[Witness spoke in Cree
Greetings to you all.
My name is Onowa McIvor. I am a Swampy Cree woman. My family is from the Norway House and Cross Lake Cree nations in northern Manitoba, Treaty 5.
I offer gratitude and acknowledgement to the WSANEC and the Lkwugen people, whose land I am on today.
I am living proof of the indigenous resilience of our people. My grandparents were speakers of our language but did not pass our language down to my mother and her siblings, and so she did not have this gift to offer to me. And yet, here I am, a language warrior, recoverer and scholar of indigenous language revitalization, because of their strength and resilience. I come to this work from a deeply personal place, as many indigenous people do, and this family and community history drives my scholarly life.
I believe in the power of policy and what it can achieve, and I thank you for the opportunity to address you today.
I have four main points I would like to speak to, and others I have included in my written submission that I hope will be considered by the committee in that form.
The first point relates to UNDRIP. There is a direct contradiction between the preamble, which includes, with clause 3, the Government of Canada's commitment to implementation, and paragraph 5(g), which shifts to the more obscure wording of “advance the achievement of the objectives”.
First, I would recommend that the bill match the preamble and add UNDRIP as paragraph 6(b): “the Government of Canada recognizes the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as it relates to Indigenous languages”, with the additional specific reference to articles 13 and 14.
The point of adding article 14 to the UNDRIP clause is not only for consistency with paragraph 5(f), which refers to the TRC calls to action and names the specific calls to action, but it also leads to my next point, which relates to the responsibilities around education.
I have included UNDRIP articles 13 and 14 for reference but will just highlight a couple of lines that refer to my next point.
Article 14 says, “Indigenous peoples have the right to establish and control their educational systems and institutions providing education in their own languages”. Article 14(3) says, “...indigenous individuals, particularly children, including those living outside their communities [have the right] to an education in their own culture and provided in their own language.” This leads to my second point about rights protection and the link to education.
Specifically in paragraph 5(e), and in clauses 8 and 9, there is concerning language that equates the federal government's obligations to respect “the powers and jurisdictions of the provinces” with upholding “the rights of Indigenous peoples”. These two obligations should not be equated as one. The rights of indigenous peoples are pre-existing and supersede the federal government's obligation to comply with “the powers and jurisdictions of the provinces”.
Besides the legal and rights-based arguments for this, it's an important practical implication regarding education established and controlled by indigenous people and provided in their own language, as referred to in UNDRIP article 14.
One of the critical areas of damage to our languages in Canada has been schools, but increasingly it's one of the areas that we look to as a solution, especially as the place where many of our children spend six to seven hours a day, five days a week, 10 months of the year.
To bring clarity to this point, I would like to refer to Jordan's principle. This is in no way to bring disrespect to this tragic event, but rather to emphasize the parallel jurisdictional complexities that exist in the education sector as it relates to indigenous peoples, as was acknowledged to exist in the health sector between federal and provincial governments. Both instances have to do with indigenous children's rights. In this case, it is about the life and death of our languages, and I would argue that the situation and potential effects are equally serious.
The basis for Jordan's principle is the memory of the late Jordan River Anderson, a five-year-old boy from Norway House Cree Nation, my nation, in Manitoba, who died waiting for the care he needed. His care was caught in disputes between the federal and provincial governments, which could not agree on who should pay for his care.
These disputes are rooted in various agreements, but are essentially founded in the Crown's fiduciary responsibilities to indigenous people. The reality that Canada divided itself into provinces and territories and devolved some health responsibilities and, in this case, education, particularly off-reserve education, to those entities does not supersede or replace these pre-existing agreements or indigenous rights therein. The reality of our demographics is also that the majority of our people do not live on reserve, or in the case of the territories, and for indigenous people, reserves have no meaning.
This is a separate but circular argument for the changes to the above-mentioned sections, to separate the federal government's obligations to recognize and affirm indigenous rights, apart from and before they are concerned with delegated provincial jurisdictions, and also to ensure that UNDRIP, and particularly article 14 as it relates to the effects on education, is affirmed in this bill.
Third, creating lists that are neither summative nor exhaustive is detractive and potentially dangerous. I want to highlight paragraphs 5(b) and 23(e), and clause 25. All include lists of sorts in the bill. Lists convey a sense of comprehensiveness, as in, “These things are important or will be supported.” They are often listed in order of importance.
None of these lists appear to me to have been developed by indigenous language revitalization scholars with a deep understanding of the field, its current state and foreseeable directions. I would strongly encourage eliminating these lists, or an earnest revision. I've included suggestions for revision in my written submission, and I would be happy to consult further on this issue if desired by the committee.
My fourth and final point, for my opening comments, references clause 24, regarding research to be undertaken by the office of the commissioner. As somebody who makes their living as a researcher, and who believes very deeply in the power of research, I want to highlight for the committee that we are in a new era regarding research. Indigenous communities will no longer tolerate being researched. The tri-council funding agencies are nearing the end of a two-year consultation process on how to enact the calls to action relating to research by and with indigenous peoples.
I would suggest that clause 24 come in line with what has already been established by indigenous peoples, as well as the tri-council funding agencies, as acceptable. I've included a simple suggested revision, to add the words “indigenous-led” or “indigenous-governed”. I have additional suggestions in my written submission for your consideration.
In my closing comments, I would just say that I am very pleased to see this bill come forward, after 50 years. It is a form of what we've been fighting for. It is a bill, as the minister has said, that we can at least make changes to in the future. The time is now. The time is actually overdue, and there does seem to be cross-party political will to see this through, which is refreshing. However, if this bill is successful, we will live with this act for at least five quite formative years, and possibly longer, as it can be difficult to convince new people to change a bill once it's initially approved.
It is in this spirit that I ask you to consider my recommendations and advice herein.
Ekosi, hai hai.
[Witness spoke in Mi'kmaq]
I am Blaire Gould, and I come from the Mi'kmaw territory, specifically the Eskasoni First Nation. I am a first-language speaker, born and raised in a language-rich community of Eskasoni First Nation. I represent a generation in my community where speaking Mi'kmaw was normal. Additionally, I have four beautiful children, who are also raised in the language, but in their generations, speaking Mi'kmaw is not what it was in my generation, and actually only a handful of children from each of their generations are speakers.
I represent Mi'kmaw Kina'matnewey. This is a team of unified chiefs, staff, parents and educators who advocate on behalf of and represent the educational interests of our communities, and we protect the educational and Mi'kmaw language rights of the Mi'kmaw people, as legislated in 1998 under the Mi'kmaq Education Act. The importance of revitalizing and reclaiming our languages is essential to who we are as indigenous people. There have been deliberate ways to remove our languages from us, as people, which includes our identities, our cultures and our well-being.
In every location across this land, we visit the respective territories of the original people, whose land we are on, and know the richness and diversity of their languages, traditions and cultures. Today, I sit here on Algonquin territory and acknowledge the Algonquin people, as a visitor and ally with great respect from Mi'ikma'ki.
In my territory, there are great efforts to revitalize and reclaim languages. Languages have been a high priority within our leadership and our Sante' Mawio'mi, which is the traditional government of the Mi'kmaw people. In the last 13 years, Nova Scotia's language-speaking population has significantly declined. In 1999, the generation of 10- to 19-year-olds was 70%, while 13 years later, the same generation was assessed at 20%. To see a decline in our speaking populations within the younger generations is alarming.
There have been measures to reverse those declines, but with no adequate or sustained funding, it is very hard to do. The effort to establish languages back to normalization, as they were once spoken in all domains, is essential to the foundations of this bill. For normalization, we must embrace the evolution of our languages to move forward. I see clear efforts to respect the rights of self-determination and see this moving a step forward in reconciliation.
I would like to highlight clause 24 of the bill, and more specifically intellectual property. There's one amendment I'd like to see, that intellectual property rests with the nations and not individuals or institutions.
I see this bill as a foundational bill, and I respect the people who have spoken before me on those recommendations for amendments. I have been fully briefed on those conversations here today, but I am just here to reiterate the intellectual property clause.
[Witness spoke in Dakelh]
Today I want to share at least one indigenous language that comes from this continent, a language that belongs to my people. It's a Dene language. We call ourselves Dakelh. We come from the northern part of British Columbia in the west. We share that language with other Athabaskan Dene-speaking people in Alaska, the Yukon and the Northwest Territories; in the northern parts of all the provinces pretty much over to Manitoba; south to northern California, southern Oregon, with the Hoopa and the Yurok; and the southwest United States, with the Apache and Navajo. We share that same language family.
What I said is that this is a very big issue that we're talking about, the status of our languages. We have come before you to speak about it in the hopes that you will listen and help us with our languages. There's a plea in our hearts to you to reach out, as this country of Canada, to hold up our people with dignity and honour, and the well-being that we have, for the survival of our languages, as the original languages of this great land.
I am an elected member of the First Nations Summit executive, and have been for 30 years. I know both Cathy and Gordie Hogg—Gordie Hogg in particular, as a member of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia. He and I shared the same Ministry of Children and Family Development as ministers.
The number of children in care.... Those children in care who are indigenous, even though it's recognized in the legislation that their cultural heritage is to be protected, there is no way the Government of British Columbia can provide the services for them to retain or learn their languages, even though it's a legislative requirement. So we can't fool ourselves simply because there's a legislative requirement that it will be done.
The resources, the planning.... I really appreciate the two ladies who were witnesses here before I was, and their presentations. They're dealing with these issues in our communities on the ground.
For me, I wanted to say that I'm hoping this bill is approved in this Parliament, that it's made into law. It has been long-awaited, as we said. I certainly support the tone and the direction of this bill. Our languages are in a very serious situation, so this bill is both welcome and urgent. This Parliament should not go into an election before this bill is approved, both in this House and in the Senate.
I wanted to acknowledge the Algonquin people on whose ancestral homelands we meet.
I wanted to say thank you to you, members of the committee, for the invitation. I think this is a pivotal year. The United Nations has declared this year the International Year of Indigenous Languages globally. There are 370 million indigenous peoples. Out of the 7,500 languages, some 4,000 are indigenous languages, and many of them are endangered. But there are others whose languages are doing relatively well.
On January 28, in Paris, UNESCO officially launched the International Year of Indigenous Languages. UNESCO has been given the mandate by the General Assembly to convene the year and to develop and implement plans in support of indigenous languages. That launch was on January 28 in Paris. UNESCO has established a steering committee of 14 members, including seven indigenous members from across the globe. I am one of the seven, from the North America region. I'm also the co-chair of the steering committee charged with the responsibility for the international year.
On February 1, the president of the General Assembly, Madam Espinosa, convened a one-day session of the General Assembly for state parties and indigenous peoples to speak to the issue of indigenous languages globally.
For example, the representative of the Government of Paraguay stated that Spanish and Guarani are official languages in that country, and that some 85% of all of the population speak Guarani—the indigenous language. To me, it was astounding to hear that there would be such a large uptake of learning, speaking and using Guarani as a language. It speaks to the political will of the country, the political will of the state to address this particular issue.
The presentation that was made by the First Peoples' Cultural Council is a submission that I certainly support. Our organization has been in close collaboration with the First Peoples' Cultural Council and the First Peoples' Cultural Foundation. We have to say thank you to the Government of British Columbia for setting aside some $50 million, which has been transferred to the First Peoples' Cultural Foundation to hold for the development, support and revitalization of indigenous languages.
That resource is fundamentally important. There is a drawback, though. Communities that require funding have to submit proposals on a year-to-year basis to be funded. I think a better approach to funding language development is to fund directly to the communities. The federal government already has a long pattern of working with communities and providing funding directly to the communities to provide services in education, in K to 12 as well as in post-secondary. Resources should be put directly into the communities for the communities to be able work and establish priorities. That is essentially one fundamental requirement that I see as important and should be reflected in commitments in the bill.
I provided a copy of my presentation to the clerk of this committee. I'm not sure whether you have received it, but I'm expecting that you have it or will soon have it. It was submitted yesterday.
I am a product of the residential schools era. As young children of four, five, six and seven, we were taken from our communities and sent to English immersion schools. You can call them residential schools, because essentially the language of instruction and communications in those institutions was English. In other cases, maybe in Quebec, it was French. In the province where I come from it was all English. We were not allowed to speak our own languages. Certainly, there was no way to learn our languages in these institutions.
We now see the intergenerational impact of that. In the three communities that I come from, those who are fluent in the language would be those who are elderly, from the age of 50 onward. They are making efforts for the young people to learn their language. In my three communities, we counted probably 65 people who can speak the language to various degrees of fluency. We think we're lucky because we have that small foundation to work from.
We developed a plan in our nation that the first priority for us now is going to be revitalizing our languages with our cultures and our traditions. We have something to build from.
It came about not as a result of the dire situation of our languages but as a result of the number of children and youth who were on a suicide watch. We were very concerned. Our elders and young people got together. We talked about what would help these youth to be strong Dakelh. What came up, to everyone's surprise, was language, culture, songs, our history, our way of life on the land, fishing, hunting and knowing the mountains and lakes through our own language. That's where we are now, and that's what we intend to do.
I fully welcome the measures included in this particular bill, dependent children and families—
[Witness spoke in Michif
Thank you for inviting me to speak to you today in the home of your government.
My colonial name is Graham Andrews, but my traditional or true name, as I was taught, is “Stands and walks with a ceremonial pipe”.
I am a Michif by birth. My father, Garry Andrews, is the last of his generation, the seventh in a once proud, then ashamed, now pride-reclaiming Michif bloodline.
lt is with his approval that I speak to you today—in English and the language now called Michif—on behalf of the seven generations of my family who came before me and the seven generations to come.
Nipaapaa, my father, first heard our language while in my grandmother's womb. Nohkom first heard our language in her own mother's womb, as did her mother and father, and their mothers and fathers, and so on. Mine was the first generation that didn't have pre-natal exposure to our language.
As is the shared experience of the indigenous people in this land, Nohkom's Michif pride was beaten out of her in the early 1900s at one of your government's many outsourced religion-based schools. This was not long after several of my grandparents were raped, killed, arrested and dehumanized by an army that took its direction from the very hill upon which we sit right now.
Many of my aunties, uncles, and much older cousins were fluent but closeted speakers of our language until they died. ln the frequent times when Nohkom and her older sister were sufficiently numbed by rye and beer, they recounted the nuns' schoolhouse punishments when they spoke our language—the only one they really knew.
Sometimes it was “just” a beating with a leather strop. Other times, they were also forced to kneel barelegged in prayer on the piping hot metal skirt around the classroom's furnace. Their knees blistered from the heat, but they kept quiet for fear of “real trouble”.
I can't blame Nohkom for protecting us from her experience, and I can't blame her for needing liquid courage to openly speak about it in any language.
But our languages saved my own life, because this is what our languages do. At the age of 11, in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, I subscribed to the myth that I was just a dirty half-breed kid. l hated myself for my pale skin and blue eyes—my colonial appearance, if you will—and I envied my brother and many close cousins who, with their dark hair and eyes, looked what I imagined to be the part.
Like so many in my family—and many indigenous families—I descended into suicidal addictions that, it turned out, could only be defeated by the genuine love expressed through the languages of my ancestors.
[Witness spoke in Michif]
My grandmothers and grandfathers spoke many different languages: Michif, Cree, Saulteaux, Chippewa, Dakota, Nuu-chah-nulth. To me, they're all heritage languages; it just so happens that a certain dialect of Michif resonates most strongly in my heart. I was raised Michif, with uniquely indigenous values but no real idea how to express them.
ln the early 1990s, a university professor named Janice Acoose saw that I was struggling, and she gently urged me to find and reclaim my language, just as she was doing with her own. That planted a seed.
By the time I nearly succumbed to self-hatred, two Nuu-chah-nulth elders, Beulah Sayers and Jesse Hamilton, showed me a love I couldn't understand at the time. lt was auntie Jesse who first suggested that maybe I was born fair-skinned so that mamuthny, white people, might not be so quick to judge.
Janice's seed began to sprout.
Auntie Beulah and Auntie Jesse introduced me to their children, who were blood relatives, it turned out. They took me out on the lands of their traditional territory until I was ready to go back to my own. Back in Prince Albert, I spent hours with my auntie, Rita Parenteau, at her kitchen table, poring over dictionaries so that we could both connect with languages dismissed as savage in the residential schools. She took me out on the land and encouraged me to become the kind of person we are all meant to be—people who share with one another and care for one another.
I call her Tunwin, which in Dakota literally means “my father's older sister”. It's a word for “mom” as well, because our languages are based on relationships that modern society either ridicules or doesn't understand. Cousins in the European way are brothers and sisters. Aunties and uncles are the same as moms and dads. A fifth great-grandfather is no further away than a grandfather.
The earth is my mother. Who dares to poison and disrespect their own mother? Who dares to sit idly by while it happens?
By getting to know even tiny parts of these languages, I got to know my ancestors, and my ancestors introduced me to myself. All I needed to do was be quiet enough to listen and it was freely given. Many years ago, Tunwin told me to keep the fire going at a ceremony just across the river and a bit north of Batoche. “Keep the fire low,” she said. “It's probably on Crown land.”
Sitting across the river from where my grandmothers and grandfathers lived, fought and died, it hit me: We Michif have no land. In 1870, your government tricked us into the Manitoba Act with great lies of land and rights. After 1885, we were punished for standing up to you, so we squatted in fear on so-called Crown land that was stolen from all of western Canada's indigenous people.
We were, and continue to be, a nation without territory.
Your bill gives great deference to “indigenous governing bodies”, “indigenous organizations”, and the undefined collective of “indigenous peoples,” but there's no room for the individual or the knowledgeable outcast. That, frankly, terrifies me.
Who speaks for the non-status? Are they less worthy of representation because their status grandmothers married non-indigenous men? Alberta is the only place in the world where land has been set aside for Métis people, and yet I understand that the Métis settlement's general council weren't consulted. In Alberta—and I suspect in much of the rest of the country—there are thousands of unclaimed or unused acres of land. These are so-called Crown lands that have been designated for traplines, for example, yet we fight in your courts for harvesting rights.
If language revitalization is as vital as your political parties have all now publicly said, then give us a place to teach our children about their relationships with themselves, each other and their mother. Tracey Herbert of the First Peoples' Cultural Council, who appeared before you on Tuesday, suggested the creation of a body similar to the Canada Council for the Arts. It could oversee these otherwise brilliant initiatives that, as it stands, will be poisoned by political plays.
A few others around this table said last night that no legislation is perfect. It should be thought out. Given Minister Rodriguez's repeated commitment of $90 million in funding over the next three years, 5% of that budget would pay 20 indigenous employees almost $80,000 a year to work as grants managers.
Our languages have spirits and souls. I experience that with every word of them that I learn and speak. I cherish those moments when I see someone reconnect with their ancestors through a single word.
That is my truth, and without truth, reconciliation is just public relations.
Thank you very much for your submissions.
Grand Chief John, thank you very much for the mentoring you've given to me over 20-something years now. We worked together to attempt to move child welfare into the responsibility of indigenous communities and away from government. I think some of the principles you're talking about here are principles we worked with at that point in time.
I'd like to pursue that a little more. You said that you support the tone of the legislation. You've talked about an urgency and a need to get this through royal assent. We've heard that from just about every witness who has come before us. There is a sense of urgency with respect to that.
My concern is that we get the values right. I've said this, that in most cases.... In those first clauses, clauses 1 through 11, we have to reflect the values and intent that come with that. My hope is that, at that point in time, the irony of our making decisions with respect to this will be turned over to indigenous communities making the operational decisions. We have some responsibilities with respect to legislation, obviously. My hope is that the application of this will be similar to the guidance you gave me before. This will actually be turned over to the indigenous communities to be able to do that.
Are there any problems with that model?
I'll just articulate that a little more. This legislation has a commissioner and three directors who would be responsible for articulating the values and carrying them out. We all believe and assume that those should be indigenous people who represent our three different cultures. If that is the case, does it make sense, from your legal training, your background and your work with the United Nations, that if those values are correct, they'll be articulated and carried out appropriately by the commissioner and three directors? The other option presented to us is that it should be divided up in terms of geographic distribution instead.
To me, it's more of a secondary issue than a priority issue. My perspective has always been on community. That's where the challenges are, and that's where ultimately the solutions lie.
It's the grandmas, grandpas, moms and dads who teach us today. Twelve years ago, my father passed away. I remember his teachings and the way he took us out onto the land as children to teach us about plants and animals, about where we live, to be aware of what it is and how we are. We are so deeply connected to the land that we can feel the land and what is on that land, even though we can't see the animals on it. These are the teachings inherent in the way these are being taught.
I'm not sure what a national commission may be able to contribute. I think it's maybe to help articulate and guide from a national perspective the commitments that Canada made. I think in that regard it's important for that purpose, but for the purposes of ensuring the survival of a language in a community, that is really something that needs to be done in the community and supported by the government. I can't overstress how important that approach is to me.
Maybe, since you're talking about these articles and the draft of the bill, clause 9, for example, this idea of arrangements with the provinces.... I think, if there is to be anything like that, it has to be in consultation with the indigenous peoples in that area. Federal and provincial governments should not be in the business of coming to agreements with each other about our languages. We need to be there at the table. There should be tripartite agreements, if there is to be some agreement. We have so many bilateral agreements between Canada and the provinces where we're not involved. Sometimes it's to the detriment of our people and communities.
We've passed the day when the two governments can come together and make these bilateral arrangements that impact our people. I'm more in favour of ensuring that indigenous peoples are right there at the table all the way through. If any signatories are required on these agreements, there should always be an indigenous signatory required.