Thank you. I'm glad to be here.
This morning is a nice day. Sitting here together, I'm happy to be here. I'm thankful to the House committee. Thank you for allowing me to speak my language. I'm thankful to the people on this committee for the opportunity to speak my language.
The reason I'm sitting here speaking my language is that when we're sitting there in the House of Commons, I'm not allowed to speak my Dene language. I speak English and I don't speak French.
What I want to talk about is where I'm from and my culture and my job, I want to talk to you about that.
I was born in La Loche, Saskatchewan. My parents brought me up with my Dene culture. That's why I am a Dene person.
I'm here to ask you to let Dene be spoken in the House of Commons. That's why I'm here. I'm thankful for that with all my heart.
It's difficult to speak my Dene language with my Liberal colleagues or MP .
When we come to Ottawa, the way I live is different from when I go back to my community. I was mayor of the community of La Loche for 12 years. I was there for a long time, helping out the community of La Loche. I did a lot of work for my community.
In 2015, I entered politics to be an MP for Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River. I was voted in to be here today. I'm a member from the La Loche community, a Dene person. Living in La Loche, my community, we spoke Dene, living our culture. We are surrounded by media, TV. The CBC channel was introduced in 1979. Other than that, there was nothing. We learned O Canada through the CBC.
Through my culture, my grandparents taught me to live my traditional life—fishing, snaring rabbits, setting a fishnet. We survived on that. It's our source of food.
I graduated from high school, from grade 12, in La Loche. I spoke Dene all the time with my colleagues. Becoming an adult, I learned English. When I graduated from high school, I went to university. I relocated to Saskatoon. I moved to a larger centre and from there I learned to speak more English. I'm still learning to speak English, and I'm proud to be a speaker of the English language too.
Where I'm located, there are people who speak the Cree language, the Michif language, and also the Dene language. When I get back to my community, we speak the Dene language all the time. There are quite a few speakers of that language in our area in what we call northern Saskatchewan. Fond du Lac, Black Lake, and Hatchet Lake are Dene communities. Patuanak, Dillon, and Turnor Lake are also Dene communities.
There are also Dene people out in Manitoba. In Alberta, we have Dene people living close to Saskatchewan. In the area of the Northwest Territories, there are also Dene people.
This is a big deal, and I'm thankful that we're sitting here together and talking about it—not just me, but all together—with people to look at us and for children to understand and to watch us, to say that this is what've we've done, and also, in terms of the education system, to say that this is what we're asking and what we're doing for our language. It's difficult.
What I'm talking about is that when I was elected as an MP, when I first tried tried to get elected to the House of Commons, they asked me to speak Dene at the House of Commons. That's what they told me. That's why it's still with me today. It's because I'm a member now. Recently I became a member, and I remember that once the people asked me to speak Dene in Parliament.
The person who is speaking the Dene language is here. We grew up together in the same community. We both speak Dene and we both speak English. The person who sits here understands English, and he's quite a ways from home.
There are a lot of people, I guess, who know Dene. I won't be the only person here in the House of Commons. There are a lot of Dene people, young people. If they want to be an MP in the future, if they get on the ballot, they might win. To give them an opportunity is why I'm asking for this. It's for the future, for our Dene people to look at us and to be proud of us for what we're doing.
Sometimes we don't all agree. We were at the educational institutions to talk about the Dene language. If we do this together, in Canada here, there are a lot of us here—not only Dene people, but also people speaking the Cree language. There are a lot of aboriginal people in Canada. There are a lot of aboriginal people in the provinces, in Newfoundland and the Northwest Territories, and in Nunavut and Yukon. There are also a lot of aboriginal people in B.C. They all think about speaking their languages and about talking about their languages in Canada.
I'm a member, and I'm a Canadian citizen from La Loche, Saskatchewan. I remember the way my grandparents taught us a long time ago and what they used to say. One of them was a chief.
They always told us to remember where you're from based on your language. If you have the opportunity to speak Dene, you speak Dene. That's why, in Canada.... I can speak in English after this.
If we make a commitment, we can really try hard to do it for the younger generation, even the adults. We can speak to them and tell them to have a strong mind, a strong heart, and to remember where they're from. That's the way we'll be in Canada. We are here together, being proud and working together.
Aboriginals also speak their Michif language. When Louis Riel was here, he probably thought the same way too. They give us the opportunity to get something. People say to ask politicians for something, so they can get something from them, but I think we can do this together.
The interpreter is from my community. He went to school, and there's not only him. There are a lot of people in our community who can speak and translate Dene. There's Allan Adam and also Cheryl Herman.
If we get together, we can do this together, and also for you too. I'm happy to be here with you. I'll say it again. In Canada, I know that it's not easy to ask for the opportunity to speak the Dene language. It's not just me. We have to find a way to do it. That's why I'm asking you today.
Thank you very much. This is an opportunity for you to ask questions.
Hello, my friends, my relations. It is good to see you today.
We have lost our languages. Please help us. I have walked a long pathway.
Long ago, in the winter, I walked about while I was on this cold land. I visited 41 first nations communities. I met so many Cree, my relatives: the Dakota, the Oji-Cree, the Plains Ojibwe or Saulteaux, the Métis, the French people. I heard them, the people, wish for their children to have flourishing lives.
In this great structure, you have money. In the beginning, I was told my work has started for all Canadians. We must all work collectively together, since Canada has written the promises and how processes unfold.
We are related. If things have not happened right, we will change things. Help me. Help me to respect one another.
Treaties are about respect and brotherhood. Indigenous peoples have always had treaties. The Cree and the Blackfoot made treaties using common sense. There was to be no fighting in the winter, as it was too cold and not good to move women, children, and aged populations from their homes to different locations at this time.
If one tribe made war, they sought out the other chief and explained the reason they were making war. Quite often it was that the young warriors had too much energy and were bothering the whole camp. The old people knew that the best way to do things was to send them off to war against the enemy they knew. The two chiefs would talk, and one would be given time to move the women and children and old people. It worked for them, and later in peacetime they would talk about it.
The creation stories we tell about Weysakechak are about treaty. Those world treaties are about water, earth, air, fire, and of course the Great Spirit.
For instance, when a child is born, the mother's water breaks, and this signals that the child is to be born. He then gets his first breath of precious, sacred air, and he is a live human being. He's then wrapped in the warm hide and fur of an animal and enjoys the warmth of the fire and the life-giving milk of his mother. Soon he is playing with the other children outside on their own land, which happens to be Canada.
When the Creator finished creating the land, sea, and air creatures, he called everyone forward and told them to ask for the gifts they wanted to have for themselves, and thus he made treaties with all life on earth. Many of them asked to serve mankind, but they were warned about mankind and what he would be like as the best and worst of all creation. They accepted and understood his warnings. For their understanding and sacrifices, they were granted a place in the hereafter. They would and should be honoured by man in ceremony, which indigenous peoples still do to this day.
It is for these teachings that we respect air, fire, and water in a sacred way. They are included in all our prayers and ceremonies. It is a good way to live.
We all have our own languages, understandings, and ceremonies. As indigenous peoples, we respect the earth and all the children of the feathered, furred, scaled, two-legged, four-legged, and winged citizens. We know mankind is the only creation that breaks treaties continuously. The others have never broken their sacred treaty with us.
By our own common sense, we must pray for the earth and all who dwell here. For over a hundred years, we have signed treaties between our different peoples and countries. The original idea was not about subservience, but rather respect.
Languages must be used to be useful. They must be used by our children in schools, in the homes, and in the rest of society. Our languages must be on TV so that we can see and understand why, where, and when, and see what is happening in our Parliament. It is important to have language.
I saw a written sign on the entrance to a graveyard in Lac la Ronge in northern Saskatchewan. It said, “If we could not as brothers live, let us here as brothers lie”.
Man is represented by fire. Interestingly enough, women are represented by water. With just a single word or a single glance, she can destroy or elevate us. Personally, I would rather be a brother to my fellow mankind than perish in a dirty flood of prejudice, jealousy, anger, and fear.
Language can convey respect and meaning. It represents culture and it defines who we are, our self-identity. It is about learning, education, and knowledge.
Elder Winston Wuttunee asked me to talk about how language is important and related to our belief structure. There are four elements—water, air, land, and fire. Language is related to these four elements. When you take a word in Cree and break it down, there are additional meanings within that word.
Let us take water as an example. Water is women, life, connection to all of creation. It is beauty itself.
Let us look at air. There's fresh air and dirty air. It all has an impact on how healthy we are. It is life, breath. Animals fly in air. We need good air to be healthy.
Let's look at land. We live and we die. When we die, we become the land, and the land is our relatives. It feeds the grasses. It feeds the bison. It feeds us. It is us.
Think upon fire. Fire is also life. It keeps us warm—to cook, to survive. It cleans the land. It is also men. It works best with water.
Let us take one word of the Cree language, nikamoun, which means “to sing”. Nika means “in front”, and moun means “to eat”. Nikamoun, therefore, means “to be fed song”, as it is. If you break it down further, it could mean “to be fed food by the one in front”. This could also be the Creator. To take it a bit further, it means “whoever is in front is feeding us”. This is where the greed for money becomes our sustenance. This has quickly become a starvation diet for us all—nature and mankind too. Do we have the responsibility and the ability to respond, to learn and save ourselves, our children, our mankind, and our world?
Without language, who are we as individuals? We become without a past, unable to understand the thoughts of the past, unable to understand our ancestors in ceremony. They in turn are unable to understand us when we can't communicate in our own language.
Our modern Parliament has a role to play in helping indigenous peoples. You can add to the scales of justice, ensuring that our Canadian languages, our indigenous languages, do not become museum pieces relegated to the back of anthropological shelves on linguistics but are living, alive, and adapting to a modern world—yet they must always remain spiritually connected to the past.
I dream of a moment when the Canadian state, which has for too long tried to ignore and terminate these languages, is part of the process in Parliament of breathing life into our common languages.
Tapwe. Thank you very much.
On May 4, I rose in the House of Commons on an S. O. 31. It was an important issue because there was violence occurring against indigenous women in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Some had been killed and burned alive, set afire during parties, by people who did not respect women. In order to have perhaps a deeper impact—because a lot of politicians will raise these issues, but sometimes we're ignored and not everyone hears the message—I wanted to make sure that the people who needed to hear it most, especially some young men, would hear that message, so I decided to speak in Cree.
I expected when I wrote the little one-minute speech that it would be translated in the House that I would have the simple courtesy of one minute to be able to express that language so that all people could understand what I was saying. Unfortunately, the interpretive and translation services were not able to provide that service because we can't do it under the current Standing Orders. I understand. Bureaucracy has a way of functioning and working, and bureaucracy is important, but at the same time it's important for that message to get out.
I was dismayed when other MPs could not understand what I was saying, nor were my words recorded within the Hansard. I have spoken many times in Cree in the House, and it's not even an accurate representation of some of the speeches. It simply says the member has spoken in Cree. I might have spoken for over a minute—two, three, four minutes—in Cree, but no one knows what I said.
I brought this issue up as a point of privilege to the Speaker a few weeks after that. I spoke to a number of lawyers and people involved in language issues across Canada, especially people involved in francophone language issues for minority linguistic rights across Canada, learning from them about some of the processes that they had gone through and trying to find out what would relate to indigenous peoples.
I believe one of our colleagues spoke previously to section 35 of the Constitution Act, which states: “The existing aboriginal and treaty rights of the aboriginal peoples of Canada are hereby recognized and affirmed.”
A friend of mine, Karen Drake, has written about this extensively. She believes that they do fall within this provision. Some people have even launched a constitutional challenge, arguing that not only does the federal government have a negative obligation not to stifle aboriginal languages or to simply just ignore them but that it has a positive obligation to provide the resources necessary for the revitalization of those languages.
I could go on perhaps in another section. I don't want to take up all of your time.
The Senate uses translation once in a while, as required. It was actually Senator Charlie Watt—who is not quite retired, or perhaps he has retired—who fought for this around 10 years ago. He spent a considerable amount of his own resources. One issue they faced was around dialects. We all speak a bit of a different language, and we don't have a central state structure. As we know, indigenous nations in Canada do not have a central state structure. There is no central indigenous government with an Académie française that everybody can consult to find out the correct word.
How is French supposed to be spoken? That institution determines that we speak it in a certain way. We speak French. The right word is “ordinateur”, not “computer”.
They decide what the words are. They decide what the word for “MP” is. Perhaps Monsieur Saganash's word and way of saying it is better than otapapistamâkew. Perhaps it's his word we should be using, or perhaps my word is the better word, but if you don't have the resources of the state, a central government helping people, working in collaboration, allowing people to come together, and the experts who actually come up with these terms, then these languages will die. Indigenous languages are actually dying in this country.
I heard the previous witness say that perhaps they are endangered. They are all endangered. Cree is endangered. It's one of the most spoken languages on the prairies, and the statistics do not tell the entire story. Statistics Canada, I believe, gets the wrong thing, because people feel an awful lot of shame because they can't speak their language. I don't speak the language very well. I feel an awful lot of shame about that. My parents didn't teach me, and my grandparents refused to teach me, saying, “It's not useful. You don't need it. It's going to cause lots of problems.”
There are also a lot of people who say, “What makes me a man? What makes me an indigenous man?” When I go to ceremonies and I can't understand what's being said all the time, what does that do inside? I sing the songs and I have to think, yes, that word means this, and what does that word mean? If you have to translate for other people, then they have say, “Well, you're pronouncing that word wrong.” Your ancestors can't understand what you're saying; you're asking for their help, but they can't understand you.
In Parliament, the role that I see—my dream, actually—is that in fact perhaps we're not going to be able to save every language out there—let's be realistic—but maybe we can save Inuktitut, maybe Cree, maybe Dene, maybe Anishinaabemowin, maybe four, five, or 10 languages. There are others that are so far gone that the critical mass of speakers is just not there in society to even offer the professional translation services and interpretive services that would be required in a large institution like Parliament.
This is what is needed.
Sorry. I don't mean to take up all your time.
If you go to France, you can see that the Langue d'oc still exists. It is a kind of dialect, but it is a different language that includes a lot of French words. But ensuring the very survival of the language is extremely difficult.
You're right, it is very difficult, but I think the great thing about a centralized state that we have, a federation, is that there are the resources of the state to allow the linguists to sit down together to come up with the common terms.
The great thing about Parliament is that we deal with everything. We have debates about everything. We talk about transportation, about security. We talk about health. Do those terms always exist? Are they always the same? If they're not, it's going to force people, the experts, to sit down somewhere and decide on the term that we want to use. Then it's going to take the education system, with Indigenous Services, to make sure these words get out to the communities and the schools and that the teachers in the schools use them.
Then if also we know that there is employment for interpreters, the universities will have the opportunity to end up training people to a professional standard to offer those services. I used to have a program at the University of Manitoba. I was a program director there in the aboriginal focus programs, as a university professor, and one of our certificates, combined with Red River College, was aboriginal languages, but we couldn't run the program because we didn't really have any jobs for people to go to, because there was no need. We don't need Cree.
However, I think if there was an opportunity, people might take up that language and be a language defender, a language warrior, and go out there and promote it and use it every day, and use it at home and in their workplace. We all know what Quebec did in the 1960s. It was quite incredible. They went from having....
No French was spoken on the island of Montreal. A lot of people did not like Bill 101, but it still forced the state and the businesses to recognize that speaking French was important.
I lived in Quebec City for 13 years and I understand the mentality. Language structures our thoughts. It is incredible. When I speak French, I think completely differently than when I speak English or Cree. It is really fascinating. If we lose the indigenous languages, we will never get them back.
Words can describe important things. At one point in the year, a flower can be different, although technically it is the same flower. But the word used to describe it may vary with the time of year. The elements that make it up can be useful to a physician at some points of the year but not others. We would lose all that knowledge of the elders because young people do not understand all those words.
Something has to be done, but no one is doing anything. That's why this is historic.
It's historic because you have the opportunity of doing something that no one else has done before. We always talk about the importance of language, but no one actually takes any action in this country. There are very few resources. Everyone says, “Well, you know, maybe we'll write a little children's book here, a little children's book there, with a couple of Cree words and a couple of French words and a couple of English words, so maybe people may understand what's going on”, but it's not enough. We need the state. We need the instruments of the state to help, because it is an important and symbolic way of supporting and making sure that some of these languages survive. Not all of them will, I kid you not, but at least a few will, and that's your importance here.
Thank you, Chair.
Let me just say that as a first-time member of Parliament, it's been my honour to serve as an official member on—I was just counting—four committees to date, including my current one, but this is the first time that I am appearing as a witness. It's really a thrill. Thank you so much.
Of course, it's about my private member's bill, Bill to...well, you'll soon find out. We've got to keep a little suspense here.
Today marks an important milestone in my first initiative after my election, to change the name of our riding from Châteauguay—Lacolle to Châteauguay—Les Jardins-de-Napierville. I have undertaken this initiative at my constituents' request.
The reason behind the initiative is that the name Châteauguay—Lacolle is inaccurate. If you consult the map of our constituency that you have before you, you will see Châteauguay. On the border to the south, you will also see that the municipality of Lacolle is located outside the constituency of Châteauguay—Lacolle.
I have a theory to explain why the commission chose the name at one time. The fact remains that, for people who live in Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, which is a completely different municipality, there is a major difference between Lacolle and Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle. The municipality located in our territory is Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle. That municipality has its own history, its own institutions and its own raison d'être.
Even before I took office, the residents of Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle had talked to me about this concern, and I pledged to do whatever I had to do to remedy the situation. It is not easy when one is new in politics, given that one doesn't know the system through and through. Nevertheless, I did my research. With that in mind, I am honoured to present my private member's bill for study in committee.
As if it were not enough that the name “Lacolle“ is being erroneously used to designate Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, we have also noticed several times that, even today, for the constituents of both ridings, the name Châteauguay—Lacolle leads to confusion. It also creates misunderstandings for certain stakeholders. The names “Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle” and “Lacolle” are often used interchangeably by various stakeholders, including the national media. This is mainly because the Lacolle border crossing, Quebec's busiest crossing into the United States, is located in Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, not in Lacolle.
Many citizens of Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle have told me that they do not like the name Châteauguay—Lacolle. It hurts their municipal pride and their sense of belonging. We can all understand that.
After much thought and many conversations with citizens and stakeholders in the region, the name Châteauguay—Les Jardins-de-Napierville emerged as a logical and meaningful choice for a number of reasons.
First, Les Jardins-de-Napierville is the name of a regional county municipality that includes nine of our 15 municipalities. Yes, there are 15 municipalities in my constituency and nine of them are in the RCM of Les Jardins-de-Napierville.
Second, all citizens could identify with the name Châteauguay—Les Jardins-de-Napierville because the residents of Châteauguay and the five surrounding municipalities in the northwest of the riding can identify with the Greater Châteauguay area. The municipalities of Mercier, Léry and Saint-Isidore are in that Greater Châteauguay area.
Third, the RCM of Les Jardins-de-Napierville is the most important region in Quebec for vegetable production. Vegetables—such as lettuce, carrots, and onions of all kinds—grow very well there. That makes it relatively well-known.
Lastly, the name “Châteauguay—Les Jardins-de-Napierville” is a good representation of the semi-urban, semi-rural nature of our riding.
I must remind you that I am sponsoring this bill for my constituents. A petition calling on the House of Commons to make Châteauguay—Les Jardins-de-Napierville the new name of our riding is also circulating in the region. People are happy that I am already working on the project.
The petition already has several hundred signatures, including those of the mayors of Napierville, Saint-Cyprien-de-Napierville, and the neighbouring towns.
As elected officials, those mayors are happy to support my initiative on behalf of their citizens, as are my colleagues from the neighbouring ridings: Jean Rioux, MP for Saint-Jean, who is also happy that Lacolle is in his constituency, Anne Minh-Thu Quach, MP for Salaberry—Suroît, and my colleague Jean-Claude Poissant, MP for La Prairie.
As indicated in my bill, Châteaguay—Lacolle was created in 2013, following the redistribution that came into effect with the dissolution of the 41st Parliament in 2015. The current riding was formed from the former ridings of Châteauguay—Saint-Constant and Beauharnois—Salaberry.
Those who were here during the last Parliament may well know and understand the system much better than I do. That said, it seems that the Quebec electoral boundaries commission made an error in naming the new federal riding in the province of Quebec. The fact that Lacolle was already in the constituency of Saint-Jean at the time of the last redistribution probably went unnoticed.
I'm now going to get to the more technical part. The committee has heard my reasons for changing the name of my riding. Let me outline a bit how name changes for federal ridings come about in the first place, and the criteria that any name change must meet.
First of all, given the practice of reviewing electoral district boundaries every 10 years following a new national census, Elections Canada provides the 10 provincial electoral boundaries commissions with guidelines on riding name conventions and best practices.
While Elections Canada will enact any name changes legislated by Parliament, there are practical and technical issues, such as the limited capacity of databases, that must be considered. Thus, riding names must be limited to 50 characters. That may come as a surprise to my colleagues, because we certainly have some with quite interesting and long names. As long as it's 50 characters or less—including hyphens, dashes, and spaces—it meets the criterion. That's so they can fit it onto databases and maps and so on.
“Chateauguay—Les Jardins-de-Napierville”, I'm happy to report, has 38 characters, including hyphens, dashes, and spaces.
As well, the names selected for ridings should reflect the character of Canada and be clear and unambiguous, and I believe that these criteria are met in the bill, as the names refer to a municipality and an MRC region.
A distinction must also be made, in the spelling of names, between hyphens and dashes. Hyphens are used to link parts of geographical names, whereas dashes are used to unite two or more distinct geographical names. This convention has been respected: a dash is used to separate “Châteauguay” and “Les Jardins-de-Napierville”, with the hyphens in “Les Jardins-de-Napierville”.
On the map, we see that Châteauguay and Les Jardins-de-Napierville are two geographical names that correspond almost entirely to the territory and also conform to the reading of the map from left to right. That's for simplicity and clarity and to respect the geographical locations.
Moreover, the name of an electoral district must be unique, meaning the components of the name are to be used only once, which is indeed the case for the elements of the two names in question.
The guidelines also contain negative characteristics to be avoided, and this is also the case with the name that we have chosen. For example, the name of a riding should be clear in both English and French and, as much as possible, be acceptable without translation into the other official language, so that you don't have multiple versions of multiple translations of the name.
The other characteristic to be avoided is the use of cardinal points, such as east or west. You may think, “It seems to me that we do have some names using those cardinal points”, but again let me remind you that Parliament is the ultimate authority in passing these name changes. The guidelines say it is to be avoided because of clumsy translation.
Lastly, the use of actual names of provinces, personal names, and names that are imprecise or contrived from non-geographical sources is also to be avoided.
I think I've raised all the relevant arguments for requiring the name change as proposed by my private member's bill, , as well as demonstrated how the new name respects the guidelines as laid out by Elections Canada.
I'm honoured to have the trust of my constituents in ensuring that a wrong will be righted. I'm confident that the bill will find the support of all my colleagues for our new name, Chateauguay—Les Jardins-de-Napierville.
I'm now delighted to take your questions. Thank you.
That's an excellent question, because, of course, I had a whole reflection period to go through.
First of all, you have to find out about how one presents a private member's bill and the lottery and where you are in the lottery and how long it takes. I'm number 86. Does that mean I'm only going to show up in three years or I'm going to show up in 86 days? I had no idea.
I had to get my head around that. Naturally a subject like financial literacy is something I've been working on for many years, so I had a lot of ideas about what I wanted to do there, but then there was this thing that was more than a request: it was to right that wrong. That's really what my constituents were telling me.
That had to change. They were asking me what was going on in Ottawa and emphasizing that Lacolle was next door.
I think all of us can understand. It's like saying Lacolle is the border crossing. It's like saying that if you have a riding named Pearson, you live at Pearson airport. It is not the case.
So I had that compelling me. I did my research. How could we get about doing that? This is the kind of thing I was learning about. Yes, it could be done as an omnibus bill, and I was learning about omnibus bills. Apparently people don't like to use them. To me, they're a tool. Whatever is a tool, I say great, that's fine, but I was still hearing a lot from my constituents, and I was learning more about how Parliament operates. It was getting later and later. I was concerned with the timing. I could see how things work, how things can be delayed. Other priorities can arise. We would not have what I understood was sort of my soft deadline, which is royal assent by January 2019, so that the name would be effective for the elections in 2019.
I had to make a very tough decision, but I think any one of us here would understand. What do you go for? Do you go with your own personal thing that you want to do, or do you go with what your citizens are asking you to do? I had to make that decision.
There are other ways to work on financial literacy, and I'm certainly continuing to do that.