Sure. There are a number of words that commonly come up in there, and there are different variations.
One of them, a very basic one is okimaw, which is the traditional chief or leader. It has been used for a number of different levels. It can be modified to be okimakanak, which is okimaw, someone who has come from the territory or is elected. Simply, it's used like sîpiy, which is “river”, and sîpîhkân is a canal.
Okimakanak has been used for “elected official”. It tends to be used for the chief of band and council, and there are variations of that. Okimaw has also been used to refer to the prime minister. Kihcôkimâw is used for “king”, the “great chief”.
Okimakanak and kihcôkimâw are both terms that have been used for “government”, and specifically the Canadian government. There's that type of use. Some have suggested that if we used okimaw for prime minister, we could use okimâsis for an MP, which is a diminutive form. It's also my wife's family name. There are variations on that, and some have suggested doing the same thing, making an even further diminutive, and using that for provincial governments and MLAs, and so on.
Another word that's commonly used is nîkân, “to be in the lead”. It can be used temporally as well, to talk about the future, but onîkânew is “leader”, and onîkânohtêw is literally “one who walks in front as a leader”. One that has often been used for positions in hierarchies and in business offices is nîkânapiw, which is “one who sits in the lead”, so that's another variation.
There are a couple of others that come out. Owiyasiwêw is “he or she who makes a law”. So owiyasiwêw has been used for “judge”, has been used for “lawyer”, and has also been used for “elected officials” or variations of that. Oyasowewiyiniw for “band councillor” is one of the common ways it's used.
The term that Mr. Saganash uses that his elders came up with means “to speak on behalf of others”. That's a fairly common usage as well, although again, across dialects, the root of that, e-yamit, “to speak”, and its forms in different dialects, still persist in most dialects, but Plains Cree doesn't use that word specifically anymore. It would have to be replaced with pekiskwewin, “to speak”, and opîkiskwestamâkew, “one who speaks on behalf of others”. Those are the main ones.
One final one was used by Mr. in his testimony: otapapistamâkew, which is literally “someone who is sitting in place for others”. It can be used to talk about succession, but it can also be, in the sense that it's meant there, “to sit in place of others as a representative for them”.
Thank you, Mr. Chair and Ellen.
[Witness speaks in Cree with interpretation, as follows:]
I speak Cree a little.
I am very thankful. I thank all of you, my friends, my relatives, the men, the women, all of you. I thank all of you.
Chief Child Thunderbird is my name. I am from Little Black Bear. I thank our Creator.
That was a little bit in Cree, and you had the translation.
We don't have Nakota, but I'll say something.
[Witness speaks in Nakota]
That was just a little bit in Nakota, as well. We're a Cree Assiniboine tribe back home on Little Black Bear.
[Witness speaks in Cree]
I am happy to be here. You heard already that I thanked you all friends and relatives, and the men and women who are here, and I give thanks to the Creator for this beautiful day.
I'll speak slowly because of the translation.
To the members of the committee, thank you for inviting me to share the Assembly of First Nations' perspectives on the use of indigenous languages in proceedings of the House of Commons.
Today I will speak to two things: number one, the state of our first nations languages and the current constitutional context, reconciliation, and the current co-development of a first nations, Inuit, and Métis languages bill; and number two, the question of this study on the use of indigenous languages in the House of Commons in general, and in particular on the prospect of introducing simultaneous interpretation when indigenous languages are spoken during parliamentary proceedings.
I understand this to be the issue here, that other languages, in addition to English and French, can be used in debate, but the Speaker is concerned with maintaining order in such debates.
Your interest in the revitalization of our languages is most welcome. First, I'll speak to the current context, reconciliation, and language revitalization.
Since the 1940s, first nations have expressed concern regarding the decline of our languages, and since the 1980s the Assembly of First Nations chiefs in assembly have passed no fewer than 18 resolutions calling for immediate action to preserve our languages. In 2015, the Assembly of First Nations reinforced this call in our “Closing the Gap” document. It's a document I use to influence the Liberal, Conservative, NDP, and Green Party platforms. I use that document, and I'm going to be using it again because there is another election coming up in October 2019, so it's going to be “Closing the Gap 2” or some other document I'm going to use, something to influence policy platforms.
In December 2016, announced to the chiefs in assembly and to all of Canada that the government will enact an indigenous languages act, co-developed with indigenous peoples, with the goal of ensuring the preservation, protection, and revitalization of first nations, Métis, and Inuit languages in this country.
Work at the co-development table towards a first nations, Inuit, and Métis languages bill is well under way, with the Department of Canadian Heritage, the Assembly of First Nations, the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, and the Métis National Council undertaking this important initiative. Concerted revitalization efforts supported by governments are essential, as no indigenous language in Canada is safe.
First nations strongly support a legislative framework to advance the revitalization, maintenance, protection, and promotion of more than 58 distinct first nations languages and more than 90 distinct dialects.
The right to speak our languages is an inherent constitutional and human right. Section 35 of the Constitution Act of Canada affirms indigenous peoples' language rights. Our language rights are reinforced by the treaties, some of which include provisions for education. We always talk about the spirit and intent of the treaties. In my case, it was, “When the Indians are ready to settle down on the reservation, we'll provide a little red brick schoolhouse and teach your children the cunning of the white man.” What does that mean? The spirit and intent to education, does it mean K to 12? We didn't ask for residential schools. We asked for schools, the spirit and intent to education.
Canada as a nation was in part formed through these nation-to-nation treaties with our people. Indigenous languages were used in the making of these treaties. For example, they were used during diplomatic relations in the late 1800s when several treaties were entered into, including the Victorian treaties, the numbered treaties. We also have the Robinson-Huron Treaty. We have the pre-Confederation treaties, the two row wampum treaty, the Douglas Treaties. Our indigenous languages were used.
That's why we say in the numbered treaties, namoya ninistohten; I don't understand cede, surrender, and relinquish. I don't understand that line in our treaties.
In June 2008, in the apology to Indian residential school survivors, the federal government acknowledged the lasting and profoundly damaging impact of residential schools on first nations cultures, not only on our culture but our heritage and languages. The process of losing our languages was not borne of indifference; their transmission was and is actively interrupted by government policies in Canada. Today the number of second language learners demonstrates our enduring commitment to our languages.
Restoring our languages plays a role in meaningful reconciliation and healing. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to action 13 to 17 speak specifically to our languages and cultures. Taken together with calls to action on education, reconciliation, media, and representation, the TRC describes the diverse aspects of language protection and revitalization. These calls to action reflect section 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The UN declaration, in articles 13 and 14, affirms our rights. I remind you all that Canada has expressed its unqualified support for the UN declaration and its full implementation. In September 2017, in 's speech to the UN General Assembly, he reaffirmed the government's commitment to "co-developing programs to ensure the preservation, protection and revitalization of Métis, Inuit and First Nations languages....working hard...to correct past injustices...".
A first critical step to recognizing and respecting these rights is to revitalize indigenous languages. The status of indigenous languages varies across Canada. Some have only a handful of mother tongue or fluent speakers, while others are widely spoken. My understanding is that expanding the numbers of speakers in any language and in any locale can take 25 years or more with deeply concerted efforts. The vast majority of our languages need these efforts now. It's all about gaining fluency.
By actively recognizing and respecting our rights, we can revitalize our rich and vibrant cultures, languages, and histories to share with our children and with all Canadians. Our languages hold many of our traditions, knowledge, and world views. We need to pass this knowledge on to younger generations and restore a critical mass of speakers.
On this point, though, I will say if you focus on languages, studies have shown that when they're fluent, children know who they are and where they come from. They're therefore more successful in school and therefore more successful in life. Even this language bill and revitalization of indigenous languages is an investment in human capital. That's very fundamental to closing the gap and bringing about reconciliation in Canada.
We understand that this study focuses on the potential use and simultaneous interpretation of indigenous peoples' languages in the House of Commons. Does the Assembly of First Nations support interpretation and translation for first nations members of Parliament who wish to use their respective language? Yes, we support that. Speaking in the House of Commons in their first nations language is their constitutional right.
There was a question earlier about how that will help fluency. It's all about awareness, education, and promotion. Seeing the vitality and having the House of Commons say that this is important is going to be reflected in and have an impact on policy, legislation, and programs not only current but ati-nîkân, in the future, down the road. So it's very important that this happen.
Allow me to succinctly address your fears. We understand the practical concerns associated with this.
At any one point and at any one time, the House of Commons, however, would only have a few first nations MPs who are fluent in their respective language.
Right now there are three that I know of: Romeo Saganash, Cree, speaking a slightly different dialect, which we can understand; Robert-Falcon Ouelette, Plains Cree—he is from Red Pheasant, and we can understand; and Georgina Jolibois, Dene.
[Witness speaks in Dene]
I always like saying that, “people of the land”. Nezo is good.
There are three MPs.
Given the relatively few fluent speakers of most of our languages, we know that providing translation and interpretation in all first nations languages at all times is not currently realistic. We know that most of our languages need a holistic approach to concerted revitalization efforts, from adult immersion to preschool to the master mentor-apprentice programs and language houses, all designed to revitalize our languages within particular locales.
We need to turn out second language speakers who in turn will restore the natural way that language is taught in the home and in communities and then is reinforced in educational institutions. Some languages, however, already enjoy being in the phase of language maintenance and deserve to be used in our public government institutions as languages of business. This deserves support. We know of the practicality involved in this, and together we will figure out how to do it.
Parliament is one place to bring parity and recognition to our languages. As described by various witnesses and in the briefing, there are domestic and international precedents that could serve as a useful resource. Representing indigenous languages in the House would demonstrate Canada's commitment to representing all Canadians, and more specifically first nations as original peoples.
I have always said that our 58-plus indigenous languages should be viewed as Canada's national treasures. They are not spoken anywhere else. There's no big language called Nakota or country called Nakota anywhere else in the world. Here it's spoken. Dene, Blackfoot, Mi'kmaq: there are so many beautiful languages in addition to English and French. There is beautiful English language, beautiful French language, but we have 58-plus indigenous languages that should really be viewed as national treasures of Canada.
The ways in which indigenous languages are used in the House of Commons should complement the policy orientation and ongoing work to develop the indigenous languages bill. Given the fact that no indigenous language is safe, revitalization and recovery is the primary focus. As the number of fluent speakers grows, I hope the number of indigenous voices in Parliament will also grow.
I just did a presentation to the Senate. One senator is Mi'kmaq. There are no MPs who speak Mi'kmaq in the House of Commons. There is a non-indigenous MP who speaks a little Mohawk. He was here. I don't know where he is, but he would be speaking Mohawk. That's good. I always say that integration can work both ways. That's a good thing.
We're looking forward to continuing collaboration with Canadian Heritage, ITK, and MNC as we shift to the next tasks on indigenous language legislation, including firming up ideas for legislation, mapping out policy and program implications, conducting further direct engagement sessions over the summer, co-drafting a joint core decision document setting out our shared understanding of policy and legislative objectives and options and their supporting rationale for eventual decisions by federal cabinet and indigenous leadership.
We want this bill introduced in September or October of this year. We fully realize that there will be an election in October 2019. We don't want this indigenous language bill to die anywhere in the system. We want to see it introduced and passed, hopefully unanimously by everybody in the House of Commons and the Senate. We want to get this done.
Among recommendations, number one is that the House of Commons Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs strike the balance between, first, giving profile in the House of Commons to the indigenous languages as the original languages of Canada, and second, the practicalities involved with providing translation and interpretation services, which we can work out together.
Supporting the revitalization and normalization—the key word is “normalization”—of indigenous languages will be an important step toward meaningful reconciliation between Canada and first nations peoples.
With that, I'll say thank you.Kinanaskomitin. I look forward to your questions.
Ekosi. That's it.
[Witness speaks in Mohawk
I'm making it short. Don't panic. I'm going to translate what I just said. I basically said a greeting in my language. I'm part of the Turtle Clan from Kanesatake, the Kanienkehaka Nation. I wanted to greet all the natural life forces, the Creator, and mother earth on this fine day.
I want to thank you for inviting me to speak on this important issue. I work in language and in culture here in Kanesatake. That is my day job. I am an activist outside of my work.
These are really important issues we are talking about, as Chief Bellegarde has said, in regard to reconciliation. It would be an important gesture on the part of the government to make a policy that allows indigenous parliamentarians to express themselves in their first language.
As mentioned, the TRC's calls to action support the use of indigenous languages in this country. As well, many international human rights treaty bodies require that all UN member states take action in collaboration with indigenous peoples to implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
I know that Parliament is grappling with how to implement this major international human rights instrument in all aspects of its constitution, but given the state of affairs we are in, the state of our languages, this cannot happen soon enough. These same international treaty bodies have indicated repeatedly to states that reform to laws and policies supports states to conform to international human rights standards. As the first peoples of this land, indigenous people have had the very essence of their identity assaulted by colonization and assimilation. One of those important pillars that were assaulted was our language, our mother tongues, which have been devalued and are usually an afterthought in regard to what constitutes indigenous peoples' rights to self-determination.
We are still grappling with the effects of Indian residential schools in our communities. While this discussion is to help indigenous members of Parliament express themselves in their language, one would think that in a country that purports to uphold human rights, there would be a short discussion on this, and a granting of this without question as an opportunity of reconciliation for indigenous peoples and their parliamentarians who are voted in to represent them.
Of course, everything comes at a financial cost. We know that from experience in the colonial Indian Act that affects the reality of indigenous peoples. For many millions of indigenous peoples who have either gone to Indian residential school or are intergenerational survivors, they have felt shame in learning to speak their language. However, for those children and youth who are immersed in a globalized society, which is focused totally on the Internet and what it has to say, it is important for them to hear their own language spoken within these walls that you have.
In this area of reconciliation, indigenous languages discussions in Parliament are vital to that spirit of reconciliation of Canada's colonial past of genocide. Reconciliation must be done with sincerity that is genuine, respectful, and honourable, not by repackaging assimilation and colonization in a nicer, neater package. There remain a vast number of issues before us all as indigenous peoples and we attempt to undo the chains of assimilation and colonization.
As we face challenges like climate change, these complex thought processes in our languages will enrich the discussions in Parliament by indigenous parliamentarians using their language, because our languages are not vague. They contain a wealth of indigenous traditional knowledge, helping us to understand how we are related to the natural world and how important it is to care for mother earth, our homelands, and our resources for this generation and for future generations.
Indigenous languages are diverse, as has been mentioned, but we are in crisis mode. The fluent speakers who think in the language and understand the subtleties of traditional knowledge must be supported by recruitment of new speakers. As stated in a meeting in Montreal this past February, the Government of Canada acknowledges that regardless of the current state of any language in Canada, whether they're considered strong or not, all languages are threatened. As UNESCO has stated, indigenous languages are most threatened in Canada.
The UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues this year talked about a plan of action for the 2019 International Year of Indigenous Languages. According to the note by the secretariat, one of its major objectives is to improve the quality of life for indigenous peoples through the reaffirming of cultural and linguistic continuity. Its three thematic aims include support for the revitalization of indigenous languages in practically every sphere of society.
However, revitalization need not have any borders. In fact, these objectives require use of a wider range of services and technologies to assist in improving the everyday use of indigenous languages. This includes here at this very place, where genocidal policies were enacted and implemented, and where the shame of speaking our languages was embedded in the psyche of indigenous peoples because of Indian residential schools, of which we are still feeling the impacts.
Indigenous peoples are required to learn and utilize colonial languages like French and English in all aspects of their lives in order to survive in this globalized world, thus causing many parents to disregard the importance of their language in strengthening a child's identity. If indigenous peoples are supported in the use of their languages in Parliament, it sends a strong signal to our youth that our ancient precious languages are indeed validated and of worth in today's contemporary society. If there is sincerity in government statements that they wish to help and respect indigenous peoples' rights to self-determination using the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as the framework of reconciliation, then it is imperative that Parliament implement a policy that provides support to enhance the use of indigenous languages in its chamber.
Section 35 to me is an empty box, because in many respects our rights are not clearly defined. It is common practice for Canada to force us into the courts, which narrowly define our inherent rights according to the crown's assumed sovereignty. The reason for this is the ongoing colonization and assimilation of indigenous peoples under Canada's Indian Act, and under its policies and legislation.
The fact that reconciliation is presently based on the terms and criteria that Canada has set out and not those of indigenous peoples is a reflection that colonization continues. Therefore, I urge members not to miss this opportunity, which will not only complement this spirit of reconciliation but as well bring one of hundreds of thousands of government policies and legislation and attitudes in line with the spirit of the UN declaration, which protects, promotes, and strengthens indigenous peoples' rights to self-determination.
I just want to mention outcome three in the UN Permanent Forum's statement that indigenous languages strengthen national regional capacities to access mainstream indigenous languages, and as far as possible to integrate them into national policies, strategic plans, and regulatory frameworks.
I must caution that any agreement or any policies that are changed, whether by legislation or by other means, must be done in our languages, for our people to understand the concepts, to reflect the spirit of our obligations according to our indigenous customary laws, to protect and respect our homelands upon this beautiful mother earth, and for all our relations upon whom we rely.
I thank you very much for listening to me today. I look forward to further questions and discussion.
[Witness speaks in Mohawk]
Thanks, Scott, for that.
I'm glad you brought up the roles of the provinces. They have a big role to play. It's not only the federal government.
We're working on the federal legislation, which is good. Again, we always say that we want to keep promoting there, but look across Canada. The Northwest Territories passed a law to recognize the 11 Dene languages as founding languages of the Northwest Territories. Why can't that happen in every province and territory? It can happen. Why can't that happen in Saskatchewan, in Alberta, in B.C., and in Newfoundland?
You're introducing it in the provincial curriculum. That's fine, but you have to put the resources in place as well, because that's part of the issue. It's good to have a law, but if you don't back it up by policies, programs, or resources, it doesn't mean anything. It's starting to happen. That awareness is very important.
I can only share this one story about the acceptance and validation of language. There are over 50 different nations or tribes, and they're all special and unique. They're all at different levels in terms of their language, in terms of promotion, preservation, and enhancement. Some are not bad, but there are some in fear of being wiped out, so you have to apply a different strategy depending where they are at.
To get this pride back, this is the best example of reconciliation action that I can share with people across Canada, and it happened in North Bay, Ontario. It happened between the Nipissing First Nation and the Catholic school board in the town of North Bay. The kids had to be bused from the reserve into town. They wanted the national chief and Chief Scott McLeod to witness what was going on in this Catholic school board. They wanted to show what was going on.
We went into town, to this Catholic school, to a grade 4 class. We walked in. There was drumming going on. We were welcomed with a drum song. There was a smudging going on. Those were two things we saw. In this grade 4 class, there were 14 students. Eight were first nations students and the other six were non-first nations in this grade 4 class in a Catholic school. There was drumming, smudging, and then they all started speaking Ojibwa, every one of them, including the non-indigenous kids. They said their names, such as, “Perry Bellegarde,” [Witness speaks in Ojibwa] “North Bay,” [Witness speaks in Ojibwa], “I live in North Bay, and my name is....” Everyone of them did that.
You could see the pride and the validation on every one of those students' faces. It was such a powerful moment. All the adults were crying. I was crying. The chairman of the school board was crying. The chief was crying. It was acceptance and validation that learning Ojibwa, learning Anishinaabemowin is equally important as learning English and French. That was in the Catholic school system, in a grade 4 class in North Bay, Ontario. Getting that pride back; you see examples like that.
The most important thing was that the non-indigenous students weren't rolling their eyes and saying, “Why are we learning this?” They were loving it. They were embracing it. It was validation that this is good. You could feel the energy, the pride, and the acceptance, not only among first nations children but also among the non-first nations children. To me, that's what you're trying to get to because that's peaceful coexistence and respect.
We're not downplaying English or French; it's the acceptance that all our indigenous languages are equally and vitally important to bring about reconciliation. That's a powerful example. That's where we need to get to.
It's a really good question. Thank you for that.
We have a chiefs assembly coming up here, on May 1 and 2.
I've been on the AFN for 30-plus years, and usually the translation is English and French. Not once have I witnessed, in the AFN chiefs meetings, translation in our indigenous languages, not once.
Come to the meeting next Tuesday. You're going to see it for the first time. We're going to have speakers from our chiefs committee on languages ask the questions. One will ask in Mohawk. One will ask in Mi'kmaq. One will ask in Nakota. One will ask in Dene. We're going to have that, and the translation will be there.
That will be the first time ever in the history of the Assembly of First Nations that we use our own indigenous languages to question the minister. We're doing it for that very point, that we're diverse. It's not just Cree, Nehiyawak. We have 58. They all are important.
That's why it's so important to get the bill in place, and to start working toward fluency. In our case back home, if you don't have your language, you don't do ceremony.
[Witness speaks in Cree with interpretation, as follows:]
I use a pipe and I pray.
To pray with the pipe, you need your language. That world view is so important. It's your identity, your connection. It's vital to us as indigenous peoples.
It's linked to self-determination. I make this point all the time. There are five elements: your own languages, your own lands, your own laws, your own peoples, your own identifiable forms of government.
If you lose language, how do you know you're Cree, Nehiyawak, Dene Suline, Anishinaabemowin, Mi'kmaq, Southern Tutchone? Is it because your status card says so? No, that language is so vital to self-determination. That's why we focus so much on bringing this back up.
Again, that's the link. I wanted to make those points. They're very important.
Yes. I think it's an important question on the role that I've been involved in.
Romeo, it's good to see you within a span of 12 hours as well. It's always a pleasure.
One of the things that I think is really important to know is that I was involved in the engagement sessions. I finally got a look at the report. I think that one of the things that legislation needs to acknowledge is the ongoing assimilation of English and French in the schools and the serious damage that it's done. Andrea Bear Nicholas talks about the report and that the legislation should not be based solely on the sessions, but on existing documentation. She quotes Tove Skutnabb-Kangas' work, that there are these subtleties about the language that is being used and that indigenous languages are to be funded and available to all.
I think what really needs to be done is immersion so that all indigenous children have the ability to access their languages from preschool to grade 6. There's a wealth of English and French sources in popular culture that they can use. There can be after-school activities for learning how to write English and French, but it's important that children be able to speak that language. That needs to be considered when it comes to the funding of indigenous languages and the maintenance of indigenous languages, because English and French are still going to be impacting any kind of work that is done in the communities. It should be first and primarily for indigenous communities.
In everything that I've seen in grants by the Government of Quebec and the Government of Canada, it always needs to be accessed by the public. I agree that perhaps we should go outside our communities to have people speaking our language, which is fine, but if we look at the state of it and why it's endangered, we know those first language speakers are tired now. We need those young people to step up to the plate. The only way we're going to do it is if we're able to focus primarily on that recruitment and the activities of recruitment for those young speakers. They're asking too much. We're not at the stage of French and English. As Chief Bellegarde mentioned, there's no country to go to. For French and English, you can go to Europe to find it or you can go south of the border, but for us, our languages are alive in our community through those first language speakers. We need to make sure that it is protected and that it is provided the needed support so that eventually, we can open it to the public.
We have two non-indigenous people coming to our classes. We've opened it up to people from outside of the community, but I can't stress enough the challenges and the hardship we face because of project funding and Indian residential school mentality within the communities. I was told that Canadian Heritage would be doing engagement sessions, not consultations. I made that clear to . When they start in June, are these going to be consultations? She said no, that they are going to be engagement. That means they don't have to accommodate our concerns.
That's where I have serious concerns in regard to how this is being developed. Yes, there are four parties, but who is really representing the cultural centres in this? Who is really representing those first language speakers, and the women, and some of the men, who have been nickel-and-diming the language revitalization in our communities for decades? That's where I think that, if it's really co-development, you need to include those people who have been at the front lines all this time.
[Witness speaks in Mohawk]
Thank you very much.