. Good morning, Madam Chair and members of the committee.
As the chair has mentioned, my name is Duane Ningagsiq Smith, and I am the chair and CEO of the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation. It's in the very far northwest portion of Canada but still in the country. I represent almost one million square kilometres of Canada within my region.
My Inuvialuit name was given to me by my grandparents. It's a custom process in our system.
In regard to the language issues, when you understand it so well that it is in your heart and your mind, it is not only a means to convey information and obtain things; it is a source of strength, pride and belonging. It is the caretaker of our history and our culture.
I do want to say thank you for this opportunity as well. It's taken us 151 years for me to sit down here in front of you, and I hope we can develop that much more quickly in regard to reconciliation.
I wish I could share more of my language with you. I wish I could help my extraordinary heritage become our extraordinary heritage as Canadians. When I say that I wish that I could, I am the third generation of assimilation within this country, where we were not allowed to speak our language. If we did try to, then we were either beaten, etc., or put into certain conditions where we would learn not to speak our language. I am the third generation of that. I grew up in the wake of Canada's mission to make us all the same, and I have lost something fundamental because of those policies and the laws that entrenched them.
I'll now give you a quick description of our region and the state of our language. In the Inuvialuit settlement region, ISR, the Inuvialuit are the Inuit of the western Arctic. It's nine hours by jet, but like I said, it's still in the same country. I welcome you to come to visit us sometime.
The ISR is one of the four regions of Inuit Nunangat, our homeland. There are six communities located in the ISR, and we have over 6,000 Inuvialuit registered and enrolled with us.
In response to Canada's accelerating development agenda and assimilation policies in the Arctic, the Inuvialuit negotiated the Inuvialuit Final Agreement, which was signed and brought into effect in 1984. One of the three principal objectives of both Canada and the Inuvialuit under the IFA is to preserve Inuvialuit cultural identity and values within a changing northern society. When I say “both”, we're both signatories to this treaty, so we're both obligated to make sure it's implemented to the greatest extent that we can together.
Regarding the state of our language, later today you will hear the president of ITK, Natan Obed, talk about Inuktut, which is the language of Inuit Nunangat. For clarity, Inuvialuktun is the name we give to Inuktut in our region. We have three dialects within the Inuvialuktun: Sallirmiutun, Uummarmiutun and Kangiryuarmiutun The speakers of Inuvialuktun are able to converse with Inuktut speakers right across Inuit Nunangat as well as into Alaska and Greenland. We have been tied together by our language and culture for millennia.
A long period of contact along with Canada's past assimilation policies and inequitable funding for language have extensively corroded the vitality of Inuktut in the western Arctic. Compared to the high percentage of individuals able to speak Inuktut in Nunavik and Nunavut, only 22% of Inuvialuit have conversational ability in our language. We still have a small window of opportunity to see Inuktut preserved where it continues to thrive and to see it rehabilitated in our region.
I will now turn to the bill.
In terms of comments on Bill , my fellow Inuit presenters will discuss the process in which we were engaged on this bill as well as the draft text that our working group has proposed in support of this process. I will not repeat these comments due to the time constraints. My intention today is to identify those aspects of Bill C-91 that are of particular importance for our regions where the vitality of Inuktut is more severely diminished.
Bill is a positive start. The bill includes Canada's acknowledgement that the rights of indigenous peoples recognized and affirmed by section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, include rights related to indigenous languages. This is absolutely correct and reflective of Canada's existing obligations under the Inuvialuit Final Agreement. Bill C-91 sets as a main purpose to support the efforts of indigenous peoples to reclaim, revitalize, maintain and strengthen indigenous languages. Related to this, the bill sets out the purpose of the act to establish measures to facilitate the provision of adequate, sustainable and long-term funding for the reclamation, revitalization, maintenance and strengthening of indigenous languages. These measures are absolutely necessary.
It is our view, however, that to achieve these purposes for Inuvialuit we will need to continue working together to refine the legislation.
First, it will be necessary to acknowledge that Inuit Nunangat is a distinct linguistic region within existing laws that recognize Inuktut as an official language. This would allow for sophisticated measures that have a real chance of success to be implemented.
Second, it will be necessary to re-evaluate the creation of the office of the commissioner of indigenous languages and its role in jurisdictions like the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, which already have a similar office.
Third, it will be necessary to impose a requirement to enter into bilateral agreements with our organizations to further the purposes of the act rather than leaving this as a mere option. As we have observed over the last few decades in my territory, funding that has flowed through the territorial government is not distributed in an equitable or even a logical fashion. It tends to go where the voting populations are greater and where the chance of success is weak.
Due to the time lag, I'll stop my comments and I will entertain your questions as we proceed.
With that, quyanainni, quyanuq.
Thank you for your attention.
I'll be happy to take questions.
. I am Jennifer Wickham. I am from the Gidimt'en clan and am the executive director of the Witsuwit'en Language and Culture Society.
I would like to start by acknowledging that I am an uninvited guest here in Anishinabe territory.
We thank you for the invitation to discuss Bill .
I am here with Hagwilnekhlh Ron Mitchell, house chief of the Likhsilyu clan, as represented by the Office of the Wet'suwet'en. We are here on behalf of the Wet'suwet'en First Nation.
Our territory spans 22,000 square kilometres, as Ron was saying, from Burns Lake to west of Witset, formerly known as Moricetown, in British Columbia.
In our nation, our Witsuwit'en language is reaching a critical point. Only 3% of our population currently speak our language fluently. The average age of speakers is 70 years old.
Bill is a significant step toward helping us revitalize our language, but it must have measures that will empower our nation to lead the language revitalization work and research for generations to come. This means having guaranteed funding to build our own capacity to create immersion programs for Wet'suwet'en living within and outside our territory.
After consulting with some members of our Wet'suwet'en leadership, language champions and community members, we have the following feedback regarding the legislation.
First is an inclusive definition of indigenous governments and organizations. In the interpretation section, section 8 and section 5, which is purposes of act, we want to ensure that the definition of “indigenous governing body” includes traditional hereditary governance systems that are not defined by the Indian Act, like our own Wet'suwet'en house and clan system.
If the spirit of the act is truly to respect indigenous self-determination, an inclusive definition is required for meaningful nation-to-nation negotiations regarding funding. We want to ensure that indigenous organizations include nation-based, non-profit societies like the Witsuwit'en Language and Culture Society.
In the past, we have been denied federal funding because we were not considered a “national organization” based on the Canadian state's definition of “nation”.
We suggest the following changes: “Indigenous governing body means a council, government or other entity—including a traditional hereditary government of unceded lands, not defined under the Indian Act—that is authorized to act on behalf of an Indigenous group...” and “...Indigenous organisations, including non-profit societies, or other entities....”
Second, we would like to address guaranteed long-term funding for generations to come. Clause 7 needs to demonstrate that guaranteed long-term funding, secure from changes in government, will be available to indigenous nations and communities for what we foresee as the three phases that our language will undergo, which are as follows:
The first is language revitalization: research, mobilization of resources and communities, human and technical capacity-building, implementation of revitalization strategies and programs, and health and wellness strategies.
The next would be language stabilization: production of new generations of fluent speakers, growth and stabilization of programs and human resources that meet their growing needs.
The third is extension of language programs and services to the broader, non-indigenous community. To support the self-determination of any indigenous nation and promote co-operation within our territory, financial means and infrastructure need to be in place.
These phases all require significant, long-term financial commitments that will span many generations. The Wet'suwet'en people should be the ones leading these endeavours. Section 5(e) should facilitate nation-to-nation agreements. Should a provincial body be considered as the means to negotiate agreements and disburse funding, this should be done with the political support of the indigenous nations of that province.
Since education funding flows from Indigenous Services Canada, the bill needs a clear statement facilitating coordination and co-operation among all levels of government to guarantee that language revitalization funding will increase our capacity to achieve full immersion in our schools, and that one funding source will not offset another.
British Columbia is home to the majority of indigenous languages, all of which are endangered. Language funding needs to reflect this reality. Equal division of funding among provinces will only lead to inequality and create competition and division where needs are high.
On official language status and legal protection, for an indigenous nation to attain full self-determination, it needs the ability to assert itself through its language. An indigenous nation's language is intrinsically tied to its territory. The ongoing colonization and alienation of indigenous peoples and languages from their lands are unacceptable. For the UNDRIP to become meaningful, this needs to be addressed. Indigenous languages need official language status equivalent to French and English. This is essential to nation-building.
In the “Purposes of Act” section, this should be included as follows: “...facilitate and legally protect the ability of Indigenous nations or governments to declare their unique languages as the official languages of their traditional territories and implement their use in the public domain (i.e. the reclamation of traditional place names on maps and signage) and public education.”
Next I will address minority language rights of indigenous children. A large proportion of Wet'suwet'en children receive their education through the public school system. Bill must include a declaration protecting the right of indigenous children in minority situations, within and outside their home territories, to receive an education in their language, similar to article 23 of the Constitution relating to French and English minorities. Without legal protection of that right, there is no real means to implement indigenous language education in the public school system, and our ability to start immersion programs or schools outside of our territory is limited.
Also, on the selection of the indigenous languages commissioner and directors, we want Bill to ensure that the people selected are qualified and recognized as competent representatives of indigenous peoples. We suggest that the commissioner and directors selected be indigenous language champions with demonstrated experience and expertise working in indigenous language revitalization within indigenous communities. As to the location of the language commissioner's office, since British Columbia has the highest concentration of indigenous languages, we think the commissioner's office should be located in that province.
On indigenous languages and intellectual property, we consider all Witsuwit'en language research materials and documentation to be the intellectual property of the Wet'suwet'en nation. We are in opposition to clause 24, which would give Statistics Canada and Library and Archives Canada any authority to conduct research and store indigenous language content. The only role we see for Statistics Canada and Library and Archives Canada is to facilitate access to information and resources on language and culture in their existing collections and databases. We are entirely capable of collecting our own statistics and archiving our language. This legislation should be empowering all indigenous nations to build their own capacity, not delegating this work to federal institutions.
In closing, if Canada is truly committed to respecting the rights of indigenous peoples, then the recommendations that we bring forward to you—and have throughout the regional consultations—should be reflected in Bill . Wet'suwet'en people and other indigenous nations have been fighting to keep our languages alive since colonization began hundreds of years ago. We expect this government to live up to its promises and begin addressing the injustices that continue to harm indigenous peoples in this country today. This legislation must reflect a new way of thinking that is not founded on paternalism, tokenism and archaic colonial structures.
We appreciate the opportunity to have our voices heard, and we'll be watching carefully to see how well this government is listening.
Well, I think that might be a question for you all. How can we push the government to make that part of legislation?
If the government is really serious about reconciliation with indigenous communities, I think this bill being put forward in good faith in partnership with indigenous communities and taking our feedback seriously and implementing it would be a good step forward.
As far as what we can do to ensure that our children are not left behind, I think that if we can include specific language around immersion available to our children, both inside and outside of the community.... As you said, within the public school system, the majority of our members, our house members and our clan members, are spread out. They're not necessarily living on the reserve or within the 22,000 square kilometre territory boundaries.
We have a large population of Wet'suwet'en people and children who are living in other places, such as Prince George and Vancouver. If we can push for Witsuwit'en language to become an official language within its territory boundaries, I think that is going to increase the chances of our children being able to access the language. If it's then recognized within B.C. as an official language within its territories, we would be able to have Witsuwit'en immersion school available to our membership in areas like Prince George and Vancouver.
Currently, if you have as few as 15 children from a minority language group in an area, it's enough to start an immersion school, and we would like the same for Witsuwit'en.
I think it's really important for our children to have access to the language and within the school system. I am a trained teacher so I'll speak a little bit to our curriculum.
In British Columbia specifically we have more of a focus now on traditional knowledge, so certainly language could fall under that.
I think the issue we really want to see is to have indigenous languages protected and made official within their territories. For example, in Wet'suwet'en territory, which covers Burns Lake, Houston and Smithers—those are the municipalities within our territory—we would want to see Wet'suwet'en traditional place names recognized with signage.
I know in other places in British Columbia they have the local indigenous languages on their stop signs, for example, much the same way you would see French and English. Driving through Ottawa from the airport on the way here we saw that. I think that's really what we want to emphasize, that we need to have our indigenous languages protected and made official within their respective territories.
In Ottawa, it would be Anishinabe. In Kamloops, it would be Secwepemctsin. Really making that a community focus, and having the language available within the school systems would not only make it available to Wet'suwet'en students, but it would make it available to all students.
I know within the high school in Smithers, for example, when they teach the B.C. first nations studies 12 class, it's predominantly non-Wet'suwet'en students who are taking that class and it creates very rich opportunities for reconciliation to happen on that level. That's what we're hoping to see within our own territories as well.
. Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you, members of the committee, for allowing Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami to be a witness here before you today. I also want to recognize Duane Smith, the chair of the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, a board member for Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, who was just a witness before this committee.
Inuit are one people sharing a common language, Inuktut, which has many dialects, and Inuktut is a term that we have decided to call our Inuit language. There are lots of conversations in our community about what that term is defined by, but in the end there are definition of words and etymology of words, but there are also our words that are used for political practice. Ontario might be an indigenous word, but you all know Ontario as something very different, as a political space. We are in the midst of developing our self-determination, and the words that we use in Inuktut are very helpful to that.
The majority of our people live in 51 communities throughout Inuit Nunangat, the term that we use to describe our homeland. Inuit Nunangat is a distinct geographical, political and cultural region that makes up nearly one-third of Canada's land mass and half its coastline.
Eighty-four per cent of Inuit in Inuit Nunangat report an ability to speak Inuktut, making our language the most resilient indigenous language in Canada. However, a more complex picture of our language status emerges when considering conversational ability and language of the household: 58% of Inuit within Inuit Nunangat report being able to speak Inuktut well enough to conduct a conversation, and only 40% report that Inuktut is the language most often used at home.
Inuktut has official language status in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. In Nunavut, the rights of Inuktut speakers are further affirmed by the Inuit Language Protection Act. Inuktut has official language status in the self-governing region of Nunatsiavut within the jurisdiction of Newfoundland and Labrador as well.
National legislation is needed to build on existing rights for our language and to complement initiatives advanced by territorial governments and Inuit throughout Inuit Nunangat. ITK therefore recognizes the positive role national legislation can play in closing statutory and policy gaps that enable continued discrimination against Inuktut speakers. The specific nature of this discrimination and its consequential negative impacts on the day-to-day lives of Inuktut speakers is detailed in ITK's written submission to this committee.
Bill currently falls far short of fulfilling the Government of Canada's own commitment to develop distinctions-based legislation. On the basis of this commitment, ITK agreed to participate in this legislative initiative at the beginning. In the joint statement released when this legislative initiative was launched on June 15, 2017, , I, National Chief Bellegarde and Clément Chartier, president of the Métis National Council agreed to, “work collaboratively, transparently, and on a distinctions basis to codevelop national first nations, Inuit and Métis Nation languages legislation whose content will reflect the distinct geographic, political, legislative and cultural contexts impacting language revitalization, recovery, presentation, protection, maintenance and promotion”.
It was our understanding, all the way through this initiative until very recently, that there would be a common section with provisions within the legislation, and then there would be distinctions-based sections based on the specific needs and realities of first nations, Inuit and Métis. Bill , as it is currently drafted, completely overlooks the unique status of Inuktut and the practical needs of its speakers. In the absence of Inuktut-specific provisions within Bill C-91, ITK is therefore proposing amendments to the bill that would help ensure that our long-standing priorities for our language are reflected in this bill.
Remedying these problems has been a national Inuit priority for more than half a century. ITK was formed in 1971, in large part to advance the statutory and policy measures required to help revitalize, maintain and promote our language. These amendments are necessary to fulfill the federal government's commitment to indigenous peoples and all Canadians to develop distinctions-based legislation.
They would ensure that our people are able to enjoy the human rights and fundamental freedoms that all peoples are entitled to, including in the political, economic, social, cultural and other fields of public life.
In our submission to this committee, ITK has therefore proposed amendments to Bill that would obligate the minister to develop a separate annex to this act in relation to Inuktut. This annex could include provisions addressing the following areas, among others: use of Inuktut in the delivery of federal programs and services; use of Inuktut in the federal public service; standards to govern federal financial support for Inuktut and specific levels of support; and measures to support the provision of Inuktut language programs and services in relation to education, health and the administration of justice.
The amendments to Bill that we are proposing are consistent with documents and input provided by Inuit to the Minister of Canadian Heritage throughout the past two years. They are also aligned with the federal government's own priorities, particularly in the area of access to federal services for Inuktut speakers.
Inuit face consequential linguistic barriers when it comes to accessing public services, especially within the majority Inuktut-speaking regions of Nunavut and Nunavik. This problem is particularly acute in law enforcement, where the limited number of Inuktut-speaking RCMP officers contributes to under-reporting of violent crime, and family violence in particular.
Furthermore, the Senate Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans reported in 2018 on the risks to public safety that exist as a result of the limited number of Inuktut speakers within the Canadian Coast Guard. The committee has recommended that the Canadian Coast Guard recruit people who speak lnuktut. Similar barriers are well documented within Quebec's provincial justice system. The federal government's unwillingness to provide services in Inuktut within Inuit Nunangat has even served to undermine the federal government's ability to discharge its duty to consult and accommodate Inuit. Such was the case in 2017 when the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in favour of the Nunavut community of Clyde River and found the National Energy Board's consultation process on seismic testing in the area flawed for, among other reasons, failing to communicate with Inuit in our primary language.
ITK urges this committee to take concrete action to address these long-standing problems by adopting the amendments we are proposing today. These proposed amendments, so necessary to the enjoyment of dignity among our people, are modest in comparison to the rights enjoyed by speakers of Canada's two official languages, both within our homeland and throughout this country.
Inuit are looking to each of you to demonstrate the creativity and political courage needed to help us end the discrimination too many lnuktut speakers face in going about their day-to-day lives and to replace symbolism with effective and impactful federal support for efforts to strengthen and revitalize our language throughout Inuit Nunangat.
I think you'd be well advised to get some further analysis on this.
The only real point I would make is that with clause 6, like much of the act, it's very difficult to see how it would operate in practice. The reason I say that is because the rights of aboriginal peoples are recognized and affirmed broadly in section 35, and then there's a framework for defining what those rights are, either through the common law or through treaty-based mechanisms.
A narrow reading of clause 6, which is likely what would be offered by the Department of Canadian Heritage, would simply state that rights related to languages are not excluded from the definition of section 35. They are already not excluded from the definitions in section 35, so it could actually be quite redundant.
On the other hand, someone like me would try to read that as broadly as I could, to suggest that where there are existing aboriginal rights, they have a linguistic element to them. I don't think that would necessarily lead to the life or death of the bill. I do think it could contribute to ongoing disputes about the scope of the interpretation of that section.
The only other thing I would point out there is that recognition does not run through the act, which is really interesting. It's almost like there's this blanket recognition of section 35 rights there, but then our organization, and Inuit broadly, are complaining that the act itself doesn't provide any vehicle to implement those rights. It's an odd provision.
It's not something that I would consider to be fatal, but I would say that the ambiguity itself is potentially concerning to some.
Sure, I can try to clarify. I apologize that you don't have the submission that was shared with the clerk on Thursday of last week.
What we're proposing, as far as amendments to the bill are concerned, is that a provision be included after clause 11 of Bill , which would state: “The Minister must pursue, in close consultation with relevant Indigenous governing bodies, the development of a separate Annex to this Act in relation to Inuktut.”
We've included a draft annex that we have drafted, and it imagines what those specific provisions in that annex could be. Those provisions fall under a few different categories: status of Inuktut, principles, definitions, funding, education, health, justice and language of work in the federal departments and agencies.
A question came up earlier in relation to education, and I think there may be a misunderstanding of what the rationale is for our comments on education. The specific provision we'd be imagining including in the annex itself would state, or could state: “The Government of Canada must take effective measures to support the advancement and implementation of education in Inuktut within Inuit Nunangat.”
Currently, there is a significant disparity in funding that is provided by the Department of Canadian Heritage to the two territories through the territorial language accords, which the Department of Canadian Heritage negotiates bilaterally with the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. Such a provision could create the opportunity for trilateral agreements being negotiated with the department and the provincial and territorial governments in whose jurisdiction Inuit live, to ensure that adequate funding for education initiatives and activities are provided. Currently, through those existing agreements, those funds, for example, that are provided to the Government of Nunavut for Inuktut are not eligible for use by the public government's department of education; however, the funding for French language instruction is included in that particular agreement.
I'm just providing some background about our comments earlier about the need for equitable support for education throughout Inuit Nunangat.