[Witness spoke in Siksika
Good afternoon. I bring you greetings from the Siksika Nation in southern Alberta. I'm very grateful to have this opportunity to add to this important discussion.
I have been in education for 50-plus years, since getting my undergraduate degree from the University of Calgary and then three graduate degrees. As I worked in education over these years, I have been involved in curriculum development. When I started teaching, I quickly realized that the curriculum wasn't getting to the hearts of our students. It wasn't reaching them, so I was always developing curricula voluntarily.
I've always tried to promote these initiatives. Over the years, I developed this passion because I knew we were robbed of our heritage. We were robbed of the right to be who we are, to learn our culture, to learn our language. I was separated from my large extended family at the age of seven. I went to the boarding school and did not speak a word of English. I feel very cheated and very robbed, and so I have tried in earnest to contribute to the knowledge our people need.
In the 1980s, at Siksika we began efforts in earnest to revitalize the use of the Siksika language. We knew it was in decline. When we spoke to the local school principal, who was a nation member, he told us that in grades 1 to 9 he could count on one hand the number of speakers. That really shook us up. We didn't realize how bad it was, and that was in the 1980s.
It was a real challenge to conduct our work with very little funding, and at the time what was known as the secretary of state asked us how our language could be in jeopardy, since we came from one of the largest tribes in the country. We ended up having to justify why we needed funding. I as a volunteer, together with the team I was working with, did a major study on the status of the Siksika language. We did two studies, one in 1985 and a follow-up in 1991. We tested every child in our schools. We did a random selection of households and we interviewed elders. All of these groups corroborated and triangulated the evidence we were looking for.
We used a proficiency scale, “0” meaning no knowledge of the language, “1” meaning some understanding but not able to speak. Everyone under 21 years of age scored below 1. The majority were 0, with a few having some understanding. We had to do a lot of work, which at the time we considered critical work.
We went back, and because of our study we were able to access some funds from the Province of Alberta. With this little bit of funding that we got, we developed three comprehensive levels of teaching for the Siksika language. We developed comprehensive kits, but we always knew it was just the tip of the iceberg. We had so much work to do.
Then Heritage Canada came up with funding for indigenous languages, but at the time only the most endangered groups were funded at realistic levels. What did that mean for us? We were not on that list, and yet we knew we had critical work to do.
The study we did told us that in 30 years' time our speakers would be in their late 50s, which is the case right now, and that is exactly what's happening. Hardly anybody under 50 speaks the language.
I have developed, as I said, a curriculum over time, over these years, these decades, in my 50-some years as an educator.
I was semi-retired from my work with the First Nations Adult and Higher Education Consortium, and Old Sun Community College at Siksika recruited me to assist with their curriculum development. My doctorate degree is in curriculum development in instruction. As I was a fluent speaker, they thought I would be an asset to the team.
I told them I would do it on condition that I got to work with our ceremonial knowledge keepers. To make a long story short, I worked with this team, and was it ever an eye-opener. I used to say to people that I was a a proud Siksika woman, but in working with these ceremonial knowledge keepers, I really saw just how much of my way of life I did not know about.
I'm a fluent speaker and I found that there was a whole vernacular that I could not understand very well. It was the whole language of ceremony, the essence of who we are as Siksika people. I thought if I as a fluent speaker do not speak that language and understand some of that terminology, we're in real hot water.
It was a really wonderful team to work with, because they really opened my eyes to the really critical work we had to do.
As a result of my work with our ceremonial knowledge keepers, we ended up developing 37 Siksika studies courses, which are all at the college level. Most of these are transferable to public institutions, such as St. Mary's University, Athabasca University.
In implementing these courses, the language is critical to teach the essence of what those topics are. I teach some of those topics, and I find myself saying a lot of the Siksika words that would describe exactly what it is we're talking about. Our young students really long to learn the language.
We have a lot of work to do. We're now looking at immersion programming at all levels. We want to develop immersion curriculum for the little guys, because we've talked to our other indigenous groups from other places and they say the place to start is with the very young ones. Teach them the language, and they'll grow up with it.
However, the reality is we might do that, but what will they go home to? They will go back to homes where they don't hear the language.
We're trying to do work on all fronts, including adult language immersion, so that they're actually learning as families. We're trying to go in that direction, but realistically, when we don't have funding, it's a very tough task, because we don't want to just have our speakers and our ceremonial knowledge keepers volunteer their time. It's really critical to recruit whoever we can, and time is of the essence to do this important work when our treasures are still here with us. Every month, some of our elders are gone, so while we still can, we want to work with them.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission and other entities recommend teaching language culture, but a lot of those funds are being directed to public institutions. Can they realistically develop the important curriculum for us? At our college, we can provide the context. We are with our ceremonial knowledge keepers who speak the language, who live our way of life, and the work that we're developing is very rich, really rich. They cannot get that anywhere else.
[Witness spoke in Mohawk
I acknowledge everyone here.
[Witness spoke in Mohawk]
Thank you for inviting me to provide my voice.
[Witness spoke in Mohawk]
My real name is Kaweienón:ni, which means “she makes the way”.
[Witness spoke in Mohawk]
I'm Onondaga Nation and I'm Snipe Clan, but I'm a fluent Mohawk speaker.
First and foremost, I am a mother and grandmother.
The retention, restoration, revitalization and reinforcement of the Mohawk language is both a personal and professional endeavour for me. I don't consider my work as a job, but rather as a responsibility to help and do everything in my power to provide opportunities for our community members to be able to learn Kanien'kéha, the Mohawk language. I could easily fulfill my obligation if you, as representatives of Canada, remain true to your word and fulfill your duties that you have laid out in the various sections of Bill , which states that it is an act respecting indigenous languages.
Paragraph 5(b)(iv) states that one the purposes of the act is to:
support Indigenous language learning and cultural activities, including language nest and immersion programs
Within our community, we have been fortunate to have established two immersion schools. Akwesasne Freedom School, although independently run through grants, donations and fundraising efforts, has a tuition agreement with the Ahkwesahsne Mohawk Board of Education. Even with all the hard work the parents do to fundraise, the dedicated language teachers receive a salary that is not even at par with the poverty level in Canada for a family of four. I read that in December of 2014 it was less than $42,000 per year. This is a reality within many native communities, which struggle to maintain a sufficient level of education and struggle three times as much when it comes to the desire for language implementation.
The emphasis for language funding needs to be placed on immersion programming, as we all are well aware that the 40-minute core language classes do not produce fluent speakers. Am I right?
At present, I work for the Ahkwesahsne Mohawk Board of Education as a Kanien'kéha Mohawk language curriculum and resource developer. Our struggle is that we don't have a lot of fluent speakers. We just can't find people who speak it to come to teach the language. I can't blame you who are present here today, because it wasn't your fault; you didn't want kids removed from their families and sent to residential schools. However, I can blame you if you don't take any action today and fulfill what you know is required for the people to restore their languages for the future, for the seventh generation.
In clause 9, under “Agreements or arrangements”, it states that the purpose of the act takes into account “the unique circumstances and needs of Indigenous groups...in a manner consistent with the powers and jurisdictions of the provinces and of indigenous governing bodies and the rights of the Indigenous peoples recognized and affirmed by subsection 35 of the Constitution Act,1982”, which states that:
The existing aboriginal and treaty rights of the aboriginal peoples of Canada are hereby recognized and affirmed.
Any treaties and agreements were made with Canada, and the act need to be ratified and omit that the agreements or arrangements must take into account the needs of indigenous groups in a manner consistent with the jurisdiction of the provinces. The treaties were not made at the provincial level. They were made with Canada.
In clause 6, the bill states that:
The Government of Canada recognizes that the rights of Indigenous peoples recognized and affirmed by section section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982 include rights related to Indigenous languages.
I'm just reading some of the Canadian laws.
Ours were the original languages of “Kana:ta”, the word that became “Canada”, the name of the country. It seems only right to respect the original people of this land by reaffirming the recognition and endowing us with the same status that gave French and English equal status in the Government of Canada as official languages.
It has preferred status in law over all other languages because it is common knowledge that the Indian residential school system was a network of boarding schools for indigenous peoples and that the network was funded by the Canadian government's Department of Indian Affairs. The amount of funding that needs to be administered back into the reclamation of our languages should be equal to the funding that was put in to abolish our languages. I don't know the dollar amount, but I can estimate that it would be in the ballpark of billions of dollars. Excuse my estimation if I am wrong.
In clause 7, “long-term funding” needs to be changed to “ongoing funding”. “Long-term funding” implies that the funding will be administered for a questionable length of time. This would not provide the said “adequate, sustainable and long-term funding for the reclamation, revitalization, maintenance and strengthening of Indigenous languages” into the next century.
As Onkwehon:we, the real and natural people of this part of the world, I would like to remind you, as representatives of Kana:ta, to go beyond the talk. Words are only words unless a conscious choice is made to act upon them. I'm standing in front of you all today and speaking on behalf of my grandchildren—Rarihwasésta, Tharahkwénhahs, Teiakotshataténion, Raniehtanawénhtha, Roha'ti:io, Iakokari:io, Ieniehténhawe and Rarennenha:wi—so that they and their grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and the faces yet to come, have ample opportunities to continue learning their language.
Niawenhko:wa. Thank you for listening to me.
Eh kati' nikawénnake. Tane' tho.
: Weyt-k, bonjour
, and good afternoon, Madam Chair.
I am Francyne Joe, president of the Native Women's Association of Canada.
I would like to begin by acknowledging that we are gathered on the Algonquin Anishinaabeg people's traditional and unceded territory.
Since 1974, the Native Women's Association has been the chosen national representative of grassroots indigenous women, girls and gender-diverse people. We represent first nations on reserve, off reserve, whether status, non-status, or disenfranchised, and Métis and Inuit. We defend their rights and we advocate for those voices that are not heard.
Today I sit before the House of Commons to outline NWAC's significant concerns about Bill , an act respecting indigenous languages.
The Minister of Heritage and Multiculturalism, Pablo Rodriguez, tabled Bill without meaningfully consulting NWAC. The co-development process excluded us.
NWAC supports the Government of Canada's efforts to preserve, promote and revitalize first nations, Métis and Inuit languages, and agrees that Bill is essential. However, NWAC cannot fully support it without major revisions to address these disparities.
First, Bill does not include a culturally relevant gender-based lens. Intersectional lenses are imperative to every government policy and legislative decision. It reveals the distinct and unique impacts that legislation will have on marginalized and vulnerable groups, especially indigenous women. This is essential to meeting their needs and implementing effective legislation.
Additionally, this must be led by indigenous women. We are the keepers of traditions, of cultures, of languages. We are the hearts of the communities, and we are the mothers teaching our children how to communicate. Indigenous women must be the foundations of all language revitalization efforts, with full inclusion.
NWAC strongly recommends that the government meaningfully consult with us to apply culturally relevant, gender-based analysis and hear the concerns and solutions that indigenous women, girls and gender-diverse people have to contribute.
Second, Bill does not take a distinctions-based approach. You cannot treat the preservation of each language identically with a blanket approach, or it will fail. A distinctions-based approach considers how a specific policy, program, service, or piece of legislation will affect first nations, Métis and Inuit communities across Canada differently.
The act does not specify whether non-status indigenous women and their children have any language rights. It does not state how Métis people living all over Canada, not just in the west, will be represented and included. It does not take into consideration the needs and priorities of Inuit communities. While two-thirds of the Inuit population can speak Inuktitut, this number is steadily declining. NWAC recommends that before Bill can be passed, it must clearly outline how it will account for the distinct contexts, needs and priorities of first nations, Métis and Inuit communities with regard to language revitalization.
Third, the act must specify its legally binding commitment to provide adequate, sustainable and long-term funding for indigenous languages. Funding is one of the most substantial barriers to language revitalization.
On February 7, Mr. Virani stated, “over and over again in the consultations—that what we need is supports in terms of resources and what we need is stable, long-term, predictable funding.”
Outside of the preamble, the act does not specify that the government has legal obligations to create adequate, predictable, sustainable and long-term funding. This is not a question of determining a funding amount, but about distributing allocated funding enshrined in Bill . NWAC recommends that before Bill is passed, it must clearly outline a legally binding commitment to provide adequate, sustainable and long-term funding.
Lastly, the act must specify its commitment to Jordan's principle.
Jordan's principle is a child-first principle aiming to ensure that first nations children have access to all essential public services, regardless of jurisdiction. Language education is an essential public service for all indigenous children.
Currently, every indigenous language in Canada faces potential extinction. We are in an urgent state for language education. There cannot be any delay in services due to payment disputes within or between the federal and provincial governments, because we know that language education is fundamental to identity, culture and the history of our nations. Language education is an essential service, yet indigenous languages ae not treated as essential services. Would anyone deny language services for the cultural survival of French Canadians?
NWAC recommends that before being passed, Bill must clearly outline its commitment to Jordan's principle, as indigenous languages must be treated as an essential service.
Thank you, and kukstemc.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you to our presenters.
Good afternoon to my colleagues.
This, in my opinion, is landmark legislation. I'm a business guy. My background is business, and I'm always more about execution and implementation.
My concern is this, and I'm looking for your guidance, Ms. Ayoungman, Ms. Peters and Ms. Joe. With respect to the rollout of Bill , knowing there are federal, provincial and municipal governments, as well as communities and villages and different ways, shapes and forms, Ms. Ayoungman, you said you wanted the money to flow directly to you and circumvent other layers, if you will. Ideally, how do you see this rolling out? How do you see the funding reaching the appropriate groups?
One of the concerns I have, if you're talking education, health care or what have you, is that there's a lot of infrastructure already there that can apply for money and disburse money and funding, etc. Can you give me your comments, Ms. Ayoungman, as to how you would see the funding rolling out to different groups across the country?
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I appreciate all of our witnesses here today. I appreciate the information that they're bringing to us.
I would like to start with Siipiisai’pia’ki, Ms. Vivian Ayoungman.
I've been in the Old Sun College. They are doing some very, very interesting things, but you're right about the people who have the knowledge and how even though you are a very large band, with significant resources, getting them to the right place is critical. I think you have identified....
My colleague was mentioning funding in the sense that we've had organizations here, national organizations, that have said, “Give the funding to us, and we'll figure out what to do with it.” I don't think that's what you would suggest. Am I right?
Thanks, Madam Chair. I was going to mention that I was going to share my time with my colleague, but since you did....
First of all, thanks to all of the presenters. The things you have said to this committee today have been things I have been saying over the years. I'm honoured to be sitting with my colleague today; we're two of the indigenous MPs in the House of Commons who are fluent speakers,.
I think you all spoke about the urgency of the matter with respect to indigenous languages in this country. I'm saddened to see that the purposes of this bill, under item 5(b)(i), suggest that we need to assess the status of indigenous languages in this country when we all know that there is urgency in the matter.
I'll be sharing my time with my colleague, but I want to ask you first, Francyne, and this is going to be my only question. The government and other leaders in the country have bragged that this legislation has been “codeveloped”. When I attended the technical briefing right after the bill was introduced in the House of Commons, one of the questions I asked—and the parliamentary secretary who's in front of me right now can attest to this—was when the Government of Canada stopped considering the Native Women's Association of Canada as a national organization.
Women are the language keepers. We all know that. In every indigenous culture and tradition, they're the language keepers. I learned my language from my mom and my grandma. I asked that question. There was no answer to that question. When did that stop? How come you weren't involved in this so-called codevelopment of this legislation?
This is pretty different, in my view—and I said that in my speech when the bill was introduced—from co-drafting. I don't think the AFN held the pen in drafting this legislation. When did that stop? I'd like to get that clear first.
I've worked with the indigenous colleges, and that has always been one of our arguments. We've always said that perhaps what we need to do is to gain official status and get the amount of money we really need to do this important work, because all of our first nations colleges are doing critical work. They're doing the research, the development, the implementation of courses, or many times would like to, as there are a lot of initiatives on back burners because they do not have the funding.
Indian Affairs, in their wisdom, or lack thereof, in the last few years used to have monies that went off the top of first nations dollars in education that went to post-secondary. Off of the post-secondary dollars, they took a little bit to give to our first nations colleges, but as I said, in their lack of wisdom, those monies became proposal-driven, and it was devastating to our first nations colleges. What happened? In B.C. none of the indigenous institutions got any money. In Alberta, the first one to be hit was Red Crow Community College, from the largest tribe in Canada. The next year we got hit.
Now, over the last two or three years, we have not received any federal funding. It's all going to public institutions that will teach us who we are, teach us our language. We've talked to them, and they don't have the programs we do. Our students come to us and say, “I never got this at that public institution. I'm so glad I'm coming here, because I'm getting it.” What we have been saying over the years is, wouldn't it be wonderful if our languages were recognized as official languages, and then the dollars would be pumped into them?
I want to thank the other ladies for talking about funding stability, long-term funding, because those have always been issues for our first nations colleges. We operate on year-to-year grants, on shoestring budgets, never quite knowing what is going to be funded. It would be so nice to know once and for all what we're going to be able to do in the years to come, but we never get that opportunity.
In 1980, when the Freedom School began, it was more like we had a community political uprising. The school began around 1980. People didn't want to send their kids to the board-run schools, the federally-run schools. The people at that time decided they wanted to take education into their own hands, and I like what she said about the ceremonial part, because that's what the Freedom School was pretty much based on. There's no separation of language and culture.
The Freedom School, when it began, didn't have much money. It was just people who wanted their kids to learn the language. The parents hadn't learned the language, but they wanted a place that could provide their kids with the opportunity to learn it.
The Freedom School became an immersion program in 1985, and I became a teacher in 1986. I think we were making about $200 Canadian a week. We were there for years. Some teachers before me were volunteering their time. They got food baskets. These are the kinds of struggles we have with our language situation.
We have a population of 15,000 people, and we're lucky if we have 700 speakers. It sounds like a lot compared to other native communities, because so many have lost so many speakers.
Our language is at a critical state. I don't know if anyone here is bilingual, if you speak French and English. What if all of a sudden there were no French speakers left? You can't find teachers to teach French in the schools and you can't find interpreters. Well, that's the situation we're in today.
At the Freedom School, people said we didn't have real teachers because they didn't go to school to learn about.... The school, since its operation, has actually produced a lot of fluent speakers, and some have become teachers in the school.
The heart and the desire and the commitment to the language is in our community, but we are always struggling with going ahead.
It's sad to say. It's always that we lack the funding to hire teachers or....
Thank you, Madam Chair, and thank you all for being here.
Ms. Joe, I really do want to thank you for the work of NWAC. I know our government values the work you do and I think we've worked together on many different initiatives.
With respect to languages, I was rather perplexed, so I had to get some clarity from the department.
My understanding is that you're right about the codevelopment: We had three national indigenous organizations that were part of the codevelopment process, and NWAC was not one of them. I believe we had 1,200 engagements with individuals and organizations with respect to the consultation, and I am advised that NWAC participated in five of those engagement sessions. Of 20 engagement sessions, I think you were part of about five. I'm also advised that NWAC received $166,000 in funding to undertake consultation and that a written submission was received from NWAC.
My sense is that while in your opinion, it may not be adequate—and I respect that if you feel that way—we want to put on the record that we definitely value what you're doing, and that your perspective is essential to the work we've done. Bill in part reflects many of the things recommended by you and your organization. I want to acknowledge this and to thank you for raising your concerns. Certainly, we will continue to engage on this as we go forward on the funding, and on other aspects, and in the future we will definitely work more collaboratively with NWAC and your team.
I'd like to comment about the work we do at my level. When I started doing the curriculum work at our college, I followed protocol and worked with our ceremonial people first. I had a feast, I met with them and I told them about the work we were going to do, and they said,“We fully support your work.” I went to recruit them to work with our college.
They said that what they wanted to help me do was to open that darn closet. They said that their way of life, their language and everything had been locked away for far too long. They said that it was about time that we opened that closet. They said that it brought them back to residential schools. When they first got there, all of their personal items—their clothing, their language and their culture—were put in a little sack that was thrown in a closet, and the door was locked. “It's about time we opened that door,” they said. “We'll work with you.”
I started working with them. In ceremony, a lot of the people that conduct the ceremonies are men, but throughout this they said, “Talk to our Siksika women for the women's teachings.” I work with a core group of Siksika women at our level, at our community level, and that's where we're getting the input from the women—the stories, the lullabies, the child-rearing and the women's roles. That's where all of that is coming from, and it's very much Siksika culture-based.
I just wanted to say that.
I was going to start by asking everyone this question. Our Thursday meetings have been set up to start at 3:15 and go to 4:15. Without starting on a conversation about Thursdays in general, when we're in a building other than West Block, what I was going to ask is whether for today it would be okay with everyone to extend it to 5:30.
A voice: Could we cut the seven minutes to five minutes?
The Chair: Do you mean do a five-minute thing?
I just wanted to check beforehand so that I can make sure I'm managing.
I will try to manage the time as best I can. I don't want to take any more time doing this, but yes, I'll try to end it by 5:15 if I can. Can we negotiate for 5:20? Okay.
Joining us today is Grand Chief Wilton Littlechild, who will be arriving shortly.
We also have Chief Gerald Antoine from the Liidlii Kue First Nation. Welcome, and welcome, Grand Chief Littlechild.
From the Cree Nation Government, we have Grand Chief Abel Bosum, Sarah Pashagumskum, Tina Petawabano and Dorothy Stewart. Thank you.
We also have Paul Joffe, lawyer. Welcome back, Mr. Joffe.
We're going to go in the order you appear on the agenda.
We will begin with Grand Chief Wilton Littlechild for eight minutes, please.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
Good evening to each and every one of you.
[Witness spoke in Cree]
I bring you greetings in my language to acknowledge your excellencies and all the fellow panellists here and to be grateful for this opportunity for me.
I will state at the outset that I'm appearing on my own individual behalf. I don't have the mandate to speak for Ermineskin, Saddle Lake, Alexander, Sunchild, O'Chiese and Onion Lake First Nations in Alberta, who desire to express their own sovereignty and have indicated to me that I don't speak on their behalf. Hopefully, I'll speak perhaps more as a grandfather than anything else.
Thank you for that.
Also, as a prelude to my comments on proposed Bill , as I said in my language, I want to express very sincere gratitude to each and every one of you for the work you're doing here.
At an earlier time, in an earlier life in the other place, as we used to call it, and when I had the great honour of giving my maiden speech in Cree in 1988 as a member of Parliament, things were very different. I won't go into all of the hoops I had to go through to do that, but I want to indicate how important language was and is, then and now, not only to identity and pride but also to spirituality, which is an essence of who we are.
I'm glad to see my brother Romeo here. He will remember that during the United Nations debates on the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, when the articles came up on languages, I spoke for 10 minutes in Cree at the UN. You can imagine what the temperature of the room went up to. I asked people, “How did you feel when I spoke my language? Were you angry? Were you disturbed?”, because I could see the interpreters in their booths looking at each other and moving around. I did that for a purpose, because the point I was trying to make was that when our ancestors signed treaties, Treaty No. 6, you can imagine how they must have felt when they didn't understand the languages that were being used.
I want to do that again today by addressing Bill through a treaty lens, because there are some omissions in the bill from that perspective.
Another experience I draw on was the first international conference on indigenous languages, which was held in Japan in 2005. At that point, I spoke on an international legal framework for indigenous languages that was then in place.
I've also chaired some of the United Nations caucus meetings on indigenous languages. A couple of weeks ago, I guess almost a month ago now, I had the pleasure of presenting at the launch of the International Year of Indigenous Languages.
This is a really historic time, then, for this committee to be discussing such an important bill. At this time of the year, there are many reasons of importance. At the launch of the International Year of Indigenous Languages, I also referenced another part of my life, which was as a commissioner for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. For six and a half years, as I'm sure you all know, we went across the country, listening to former students. Survivors of residential schools shared their stories with us. Sometimes I would ask them, “What does reconciliation mean to you?” I remember one old man said, “Reconciliation, to me, means you give me my language back.” He paused, and then he said, “No. No. Reconciliation, for me, means give me half of my language back and I'll be very, very happy.”
I also want to share with you an opportunity I had on another occasion. I know that some of you have heard me say this before, but I ask each of you this question: Have you ever heard a language die? Have you ever heard a language die? One time, at a meeting at the United Nations, where we always offer an invocation and a prayer to begin our meetings, we asked an old man if he would be willing to say a prayer for us. He said, “I want you to listen very carefully. Listen to the sound of my voice. Listen to the words I'm going to use, because I am the last living person who speaks our language.” He went on to pray. About a month later, I got a phone call from a man who said, “Willie, the old man died.” I said, “What old man?” He said, “Do you remember the man who prayed for us at the UN? He died.”
I would not wish that experience on anyone. It was almost like somebody hit me right in the gut. I didn't know the man, but I heard his language, and I heard it die. That's how important this work is for me. It's because of the situation of our languages across the country. I heard survivors say, many times in anger and many times in tears, that they wished they could speak their language, but they couldn't; it was beaten out of them, they said, at residential school.
With that background, I look at Bill through the lens of a treaty. I have some comments I want to make in that regard.
[Witness spoke in Dene Zhati
I would like to thank the people here for giving me this time to share with you some of the things you're deliberating on with regard to Bill . I come from a community called Liidlii Kue.
Margo passed out the medallion. I'd like you to look at that, because it's something that will tell you about our existence and about a relationship that we have. First, I'm a Dene person. “Dene” is a four-letter word. Earlier on, one of the committees wanted to use a four-letter word. I'm going to use a four-letter word, but not a swear word.
Voices: Oh, oh!
Chief Gerald Antoine: Two sounds come from the word Dene. “De” makes reference to the river and “ne” makes reference to the land. You are of the land and of the water: That's what a Dene person is.
Another thing is that our land is really big. Liidlii Kue is a functional area. It's a place name for the confluence of Dehcho and Nachahdeh, which newcomers call the Mackenzie and Liard rivers. This is a place Pope John Paul visited in 1987. I was the chief at the time. Today I'm also the chief, but it doesn't mean I was chief all the time.
I went on a walkabout to just across there, to the Canadian Museum of Civilization, where I was an intern. I had a chance to visit some of our belongings and some of our relatives there.
It's a special gathering place. You'll notice that the spirit of our language, the Dene language and other indigenous languages whose voices have been shared here, illustrates who we are and the relationship we have with all living things in our home territory. We have lived through our functions and our responsibilities with the land since time immemorial, and we will continue to live this way of life. As we move forward, we will also continue to look for meaningful ways, as we have, of putting food on the table.
We are part of a large linguistic family that spans from Alaska and the Northwest Territories through southern Alberta to the northern territories of Mexico. I'm here to speak with you from my position as chief regarding this process and to express three points of consideration. These are specific to jurisdiction, capacity and process. I will conclude by offering the committee some solutions to the problems that will be identified in this presentation.
As you'll notice from the medallion, two years from now we'll be commemorating 100 years of a relationship. This relationship is an international relationship. This is Treaty No. 11. My great-grandfathers, Ehthilo and Nakehgon, were two of the leaders who engaged the representatives of the Crown in right of Great Britain. This agreement was inherited by Canada. By entering into this international arrangement, the Dene and the Crown recognized one another as nations and agreed to coexist in peace and friendship.
At the time, in preparation for this relationship, Dene Zhati, or the Dene language, was used to communicate with the Crown, making it a medium for our treaty relationship and a treaty right. The Dene language is the basis for understanding the spirit and the intent of this relationship of coexistence. This was recognized by the Canadian courts in the Paulette case—and within the international community to this day.
Dene Zhati expresses who we are and is our spiritual database. It is a cornerstone of our nationhood, transferred to us by our ancestors through countless generations of experiences and observations of the land and all living things. Today I think people refer to this as “traditional knowledge”. However, from my context, it's a lot more than that.
Who we are is expressed through our language. This is the reason we did not cede anything when the Crown entered into a treaty with us. We insisted that your people would peacefully coexist with us. We did not give up any of our inherent rights or title. We retained our jurisdiction over ourselves and our inherent right to self-determination in all matters. It is from this foundation that I speak to you today.
My second point is in regard to the context of Bill and the lack of an assurance that capacity will be made available for the revitalization and sustainability of Dene. This has occurred once before, when the Government of the Northwest Territories enacted its Official Languages Act in 1984, recognizing the indigenous languages in our territory. This included Dene Zhati.
Although this act has been in place for 35 years, there are problems. The reason that the Dene originally supported the act is that we thought it would help revitalize and protect our languages. There was help mandated by the Dene to ensure this legislation would work, but since then, capacity has been removed from the existing legislation.
How much time do I have left?
Okay. I just wanted to skip that part because I made my point.
This is really significant, and I point out here that one only needs to examine the Northwest Territories Official Languages Act in comparison to Bill to see striking similarities. This is alarming to me. Bill C-91 presents an updated version of the NWT Official Languages Act, with some language around reconciliation and indigenous rights sprinkled over it, but the actual clauses do not provide any guarantees of capacity funding.
If you look at the treaty relationship, there were specific understandings and guarantees, and that has not been fulfilled. In all the different things that have been going on with any legislation, that's what's been happening. Yesterday, you heard things about corruption. You could look at this in that context too, because there's something not right.
My sister earlier on talked about crumbs. The other thing is that we're on the side. There are some things going on. When you're travelling around together, there are people in front of you who see everything and this is where you are. We're in the back, and you're yelling at us, saying, “What do you want? What can you see?”
We can't see anything. We don't know what we want because we're not there. We need to be there. The treaty relationship says that it's going to be coexistent, so we need to be there. We need to look at how we need to do that.
That's a point that I wanted to make, because the process—this is the point I'm making—is the process. Yes, we need capacity. The other thing is that there is a jurisdiction. There's the Crown's jurisdiction and there's Dene jurisdiction. It's coexistent. We need to work together. That's how we need to move forward.
That's how I feel, and that's how we need to move forward.
[Witness spoke in Dene Zhati]
Good afternoon, Madam Chair, and honourable committee members.
[Witness spoke in Cree ]
I just wanted to give thanks to our creator for the gift of our language in Cree, and the ability to speak it. My name is Grand Chief Abel Bosum, and on behalf of the Cree Nation of Eeyou Istchee, I am pleased to appear before you today. I am accompanied by Dr. Sarah Pashagumskum, chairperson of the Cree School Board and CEO of Aanischaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute; Dorothy Stewart, Cree language coordinator, social and cultural department; Tina Petawabano, responsible for indigenous relations with the Cree Nation Government; and Paul Joffe, legal counsel.
The Cree Nation of Eeyou Istchee includes more than 18,000 Eeyou Istchee, or Cree, occupying our traditional territory of Eeyou Istchee. This territory covers around 400,000 square kilometres and is located mainly to the east and south of James Bay and Hudson Bay, with additional territories in Ontario.
The social and cultural department is responsible for the Cree nation's language program and policy. Aanischaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute is a museum, archive, library and research and education centre. The Cree School Board, over the past decades, has played a large role in Cree language research and program development as a primary instrument for Cree language maintenance in our territory.
From the outset, we wish to acknowledge the potentially far-reaching significance of Bill , an act respecting indigenous languages. At the same time, we fully recognize the important challenges associated with reclamation, revitalization, maintenance and strengthening of indigenous languages. Clearly, there must be adequate space and flexibility to accommodate the perspectives and priorities of each indigenous people or nation.
It is important to note that according to the General Assembly of the UN, sustainable development includes language and cultural development. Also, there is a consensus that no one must be left behind. This explicitly includes indigenous peoples.
In our experience, implementation and enforcement of legislation are always a challenge. In particular, adequate resources are urgently required to carry out the programs and other initiatives for language development and preservation at all stages. At this crucial point, we need more clarity in regard to the specific global amounts that the federal government is setting aside for at least the next five years. This will help our ongoing planning and other activities under Bill .
Fluency in languages is recognized globally as the most important standard. We are pleased that Bill consistently refers to fluency as a key standard and objective. In addition, we wish to underline the critical importance of the bill in linking indigenous peoples' languages to the calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
At the same time, it's important to underline here that as indigenous people with the right of self-determination, we view our rights in a holistic manner. All of our inherent and pre-existing rights are interrelated, and interdependent. Our rights to language and culture cannot be separated from other inherent rights, especially our rights to lands, territories and resources. With respect to Cree language and culture, the words we speak derive from our relationship with the land. The words, thoughts and world views that we pass on to our children are connected to the land.
These essential interrelationships are explicitly affirmed in the UN Declaration, in its seventh preambular paragraph:
Recognizing the urgent need to respect and promote the inherent rights of indigenous peoples which derive from their political, economic and social structures and from their cultures, spiritual traditions, histories and philosophies, especially their rights to their lands, territories and resources.
Therefore, it's important to highlight the pressing need for umbrella legislation under the UN declaration. Such legislation, namely Bill , has already been passed by the House of Commons and is currently at second reading in the Senate. We are proud that Romeo Saganash, a member of our Cree nation, sponsored Bill C-262, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples act. This bill will advance the human rights of indigenous people in Canada. It will also set an important precedent for indigenous peoples in other countries worldwide.
As underlined in call to action number 43, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission calls on the federal government and all levels of government to implement the UN declaration as a framework for reconciliation. Therefore, implementation of the declaration is inseparable from the TRC call to action. Any member of Parliament who fails to support the UN declaration is also undermining Canada's national reconciliation initiative.
As highlighted in the preamble of Bill :
...2019 has been proclaimed by the General Assembly of the United Nations as the International Year of Indigenous Languages to, among other things, draw attention to the critical loss of Indigenous languages and the urgent need to maintain, revitalize and promote Indigenous languages;
Such loss or severe impairment of indigenous languages—whether through residential schools; dispossession of lands, territories and resources; forced assimilations; destruction of culture; or other acts of colonization—must be redressed in authentic ways. Such ways must respect our ability to determine ourselves how we will maintain our languages and the vehicles that we will utilize to do so.
We look forward to working harmoniously with the federal government and others to achieve the critical objectives of Bill .
Yes. Thank you very much. I'll be very brief.
There is mention of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, but I think there are two other pieces of legislation that we should look at to guide our discussion or further drafting of Bill .
The first one is the declaration by the Organization of American States, OAS, on the rights of indigenous peoples. In that declaration there are two very specific articles that really speak to the bill.
The second instrument I would refer to is the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, comment number 11 talks about indigenous children and their rights to language.
Those two international references should be considered as well as the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
The second point I was going to make was to propose another “whereas” clause, or indeed an operative article. Let me read it very quickly: “Whereas treaty stories, songs, ceremonies, traditions and beliefs are carried in indigenous languages, indigenous history, oral testimony and language must take paramountcy in interpretation of rights and responsibilities, according to the original spirit and intent and as understood by indigenous peoples.”
Lastly, I would say it's important to.... I'll give you a list. There are about nine specific places where I believe you could insert “treaty” to strengthen Bill , from our perspective. Right now treaties are only very minimally mentioned in two places.