, considering the urgency of language revitalization?
We can address improvements to the act through this committee process. We always say that nothing is perfect. Let's find ways to make things better. For example, the AFN advocated for an elaboration of the United Nations declaration section in full. The language of the provision of “adequate, sustainable and long-term funding” could also be strengthened.
The matter of the delivery of federal government services in indigenous languages is an expectation and a right.
The possible requirement for translation of documents and interpretation services, where requested, in relation to federal institutions, would benefit from more clarity and strengthening as well.
Canadian intellectual property law does not currently acknowledge and protect indigenous languages as traditional knowledge and afford intellectual property rights. Participants in the national engagement sessions highlighted a need for this protection in the legislation. We need to make sure that we look after that information ourselves and that it's not copyrighted by other institutions, whether they be academic or any other.
First nations are dedicated to our languages. A growing number of second-language learners shows us that our young people care about their languages. Indigenous peoples and organizations will take the lead in reclaiming, revitalizing, maintaining and strengthening our languages.
Working on a co-development basis does not end here. Legislation could also clarify that first nations need to be involved in the implementation both before and following the entry into force of this act. We must continue to work together in implementing the indigenous languages act in a good way.
To conclude, this legislation is a stepping stone for us all. This legislation is enabling. It is a means to meaningfully support and fund indigenous initiatives led by indigenous peoples to bring our languages back. It's a means to regain a pride in our languages, regaining fluency, and make first nations languages living languages by bringing them back into our homes, communities and daily lives.
As a demonstration of good faith, we must put the same time and energy into revitalizing first nations languages as Canada put into trying to eradicate them. The implementation of this legislation will be a major legacy for our children who will be able to grow up learning and speaking their languages. Our languages, the original languages of this land, can and should once again be heard throughout Canada. To ensure this legacy we are also pressing that 2019 not only be the International Year of Indigenous Languages but that the United Nations also adopt an international decade of indigenous languages in a timely manner.
That's a good question. The whole idea of this act is to bring back fluency. That's the intention of this act. You have 634 first nations right across Canada. There are over a million first nations people and 90 indigenous languages right across. It depends on what territory you're from: it could be Mi'kmaq, Maliseet, Passamaquoddy, Mohawk, Dene, Cree, Tlingit or Blackfoot. There are different nations and tribes.
Your question is good because half of our people live on the res, in their communities, and half live off. The intention of this act, for example, the monies to be spent on things like preschool curriculum development, things like teacher training, mentor-apprentice models, things like documentation and digitization—so it's really accessible—bilingual development.... Those things can happen out on the reserves, but as well, half of our people live off reserves. I have to be respectful as well, because in the Yukon and Northwest Territories, there are no reserves. We have to be mindful of our language so that everybody has access.
The use of technology is a key part of reaching citizens, not only in Little Black Bear; our members live in Regina, Saskatoon, Toronto and right across Canada. We need technology.
There also has to be an aspect of provincial government involvement as well because the provinces decide the curricula. The provinces can also make investments. I lift up British Columbia as one example. That provincial government put $50 million into indigenous language revitalization in British Columbia. That's huge.
You have to look at technology and provincial government involvement, but you also have to embrace this concept from the Corbiere decision. It's a recent Supreme Court decision whereby every first nation citizen has the right to vote for their chief and council, regardless of residency. The chiefs represent all their membership, whether they live in or away from their first nations community. This raises the issue of portability of services and programs, portability of rights and portability of services.
Between those three things—technology, provincial government involvement, and even, in some cases, involvement with the municipalities and governments in the big cities—and the extension of services and programs that allow the chiefs and councils themselves to look after their citizens, you should be able to address the issue of how to get services and programs to people living away from the community and territory.
It's a good question, again. What has to happen?
There has to be a greater focus on dealing with the provincial premiers and with the provincial and territorial governments. We've asked for changes to the curricula to teach, in all the schools, about aboriginal rights and treaty rights.
For example, in Saskatchewan, it's law: You have to teach treaties in the classroom, from kindergarten to grade 12. You also build on that the impact of the residential schools. You also build on that the impact of the Indian Act, which has been in place since 1876. We need to change the curricula. That comes under provincial government jurisdiction, if you will, so there has to be a very concerted lobby effort at those levels. It's starting to happen across Canada, but that's how you get the curricula changed.
Again, focusing on the territory reserve is one jurisdictional piece, but a lot of our people reside off, so you need a two-pronged strategy. The federal government can do something, and it is through this act, but the provinces have a role to play as well. To address the issue there, that's one piece.
Going one step further, if these curricula are changed such that these rights have to be taught from kindergarten to grade 12, what about the teachers coming out of these institutions, who get their B.Ed. and their teaching degree? Those universities don't teach these teachers how to adequately teach about the spirit and intent of treaty, nor do they teach how to incorporate some of our ceremonies into these mainstream institutions in the Catholic schools, the public schools or the private schools. You have to have that as well.
Change the curricula, but the universities and all their education faculties still have to be brought up to speed. They have to incorporate traditional knowledge and elders' knowledge at that level so the young men and women coming out with their teaching degrees will know what the spirit and intent to treaty means. The words [Witness speaks in indigenous language], “cede, surrender and relinquish”, for example, I don't understand. I don't think Chief Little Black Bear understood them in 1874. He never had a good legal counsel to explain what it meant to put his four-direction mark on that treaty. The spirit and intent about sharing the land, the spirit and intent about a good education—all these things have to be taught.
Yes, we need curriculum changes and universities will also have to adapt.
Thank you for the question, because they're linked. It's a direct link.
Again, we're using English, this beautiful English language.
However, I speak a little French.
These are two beautiful, wonderful languages, but apisis nehiyawewin, I speak a little bit of Cree as well. It's important, because in our ceremonies and our lodges, when you pray—ehkakisimot—when you smoke with the pipe, you're supposed to use your language, the gifts given to you by the Creator. That's a teaching from our elders. If you're in a sun dance lodge, or in a sweat lodge, or in any kind of ceremony, we're supposed to use those gifts from the Creator. They're tied. Your language is tied to ceremony. They're inextricably linked. They can't be separated.
We say it this way: that what was given to us is good this way. Our old people said that they would never disrespect the churches, that the churches are a good way, and go to God. That's what the Creator gave to these people over here, the good way, and they would never say anything negative. This way, our way, is not about that way, and that way is not about this way. For years, the residential schools and the Indian Act said that our way was no good. Now that pride is coming back, that language is coming back, and the ceremonies are coming back strong, and they're linked, because that's what the Creator gave us. They're totally linked.
I go to ceremonies all across Canada. I had the big honour of being with Haudenosaunee peoples in their longhouse. It's all Mohawk. Everything's in Mohawk. Then I go to our lodges and it's all in Cree in the sun dance lodges. You go to the Saulteaux and it's in Ojibwe. It's a big honour to see that.
That's one of the teachings. They're linked, so you must have those two. It's who you are. It's who we are. You can't avoid it. You have to have them.
Thank you very much for your submissions and comments. If I can summarize what I think I'm hearing and see whether or not you can mark me on this.... You're talking, first, about—I think you said four or five times—a sense of urgency with respect to this and the need to get this through by the end of June.
You've talked about the reason for that urgency: it's that no languages are safe and you don't want to move on to uncertainties. I think I heard that quite clearly.
You also said that no legislation is perfect and nothing is, but you felt there was a certain amount of agreement with the legislation here.
In previous testimony that we've heard, we've looked at some of those issues that should be looked at and/or changed.
Clauses 1 through 11, as I read them, are more value statements. They're the principles. They talk a little about organizational structure, but they lay out the broad framework of what we want to achieve. They're referring to the United Nations' UNDRIP, the Constitution and a number of issues that go through that.
Clauses 12 through 30 talk about the office of the commissioner of indigenous languages and the directors that will come with that. I think that's where I would see a lot of the flexibility or a lot of the interpretation. You've made reference a number of times to being able to respond to the local nuances and needs of the geographic area and the people who live in those areas.
Then, I think clauses 31 through 42 talk about a shared responsibility of the implementation of that and the need for flexibility.
I'm fairly accurate to this point. I'm asking if you would then agree that the values that are reflected are appropriate values, that they do provide the foundation and that the office of the commissioner will have the ability to make those decisions. While we don't know who the commissioner or the directors will be, we believe they will be representative of indigenous communities and be from indigenous communities and be able to do that.
My concern with legislation in the past has been that we put too much into the legislation, and we're not able to respond to the nuances and needs as things change. I'm just testing whether or not you would agree, or would correct me in those areas where I'm seeing this incorrectly, or whether or not that is a fair interpretation of what I've heard in your testimony.
Good evening. My name is Dwight Newman. I am a professor of law and Canada research chair in indigenous rights in constitutional and international law at the University of Saskatchewan.
I carry on a broad-based program of research on indigenous rights, constitutional law and international law. I serve in a variety of related policy roles, including as a Munk senior fellow of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute and as a member of the International Law Association's committee on the implementation of the rights of indigenous peoples.
I appear before the committee as an individual, in response to an invitation I received last week, and I am pleased to assist the committee in whatever ways I can as it considers Bill .
In my introductory remarks, I will do two things. One, I want to highlight the importance of supporting indigenous languages and why the goals of this bill should attract support from all sides; and two, I want to highlight a number of specific sections in the bill to think about or ask further questions about, in order to try to enact the best bill feasible.
First, then, I want to highlight that the scholarly literature on language rights generally references many factors that make initiatives on this subject an urgent matter. Language is not just a means of communication, important though that is, but it is also a vehicle of culture and cultural survival, a support for social solidarity and self-worth of different communities, and a means of conserving concepts and values highlighted within different world views that bring a variety of perspectives on our shared quest for meaning in human life.
Supporting indigenous languages is about supporting human communities, kinship networks, families and individuals. In the Canadian context, it is also a vital response to tragic errors of the past insofar as the residential school system tore apart families and communities and caused severe damage to indigenous cultures and languages.
The 2008 Canadian government apology for residential schools was a vital moment in reconciliation, but apologies must carry through to action and, in this case, action that seeks to restore families, communities and cultures. Supporting indigenous languages is an urgent policy initiative.
Second, I want to turn to this specific bill and highlight a number of questions the committee may wish to consider. This legislation has come to Parliament at a particular stage in time, and there are some resulting dangers in the kind of quick consideration it could end up getting, but we must all do the best we can in giving this bill the close attention it deserves in the limited time available.
I am going to highlight a number of questions I think the committee might wish to consider, very specific questions about sections of the bill, but I hope that will be helpful from a legal perspective.
The definitions section in clause 2 of the bill does not define the term “Indigenous languages”, but that term is used elsewhere in the bill, quite obviously. Also, I would raise the question of whether there should be a provision for a schedule of indigenous languages adopted via regulation, so that there can be clarity on which languages the commissioner is to be focused upon, which could be developed, obviously, in conjunction with the commissioner and in consultation on an ongoing basis with indigenous peoples in Canada.
Several other terms that appear elsewhere in the act are also undefined in clause 2. The terms “Indigenous peoples”, “Indigenous governing body” and “Indigenous organization” are all defined in clause 2. However, other terms used in the bill—“Indigenous groups”, “Indigenous community” and “Indigenous governments”—are used elsewhere in the bill but are not defined in clause 2. I would just invite the committee to think of whether any difficulties could arise from that.
Jumping ahead to a related piece of the bill in clause 25, I do want to highlight that the bill says that the commissioner can provide funding to indigenous communities, indigenous governments or indigenous governing bodies—those specific terms. Given the terminology of the bill, there is an implicit but clear exclusion of indigenous organizations, another term appearing in the bill. Indigenous organizations would include bodies that operate in urban areas. The question here, simply, is whether Parliament is clear that it intends to exclude urban indigenous organizations from the possibility of receiving funding directly from the office. That's just a question to be clear upon.
Returning to earlier in the bill, clause 6 includes a legislative recognition of what is included in section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. I am personally on record as agreeing with the substantive view expressed in clause 6 as to what's in section 35, and I personally would also defend the role of legislatures in constitutional interpretation, but my view on the latter point is certainly not shared by all.
I would urge the committee to think carefully on Parliament's view of whether a sort of clause like clause 6 is appropriate as part of a legislative enactment as a clause rather than as part of a preamble, for example. I cannot find a precedent like clause 6 in other legislation. Someone may be able to point to one, but using search terms to try to identify one, I've not found one.
You may wish to consider whether there is a separation of powers issue on the legislature pronouncing on the interpretation of a section of the Constitution in place of the courts doing so. You may also wish to consider if there is a federalism issue in the federal Parliament pronouncing on a constitutional matter that also ultimately affects the provinces and trying to do that through federal legislation.
In clause 7, I would highlight that the English and French versions of the bill do not seem entirely consistent, at least as compared with other indigenous rights-related documents from the Government of Canada and the terms used in those documents to express the same meanings in English and in French. The French term, “en vue de”, as found in the French version of this bill, is elsewhere found alongside an English term, “with the aim of”. The English version here, “in order that”, is usually found alongside a French term, “afin de”. The terms at issue can have different legal meanings, and the English version of clause 7 of this bill uses language that some, in other contexts, end up arguing implies the achievement of the substantive result that follows the term. I know I'm being technical here, but this legislation is going to be a statute.
I do not entirely agree with the view that it has that implication, but it can be argued, and if the bill is passed as is, there may end up being credible litigation that argues that the English version of clause 7 implies a funding obligation, although the French version is much less supportive of that result. I know people have a variety of views on what the clause 7 obligation should be, but it's appropriate that there be consistency achieved between the English and French versions and that Parliament understand clearly what it is or is not committing to with the terminology ultimately adopted in clause 7.
Recently, the issue of indigenous language revitalization in the TRC report resonated with us. As Jews, we know the importance of language. A language is not only a means of communication. It carries with it history, culture and identity: past, present and future.
Dr. Pamela Serota Cote, whose doctoral research at the University of San Francisco focused on Breton language and identity, once noted:
Because language discloses cultural and historical meaning, the loss of language is a loss of that link to the past. Without a link to the past, people in a culture lose a sense of place, purpose and path; one must know where one came from to know where one is going.
Like indigenous people, the Jewish people know first-hand the truth of that statement. A little over a century ago, Hebrew, the indigenous language of the Jewish people, was considered by the world to be dormant, if not dead, confined to the religious texts and spoken prayers of the synagogue.
In 1890, the Jewish community, living in what is now Israel, took the bold step of establishing a Hebrew language committee. Its mandate was to prepare the Hebrew language for use as a spoken language in all facets of life—in the home, school, public life, business, industry, fine arts, and in the sciences.
The committee concluded that the indigenous language of the Jewish people, Hebrew, should be restored in the indigenous land of the Jewish people. It launched an intensive program to transform Hebrew from a language of religious text and ritual into one of daily life. By the time Israel was established in 1948, the broad renaissance the committee envisioned had come to fruition. Whereas biblical Hebrew consists of roughly 7,000 words, modern Hebrew now encompasses about 33,000 words.
As Hebrew writer Yehuda Burla observed: “The very foundation of each and every nation is its national tongue.” For Israelis, the revitalization of Hebrew was pivotal to the rebirth of the Jewish nation. For the diaspora—including the Canadian Jewish community—the restoration of Hebrew to the centre of the Jewish experience has dramatically enriched the identity of Jews worldwide. Today, it is not only in our religious services where one hears Hebrew—even in Canada. Jews around the world are connecting to their roots by studying Hebrew as a key to accessing the vibrant world of modern Jewish culture.
The entire planet now has access to it. Some of the best shows on Netflix are in Hebrew. If you want suggestions, come and talk to me after. I'll give you some.
The revitalization of Hebrew has permanently changed the global Jewish experience. While the situation of indigenous languages in Canada is somewhat different from that of Hebrew, we believe similar consequences can follow from the adoption of Bill .