We will now begin the 146th meeting of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage.
Today, we are continuing our study of Bill , An Act respecting Indigenous languages.
We have with us as an individual, Mr. Roger Jones, Special Adviser to the National Chief, Languages Act, who was with us just recently.
From Amnesty International Canada, we have Mr. Craig Benjamin, Campaigner, Indigenous Rights.
From Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., we have Aluki Kotierk, President, and Kilikvak Kabloona, CEO.
I would like to begin with an apology to those from the NTI. We tried to have an Inuit interpreter accredited through translation services in time for this meeting. We were unable to find someone accredited. I know we've talked about it, but I did want to formally apologize.
Just so the committee knows, when NTI does their opening statement, it will be in Inuktitut. They will be reading the formal statement, and the translators will be reading it in English and in French. Questions and answers will be in English and in French.
On that note, we can begin with Roger Jones, please.
Thank you, Madam Chair. Meegwetch
[Witness spoke in Anishinabek]
Thank you for the invitation to come and speak to the committee.
I can speak primarily to the codevelopment process, which I was involved in, and I do want to point out that I am here on an independent basis.
I am an independent contractor with the Assembly of First Nations and was assigned to the indigenous languages initiative to provide leadership on behalf of the AFN in the codevelopment process. My views about the process and the outcome are mine and are not attributable to the Assembly of First Nations.
There was no definition of “codevelopment” as the process got under way and evolved along the way, but it was methodical, in my opinion.
The AFN has its own structure and organization around the process, including a chiefs committee made up of representatives from across the country and, likewise, a technical committee similarly representative of the regions across the country. The national chief chairs the chiefs committee and has provided leadership on this matter overall.
The most important element of the AFN structure and organization is the chiefs in assembly, and they provided authorization and direction along the way based on the information provided to them stemming from the rights holders engagements that we conducted as part of this process.
Insofar as the interaction between the parties is concerned, one of the first significant steps taken was the parties agreeing to some fundamental principles relating to the process and the desired outcome of indigenous languages legislation.
The principles did establish that we would work collaboratively, transparently and on a distinctions basis to develop the legislation and that the legislation would address revitalization, recovery, preservation, protection, maintenance and promotion of first nations, Inuit and Métis languages.
We operated on a couple of levels. There was a multilateral process, but there were also bilateral processes between each of the parties and the federal government.
The principles firmly established that the intended outcome would respect and implement the calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the federal government's commitment to nation-to-nation, government-to-government or Inuit-Crown relationships.
The principle was also established that the legislation would recognize that indigenous languages are fundamental to indigenous self-determination and that such legislation would, among other things, further affirm and address the right of indigenous peoples to revitalize, use, develop and transmit their languages to future generations, including through the control of their educational systems and institutions. It also established that each of the parties would conduct their own engagements in relation to getting the instruction and the direction about input and contributions to the process.
With respect to engagement, last week the national chief shared with you the engagement report we produced as a result of the meetings we held across the country. The basic question we asked people was what their expectations were about what the legislation should say. We didn't predetermine or prejudge anything. It was wide open.
The people who participated in it worked in this area of language revitalization: the champions, the teachers and the academics but also the rights holders and elders who came to our sessions and told us what their expectations were. The contributions we got from these sessions were very consistent across the country, from British Columbia through to the Maritimes and with respect to first nations communities in the north.
The engagement report generally captures the voices we heard, and then we turned the engagement report into a set of 11 principles, which was the direction that was provided from the chiefs in assembly, reflecting what the engagement report said about what people had said in relation to what they wanted the legislation to say. That was our direction and now it's our measure: Does the legislation in fact cover these issues, these points and these expectations?
We did make sure that the people understood that not necessarily everything gets into the legislation in terms of what needs to happen in relation to federal support for language revitalization, that some might have to find its way into regulations; some of it might actually have to find its way through policy work or through funding work in terms of the expenditure authorizations that will be necessary to support this work; and that work is going to take place, has begun and will continue through to ensuring that the intentions that are expressed and set out in the legislation actually materialize.
I've been involved in other processes where, after the legislation was developed and processed in Parliament, the engagement between the indigenous party or parties and the federal government was discontinued. Thus, the work around implementation did not produce the kinds of changes and supports that people had in mind in designing the legislation. Therefore, we believe it's critical for that codevelopment work to continue. Where there might be questions or uncertainties in relation to what the legislation says in parts, we hope we're going to be able to clarify that with greater certainty in terms of the work on regulations or policy, or as I alluded to earlier, funding—the funding regime that needs to support implementation.
We had our fundamental set of principles that we got from our engagement process, and we forwarded that into the codevelopment process, which again produced a set of 12 principles, which then were intended to inform the development of the legislation itself. Then we went from consensus principles to the development of something called “the technical discussion paper”. The technical discussion paper took the form of a framework or outline of what this legislation now says. We worked together on formulating the broad framework and outline.
Obviously there was a memorandum to cabinet that we weren't involved in, and that's a challenge that we would have liked to have overcome but didn't. We were somewhat involved in some of the drafting work. We had access to the earlier drafts of the bill, by signing confidentiality agreements and by getting the executive to provide that access for us.
There were challenges, mostly with respect to the transparency area, because we did not see some products that resulted from the discussions, and yes, there are improvements to be made. We had desired a further elaboration of clause 6 in relation to section 35. That would have included further elaborating what the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples has to say about these issues.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
I would like to acknowledge the Algonquin people, on whose lands we have the privilege of meeting, and I would also like to thank the members of the standing committee for this opportunity to appear before you.
As the chair said, my name is Craig Benjamin. I'm a member of the staff of Amnesty International Canada, where I coordinate the organization's program of work to promote the human rights of first nations, Inuit and Métis peoples in Canada.
Like a number of other individuals and organizations who will be appearing before the committee, Amnesty International is an active participant in the Coalition for the Human Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This is a network of indigenous and non-indigenous organizations and individuals that have been deeply involved with the development of international standards protecting the rights of indigenous peoples, including particularly the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
I would like to begin by highlighting three passages from the bill that I think are extremely important in the context of living up to Canada's existing commitments and obligations in respect of the human rights of indigenous peoples.
In clause 6, which Roger Jones referred to, Bill provides explicit recognition that:
the rights of Indigenous peoples recognized and affirmed by section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982 include rights related to Indigenous languages.
In its preamble, the bill takes note of the fact that rights related to indigenous languages are also affirmed in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which the Government of Canada has committed to fully implement. The bill appropriately names among its purposes advancing the objectives of the UN declaration as it relates to indigenous languages.
In addition, the very first sentence of this bill is the statement:
recognition and implementation of rights related to Indigenous languages are at the core of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples
These various affirmations that the preservation and revitalization of indigenous languages is a matter of human rights protected in both domestic and international law are important and welcome. I hope that this understanding of the language rights of indigenous peoples will guide not only future implementation of the proposed legislation, but also how Parliament continues to engage with the question of Canada's wider responsibilities to support indigenous languages.
Unlike others speaking here today, I am not an expert on indigenous languages or language revitalization. However, work alongside indigenous partners in Canada has consistently highlighted the central importance of indigenous languages to the well-being of indigenous peoples and to the survival of their distinct cultures and traditions. It's often said that all rights are interdependent and indivisible. This is amply illustrated by the importance of indigenous language to all other rights that indigenous peoples seek to exercise and enjoy, including rights to identity, to livelihood and subsistence, and to education, health and self-determination.
The UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues has used the phrase “inseparable and mutually reinforcing” to describe the relationship between indigenous languages and indigenous peoples' traditional knowledge systems. Another UN body, the expert mechanism on indigenous peoples, has said that indigenous languages contain within them the tools by which indigenous governance, law and jurisdiction are defined and realized.
In this context, Amnesty International has been deeply concerned over Canada's persistent failure to provide adequate and sustained support to the urgent work of first nations, Inuit and Métis organizations to ensure their languages can be protected, revitalized and practised. In fact, colleagues with the francophone branch of Amnesty International in Canada have marked the International Year of Indigenous Languages by launching a major public campaign calling for increased and ongoing supports to indigenous language programming and services.
Certainly, Amnesty International is not alone among international human rights organizations in raising these concerns. The survival of indigenous languages in Canada has been a persistent theme of UN treaty bodies and special mechanisms when they have examined whether or not Canada is living up to its existing human rights obligations.
In 2016, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the independent expert committee that reviews state compliance with the requirements of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, called on Canada to “step up the efforts needed to promote the preservation and use of indigenous languages”, including ensuring the ability to use indigenous languages in schools.
In the report of his 2014 official mission to Canada, the then UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, Dr. James Anaya, flagged the underfunding of indigenous language protection and revitalization as a critical part of what he characterized as a human rights crisis facing first nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.
As these examples make clear, not only do indigenous peoples have a clear right to protect, revitalize and practise their languages, there is also a corresponding obligation on the part of the federal, provincial and territorial governments to help establish the conditions in which this right can be fully realized and enjoyed.
Article 13 of the UN declaration affirms that indigenous peoples have the right to revitalize, use, develop and transmit to future generations their histories, languages, oral traditions, philosophies, writing systems and literatures, and to designate and retain their own names for communities, places and persons. This same article calls on states to take effective measures to support this right.
Article 14 of the declaration similarly protects the rights of indigenous peoples to provide education in their own language, and goes on to say that states shall, in conjunction with indigenous peoples, take effective measures in order for indigenous individuals, particularly children, including those living outside their communities, to have access when possible to education and their own culture and for it to be provided in their own language.
The UN declaration is a highly authoritative source of interpretation of state obligations, having been subject to decades of detailed deliberation and now having been repeatedly affirmed as a consensus global instrument. The declaration, however, is not alone in recognizing these obligations. The declaration was built on the foundations of human rights norms and standards that preceded it.
Critically, I want to highlight the fact that when identified groups are at heightened risk of human rights violations, states have even greater obligations to protect and promote their rights. Where the state itself is responsible for violation of those rights, there is a duty of redress. The standard redress in international law requires states to take every reasonable effort to undo the harm that they have inflicted or allowed to happen and to prevent continued harm in the future.
To live up to the duty of redress, programs and policies adopted by the Government of Canada must be in proportion to the grave harms that were done to indigenous language speakers and to the capacity of indigenous peoples to live in their own languages. Therefore, they must be sufficient to address the real and diverse needs of indigenous peoples across Canada.
The legislation before this committee will not be the entire solution, but it's our hope that its passage will establish a clear intention and a clear direction for the federal government to live up to its human rights obligations when it comes to that crucial stage, as Roger Jones said, of implementation.
Thank you very much.
[Witness spoke in Inuktitut and provided the following translation:
Thank you, Madam Chair. Thank you to the committee for inviting me to speak today about Bill .
First, I would like to applaud the committee for recognizing that indigenous languages must be written into Canadian law. This is essential if Canada is to grow back into its Arctic identity.
lnuktut is one of the healthier indigenous languages in Canada, reportedly spoken by 84% of residents in Inuit Nunangat, the Inuit homeland in Canada. This makes Inuit Nunangat the largest indigenous language area in Canada.
ln Nunavut, the Nunavut Act gives the Nunavut legislature the power to make laws in relation to lnuktut. As a result, Inuktut is an official language at the territorial level. We have a territorial Inuit Language Protection Act and a languages commissioner. Our 1993 treaty, the Nunavut agreement, also contains some limited lnuktut language provisions.
Most importantly and optimistically, Nunavut is the only province or territory in which an indigenous language is spoken by a majority of the public as their mother tongue.
I come from Igloolik. The Hall Beach DEW line site is a distance just longer than a marathon away. The DEW line, an American military installation built across 10,000 kilometres of the Arctic in two years, served as a strategic military position to warn the U.S. of airborne danger from the then USSR. It was built in the days of no runways or hotels. There are still no ports.
Today, the threats are different. Globalization limits innovation and creativity. I am here today, born and raised 70 kilometres from the Hall Beach DEW line site, to give you an early warning from the distance. Despite the existing protections, lnuktut is a language at risk. Every year, the number of Inuit language speakers in Nunavut declines by 1%. It is a devastating reality that Inuit cannot access essential programs and services in our own language. Language barriers between Inuit patients and health professionals are a life and death matter long recognized by Inuit, and now in at least one coroner's report.
The 97% Inuit student body in Nunavut is taught by over 75% non-Inuktut speaking teachers—a virtual death sentence for the language. The people of Inuit Nunangat urgently need a federal language act. The government's initiative in this respect is welcome, and Bill contains recognition and objectives that NTI supports. ln particular, NTI has long sought the positive interpretive principle contained in clause 3, and is pleased with the recognition of section 35 language rights. Unfortunately, these provisions are not enough to save and sustain lnuktut. The Inuit have offered the government a number of concrete and, we believe, reasonable proposals.
That brings me to NTI's disappointment with the bill, both in terms of process and content. You heard much of this from Natan Obed, President of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, and it bears repeating. Since 2017, Inuit sought to be constructive partners throughout the legislative process, sharing position papers, drafting a comprehensive lnuktut bill and showing a willingness to compromise on legislative content.
On the content of the bill, there are a number of central weaknesses, including that the bill does not contain any funding commitments. Rather, references to funding are included in purposes, consultation and future agreement provisions. Unlike Nunavut's Official Languages Act, Bill contains no actual rights or duties respecting the delivery of federal services in lnuktut. The bill does not ensure that essential services and programs required for a healthy Inuit population and a prosperous northern economy, such as education, health and the administration of justice, will be available in lnuktut where numbers warrant it.
ln short, with the greatest respect for the intentions behind it, Bill is largely a symbolic effort. Symbols are important, but they fall far short of what is needed, and short of what is called for in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's final report. Our preference is for a stand-alone federal lnuktut act in recognition of lnuktut's unique status as the majority language of the territory.
As it stands, would be considerably improved by the following amendments: recognition of lnuktut as an original language of Canada and the first language of the majority of Inuit Nunangat residents; a commitment to the delivery of critical federal programs and services in Inuktut in Inuit Nunangat—to the extent that demand requires, capacity allows and numbers warrant; close collaboration with Inuit bodies in meeting the Government of Canada's commitments under the act; and a commitment to funding that will ensure services comparable to those enjoyed by other Canadians.
I invite you to see that Bill couId be so much more. On the basis of Inuit language rights, reconciliation and our nation's ability to remain innovative, Canada must invest in the future of lnuktut. This is achievable.
Thank you. I am happy to take questions.
I don't think we would necessarily need a different bill. One of the things that we advocated right from the outset was to have our own Inuktut language bill. When we realized that the federal government was going to have an indigenous language bill, we said, “Okay, we're reasonable people. We're going to work with this process, and we're going to advocate for Inuit specific provisions in there.”
I think, even if there was an omnibus indigenous language bill, there are ways to address the Inuit concerns. I think that's what we've been proactively trying to approach in that manner.
I want to to say, to Martin Shields' question, why I used a different word.
In the amendments, we're using “comparable” as the language. I know in English there's a word “synonym”. When I speak English, I think “comparable” and “equitable” are similar in the sense of what they mean. I know in Inuktut, when we speak, we can use many different words for similar meanings, so I don't know what the hang-up is about that.
I just want to say the point is, we expect to be able to receive equitable, comparable services as other Canadians. Currently we do not, even though we are Canadians in Nunavut.
Good afternoon. I'd like to acknowledge that we're meeting on unceded Algonquin territory, and I want to thank the committee for allowing me this opportunity to speak with you today.
I'm probably going to be a lot different from what I just heard in the last panel. I think it was a good opportunity for me to hear what was said.
I'll give you some background on the Gabriel Dumont Institute. We are a Métis post-secondary and cultural organization. We're based in Saskatchewan and we are considered to be the cultural and education arm of the Métis Nation—Saskatchewan.
In 1976, our elders were at a cultural conference and they decided that the only way our culture, history and language were going to be preserved and then told from our own perspective was if we formed an institute of our own. By 1980, the Gabriel Dumont Institute was founded based on that recommendation from the elders and the others at the cultural conference.
In 2020, we will celebrate our 40th year. On the education and training side, it's the design and development and delivery of educational programs for Métis. This was, I think, the beginning of what we would call our Métis affirmative action program. We're not asking anyone to lower the bar. We're asking to get our people to the bar so that they can be employed and contribute as others have and do.
The flagship program for that was Métis teacher education. Over those 40 years, we've graduated over 400 Métis teachers, and they're making a huge difference in the education system. They're almost all based in provincial schools. Initially, it was to show Métis children that they could become teachers if they wanted to, but it has gone beyond that to show the capability of Métis people as educational leaders and to ensure that Métis content, perspectives and ways of knowing are a part of the curricula. They are mandated to be part of the curricula but how they are delivered and whether they are delivered is spotty. That's that story.
Then on the culture and history arm, we have the world's largest repository of Métis-specific items in the Virtual Museum of Métis History and Culture. It is accessed about 40,000 times a month by places all over the world. That's unique visits, not repeat visits. We're generating interest not just in Saskatchewan but across Canada as well.
Regarding our language, it's an inextricable part of our culture and heritage and yet it's in peril right now. The Métis nation is original to Canada. There's no other place that it was formed first, and that also goes for our language, Michif, which predates Confederation. As you're probably well aware, we called ourselves the new nation, and we had quite a huge role in the fur trade. We were the middlemen—and, I always like to add, the middle women—of the fur trade because those alliances were good business practice. But they were also the birth of the Métis nation, because our people could both liaise and make familial connections with both first nations and the Europeans who were doing business at the time.
Then as time went on, we morphed into our own culture and developed our own language. That's Michif and it's unique. It hadn't existed previously. Some of the technologies and ways of doing things were unique to the Métis as well.
We consider people like Louis Riel to be nation builders, because he was very instrumental in making Canada. Then of course after the first resistance in 1869-1870 and then the big one in 1885, Métis lost that battle but we won the rights battle. Métis went into hiding because it was very dangerous to identify as a Métis person after that. You were pretty much guaranteeing that you would be unemployed and perhaps further persecuted for being Métis.
We were not recognized by the government in any way. Our people were forced to disperse, because again, for the second time, we were kicked off our lands and told to go elsewhere. Then I think most of you would be familiar with the big rip-off of the scrip process. That was a process for getting compensation for leaving those lands, but there were so many speculators around at the time who took advantage of that that the Métis people didn't get the land or compensation and were dispersed.
I consider that one of the reasons our language, Michif, is in such peril at this time.
It is an awful tragedy that first nations were relegated to less than 1% of the land base of Canada and needed a pass to leave, but I do envy the fact that they were congregated into a spot where their language could remain intact until more recently. Their languages were used in the community and passed from generation to generation.
As the Métis dispersed, not only were people spread out and not able to stay in those strong family groupings, but it was something that you hid. There are oral stories of our people hiding bannock and of not speaking the language when others were present, so we also got the messaging in mainstream schooling that our language and culture were of no importance, and again, we were being taught from the historical perspectives of non-indigenous authors. We'd have to hear about the crazy rebel Louis Riel, how he rebelled against the Government of Canada and how the founding fathers were the great heroes of Canada.
Those were hard messages to choke down at the time, and then a pan-indigenous approach to who the indigenous peoples of Canada are. I'm not a fan of that term. I consider it a lazy throwback to the term “native” or even “aboriginal” in that it's not distinctions-based. If the average person, the average Canadian, were surveyed, if you asked them what “indigenous” means, they would say “first nations”. We get memos with such things on them as “indigenous and Métis”. We are indigenous people.
We finally were recognized, but we're way behind. After the efforts of Métis Harry Daniels, who took the Canadian government to court, we were recognized in the Constitution Act of 1982, under section 35, so it has not even been 40 years since we've had any formal recognition.
More recently, in 2016, the Daniels decision was another victory, initiated by Harry Daniels, in which the federal government agreed that they should have taken responsibility for the Métis as they did for the Inuit and the first nations.
Therefore, in terms of those issues, of us having to go underground, of being dispersed and of having mainstream schooling not affirm who we are as an indigenous people and then of no value for us to keep our languages.... I never say we “lost” them; I say they were “taken”, because of those factors.
The recent exhibition by Library and Archives Canada that calls the Métis “Hiding in Plain Sight” is fairly accurately titled, because we have been there all along. It's just that we haven't been recognized as being there, so we're hoping to change all of that.
Michif is “critically endangered”, and that's not my term. That's a United Nations term. There's a matrix they use to identify what kind of danger a language is in, and that is the worst place for it to be. “Extinct” is zero speakers, but when you have only the grandparent generation speaking the language and their children and grandchildren do not speak the language, that's a critical factor.
They are dispersed, so they're not even living with people or within a community where they can practise the language, so that is another factor.
My name is Christopher Sheppard. I'm the President of the National Association of Friendship Centres. I'm an Inuk. I am a beneficiary of the Nunatsiavut government in Labrador.
We have submitted two copies of both French and English versions of the NAFC discussion paper entitled “Our Languages, Our Stories: Towards the Revitalization and Retention of Indigenous Languages in Urban Environments”.
I will start with some information about the NAFC.
The National Association of Friendship Centres is a network of over 100 members that are friendship centres and six members that are provincial and territorial associations from coast to coast to coast. Friendship centres are Canada's most significant off-reserve, indigenous, civil society network service delivery infrastructure and are the primary providers of culturally relevant programs for indigenous people living in urban environments.
For over 70 years, friendship centres have facilitated the transition of indigenous people from rural, remote and reserve life to an urban environment, and they increasingly support those who were born and raised in the urban environment. For many indigenous people, friendship centres are the first and main point of contact to find community, receive support and obtain referrals to culturally based socio-economic programs and services, which include indigenous language programs.
As NAFC president, I reported on May 9, 2018 to the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples that in 2015 alone, NAFC friendship centres saw over 2.3 million client contacts, and provided over 1,800 different programs and services in many areas, including language.
For example, at First Light St. John's Friendship Centre, there is language programming in Mi'kmaq offered to anyone in the community. The classrooms and conversations were also recorded and broadcast, and made available through Webex so that anyone could join in person or online. The proposal we initially put forward was for three indigenous languages—Mi'kmaq, Inuktitut and Innu-aimun. However, it seemed like it was too complex for the department to understand the delivery of three indigenous languages, so they asked us to scale it to one.
Under One Sky Friendship Centre in Fredericton has a “take it outside” head start project that takes children on the land to learn Maliseet in all seasons. The Mi'kmaw Native Friendship Centre in Halifax is a partner in an indigenous-centred training program that promotes bringing language and culture into early childhood education. Native Montréal has for three years held free weekly language classes in Innu, Cree, Anishinawbemowin, Atikamekw, Wendat and Inuktitut for both children and adults. The Aboriginal Friendship Centre of Calgary offers Cree, Michif and Blackfoot classes funded by the province, and the Canadian Native Friendship Centre in Edmonton provides Cree classes.
The Dauphin Friendship Centre provided Michif language, and the BC Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres received $6 million for language programming under the provincial government.
The NAFC is here to speak about Bill , because we are in it right now. We are providing language programming, and we will continue to do it because we are accountable to the indigenous communities that own and operate our centres on shoestring budgets.
Since 1972, the NAFC has built this deep, grass-rooted foundation that forms the very fabric of the urban indigenous population in Canada. We have leadership and a national network that reaches deep into urban indigenous communities that are asking for support for further use and revitalization of indigenous languages.
Urban indigenous people hold a strong connection to their identity while navigating ways to maintain cultural connections outside of their communities. This reality of our urban indigenous issues is ignored or forgotten. This is our critical hour to ensure the urban indigenous voice is heard and upheld in the establishment of Bill , and respecting indigenous languages includes respecting where indigenous language is needed, and this includes Canada's urban landscape.
With the staggering increase of over 60% in the urban indigenous population in just 10 years, it is clear that a national mandate to revitalize indigenous languages must include urban indigenous communities.
I'll speak a little bit to what's in our language discussion paper and some of our review of Bill , before we wrap up for questions.
In March 2018, the NAFC held a two-day, “Our Languages, Our Stories” forum, with representation from all parts of Canada, to discuss and contribute input into the development of indigenous language legislation; in particular, to discuss the urban perspective on the state of indigenous languages.
There were several recommendations and highlights from the gathering that directly speak to the intent of Bill . Participants shared the challenge of learning their language as a second language and the importance of immersive language learning. To quote the discussion paper:
...it must be incorporated into every aspect of peoples' lives in a wholistic way and there must be opportunities to speak the language, at every age, through the cycle of life.
Strong support was expressed for friendship centres themselves acting as central hubs for language revitalization, including providing safe and culturally relevant spaces for language learning.
This gathering provided further affirmation of how proud indigenous people are of their languages and ways of knowing and being. The youth shared how integral language is to their pride and understanding of where they come from.
Our recommendations were to create a national institute of indigenous languages; conduct a national indigenous languages needs assessment and research project; advocate to make all indigenous languages official languages in Canada; support indigenous language signage in urban centres across Canada; establish a federal department of indigenous languages and education; and support friendship centres to be indigenous language learning hubs.
I'll now speak to some of the clauses in Bill that affect friendship centres and urban indigenous communities.
Reflected in Bill is the commitment to providing adequate, sustainable and long-term funding for the reclamation, revitalization, maintenance and strengthening of indigenous languages. The Government of Canada realizes indigenous peoples are best placed to take the leading role in reclaiming, revitalizing, maintaining and strengthening indigenous languages.
Friendship centres are indigenous-owned and -operated civil society organizations, operating in urban settings. This is an opportunity to draw upon the extensive NAFC network and expertise in program delivery throughout Canada. There are friendship centres in every province and territory, except for P.E.I., and each of them provides direct services to reach the urban indigenous population.
The definition of “Indigenous organization” in the bill is unclear as to whether friendship centres are considered. “Indigenous organization” is defined as an “entity that represents the interests of an indigenous group”. Friendship centres do not claim to represent the interests of any one indigenous group or its members. In fact, we represent an urban perspective and serve all indigenous groups and all members, whether they are recognized by their communities or not.
What about indigenous media organizations? Many indigenous communication organizations that have provided radio and television in indigenous languages for decades are nowhere reflected in the act.
Under the definition of “Indigenous peoples”, there is reference to subsection 35(2), which is “Indian, Inuit and Métis”. The NAFC would encourage that the definition be expanded to ensure the inclusion of all indigenous people, including non-status Indians and non-beneficiary Inuit, and be clear about what is meant by Métis. Indigenous language revitalization should not be tied to a political affiliation.
Under paragraph 5(b)(iii), under the “Purposes of Act”, it mentions supporting indigenous peoples to “create technological tools, educational materials and permanent records of Indigenous languages”. The NAFC would like to encourage that the purposes be expanded to support the technological tools, educational materials and permanent records that have already been developed. There are indigenous organizations that have databases, tapes, documents, materials and apps that have already been developed.
There are indigenous media organizations that have worked for decades and have reels of language material. If they were able to access funding and support, they would be able to mobilize and, for example, digitize these materials and make them more readily available to the public and indigenous communities and organizations, such as friendship centres.
Where I was going with that—in finding out it's 61.1%—is that a lot of the indigenous people, particularly in downtown Vancouver, are street people. Many of them have a number of challenges.
We've heard consistently from the testimony in our hearings that indigenous language is an important part of culture, values, of being able to connect with others, to feel like you're a part of something.
Is there something that we could or should be doing that might do that, in terms of being able to look at the social value, social impact, being able to connect indigenous languages with the downtown areas, with the friendship centres?
At Main and Hastings in downtown Vancouver, we're establishing a large aboriginal centre. We have large components to it. Street people have been active in developing it. We took over the old City of Vancouver jail, so it's a really interesting place for them, going through the issues there and some of the rituals they have.
It seems to me, with 61%—and you tie that with the other testimony we've been hearing—that there may be some synergies there that could have a profound impact for some of those urban areas.
Could you comment on that, or help me with that?