Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today in support of Bill .
I would like to acknowledge that we are gathered on the unceded ancestral lands of the Algonquin people.
Before getting into the details of the bill, I would like thank our colleagues, particularly the members of the heritage committee, who worked very diligently to get this bill through the committee stage, as well as those who are not committee members, such as our friends from , and , for their dedication and hard work in supporting this bill.
I am also pleased to speak about the need for Bill . As members are aware, Bill has been co-developed by three national indigenous organizations, namely the ITK, the AFN and the Métis National Council. It is in direct response to a number of very important things that have happened both in Canada and internationally.
First and foremost, it is in direct response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report's calls to action 13, 14 and 15. I will elaborate on that later.
It is also a direct result of our commitments to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. As members are aware, Bill is now in front of the other House. It was adopted by this House and is something our government and the have committed to implementing.
There are many ways to look at languages, but however we look at them, they are one of the most important elements of our lives, one of the most important aspects of connection to the people, the land and their way of life.
In Canada, there are currently 90 indigenous languages. As we mark UNESCO's International Year of Indigenous Languages, we have to understand that, sadly, 75% of those 90 languages are on the verge of extinction. That is quite shocking. For some languages only one or two speakers are alive. I was recently in London, Ontario, and met with some elders from the Oneida Nation. They have 48 speakers of their language. Sadly, those 48 speakers are all over the age of 65. Not a lot of young people are speaking the Oneida language. That language is probably at risk of becoming extinct within the next generation. It is something that is quite urgent. Given the history of failure on the part of successive governments to protect languages, I think it is long overdue that we entrench this into law once and for all.
When we speak about how we got here, it was through a process of colonization on the part of the government in the last 152 years formally as a country, but since settlers first came to North America. We know that over the decades, languages were eroded, primarily I would argue because of programs put together by the government. Of course, one of the most important aspects of it is the effects of residential schools on generation after generation of indigenous people who have lost their language. We know that residential schools played such an important role in that.
I want to quote from the 's speech at the Assembly of First Nations Special Chiefs Assembly on December 6, 2016, where he stated:
We know all too well how residential schools and other decisions by governments were used as a deliberate tool to eliminate Indigenous languages and cultures. If we are to truly advance reconciliation, we must undo the lasting damage that resulted.
I just want to walk colleagues through an experience I had this past month.
I went to Moosonee and met with Tony, who is a residential school survivor. He is in his sixties and is originally from the Moosonee area. When he was about five, he was taken to the St. Anne's Indian Residential School, along with his siblings. They were there for about 10 years. During that time, the entire way of life he was used to was taken away from him. He basically lost his language and lost his spiritual connection to his people. He was unable to reconnect with his family, because his sisters and brothers were separated in separate dorms. He was simply unable to connect with his family when he got back. He went through a very difficult process in establishing himself. He is now a very successful businessman. He has four children. He was trying to tell us how important language is to him, but sadly, he is unable to speak the language and pass it on to the next generation. I think that is the critical moment we are facing today.
Another comment was from a Tlicho elder and language specialist, Mary Siemens. She talked about the connection between indigenous languages and cultural identity. She said:
Our culture depends on our language, because it contains the unique words that describe our way of life. It describes name-places for every part of our land that our ancestors traveled on. We have specific words to describe the seasonal activities, the social gatherings, and kin relations.
That is a profound quote that describes the connection she has to the language and culture.
I want to walk through some of the major elements of this legislation. First and foremost, this would be a framework. It would be a living document. We have been putting together a framework that would look at indigenous languages in a holistic way. It would be dynamic and would allow for a distinctions-based approach to the protection of indigenous languages. It would not be an Ottawa-based solution to the challenges of indigenous languages. It would be a framework that would allow indigenous communities, based on the notion of self-determination and respect for each of the nations and language groups, to define what was important to them and define how those languages would be protected. The bill would be required to be reviewed every five years in this House as well as outside. It would adapt as languages grew and as situations changed so that support would continue as we continue the reconciliation journey together with indigenous peoples.
Just to put it in context, when we have a language like Oneida, where we have only 48 language speakers, and we have languages like Cree, which has many more speakers, the needs and the ways to protect these languages are different. What may be important for one group may not be the same for others. I think the framework we have put together really contemplates that. It would allow for this level of flexibility to ensure that it was distinction-based and that it enabled each and every community to establish an action plan for themselves.
I want to talk about one of the other major aspects of this bill. That is the establishment of a national commissioner of indigenous languages. This is something that is very important.
For the first time, we would entrench in legislation a commissioner who would oversee indigenous languages. The commissioner would be supported by three directors, and together they would work with indigenous communities and nations to develop programs and processes that would allow communities to advance their requirements.
When we look at the framework for the indigenous languages commissioner, we have a concrete plan that would be a starting point. It would not be an end point; it would be a starting point that would turn the tide on the loss of these languages.
From that, there would be support from the federal government, which, as we can see in budget 2019, would be a significant investment in the right direction. We would invest $333 million over the next five years to support this initiative. This is currently being debated as part of the budget implementation act. As we know, it would be a significant change from the $89 million over three years we currently have, which is roughly $30 million a year, for the aboriginal languages initiative. This significant change in funding would accelerate the protection of indigenous languages.
It is very important that we protect indigenous languages. I bring it back to my personal experience, which I have spoken about previously in the House. I know that the has also spoken many times about languages. For both of us, the primary language we speak at home is neither English nor French. We both came to Canada at a relatively young age. My family speaks Tamil. At home, it is the primary language. Over the last 35 years, there has been a serious conflict in Sri Lanka over one language and the ability of people to use that language and access services in that language. Over 100,000 people have died as a result of it.
The language I speak at home is foundational to my life. It has defined virtually every aspect of who I am, how I live my life and what I do and do not do. If I did not have that connection to the language, I would be a different person today. The struggle I have is that I have two young daughters, who are eight and 10, and I struggle with how to pass it on to them and make sure they speak the language fluently and have the opportunity to learn and understand the culture and the context the way I was able to understand. Regrettably, I actually do not read or write the language, but even then, I am able to understand it and live in that world. It is a struggle I face.
Relatively speaking, this is a language that has incredible international support. It is institutionalized in many universities. It is the official language in countries like Singapore, Malaysia and elsewhere, so it is protected. When we compare that language with indigenous languages, it is a completely different situation. We have failed to support, revitalize, protect and expand indigenous languages, and that is why time is so critical. That is one of the reasons our friends opposite, in both the Conservative Party and the NDP, worked very closely with us in getting this legislation through the committee process as well as through this House.
The urgency of implementing this legislation now cannot be understated. I have visited communities in the last several months that have gone from having six language speakers to five. There are many like that around the country. My colleagues probably have a good sense of that as well.
This cannot wait until the next Parliament. We cannot defer this to the next generation, because sadly, there will not be a next generation that can speak the language or protect and preserve it.
A couple of months ago, I was in Victoria at the Royal British Columbia Museum. It has an indigenous languages exhibit that really speaks to how languages are looked at right now. We are at a point where certain languages are only available in museums. The last speakers were recorded by academics, and they are preserved, but there is really no process or plan to revive and revitalize those languages. That is the primary reason for the urgency of the legislation before us.
Finally, on the overall aspect of reconciliation, Canada has played an important role in keeping these languages in the state they are in today. This did not happen because of indigenous people. This happened because of government policies. Government policies need to change to support this process of revitalization, and that is a major responsibility of the federal government. It is the other impetus for us to support the bill and push it forward.
Our commitment to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is critical. It is something that the government and the have accepted, and we are in the process of implementing it. Implementing this legislation is an important step and milestone as we look at actually entrenching the principles of UNDRIP in law.
This loss of languages is dire. It is critical that we revive them and support them through revitalization. It is also important to recognize that over the years, language has been a form of resistance. Even though they lost these languages, we know that some people, late in their lives, even with their last breath, were speaking their language, were speaking their mother tongue, and that was important, because it was a form of resistance.
We need to acknowledge all the language keepers, all the people over the years who have struggled to keep these languages alive: the languages nests, the elders, the communities and the schools where languages are taught. We need to thank them for the enormous amount of work they have done to support these languages to keep them alive. It is an appropriate way to close, because it is their strength and their commitment that will allow indigenous languages to be revived and revitalized and used in daily life. I hope that one day we can celebrate the survival of all these indigenous languages.
Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to stand and speak to Bill , the indigenous languages act, at third reading.
It is important for people who might be watching to note that we just had a vote at report stage, and there was unanimous support in this House to move this bill forward. That in itself speaks to how important this particular bill is.
Having said that we see it is important to move the bill forward, the expression “The pursuit of perfection often impedes improvement” is very appropriate. This is by no means a perfect bill. There are many things that will still be looked at in more detail in the Senate. I certainly perceive that we will be seeing more amendments coming forward. It was seen as a really important step. It was seen as something that we should all support, at least as a movement in the right direction. It is an improvement, for sure, but does it get us where we need to go? Absolutely not.
I was just talking to my colleague, who was at a dinner last night with the ambassador for New Zealand. There was a delegation here from New Zealand. I understand there was some drumming and a welcome in Cree at this particular dinner. What was more interesting was when he described to me how the entire delegation that came, MPs from all parties, spent over a minute or so talking in Maori. All the people in that delegation had some grasp of the indigenous language of that country.
I thought that was a very interesting story. I know we have a few indigenous language speakers in this Parliament, but we are a significantly long way from anything that resembles what my colleague described. Obviously, with its many languages and their many dialects, Canada is in a very different position.
This bill is important. Many witnesses came to the heritage committee and shared how vital the protection and revitalization of languages was for them. As they spoke, they shared research in terms of the importance of language; they shared lived experiences, and they shared suggestions for how we could make this bill better. I would like to thank them all for taking that time to come to committee to share their thoughts about this bill. We know that some of the suggestions were taken into account. At this time, others would be difficult. This needs to be an evolving process; it needs to be a bit of a living tree, and it is certainly a framework.
To go back a little, in the debate at second reading I shared a personal story. I would like to share another story in terms of what I witnessed back in the 1980s: elders who were very fluent in their language at that time, and how destructive some of the government policies had been, not only in terms of the residential schools and the loss of language.
I can remember visiting an elder who was very fluent in her language and being told that I was not supposed to visit this elder because she was no longer one of them. She had married a white person who had passed away. I thought that was strange, because she was of the community; she spoke the language and she was emblematic of the culture of the community. However, the government had decided she was no longer a status Indian, because she had married a white person who had since passed away. She could not ever retrieve that status.
It was a really unusual circumstance. That was one of the first times I saw the impact of government policies. As a nurse I was not supposed to visit an elder, because at the time I was called “the Indian nurse” and in the communities I was allowed to be responsible only for people who were status Indians. We all ignored those rules, and those rules certainly made no sense.
If we look at all the elders at the time and their fluency in speaking and we compare them with the children who had returned home from the residential schools, who at that time were in their fifties and sixties, we would see that very few of them could converse well with their parents with the language skills they had, and many of the elders were very limited in their English. Imagine how difficult that was for the communities.
To look back, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was part of the 2007 Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, which recognized that the school system had a profound, lasting and damaging impact on aboriginal culture, heritage and language. At that time, the Right Hon. Stephen Harper and the previous Conservative government acknowledged these harms and delivered a formal apology in the House of Commons to the former students and their families and communities for Canada's role in the operation of these schools.
Again, this was a time when Parliament came together. We were government and we delivered the apology, but I remember NDP members were instrumental in that and I also know that the Liberals welcomed that particular day.
At the time, he said:
The Government of Canada built an educational system in which very young children were often forcibly removed from their homes and often taken far away from their communities.
Many were inadequately fed, clothed and housed. All were deprived of the care and nurturing of their parents, grandparents and communities.
First nations, Inuit and Métis languages and cultural practices were prohibited in these schools.
Tragically, some of these children died while attending residential schools, and others never returned home.
The government now recognizes that the consequences of the Indian residential schools policy were profoundly negative and that this policy has had a lasting and damaging impact on aboriginal culture, heritage and language.
As we all know, the commission did its work across this country and delivered its calls to action. Calls to action 13, 14 and 15 specifically looked at the issue of language, and that is part of the reason we are seeing unanimous consensus in the House to move forward with this bill.
This is an important bill. We have said it is not perfect. I am going to talk about some of the challenges and concerns that I continue to have about the technical pieces of the bill, as opposed to the more aspirational component.
My number one concern is about something I have never seen before in all my time as a parliamentarian. Committees hear from witnesses, who make suggestions. Then we have the opportunity propose amendments to the legislation to improve it or to fix errors. Amendments typically are introduced in time for all members of the committee to reflect on them and make decisions about whether these amendments make sense, where they are supportable, or whether they might have other implications.
We went through that process. Many amendments were submitted. They were submitted from independent members as well, and there was a good opportunity to reflect on what those amendments would mean in the context of the whole bill. Then there was clause-by-clause consideration, when we looked at the clauses as they existed and the amendments that were proposed.
The current government table-dropped 23 amendments. In all of my time as a parliamentarian, in considering many bills in clause-by-clause study, I have seen independents table-drop amendments and other parties have table-dropped amendments, but I have never, ever seen a government having to drop 23 amendments to its own bill with no time for consideration. Essentially, we had to make a decision on the spot, on the fly, in terms of the ramifications of these amendments.
That is what I consider to be an incredibly sloppy practice, and it is a serious concern. As the Senate looks at this amended bill, I am hoping that it will be able to catch any challenges that were left there as a result.
The other thing that is particularly interesting about the bill is something that Canadians might not be as aware of. There are two bills before this Parliament that are in some ways partner bills. One is the bill we are talking about today, and the other is Bill , which is the indigenous child welfare legislation. In both these bills—and for the first time ever, as was confirmed by Ms. Laurie Sargent from the Department of Justice—Parliament has decided to speak to the recognition of section 35 rights in legislation, as opposed to going through a court system.
As Conservatives, we have often said that we should be the ones legislating and the courts should be interpreting. To some degree it is very appropriate that in consultation and collaboration with indigenous peoples in this country, we try to do some work in relation to section 35 rights.
The unanswered question is still about our Constitution, which is absolutely a work that includes our provinces and territories. For the federal government to be addressing section 35 in a language bill makes sense, because it is not going to impose on the provinces; however, in Bill , the child welfare bill, the government is again defining some section 35 rights but is also going to be asserting to the provinces some paramountcy. It has been unwilling, so far, to talk to the provinces about that. When we are talking about putting some definition to some issues in the Constitution, not having conversations with the provinces is going to lead the government to some real challenges, particularly in the next piece of legislation we are going to be debating. I am very concerned that the government has taken such an approach.
I do not think I have ever seen things so bad in my time as a parliamentarian in terms of provincial-federal relationships. Things seem to have broken down, and I hope we can retrieve the situation. To propose legislation on which conversations have not even been had with the provinces is a challenge we need to deal with.
As I was going back in my notes, I noticed another interesting thing. This bill was originally tabled on February 5. At that time, the gave his speech, and I congratulated him on his speech and on this particular piece of legislation. However, February 5 was a very interesting date: it was the day a Globe and Mail article gave the first inkling of the SNC-Lavalin scandal.
I can remember the article had just come out, and I asked the minister a question about that, of course, and for the next two months we never did get satisfactory answers to any of those questions. What we learned in that particular article and in the two months that came afterward was that the government speaks many fine words about its commitment to indigenous relations and reconciliation, but that far too often its actions fall far short of what is expected.
I know that the former , who is now sitting as an independent, feels particularly concerned about what the government is doing and where it is going in terms of its commitments and in terms of the indigenous file.
We also saw how willing they were to throw a female who was the first indigenous attorney general in Canada under the bus. How quickly they did that, just two months later, to someone who was well recognized and well respected. We need to call them out on that particular piece.
Bill , a bill about gender equity, is another piece of legislation that was tabled in the House that is related to this file. We had department officials come to our meetings. It sounded as though they had responded to the court decision in a reasonable fashion, yet the first witnesses and then other witnesses were able to point out serious flaws in the bill that the department officials had not noted. The minister had said everything was fine and that the government was taking care of the court decision, but the bill was so bad that they had to pull it and go back to the starting point. Then they had to pass a flawed bill, and we have been hearing recently that there are still concerns that the issues around gender equity have not been resolved.
Those are my particular concerns over the legislation that the current government has tabled. We have Bill , which was flawed and had be to be pulled back. We have Bill , which required 22 amendments to be table-dropped. In the case of Bill , there are only six weeks left in this Parliament. The Liberals made significant commitments that they have not been able to meet, so they are in a rush, and particularly with Bill C-92, the child welfare legislation, they are trying to rush things through.
When I started my speech, I talked about things not being perfect but moving in a good direction. However, there might come a time when, in the Liberals' rush to get things done, things will be so flawed that they will just have to backtrack, as with some of their other bills. Unfortunately, we will have to see if they can get through it in time.
In conclusion, it is heartening to see unanimous consent in this House. It is heartening to see the work that has been done, although it is only a step. I am optimistic that there will be new technologies. One of the witnesses talked about how artificial intelligence can help with some language preservation.
We need to work soon and we need to work hard, so we are very happy to support this bill in terms of moving it to the next step.
Mr. Speaker, I want to begin by recognizing my community for the support they gave me, my parents, my siblings and my cousins, Dean, Debra, Desi and Dallas. I especially want to recognize my late cousin, Danielle Herman, also known as Superstar.
I rise today in a somewhat surprised and spontaneous way to speak once again to Bill , an act respecting the languages of first nations, Métis and Inuit people. As a Dene language speaker and someone who grew up on a trapline, speaking Dene and learning from the land, I know how important this legislation is and how important it is to get it right.
Let me begin by saying that I only found out about 15 hours ago that this bill would be debated this morning. I only found out last night that we would be doing third reading of this bill, well outside the 48-hour time frame that it would take to get a Dene interpreter into the House so that I could speak my language.
When I am speaking with constituents back home, I try as often as I can to speak our language, because it is as much an act of resistance as it is of community. When we speak our language, we share our experience, our histories and our stories. When we speak our language, whether it is Dene or Cree or Michif, we remind ourselves that we survived residential schools and that we keep speaking, even though Canada did not want us to.
To speak here today in a language that I learned for the benefit of others, without enough opportunity to get an interpreter so that a large portion of my constituents can follow a debate on a bill that directly affects the future of their own language, to speak without interpretation is incredibly disappointing and is evidence that, once again, first nations people are expected to do business only on the terms of their colonizers. The government describes this bill as an act of reconciliation, but the actions that go on behind the scenes are the farthest thing from reconciliation.
Throughout the first two readings of this bill and the long committee meetings, I and my fellow members of Parliament repeatedly heard two things about this bill. First, we heard that the bill is not perfect. The told us this. The leaders of indigenous organizations told us this. ITK repeatedly said that this bill is not good enough for the unique needs of the Inuit. Language speakers and educators told us that they do not understand what this bill would mean for them. Rather than offering a meaningful response to the very real objections that indigenous language advocates and the NDP put forward, the government has consistently given the second response we heard repeatedly. The answer has been that despite its imperfections, Bill is an important first step toward the much bigger project that is the protection and restoration of indigenous languages.
We have been told that it is crucial for the government to fulfill the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to action 13, 14 and 15. We have been told that while the government acknowledges there is much more work that needs to be done, this bill points the government in the right direction.
Let me be clear. We cannot claim victory for only taking the first steps toward good legislation on indigenous languages, just as we cannot say that we are bilingual for being able to count to 10 in a new language and we cannot say that we completed a marathon after only the first kilometre. As an indigenous person who has repeatedly been told that the government is turning the page on indigenous issues, or starting fresh, or taking a new step, or going in a new direction, or whichever euphemism the government is using this week, I think I speak for the vast majority of indigenous people who will not settle for beginning again. We do not want the promise of a better tomorrow if it is not followed by concrete action and funding. We do not want the promise of better legislation tomorrow, because we have no guarantee of a willing partner.
When the appeared before committee to present the bill, he told us that he would be open to amendments. Many of the elders, organizations and language educators who consulted on this bill told us that there were conversations had and recommendations that they made that were not reflected or included in the final draft of this bill.
Many of those same elders, organizations and language educators came to committee to share their stories, advice and recommendations. In good faith, and knowing it was the will of those who know better than us, the NDP, the Green Party, the Conservatives and the member of Parliament for proposed a number of amendments to improve the bill at committee. They were virtually all rejected.
I want to take some time now to tell this House why the amendments we proposed on behalf of others were so very important. On a number of occasions, the NDP and the member for tried to include language that recognized the distinct language needs of the Inuit, based on the recommendations the committee heard from the ITK and its president, Natan Obed. One of the most startling facts we heard was that Nunavut actually has more English-speaking teachers than it does English-speaking students and that the English and French languages receive more funding than Inuit language education programs.
Inuit people wanted a bill that worked for them, and the ITK made a number of thoughtful and balanced amendments, but they were rejected entirely by the government.
The member for , with his community in mind, put forward an amendment that would have allowed the government to enter into agreements with provincial and indigenous governments, in regionally specific cases, to further the language needs of those regions. His thoughtful amendment would have opened the door for federal services to be offered in indigenous languages based on a nation-to-nation understanding of what communities need.
In a territory where the large majority of people speak Inuktitut, it is a crucial act of decolonization to have access to government services in the language the people speak. Instead, services are available in French or English, and too many people do not have access. The government, by rejecting this amendment, has failed to meet the needs of the Inuit people.
This amendment was part of an ongoing conversation we have been having about the status of indigenous languages in Canada. As the House well knows by now, decades of oppression by the Canadian government and residential, boarding and day schools have told our language speakers that they and their languages have no place in Canada.
What we are seeing now is a resurgence of our languages, one where we are free to speak them in our homes and communities. We are seeing more and more young people engage with their traditions, learn the languages their elders and parents speak and practise their languages in their schools and on the land. We are seeing our elders step forward to teach their languages, many no longer afraid of what might happen if they are seen sharing their knowledge. We are seeing language speakers start camps and summer programs to teach their language. Along the way, language speakers are told by the government that they are doing good work for their people.
However, governments, both provincially and federally, are not supporting the work of language educators and youth with funding or resources to grow our languages or preserve them on our own terms. In Saskatchewan, for example, the province just announced that high school students will now be able to take classes in Dene and Cree, which sounds like a really good initiative. Unfortunately, language educators know too well that language education needs to be funded throughout childhood. Language education needs to begin in kindergarten. Meaningful education takes place in every grade, in every lesson and throughout one's life.
What we are not seeing is the recognition of the status of our languages. Without the status of our languages, we will not see the right investments made in education. We will not see the right investments made in preservation. We will not see the right investments moving forward.
I understand that there are practical concerns about status the government is concerned about, but to seriously consider those concerns is a profound act of reconciliation and decolonization the government did not want to consider, because claiming success for small steps is easier than being courageous and taking big ones.
I dream of the day when indigenous people in Canada can walk into government services buildings in their own communities and have the ability to speak their language, but that day is yet to come.
One of the other big concerns I have heard from my constituents is about the role of the indigenous languages commissioner. I understand that overseeing the funding, restoration and preservation of indigenous languages requires some bureaucracy, and this legislation would create that bureaucracy, but language educators and indigenous organizations do not know what the language commissioner's powers would be, how they would affect their day-to-day operations or how funding models would be established. All we know so far is that language educators would presumably need to go through an extra layer of government through yet another new application process to get funding.
What we also know is that elders and language educators know what is best for their own communities. The creation of another level of government that educators would have to go through is troublesome for two reasons. First is the more principled reason that the government should be funding language programs directly instead of accepting the high overhead costs of a new government agency. Second is that educators would now be under the direction of a languages commissioner, who may have the ability to say if certain ways of learning and preservation are not good enough, without knowing a particular language or cultural group and its needs.
If we value the input of educators on the ground, we need legislation that would keep the people at the front of the legislation. As it is written, it is unclear to me and to educators what the act respecting indigenous languages would actually do for indigenous language.
Furthermore, we proposed an amendment at the heritage committee that would ensure that the indigenous languages commissioner and the directors of that office would be first nations, Métis or Inuit people. It is so important that the languages commissioner be indigenous. It is only through having the lived experience of an indigenous person, knowing what our communities deal with, the history of our people, the resistance we have put up against the Canadian government and the daily experience of what it is like to live in this country that the indigenous languages commissioner could operate.
We wanted to enshrine that minimum lived experience and understanding in this position, knowing how important it would be. What we were told at committee was that asking as much was unconstitutional but that the government would do everything possible to make sure that an indigenous person would hold the position of commissioner. What I hear from the Liberal government is that it wants to protect the Constitution but act in a way that goes against it. The government wants to uphold a colonial document but use words to say that it is on our side despite it.
My big concern, and the concern I have been hearing from so many of my constituents, is that the position of languages commissioner may become a political appointment for someone who means well but does not fully understand our experiences.
At virtually every committee meeting with the Department of Canadian Heritage, Indigenous Services or Crown-Indigenous Relations, these branches of government are represented by non-indigenous people. While these ministers and professionals are educated and well meaning, there will always be a barrier to full understanding of our communities and what our communities need, because their experiences in life are so profoundly different. We had an opportunity with Bill to make sure that the barrier would be lifted and that the languages commissioner would be an indigenous person and would have a better understanding of our unique needs, but that opportunity was shut down for a mix of political and colonial reasons.
Last, there is the question of funding. A lot has been said publicly about how this legislation would just be one phase of the Liberal government's plan for indigenous languages and that funding would come later. However, there is a direct correlation between the mandate of an organization, which would be created by this bill, and the funding of an organization, which was noticeably left out.
It is unclear how the government would assist with education funding, and it is on this basis that language educators are confused by the bill. Would funding be given through a projects-based approach? How would that funding work, and on what basis would funding be given? Would existing educators be supported, or would they have to start over? Would priority be given to innovative teaching styles through apps and the Internet, or would our known ways of learning on the land and in small groups be the priority? How would sign languages be included in this funding model? How would this funding work for children who attend public and private schools across the country?
Would the languages commissioner work with provinces to fund educational initiatives from kindergarten to high school graduation? How would that work for communities that have more than one language group, such as in northern Saskatchewan, where Michif, Dene and a few dialects of Cree are all spoken in one community? Would students be forced to choose which language to learn, or would the opportunity exist to learn all languages available to them?
What about residential school survivors, survivors of the 60s scoop and the thousands of survivors and their descendants who have lost their languages at the hands of the government? We tried to include these specific groups through amendments to the preamble of the bill, but they too were rejected. How will their right to their languages be recognized, supported and taught? How will we empower survivors to regain what was taken from them and their families?
If it is not clear at this point, the bill creates a lot more questions than answers. It would be nice, if not expected, to at least know some of those answers before the bill passed through the House so that we could let indigenous people and indigenous language speakers determine for themselves if the bill would be a success.
There is a lot of pressure to support the bill. The government is running out of time to complete its mandate before the election this fall. I know that indigenous leaders are doing their best to make sure that the bill has the support it needs, because it is, at the end of the day, a step forward. However, there is exponentially more pressure to make sure that the bill, which would affect such a large aspect of our way of life, is done correctly.
While the bill would be a step forward, to what goal and to what end are we walking toward? Is the goal one of half measures that would marginally improve indigenous language education in Canada, or is the end goal one of fundamental change to Canadian society that fully respects the needs of indigenous languages, recognizes their place in our culture and creates a generation of indigenous youth who speak the same languages that generations of people before them spoke?
When I think of the bill before us, I do not think about how it will affect the outcome of the next election. I think about people like Marsha Ireland, Kevin Lewis, Graham Andrews, Cheryl Herman, Vince Ahenakew, Cameron Adams, Julius Park and so many others who have worked so hard to teach and ensure their language in northern Saskatchewan.
To conclude, it is the people and culture we have to keep in mind when we think about the bill. When I think about the future of all indigenous languages across Canada, we have to do what is right and not just what is politically convenient.
Mr. Speaker, miyotôtâkewin tatawaw
. That is Cree for “Guests, you're welcome, there's room here”. If my great-grandmother Lucy Brown Eyes, a full-blooded Cree woman, had been able to be elected to this place, she may well have extended the same greeting in the House from the peoples of Treaty 6.
In keeping with indigenous tradition, I would like to acknowledge that we are on the ancestral lands of the Algonquin Anishinabeg. It is a great honour to be here today to rise in support of Bill , an act respecting indigenous languages.
Along the way, we as Canadians forgot the welcome and partnership that indigenous peoples offered to original European settlers. A colonial and superior mindset began to dominate the land and, over time, misguided and discriminatory policies served to turn indigenous peoples into the other.
The official government plan was to assimilate indigenous peoples. Reservations, residential schools, stripping children and elders of their language and separating families became the norm. Intergenerational cycles of grief, trauma, substance abuse, suicide, missing and murdered indigenous women and girls and societal marginalization ensued.
In the 1990s, Canada paused and held the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. I spoke with one of my mentors, who was a commissioner of that very royal commission, Dr. Peter Meekison, just last night. Despite many clear recommendations to improve the lives of aboriginal peoples, successive governments were slow to act.
As part of the 2007 Indian residential school settlement, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was formed to listen to survivors and make recommendations to the government and Canadians. The commission met until 2015. I remember the last public meetings, which took place in 2015 in Edmonton. I was moved then and I remain moved today.
The work of the TRC informed this government on our steadfast commitment to reconciliation. Signing on to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, ending boil water advisories on reserve, empowering indigenous families to keep their children in their care, closing the gap on education funding and implementing Jordan's principle are but a few examples of our commitments.
With the indigenous languages act we are debating today, we are responding, in consultation with indigenous peoples, to calls to action 13, 14 and 15 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Mr. Speaker, I was saying that people looked at my name badge, saw my name, and assumed I could speak French. I could not. I could not even string five sentences together.
I was so struck that it sent me on a journey of identity and a lifelong journey of acknowledging and shaping that identity. I resolved that summer to double down on learning French. I chose later to study at Campus Saint-Jean at the University of Alberta to learn, and as I said earlier, love the language. That decision changed my life.
I think of the young indigenous people in my riding, our province and across the country, who are Cree, Dene, Blackfoot or Mohawk and who do not have access to language learning opportunities like I did. They often face the same struggle of identity and the same need to connect to the traditions, teaching and spirituality that the plunge into one's language affords.
The connection to history and the ability to share and pass on teachings in one's ancestral tongue are fundamentally important. In fact, they are a basic human right, yet indigenous languages in Canada are disappearing. Elders are dying, and with them the knowledge of their mother tongue. Our future depends on the survival of our language; so it is for indigenous peoples.
According to UNESCO, at least three-quarters of the 90 indigenous languages spoken in Canada are at risk of disappearing or are vulnerable. While we cannot change the past, we can and must work together for a better future. The time to act is now, and we will do so with the indigenous languages act.
Our government fulfilled the promise that the made to indigenous peoples to introduce a bill that would help them reclaim, revitalize, maintain and strengthen their languages.
This legislation would provide the mechanisms to recognize indigenous language-related rights; support the reclamation, revitalization, strengthening and maintenance of indigenous languages in Canada; support and promote indigenous languages; provide long-term, sustainable funding to reach these goals, and establish an office of commissioner of indigenous languages. It is why, as parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage earlier in my time here on Parliament Hill, I was so taken by this work and collaborated with colleagues so that we could see this day arrive.
The legislation before us was co-developed between Canada and national indigenous organizations, and through intensive engagements with indigenous specialists, knowledge keepers and experts. I would like to thank and recognize the extraordinary work done by the Assembly of First Nations, the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and the Métis National Council. Their insights into the invaluable role that elders play in language acquisition and preservation is critical. We heard clearly, and agree, with the deep sense of urgency to act, particularly with respect to elders and their role in revitalizing indigenous languages.
The 2005 Task Force on Aboriginal Languages and Cultures noted an urgent need for immediate action to stem the loss of languages. It goes without saying that there is a need to provide support to indigenous communities and governments to help them act immediately.
To put this in perspective, in the first nations context, for example, one in three seniors reported having an indigenous mother tongue in 2016. By comparison, about one in 10 first nations children aged 10 to 14 had an indigenous mother tongue. Some languages have few remaining speakers of the grandparents' and great-grandparents' generation.
While no indigenous languages in Canada are considered safe, it is important to state that language vitality across first nations, Inuit and Métis varies broadly. For example, among the Inuit, a higher percentage of seniors also reported having lnuktitut as their mother tongue, compared to younger generations. However, Inuit have the highest percentage of mother tongue speakers across all age groups, compared to first nations and Métis.
Less than 2% of the Métis population reported the ability to speak an indigenous language. A higher percentage of Métis seniors reported an aboriginal mother tongue and the ability to speak an aboriginal language, compared with their younger counterparts.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission's final report stated that communities and educational institutions should be prepared to draw on valuable resources from indigenous communities to facilitate the teaching and transmission of indigenous languages.
This is not to say that indigenous languages are completely gone when there are no speakers left. Languages can be revived through the efforts of documentation and archiving. Even in this case, elders will be the most valuable asset to help build resources for their languages for generations to come.
There is also Bert Crowfoot of the Aboriginal Multi-Media Society, who saw the importance of preserving language 36 years ago when he made the decision to safeguard audio and film content on old reel-to-reel tapes, VCR cassettes and old 16-millimetre film and floppy discs that contain storytelling, interviews and music in the Cree language. Today he is helping to direct a project called Digitizing the Ancestors to create a searchable digitized archive. It will be a resource to help future generations to learn Cree by hearing voices from the past.
Young people, too, are working hard to reclaim and revitalize language and culture. Jeremy Dutcher, a classically trained artist from the Tobique First Nation in New Brunswick, recently won the 2008 Polaris Music Prize and the 2019 Juno Award for indigenous music album of the year. Jeremy's album, Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa, features traditional Maliseet songs, recorded a century ago, obtained from the Canadian Museum of History.
The First Nations Confederacy of Cultural Education Centres reiterated the importance of elders in their indigenous languages legislation engagement report, stating that elders guide their work and support their community base and national role as language advocates and language experts.
I am proud to share two examples of reclamation action that are close to my heart.
The Canadian Indigenous Languages and Literacy Development Institute at the University of Alberta aims to stop language extinction through cultural education and expression. This exchange, in turn, often addresses historical traumas, mental and physical health, and both social and academic struggles for indigenous youth as they learn intimately about their history and traditional culture, sometimes for the first time.
In addition, the Royal Alberta Museum in downtown Edmonton, which is dedicated to preserving Alberta's rich history, proudly displays many of its exhibits in several indigenous languages, including Cree, Dene, Blackfoot, Nakota and Michif. Further indigenous stories are interwoven throughout all six human history galleries, and this lets all Canadians learn about deep-rooted history and tradition from Alberta and across Canada.
Today on CBC, I learned that an enterprising music group from Cape Breton took Paul McCartney's song Blackbird and is now able to sing it in Mi'kmaq.
This bill would allow for the flexibility required to support the various states of language vitality. In some situations, that may mean supporting elders' participation in language planning, activities and programming. In other situations, enhancing access and an opportunity for elders to learn their language from their cohorts is equally important. This is based on the concept that language revitalization should be multi-faceted, meaning that it may involve more than one approach to address various segments of the community, ranging from early learning to adult immersion.
In closing, I will state that every year, sadly, indigenous communities lose more elders. It is time to act. I envision a near future in which indigenous and non-indigenous people, young and less young, can have the opportunity to learn, explore, promote and protect the languages of the ancestral peoples of this land. Our commitment to reconciliation and our fundamental values of fairness and inclusion demand nothing less of us than to pass and implement the indigenous languages act.
I remember chatting with my great-grandmother, Lucy Brown Eyes, when I was about five. She would have been about 88. She said, “These hands used to skin hides. Now they make apple pies. Some day the land will return to us, and with it, all of our languages.”
We owe it to indigenous peoples and all Canadians to get this right.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise once more to speak to Bill , the indigenous languages act. I will share my time today with the member for .
Indigenous languages across Canada are certainly diverse, unique and richly intertwined with our cultural mosaic, which makes our country such an amazing place to call home. The promotion of indigenous languages, and indigenous history and culture more broadly, is something we should all seek to promote as part of our national character.
As I mentioned during my speech at second reading of the bill, support for the promotion and teaching of indigenous languages has rapidly grown in my riding of Saskatoon—Grasswood and in particular in my city of Saskatoon.
During my nine and a half years as a school board trustee in the city of Saskatoon, the teaching of indigenous languages to new generations of young people was a priority that was taken very seriously by everyone around our board table. I was very proud to take part in the expansion of the indigenous language training program in the Saskatoon Board of Education, which gave more young people the opportunity to study indigenous languages and connect with the rich and vibrant cultures attached to those languages.
The teaching of indigenous languages enriches our education systems and it gives students a valuable and unique learning experience. As I have previously noted, instruction of indigenous languages is growing in my riding of Saskatoon—Grasswood and in our city of Saskatoon. The expansion of teaching of indigenous languages is certainly enriching the learning experience of more and more young people in our city.
Confederation Park Community School offers language instruction in Cree for about 280 students from pre-K, all the way up to grade 8. They are involved in this learning process. The students benefit from the Nehiyawiwin Cree language and culture program and are able to immerse themselves in the study of the indigenous language as part of their education background.
Additionally, Westmount Community School provides a Metis cultural program that includes Michif language instruction for students there, again from pre-K all the way up to grade 8.
Charles Red Hawk Elementary School offers Cree language instruction from pre-K all the way up to grade 4.
Mount Royal Collegiate, Princess Alexandra School and King George School provide Cree language instruction in our school system.
Saskatoon public schools offer instruction in three indigenous languages: Cree, Michif and Dakota. Furthermore, Dakota language and culture lessons are part of Chief Whitecap School and Charles Red Hawk School.
St. Frances Cree Bilingual School offers Cree education to over 440 students in pre-K to grade 5 and another 150 students in grades 6 to 8. This school has seen tremendous growth in our education system since the launch of its Cree language program, way back in 2009, when, by the way, there was only 133 students enrolled in the program. Look how it has grown since then.
The demand for education in indigenous languages has proved to be incredibly popular. Hundreds more students are now being taught indigenous languages in our schools as a result.
More and more people in Saskatoon are seeking the benefits of indigenous language education and, as a result, St. Frances Cree Bilingual School is now serving students in two different locations, on McPherson Avenue, where they have pre-K all the way up to grade 5, and at Bateman Crescent, where they have grades 6 to 8.
Instruction of indigenous languages is continuing to become available for even greater numbers of students who know the inherent value of indigenous languages for both their learning and for their communities.
At Oskayak High School in my neighbour riding, Cree language instruction is offered in grades 9 to 12, where approximately 70 students are taking Cree language instruction.
Moreover, the Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools division offers core Cree language instruction for some 348 students from pre-K all the way up to grade 8 at St. Mary's Wellness and Education Centre.
These statistics bear repeating, because they show just how important indigenous languages are within our current education system.
Young people and their families recognize that the promotion and the revitalization of indigenous languages is something that is incredibly valuable as a cornerstone of indigenous culture and a vital piece of Canada's multicultural mosaic.
We support Bill . The legislation represents a pragmatic, reasonable and necessary approach toward strengthening and supporting indigenous languages across the country.
The bill responds to three of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's 94 calls to action. The promotion and revitalization of indigenous languages is one step in the long path that we all must take toward reconciliation, as we move forward from a dark past.
A former Conservative government created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as part of the 2007 Indian residential school settlement agreement. We recognized the devastation and the terrible harm that was inflicted upon the indigenous peoples of this country. We recognized the profound intergenerational damage that the indigenous language and the cultures suffered as a result of the residential school system. From the dark past, we must grow together in the spirit of reconciliation. The Conservatives know that the preservation of indigenous language and culture is part of the way forward.
On another matter, last night I had the great privilege to see the screening of the movie The Grizzlies. This movie has been talked about in Canada for the last month since it was produced.
I was fortunate to have had the opportunity a couple of years ago to travel up north to Nunavut. However, for those Canadians who do not have opportunity, this movie will give them a snapshot of what life is like for those living in the north and the wonder of the northern landscape.
The movie explores the challenges faced by youth who live in the north. They are straddling the traditional way of life with the modern while dealing with the fallout of colonialism and residential schools. It is an uplifting film about a difficult and sometimes very tragic experience for indigenous communities up north.
Through this film, we experienced how facial expressions, for example, and gestures, traditional storytelling, music, singing and drumming were all vital to traditional language and culture. We are educated by witnessing traditional language and culture in the everyday lives of the characters and we can understand why language and culture are so critical and must be honoured and protected.
I hope each and every MP will take in The Grizzlies. It was shot in Nunavut. It is a story about suicides in Nunavut, which is the highest area of suicides in the country. Sport brought the community together.
However, more than ever, this movie depicts a number of things, such as song and singing. There was an instance where an older brother was singing to a younger brother in their language, putting him to sleep. It is a movie that all Canadians must see. It deals with not only the issue of suicide but language and culture.
A lot of us do not get the opportunity to go to Nunavut. This movie is one that all Canadians should see. It is very moving. I certainly would recommend it.
The movie talks about what we are talking about today: language and about culture. We often do not get a chance to talk about Nunavut in the House, because a lot of us do not have the opportunity to go up there. It is an emotional film. Many members from ITK were in the theatre last night. There was a lot of crying, but at the same time, it brought a great culture to our country, the music and the language.
I am happy to support Bill .
Mr. Speaker, in Canada, the most dangerous words ever spoken are “We are the government and we are here to help.” That is the sentiment that I want to cover today. I do not see anything wrong with the bill, and I am happy to support it.
I want to talk about the underlying premise that the government is here to help. I do not think we should put the federal government in charge of a whole lot of things. In Canada, we have a bit of a crisis with the woodland caribou, which is on the species at risk list. The only places in Alberta where the caribou have gone extinct are Jasper and Banff. Those are two places in Alberta that are entirely the jurisdiction of the federal government. If we want something to be extinct, we should put the federal government in charge of it.
I am concerned when the federal government says not to worry, that it has this under control and it is going to save indigenous languages. This is a step in the right direction, but I am not necessarily convinced that it is the federal government that is going to save indigenous languages. I say that because, over the last number of years, the government has made it more and more difficult, particularly for first nations in northern Alberta, to make a living, to build community, to build families that can survive and to allow people to live in their traditional territory. We see a large influx of people moving to the cities, in great part due to the fact that the economy in northern Alberta is struggling.
In no small part is that due to the fact that the northern gateway pipeline has been cancelled. The member for said that it was because the Conservatives did not do this or that right. We definitely had our challenges with the Supreme Court, and every time the Supreme Court said we had not done something right, we went back and tried to correct it. However, we were pursuing getting pipelines built in this country, and in fact we built four major pipelines when we were in office. Those things brought prosperity to northern Alberta.
Chief Isaac Laboucan of the Woodland Cree First Nation has been on the record several times saying that we need to get pipelines built in this country in order for him to maintain his community, its culture and language, and its way of life across the board. It is when folks have jobs, when they are able to pay their bills, that their community is built and thriving. He showed me on Google Maps where his ancestral lands are. The foundation of his grandfather's house is still there today. The foundations of a small clump of houses can be seen on Google Maps, just north of where his people currently live, so they are very much connected to their history. He is a Cree speaker, and many people within his community speak Cree.
His inability to provide jobs for the people who live in his community means that they are moving away. It means that the number of people in his community is dwindling, and it means they are moving to Edmonton, Calgary, Saskatchewan or B.C. in order to find work.
In the past, the forestry industry was active around his community, and many of his people drove logging trucks, ran logging equipment or built roads for the logging industry. That allowed them to make a living right where they live. They also have an oil field service company. They are building roads for the oil patch. They are managing oil and gas wells in the area. They are looking at getting into the solar industry and putting up acres of solar panels.
They are very much involved in the economy, and that is what allows them to continue to flourish. That allows them to go out hunting. When they have money to put gas in their snowmobiles, that allows them to run their traplines. That allows them to start a family, to buy a home, to do all that needs to be done to build a community. In this place, we like to silo a lot of things and say that we are going to maintain culture, and then maintain language, and then maintain community. Those are artificial divisions. The reality is that for people who live in a community, culture, language and community are indivisible. They are three different ways of describing one thing, and that is our society or our culture.
I commend the government for brining forward an indigenous language commissioner. The member for was just here, saying that he had tears in his eyes because we were finally doing something to protect indigenous languages in this country. However, although this is a good first step and is notable, the federal government has not suddenly become the saviour of indigenous languages in this country. This is a step within a process.
It is interesting to me that the member is in favour of protecting indigenous languages with an indigenous language commissioner, yet he is happy to shut down pipelines, preventing folks in northern Alberta from making a living and maintaining their culture and way of life.
The fundamentals of maintaining a language are the same whether they relate to indigenous languages or other languages. In my constituency, about 7,000 to 10,000 people speak Cree, about 10,000 people speak German and about 6,000 to 7,000 speak French. All of these communities struggle to maintain their languages. There is no doubt about that.
However, they are vibrant communities, despite what Ms. Bombardier from Quebec says. These are the communities of Falher, McLennan and St. Isidore. These are French-speaking communities, and they are vibrant. Their economies are flourishing, and there is no threat to their French-speaking ways. The signs in these communities are still in French. There is no threat to this because they have the ability to create community and culture and to speak their language, since the economic underpinning of all of this is there.
That is why I say that it is not just indigenous languages that are struggling in Canada. Without the economic underpinning, people's culture, way of life and community are under threat, if people are unable to finance them and to survive under the economic situation in their particular area.
I mentioned the same thing at second reading, and it was interesting to me that there was not a lot of reflection on the fact that we have to get the economy right for our indigenous people in order for them to maintain their families, culture, language and communities. All of those things are immensely important.
Lastly, I would like to note that perhaps it is somewhat easier for the communities in my area to maintain their language because of the fact that they are more northern and remote communities, and they are not right next to major urban centres. When I say all this, there is some lack of understanding on my part as to an indigenous community that is completely surrounded by an urban centre. I do understand and acknowledge that this is something outside my realm. However, I do think that the fundamental thing, in order to maintain community, culture and language, is to get the economy right.
To get the economy right in northern Alberta, we need pipelines. We need pipelines so that we can get our product to market. We need pipelines so we can get our oil off the railway and our grain on the railway to get it out. We need pipelines so we can get oil off the railway and get our lumber to market on the railway. We need pipelines. We need pipelines. We need pipelines.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise today to speak to Bill , an act respecting indigenous languages.
There are over 70 indigenous languages spoken in Canada. Over a quarter of a million first nations, Métis and Inuit speak their indigenous languages well enough to carry on a conversation. The most spoken languages are Cree, with almost 100,000 people speaking it; Inuktitut, with almost 40,000; Ojibwa, with almost 30,000; Ojibwa-Cree, with almost 16,000; and Dene, with 13,000. While these numbers are significant, there are languages that have been lost or are at risk of being lost unless something significant is done to retain the cultures and understanding of the languages of the indigenous peoples.
I am happy to say that in my riding of North Okanagan—Shuswap, something significant is being done to preserve the indigenous languages of the Secwepemc and Splatsin Okanagan nations. One example of this language restoration and preservation is the Shihiya School, which is operated by the Splatsin band near the border of the Shuswap and Okanagan territories. It offers preschool to grade 6. It basically follows the provincial curriculum, but it is also integrating the Splatsin language and culture into its programs.
Another example, one I have more experience with because I have had the opportunity to visit it, is the Chief Atahm School, which is an indigenous immersion school at the western end of the Shuswap Lake area. This school was established through the vision of parents and leaders of the Adams Lake Indian Band, the Little Shuswap Lake Indian Band and the Neskonlith Indian Band, which are all part of the Shuswap territory.
I have had the privilege of touring the Chief Atahm School, and have seen some of the work that has been taken up by the parents and elders of the area. The work being done is inspiring and amazing, and it is largely being done on a voluntary basis. The school has highly skilled educators working collaboratively with parents, former students, elders and technicians to put together the curriculum. The entire teaching process, page by page, image by image, illustration by illustration and story by story is being put together from scratch.
The people involved have learned how to do this, and from what I saw, they are doing an incredibly good job of it. There are elders who show up almost daily to help out. These are elders who are in their nineties, and are the few remaining people who can speak and understand the language fluently. They are working on computers side by side with technicians and illustrators. These elders could never have imagined the technology being used now to retain the language they learned, which was passed on generation after generation through stories, dance, drumming and through some incredible means. Now they are able to tell those stories and pass them on digitally, which is something they would have never imagined, as well as in written and illustrated form in booklets. These are truly amazing pieces.
The school also takes the students out to the fields and streams, which is an immense part of learning and understanding the language and the culture. When I was there, I asked if the languages were similar to Roman or French languages. They are not. The languages are based on experiences, places and geographical areas. They are often based on different times of the year. One word or sound in one language may not mean exactly the same thing in the language of a neighbouring band. It may be similar, but slightly different.
We learned that with the renaming of the Tsútswecw Provincial Park, formerly the Roderick Haig-Brown Provincial Park, on Shuswap Lake. Apparently, in one language “Shuswap” means a place of many waters but another neighbouring area thought it referred to a place of many fish. There are such subtle differences being discovered by the recording, digitization and restoration of this language into modern forms and it is really interesting to see how that is done.
When the school takes the students out to the fields and streams it is also teaching them to harvest off the land. The students are harvesting fish, plants and wildlife. In fact, a deer is brought onto the school grounds and the students are taught how to process all of the meat and the goods off the deer. A smokehouse was also built. The students learn what the language really means when they talk about preserving their food for their future and how that is preserving their culture.
The Chief Atahm School has indigenous and non-indigenous instructors. It has brought people in from the communities outside of the bands themselves to educate the students. As I said, I was very fortunate to be able to visit the school. I was first there last year. I went back again in March of this year.
The school is doing so well and is so well supported by the community that it will be undergoing a large structural expansion. It is going to expand its inner space and teaching area so that, hopefully, it can include higher grades and all of the age levels potentially right up to university level and beyond. It will all be done through an immersion process. Many of us have heard about French immersion, but this is indigenous immersion into the Shuswap language, which is truly an incredible component. I looked at the books the school has. The students are taught the sounds by the instructors, but the words are written with our English phonetic alphabet. Some of the pronunciations were a real challenge for me. It was interesting to learn how to place one's tongue and how one's voice rolls through one's throat. All of this is part of those subtle differences of all those different languages.
I look forward to Bill making some difference on the ground for students and people in general so they can retain languages like the Shuswap language elsewhere in the country. We are at risk of losing those languages, which will be even more challenging as those members age.