[Member spoke in Cree as follows:]
[Cree text interpreted as follows:]
Mr. Speaker, I will begin by saying hello to my friends, my relations. It is good to see everyone today.
Let us start with a hard truth: we have had our languages taken from us. Canadians must be generous people and not allow these languages to die.
We have been walking a long pathway, and that pathway can lead to a Canada of great hope and promise. This proposed law is about hope: hope for the future, hope for the present and hope for our children.
In this great structure of Parliament, we have power and resources. In the beginning, we were told that our work was for all Canadians. We must all work collectively together, since Canada has written the promises in how processes unfold. We made a covenant, an agreement, together. We are related. If things have not happened right, we will change things to help respect one another.
Treaties are about respect and brotherhood. Indigenous peoples have always had treaties. The Cree and the Blackfoot made treaties using common sense. For example, there was to be no fighting in the winter, as it was too cold and not good to move children, women and the aged from their homes to different locations at that time. If one tribe made war, it sought out the other chief and explained the reason it was making war. Quite often, it was that the young warriors had too much energy, and they were bothering the whole camp. The old people knew that the best way to do things was to send them off to war against the enemy they knew. The two chiefs would talk and one would be given time to move the women, children and old people, and it worked for them. Later, in peacetime, they would talk about it.
The creation stories we tell about Wesakechak are about treaty. These world treaties are about water, earth, air, fire, and of course, the Great Spirit. For instance, when a child is born, the mother's water breaks and this signals that the child is to be born. He then gets his first breath of precious sacred air, and he is a living human being. He is then wrapped in the warm hide and fur of an animal and joins the warmth of the fire and the life-giving milk of his mother. Soon he is playing with the other children outside on their own land, which happens to be Canada.
When the Creator finished creating the land, sea and air creatures, he called everyone forward and told them to ask for gifts they wanted to have for themselves. Thus, he made treaties with all life on earth. Many asked to serve mankind. They were warned about mankind and what he would be like as the best and worst of all creation. They accepted and understood his warnings. For their understanding and sacrifices, they were granted a place in the hereafter. They would and should be honoured by men, women and children in ceremonies, which indigenous people still do to this day.
It is from these teachings that we respect air, fire and water in a spiritual way. They are included in all our prayers and ceremonies. It is a good way to live.
[Member spoke in Cree as follows:]
[Cree text interpreted as follows:]
We all have our own languages, understandings and ceremonies. As indigenous people, we respect the earth and all the children of the feathered, furred, scaled, two-legged, four-legged and winged citizens.
Mankind is the only creation that breaks treaties continually. The others have never broken their sacred treaties with us.
From our own common sense, we must pray for the earth and all who dwell here. For over 100 years, we have signed treaties between our different peoples and countries. The original idea was not about subservience but about respect.
Languages must be used to be useful. They must be used by our children in school, in the home and in the rest of society. Our languages must be on TV so that people can see and understand why, where and when and can see what is happening in our Parliament. It is important to have our languages.
I saw a written sign at the entrance to a graveyard in Lac la Ronge, in northern Saskatchewan. It said, "If we could not as brothers live, let us here as brothers lie".
Man is represented by fire. Interestingly, women are represented by water. With just a single word or a single glance, she can elevate or destroy us. Personally, I would rather be a good brother to my fellow man than perish in a dirty flood of prejudice, jealousy, anger or fear.
Language can convey respect and meaning. It represents culture, and it defines who we are, our self-identity. It is about learning, education and knowledge.
Elder Dr. Winston Wuttunee asked me to talk about how our language is important and related to our belief structure. There are four elements: water, air, land and fire. Language is related to these four elements. When we take a word in Cree and break it down, there are additional meanings within that word.
Let us take water as an example. Water is women, life and connection to all of creation. It is beauty itself.
Let us look at air. There is fresh air and dirty air. It all has an impact on how healthy we are. It is life. It is breath. Animals fly in air. We need good air to be healthy.
Let us look at land. We live and we die. When we die, we become the land and the land is our relatives. It feeds the grasses. It feeds the bison. It feeds us. It is us.
Think about fire. Fire is also life. It keeps us warm. It lets us cook and survive. It cleans the land. It is also men. It works best with water.
Let us take one word in the Cree language, nikamoun, which means “to sing”. Nika means “in front”, and moun means “to eat”. Nikamoun, therefore, means “to be fed song”. If we break it down further, it could mean “to be fed food by the one in front”. This could also be the Creator. To take it a bit further, it means “whoever is in front is feeding us”. This is where the greed for money becomes our sustenance. This has quickly become a starvation diet for us all, nature and mankind too. Do we have the responsibility and the ability to respond and learn to save ourselves, our children, mankind, and our world?
[Member spoke in Cree as follows:]
[Cree text interpreted as follows:]
Without language, who are we as individuals? We become without a past, unable to understand the thoughts of the past and unable to understand our ancestors in ceremony. They, in turn, are unable to understand us when we cannot communicate in our language.
Our modern Parliament has a role to play in helping indigenous peoples. We can add to the scale of justice by ensuring that our Canadian languages, our indigenous languages, do not become museum pieces relegated to the back of anthropological shelves on linguistics but instead are living, alive, and adapted to a modern world while remaining spiritually connected to the past.
I have dreamed of this moment when the Canadian state, which has for far too long tried to ignore and terminate these languages, would be part of the process in Parliament of breathing life into our common languages.
I thank my colleagues, the House leader and Canadians. I thank our ancestors, who never stopped living. I thank the unborn, who will soon carry the spirit bundle of language into the future. I thank them very much.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise today to speak in support of Bill and, in that context as well, to make some broader comments about the federal government's relationship with indigenous peoples.
During his 1981 inaugural address, former United States president Ronald Reagan said the following: “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”
Looking at the history of Crown-indigenous relations and the challenges indigenous peoples face in Canada today, it is quite clear that so many of the particular challenges faced by indigenous peoples in our time as well stem from government intervention, the intervention of government in their lives in a way that does not respect their rights as individuals and, by extension, does not respect their identity and culture.
These types of interventions, big government interventions that deny the primacy of culture, that reject parental authority and familial autonomy, and that believe that governments and special interests, as opposed to property owners and local people, should control resource development, have caused significant challenges for many indigenous communities.
While some would seek to construct a false antagonism between Conservatives and indigenous communities, we recognize that it is the fundamentally Conservative principle that families and communities are more important than the state that could have paved, and could still pave, the path to meaningful reconciliation.
On the terrible history of residential schools, these schools were rooted in the idea that government should control the education system and use it to impose values and practices that are contrary to the teachings of parents and communities. That idea was wrong. It was deeply wrong of various non-state actors to collaborate in the implementation of this policy, and all of those collaborators have apologized, along with the government.
However, we should not forget that the root of this evil policy was that the state thought that it should and could interfere in the familial lives of indigenous peoples to impose an education system that was contrary to their beliefs and values. Approaches that deny the necessary involvement of parents in the education of their children, advanced out of paternalistic notions that government functionaries can raise children better than parents, are always wrong and always deeply damaging. We should certainly endeavour never to repeat the mistake of cutting parents out of decision-making about their children's education.
Today, we are discussing, in particular, the issue of indigenous languages. As I said, I and the rest of our Conservative caucus are very much in support of this legislation. We are very supportive of the preservation and revitalization of indigenous languages, and we recognize the need for governments to play a constructive role to undo the damage, often damage done by governments in the past.
It should be clear to anyone who has learned a second language that language is more than a neutral medium for exchanging information. Languages have certain assumptions embedded in their structure about what is true and important, which makes certain ideas easier to convey in some languages than in others. People who speak a particular language also understand the cultural logic embedded in that language and can access different information and traditions through that language.
The preservation and revitalization of indigenous languages help indigenous people and all Canadians benefit from a deeper understanding and appreciation of the ideas, history, culture and values of different indigenous nations. The preservation and revitalization of indigenous languages help to preserve and revitalize indigenous traditional knowledge, knowledge that benefits indigenous people and all Canadians.
I want to make a few comments here about traditional knowledge, because it is a very important concept, frequently invoked but rarely explored. We can think of two distinct ways of knowing about things: empirical ways of knowing and traditional ways of knowing.
Empirical ways of knowing involve testing and comparison. For example, if people want to find out if eating a certain compound reduces the risk of cancer, they might conduct a study whereby they have a group of people consume the compound on a regular basis, and another, comparable group not eat the compound. They would eventually compare the outcomes for the groups and see if one group contracted cancer at a higher rate than the other.
This would be an empirical test, and it would provide good and clear information, as long as the comparative groups were large enough and the researchers were careful to control for other factors. Empirical tests are great, although they can be costly and time-consuming. Assessing impacts over time in an empirical way obviously takes a lot of time.
Traditional ways of knowing are also driven by data, but the data used is the experience of generations past. A particular culture might teach that certain practices are good for one's health. Perhaps this is because, over thousands of years of tradition, that culture has observed how people do much better or worse in certain circumstances. Traditional knowledge and wisdom generally come from observation over time and over generations, but without a clearly defined, or at least well-remembered, research design.
Of course, traditional knowledge can, in certain cases, be wrong if people develop that knowledge by drawing the wrong conclusions from their observations, but it is also the case that empirical researchers can err by drawing the wrong conclusions from their observations. Empirical research is sometimes contradicted by subsequent empirical research, just as traditional knowledge may in certain instances be contradicted by empirical research and traditional knowledge may be contradicted by other traditional knowledge.
However, it would be foolish, as some might propose, to discard or ignore traditional knowledge. It is valid and reasonable to draw at least tentative conclusions based on the experience and observation of others, including one's ancestors.
Indigenous communities in Canada have traditional knowledge about this land, about culture, about family and values, about life and dignity and about many other things. Language is often the mechanism by which that traditional knowledge is passed on.
It is also worth observing that it is not just indigenous communities here in Canada but all cultures and traditions that bring with them elements of traditional knowledge. The majority culture in the west has unfortunately become deeply skeptical of its own traditional knowledge.
Edmund Burke, the great English philosopher and politician, spoke of how we receive the goods of civilization from our parents and we pass them on to our progeny, and that we should thus be cautious in the innovations we undertake as a way to ensure that we are not unknowingly taking apart the substructure that holds together our prosperity and happiness. Burke talks, in different words, about the importance of our considering traditional knowledge in the decisions we make.
If a person buys a new house and sees that it has a pillar in a place that is not aesthetically pleasing, should this person immediately knock down the pillar or first ascertain whether the pillar is necessary for preserving the structure of the house? I would tell people not to knock down the pillar unless and until they can be certain that it is no longer needed. If they are certain it is not necessary, then it can be removed. However, if they are not certain, it is better to leave it in place, assuming that the pillar reflects the best intentions of the previous owner and knowledge the owner had about the house, knowledge the new buyer does not possess.
A person's empirical knowledge might eventually supersede deference to the status quo, but in the absence of clear, empirical evidence, a person would probably be wise to defer to the status quo in the meantime.
We see issues involving empirical knowledge and traditional knowledge in many different policy areas. One such area, for example, is the regulation of complementary or natural health products. Many are concerned that the government may seek to regulate these products in the same way that it regulates pharmaceutical products, even requiring the same types and levels of testing, but this policy ignores the possible benefit of traditional knowledge, the fact that people have been successful at using certain products for thousands of years to treat certain ailments and that this can be a valid basis for people to make choices themselves about the self-care products they choose to use.
People who do not like this approach are free to only consume things that have been demonstrated, through double-blind studies, to improve health. However, most Canadians would be open to trying complementary health products alongside conventional treatments if the benefits of those products had some traditional knowledge pointing in their favour. Trying such products is precisely a way in which more data can be gathered about the impacts of certain products, with traditional knowledge and science both developed through continuing experimentation and observation.
I have written to the chair of the health committee to ask the committee to undertake a study on the health impacts of uninsured self-care products and services because I think this is an area that requires greater engagement and study from Parliament. This is just one area among many where we should take the idea of traditional knowledge seriously and recognize that it is complementary to, not antagonistic to, empirical knowledge.
Coming back to the issue of Crown-indigenous relations, I note that the horror of Canada's experience with residential schools is precisely an example of traditional knowledge about the critical nature of the bond between parents and children being ignored in favour of radical and capricious schemes to remake the world in a different way.
The architects of the residential school experience, we should note, did not just ignore the value of indigenous traditional knowledge, but also ignored the traditional knowledge of our own society. This is traditional knowledge about the vital importance of the link between parents and children.
I wrote the following recently in a column for the Post Millennial:
The idea that parents are the primary educators of their children, that human dignity is universal and immutable, that good societies are characterized by ordered liberty rooted in a shared conception of the common good, that people ought to live in accordance with the cardinal virtues—prudence, justice, courage and temperance, that productive work is essential for well being, that human rights are universal and stem from natural law—all of these and much more are part of the traditional knowledge of our civilization.
Unlike traditional knowledge in the scientific domain, traditional knowledge in the domain of politics and morality cannot be put under a microscope—but perhaps that makes the contributions of traditional knowledge in these areas that much more important.
This legislation, Bill , through its work on language, seeks to preserve, through language, indigenous traditional knowledge, so I hope we will also bring to our subsequent debates in this place a greater understanding and appreciation for traditional knowledge in general and for the need to include it and reference it in our conversations.
Also in the area of Crown-indigenous relations, I would like to make a few remarks about the impact of natural resource development on indigenous communities.
The ability of indigenous communities to preserve and revitalize their languages, their traditions and their communities in general requires some degree of opportunity. Natural resource development is not an end in and of itself, but it can provide the capital for indigenous communities to make greater investments into things that matter more, such as family, community, culture and language. For that reason, many indigenous communities believe in resource development because it allows them to get ahead and achieve the objectives they identify for themselves. It allows them to do so without leaving their communities and moving to the city.
Our legal frameworks are supposed to recognize the importance of affected indigenous communities having a meaningful say in decisions about resource development. Unfortunately, the government has a track record of imposing anti-development policies on indigenous communities, in clear contravention of its legal obligations. This hurts these communities economically and weakens their ability to preserve their culture and language. This is yet another example of how inappropriate government intervention in the lives of indigenous peoples undermines their ability to preserve their identity and culture.
I can show the House clearly how the is failing to meet his legal obligations to indigenous peoples in this respect.
The natural resource committee was conducting a study on best practices for indigenous consultation. On January 31 of this year, I had an opportunity to question public servants about our obligations and our actions when it comes to that consultation.
This is what I asked:
Is there a duty to consult indigenous communities when those communities have put time, resources and money into a project going forward and then a government policy stops that progress from being put forward? Is there a duty to consult if indigenous communities are trying to move forward the development of a project and the government puts in place policies to stop that progress? Is there a duty to consult in that case?
Terence Hubbard, the director general at NRCan, replied with the following:
...the Crown's duty to consult is triggered any time it's taking a decision that could impact on an aboriginal community's rights and interests.
I followed up with this:
Okay. It seems pretty obvious, then, that policies like the offshore drilling moratorium in the Arctic, like Bill C-69, like Bill C-48, like the tanker exclusion zone, would have a significant impact on indigenous communities and on their ability to provide for their own communities through economic development, which they may well have planned, and in many cases did plan, in advance of the introduction of those policies.
Let me drill down on a few of those examples.
What consultation happened by the government before the imposition of the tanker exclusion zone? I'm talking about before Bill C-48 was actually proposed, when the Prime Minister first came into office and introduced the tanker exclusion zone.
From the responses to my questions, it became clear that none of the departments represented in that hearing, none of the leading public servants who were involved in overseeing how the federal government consults with indigenous peoples, knew about anything to do with indigenous consultations around the tanker exclusion zone. Almost certainly those consultations did not happen.
While I was in the Arctic with the foreign affairs committee last fall, we spoke to many different indigenous communities about issues around cultural preservation, traditional knowledge and natural resource development. We were told on a number of occasions about concerns regarding anti-development policies coming from the government and their impact on the capacity of indigenous communities to prosper and use their resources to protect their culture in other ways they see fit. We were told in particular that the government's approach to consulting northern communities before imposing an offshore drilling ban in the Arctic was to phone local premiers 45 minutes before the announcement. There was no meaningful consultation on an offshore drilling ban. Instead, the announcement was made by the , along with Barrack Obama.
This showed flagrant disrespect for indigenous communities and for the way in which their ability to prosper and develop impacts their ability to preserve their culture.
These conversations we had in the Arctic and other places made it clear that the has absolutely no interest in consulting with indigenous communities before imposing anti-energy policies that affect their recognized right to pursue growth and opportunity within their communities.
Of course, some indigenous people, some indigenous leaders and some indigenous nations oppose certain resource development projects, and their perspectives should be incorporated into meaningful consultation processes that do not give any one community a veto over projects that impact multiple communities.
The Crown duty to consult does not just exist for pro-energy policy; it also exists for anti-energy policy, policies that deny indigenous communities the opportunity to proceed with plans to build up their own self-sufficiency and to fund projects that relate to cultural revitalization.
The government, it is clear, does not actually care about consulting indigenous communities, given its record. It simply wants to use consultation as an excuse to hold up resource development in certain cases, while completely ignoring indigenous communities when it wants to pursue an agenda that is different from what those communities want. For the government, consultation means deciding what it wants first and then finding people who agree with it to help legitimize a decision that has already been made. This is not in keeping with the spirit of reconciliation or even with the law around the duty to consult.
A Conservative government led by our leader would show real respect for indigenous people by ensuring meaningful engagement in communities, even in cases where there are differences of opinion. We will support the economic aspirations of indigenous communities, as well as their linguistic, cultural and social aspirations, because we understand that a culture is more important than politics. We will reflect our Conservative values in our approach to this critical area, recognizing that big, interfering government has held indigenous people back for too long.
The government must indeed be a constructive partner, but above all else, the government must always ensure that it is not getting in the way. Getting in the way has happened far too often in the past, and it continues, but it must come to an end.
We desire, in all of Canada, to see strong communities, strong families and strong, resilient individuals. I am very pleased to be supporting Bill and I look forward to the work that can be done to build on it in the future through the government working in partnership with indigenous communities, through the government getting out of the way of indigenous communities and supporting their own efforts to thrive, to preserve and revitalize their culture, and to strengthen their economies and their communities in so many other ways.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the government and the for allowing me some time to speak to this legislation even though they know I am not speaking in support of it. I do appreciate the opportunity.
I think it is important that my voice be heard. I am the only Inuk in the House who can speak freely and vote with my conscience. I cannot in all good conscience support this legislation, because it excludes the Inuit language.
When I voted against Bill at second reading, I said I would bring forward an amendment, and I did. The minister said in the House that he was open to amendments and was hoping to find one that would work. I spoke with him personally about the intent of my amendment, and he seemed disposed to it.
It was a pretty innocuous amendment. ITK, which has spoken out and come out strongly against this legislation, would not have supported my amendment. Its members felt that the legislation did not go far enough, that it was not strong enough. They worked with my colleagues in the NDP to bring forward other amendments at committee.
In my discussions with the minister, he indicated to me that part of the problem with the amendments and what ITK was looking for with the legislation was that it did not fit the mandate and the scope of the legislation. I was very careful to draft my amendment to make sure that it fit within the scope and the mandate of the legislation.
Having sat on the other side, I understand that we are limited as to what we can and cannot do by the mandate that we have. I was very cognizant of that in bringing forward that amendment. My amendment simply left the door open for the minister to have the ability to work with Inuit for the inclusion of our language.
We have often heard the and ministers in the House claim that when it comes to committees, members are independent. We hear that they are not told how to vote at committee. I now know that is not the case. At this committee, we have the same old same old. All the Liberal members voted my amendment down, as they were told. In fact, they voted down every single opposition amendment.
I may be a little naive, but I am of the belief that committees of the House are supposed to be where all members, regardless of party affiliation, can work together to make improvements to legislation. Believe me, this legislation needs improving.
To vote down amendments without regard or consideration, simply because one is a Liberal and others are not, is childish politics. It has no place in our democracy.
In Nunavut, we govern by consensus. We have no political divisions. All members work together for the good of the people. We could use more of that in this place. Bill would be a better piece of legislation for it.
Last week, I asked the why, in the budget, he was funding ITK directly and bypassing the Government of Nunavut to deal with our housing and health care crises, even though the Government of Nunavut is the service provider. He got pretty hot under the collar. He was very agitated when he said, “I will make no apologies for a distinctions-based approach”.
That is exactly the approach that ITK thought was being used when developing this legislation. However, it has become very clear that the government never had any intention of using it, and this is one of the major problems that ITK has with it.
In those comments, the seemed to be saying that for the budget he was taking a nation-to-nation approach with Inuit. Well, he cannot have it both ways, nation building with Inuit in one bill and excluding us on another.
This is very important legislation and long overdue. The preservation of languages is important to all cultures. Now, for the first time, we are recognizing indigenous languages, ensuring they are protected from extinction, just not all of them.
For that reason, because Inuit languages are not included in the legislation, I cannot support it. I look forward to any comments or questions from members.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague from . I will try to stay constructive and positive, but I have to say that this government's holier-than-thou attitude annoys me to no end. It is exasperating. The Liberals seem to believe they are above all comments and constructive feedback. They think they know everything, and that is incredibly irritating. We can always sense it in their tone. I have never felt this way before. In the last Parliament, under the Conservatives, I never sensed this level of arrogance. “We know best”, the Liberals say. It is so infuriating.
I sit on the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, and this is an issue that is close to my heart. I have here 17 NDP amendments, which obviously were not adopted, and I can confirm that the amendment my colleague mentioned earlier was extremely constructive and opened up doors. Unfortunately, the Liberals think they have all the answers when it comes to drafting bills. They were like that with the SNC-Lavalin affair as well, when they added that little line to the omnibus bill. That was an inspired move. The Liberals must be kicking themselves, because all of Quebec is now complaining about it.
I cannot talk about Bill without talking about my experience as a member of this House. I represent the people of Longueuil—Saint-Hubert, so of course I want to stand up for the interests of my constituents, for aerospace and for our social fabric. More importantly, I want to find solutions to address the fact that one-third of the children in Longueuil—Saint-Hubert are living in poverty. It is a shocking figure, and no one ever talks about it.
I want to talk about my election in 2011. When I was elected, I was an ordinary citizen from Longueuil who did not have a clear understanding of the issues facing first nations. When I arrived here, my main concerns were defending Quebec's distinct culture and fighting climate change. Quite frankly, first nations were not on my list of priorities. On top of that, I did not know very much about the topic.
Many will recall the leadership race that happened so quickly following Jack Layton's death, and my colleague, the member for , was one of the candidates. At that point, many people in Longueuil—Saint-Hubert, including myself, discovered an ambassador for the Cree Nation. Today that member is one of the people scratching their heads, wondering whether this bill on indigenous languages lives up to the expectations.
When I became acquainted with the member for , I saw how hard he had worked, especially on the peace of the braves agreement and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. I saw how diligently he had to work to solve such issues. I also realized that what was needed was a compassionate approach, not a theoretical one.
This man, whom I consider a friend, taught me that this privileged relationship, as the Liberal Party often calls it, needs to be cultivated. Every time we deal with indigenous languages in committee, I am struck by the heart-wrenching testimony that shows this goes well beyond a theory that language is important. We saw people who were suffering because their past and their roots had been erased, and their personalities and cultures had been bleached white by a centralizing government.
As the representative for the people of Longueuil—Saint-Hubert, I was shocked to see just how many open wounds the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was trying to heal. The commission attempted to set out a path for reconciliation.
We came to committee with this in mind, with the goal of working together congenially and collaboratively.
I mentioned the member for today because his outstanding bill seeking to ensure that the laws of Canada are in harmony with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Bill , has stalled in the Senate. This is a very important bill because it would redefine our relationship with indigenous peoples, with those who are at the very core of this country, but partisan politics are holding it up in the Senate.
I will not call out those involved in the Senate, but it is quite shameful. Things need to get moving. They could use a little nudge to get things going and see them through. This bill would ensure that the government respects the rights of our indigenous peoples and that these rights would be enshrined in all of our bills.
Bill is by all accounts fundamental and extremely important to the reconciliation process. I understand perfectly just how valuable language is, and how culture is primarily carried through language. It is essential to everything. The situation looks precarious. During one of my visits to Kahnawake, Mr. Norton told me that the Mohawk language is in jeopardy. He said that he was committed to supporting the process. He wants to encourage people to take interest in this issue. Teaching people who are interested in learning these languages again will take several months or years. I therefore understand how important this is.
Also, I was very pleased that my colleagues from and supported me during the work on this bill and the study in committee. It is a sensitive topic that requires careful consideration. These are not routine laws. These laws have emotional consequences and will shape our relationship with these nations and the preservation of their culture.
People on the ground obviously saw and grasped the importance of this bill. They understood that public officials had tried to draft legislation that would meet their needs. I will try not to use provocative language. I will try not to make us out to be saintly know-it-alls. I just did it, but I apologize. I will try to put this delicately. If this bill is so important to the Liberal government, why are we only talking about it with five weeks left in the parliamentary session? Why is that? Is there a valid reason to explain why this bill was delayed until the very end of the parliamentary session?
The Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage is busy. The committee constantly deals with issues related to the cultural resilience of Quebec, first nations or the Innu people. Let me use a metaphor to describe what is going on here. The Liberals were thinking about where they stood. They realized that the parliamentary session was drawing to a close, and they decided that, given their meagre legislative agenda, they were not too busy to introduce some new bills. They figured it would be nice to do something about this issue. They thought they would look really stupid if they went four years without doing anything about it, so they threw a bill together at the last minute.
As my colleague rightly said, a major player, the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, says it is not satisfied and was not consulted. This bill is being shoved down their throats. It is tragic to see this holier-than-thou government pretending it has not just been sitting on its hands this whole time. Sadly, that is what happened.
This is critically important bill. It is unfortunate that it had to be rammed through since it still has many flaws and is far from perfect.
Mr. Speaker, at the start I would like to acknowledge that this House rests on the ancestral lands of the Algonquin people.
It just occurred to me, in listening to the discussion here, that we do not only have the tragedy of the disappearing of our languages. My ancestors came to Newfoundland around 1610 and had friendly relations with the Beothuk. Not only have we lost the languages of the Beothuk, but the Beothuk are gone.
As a nation, we have to get serious about this and we have to make sure, going forward, in laws that this place is enacting, that we actually deliver on the United Nations declaration and deliver on the calls to action by the TRC. We have to make sure that we are really getting it because we have directly consulted with the indigenous peoples of Canada.
It is a great honour to speak to Bill . Not only is it an act respecting indigenous languages, but it should be more precisely put, the language rights of first nations, Métis and Inuit peoples, although the Inuit are expressing concerns that it does not quite get it from their perspective.
As some renowned scholars in indigenous matters have said, we should not even talk about “indigenous languages”; we should be naming all the languages and all the peoples, because they, themselves, are distinct.
The preamble to this bill specifies that “the recognition and implementation of rights related to Indigenous languages are at the core of reconciliation.”
Reference is made to the calls to action by the TRC on language and culture, as well as the adoption and implementation of UNDRIP. If we go to these calls to action, we see that they are actually titled “Language and culture.” It is not “language”; it is “language and culture”.
The TRC calls on the federal government “to acknowledge that Aboriginal rights include Aboriginal language rights”. Then it goes on to say this about the legislation that is to be enacted, this bill we are speaking to right now:
i. Aboriginal languages are a fundamental and valued element of Canadian culture and society, and there is an urgency to preserve them.
ii. Aboriginal language rights are reinforced by the Treaties.
iii. The federal government has a responsibility to provide sufficient funds....
iv. The preservation, revitalization, and strengthening of Aboriginal languages and cultures are best managed by Aboriginal people and communities.
v. Funding for Aboriginal language initiatives must reflect the diversity of Aboriginal languages.
It is right there in the calls to action. The TRC then calls upon the federal government to appoint a commissioner of aboriginal languages, which the bill does. It is to be noted that the calls to action also specifically call for the government to fully adopt and implement UNDRIP and to implement “a national action plan, strategies, and other concrete measures”.
In reading the actual call, we have to recognize that it is about language and culture. They are tied together. It is important to recognize that the calls to action on language and culture must be considered in the context of the bundle of rights in the TRC report and in UNDRIP, and there cannot be a handpicking of one or the other.
I would add that I have repeatedly tried to get the government to actually make UNDRIP binding in bills that come forward, in particular in decisions by the government that impact the lands and resources of indigenous peoples. Sadly, that was always rejected.
Why was the call to revitalize aboriginal languages issued? As shared so clearly in the TRC report, the very intent of the residential school program was to “take the Indian out of the Indian”. This was done by wrenching wee children from their families, communities and traditions, and forbidding their languages and cultural practices. As Commissioner Sinclair has said so clearly, it amounted to “cultural genocide”.
Far too many indigenous peoples today have lost not only their language, but the connection to their cultures and their traditional communities.
As my colleague, the member for , has shared:
The vast majority of indigenous languages in this country are endangered, and there is a critical need to address that challenge. There is an urgent need at this moment, as we speak, to address that challenge. Our languages are important. If the legislation fails to reflect the intent of the bill, we are not doing our indigenous brothers and sisters in this country any favours.
To the credit of indigenous peoples and other supportive groups, great efforts continue to be made to revitalize their languages and cultures. One example of an indigenous community investing in this objective is the Cayuga and Mohawk immersion initiative at Six Nations.
I had the honour a number of years ago to visit that community and to visit that school. It is absolutely inspiring to see what is done there, without government support, even though it is desperately needed.
The sad thing is that this particular school, which is working on teaching people the Gayogoho:no language, has to hold classes above the curling rink. It cannot even get the support of the government to build a proper school so that it can teach the children these languages. As I was leaving that facility, the children came out of the classrooms, and they went into a round house and sang traditional songs. I witnessed first-hand the tears of the elders, that once again their community is learning to speak their language and to understand the culture. It was phenomenal.
There are examples of non-indigenous entities supporting the development, preservation and revitalization of indigenous languages. One such entity is the Canadian Indigenous Languages and Literacy Development Institute, or CILLDI, at my alma mater, the University of Alberta. The institute brings together indigenous Canadians from across the country to work on learning their languages and how they can promote and revitalize the languages. They get university credit for this. The government actually invests in advanced education. This is an area where we should be providing similar programs right across this country.
Some members have commented on the irony that while this place is debating about indigenous languages, some of the members of this place who are indigenous were not accorded the opportunity to speak in their language. One of my colleagues, the member for , was not able to speak in Dene because she had to give a 48-hour notice. I am looking forward to the time in this place when we have the interpreters available. As the government moves forward and keeps changing what bills come forward, it is not necessarily possible to give advance notice about speaking in one's language. I have attended Dene gatherings in the Northwest Territories where there were 10 or 12 interpreters available. It is not that we do not have those skills in this country. We have to get serious about providing them in this place at the federal level.
We have witnessed a number of members speaking in this place. The priority has to be to ensure the opportunity for those who are indigenous to speak. Of course, it is great to hear those of us who are non-indigenous trying to speak those languages, and that is admirable.
I want to thank the member for for raising the concerns raised by the Inuit at committee. The Inuit are deeply troubled by this bill, and it is very concerning that the government is not considering that and did not properly consult on this.
We called for a number of amendments, which it is my understanding everyone rejected. Those that are critical include the requirement that the indigenous language commissioner be indigenous, which I think is pretty obvious; to enshrine UNDRIP as a legally binding provision of this bill; to add specific reference to the discriminatory policy of the sixties scoop that led to the erosion of indigenous languages; and, finally, to include specific measures to respect the language rights of the Inuit.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate all members who spoke in an indigenous language to this historic legislation in this very exciting debate, which is taking place on the traditional territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabe.
To set the scene and give a bit of background on the bill before I get into the bill itself, I note that now members can speak their languages here. Today the first speech was in Cree, and it had simultaneous interpretation.
The procedure and House affairs committee, which I chair, did a study earlier this year about having aboriginal languages in the House. It brought recommendations to the House, and all members in the House agreed to them, which was very exciting. For the first time in history, MPs who can speak an aboriginal language have the right to speak it in the House and at committee, with simultaneous interpretation.
We can imagine indigenous youths sitting at home in an urban area, in a village or on a reserve seeing that they can use their language in the highest democratic institution in the land. We can imagine how much strength it gives them, how much hope it gives them and how much support it gives them for their languages.
That is a very exciting achievement of this particular Parliament. It was initiated by the actions of the member for , who spoke first in the debate today. He spoke totally in Cree, as did some other members.
I want to tell members a story. We put a lot of emphasis on youth. As members know, the has a youth council, and many MPs have youth councils. I was at a youth meeting, which I think was convened by the . A young indigenous woman from the Yukon, who I think has spoken before the United Nations, made the point that people always say that if people get jobs, make good progress in their lives and get strong, they can bring forward their culture and language and that it will benefit all of us to see that creative, exciting diversity. She made the point that this is all wrong. It puts the cart before the horse. She said that what we need first is the language and culture and confidence in the language and culture, because that is what gives people the strength to succeed in school and in life. When they have confidence in themselves, they know where they come from and are very proud of themselves through their language. Of course, language is the basis of culture.
As was mentioned in the debate earlier, language is more than just translating a word, because languages express how we live. For instance, in Inuktut, there are a number of different words for snow, whereas in English, there are not very many. Language portrays a culture, so it is very important to one's way of life.
Statistics show that indigenous people around the world who have pride in themselves, understand their language and have pride in their culture are more successful than those who do not.
This is a great move today in the House of Commons and there is a lot of support here. It is very exciting what the House of Commons is doing.
This is a great step in reconciliation, partly to fix a wrong that we were a big part of creating. Not only did foreigners coming to Canada overwhelm in numbers the first peoples here, but sadly, we took steps to diminish their languages through residential schools, the sixties scoop and relocation.
That is why Bill , an act respecting indigenous languages, is so exciting. First, it would ensure the language rights included under the rights referred to in section 35 of the Constitution, such as the right of indigenous people to develop and preserve their languages. Second, the bill would ensure adequate, stable funding for languages. I will talk about that in more detail later, because funding has been brought up before. Third is the revitalization and strengthening of indigenous languages. To ensure that all these things are implemented, a commissioner would be established.
As a number of members have mentioned at various stages of this debate, it is critical to move quickly on this bill, because indigenous languages are disappearing. Thank goodness many indigenous leaders and elders in my area and other areas have taken to recording their languages so that they will always be there and can be revitalized and renewed by the youth. In my area, I think I saw the passing of the last elder who spoke fluently in Tagish. If he was not the last, there are not many left, so this is critical.
When Europeans first came to North America, there were over 90 indigenous languages. There are still over 70, but some have very few speakers, as the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs found out when we were studying this. It is very important that this bill be implemented as soon as possible to make sure that we halt the diminishment of these languages, promote and restore them and build them up among the youth. This bill would also fulfill the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to action 13, 14 and 15 and would set the stage for articles 11 to 16 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
This legislation was co-developed with first nations, which is why a number of the clauses and principles were very thoughtfully created.
I want to mention a bit about funding. To implement, preserve and restore languages requires funding. This government has made sure that this is taken care of. In the last budget, $330 million over five years was allocated for this, with $117 million after that. Before the bill even comes into effect, all sorts of projects are happening across the country. There have been large increases in funding. Back in 2017, there might have been $5 million, so there has been a huge increase in the funding necessary to move ahead.
This government has taken care of funding for the next five years. However, that does not preclude the possibility of a future government wanting to stop funding this. Therefore, included in this bill, in paragraph 5(d), is a statutory requirement that all future governments would have to fund the required activities, which I am sure the commissioner would monitor. It does not happen very often that there is such a clause in a bill, but we have put one in this one.
Paragraph 5(d) reads:
establish measures to facilitate the provision of adequate, sustainable and long-term funding for the reclamation, revitalization, maintenance and strengthening of Indigenous languages;
That preserves the funding. As I said, we have provided it now, but that preserves it into the future, regardless of what political party happens to be in power.
This is such a unique endeavour. It has been a great education for MPs, who have been hearing indigenous MPs and other MPs provide us with information related to their particular areas. I also want to provide some interesting facts about my particular area.
My riding covers the whole of Yukon and the traditional territories of 14 first nations therein. Some Europeans think that any one indigenous person in North America is the same as another—that they speak the same language, have the same culture, dance the same dances. That of course is not true.
My particular area makes up one one-thousandth of Canada's population, but there are eight language groups: the Gwich’in, the Northern Tutchone, there is a bit of Upper Tanana, Southern Tutchone, Tagish combined with Tlingit, a tiny bit of Tahltan and Kaska. Each of these groups has a different culture and a different history. Their languages are different. To the north of us there are a few Inuvialuit people as well.
I am going to describe the eight first nations in Yukon so that people will have some information about these language groups that they would not otherwise have.
Traditional knowledge is very important. It is a unique type of knowledge passed down orally, generation after generation. According to oral tradition, Yukon first nation peoples have lived in this land since Crow, a mythological creature of the time, made the world and set it in order. Archeologists calculate that the first humans inhabited the Yukon more than 10,000 years ago, crossing the Bering land bridge from Asia or travelling the waters alongside.
Today, first nations people belong to the Athapaskan or Tlingit language groups. I will briefly talk about what the eight specific groups within them are like.
Let me deal with Gwich'in first. The Gwich'in people are our most northerly group in the Yukon. They inhabit a huge area of land in which there are four different dialects. Most familiar to Yukoners are the Vuntut Gwitchin, who reside in Old Crow. Then there are the Tetlit Gwich'in in the Northwest Territories, the Tukudh Gwich'in in the Blackstone area, and the Alaska Gwich'in.
The Vuntut Gwitchin first nation is the modern-day political organization of the Yukon Gwich'in. The Vuntut Gwitchin signed its Yukon first nation final agreement in May 1993. The people live along the Porcupine River and follow annual cycles of subsistence. Right at the centre of their life is the Porcupine caribou herd.
I will digress for a moment to mention the critical struggle going on to protect the Porcupine caribou herd. If that herd becomes extinct, it will result in cultural genocide for the Gwich'in people of Alaska, Yukon and the Northwest Territories, because their whole life revolves around that herd. Their clothes—including vests similar to what I am wearing today—and their food are dependent on the caribou herd. When I have been there, I have seen them eat caribou three times a day. The caribou is really the heart of their culture. It is absolutely fundamental that this herd not be diminished.
Mr. Trump and the Republicans have passed legislation to allow drilling on the caribou calving grounds. Calving, of course, is a very sensitive part of the caribou life cycle, and this drilling could endanger the herd, which currently numbers roughly 130,000. The Gwich'in people have fought for decades to protect that area, along with the Canadian embassy in Washington. I have been involved for a couple of decades in fighting against any drilling in the Arctic national wildlife refuge area. Canada has a responsibility to do this. We have an agreement with the United States to protect the Porcupine caribou herd.
The second group of people I will talk about is the Hän people. The Hän people live where the Yukon and Klondike Rivers merge. They lived through the greatest impact of change when the Klondike gold rush marked their lives with great social upheaval and displacement.
The chief at that time, Chief Isaac, was very forward-thinking and took their songs and their dances to a community in Alaska, where he asked that they be preserved. He did not want to lose them with the massive influx of people. Dawson City was the biggest city west of Chicago or Winnipeg at the time of the gold rush.
They took their songs away, with a dance stick, and entrusted them to them. The dance stick was called a gänhäk. Then they brought them back, and now they are revitalizing their culture.
The next group is Upper Tanana. There are just a few people on the Yukon side; most are in Alaska. That is near Beaver Creek. A lot of the first nations moved around, depending on the time of year and where game could be found, so they were not on the existing locations where the Alaska Highway is. The effect of that highway on these first nations is an entire speech in itself, and I will not get into it at this time.
I am going through these groups faster than I would like, but I still do not have enough time to give more details.
The next large group is Northern Tutchone. They inhabit the central part of Yukon, often referred to as the heart of Yukon. There are three first nations there, within the Northern Tutchone Tribal Council: the First Nation of Na-Cho Nyak Dun, the Selkirk First Nation and the Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation. The small villages of Fort Selkirk and Minto were home to the people of this area prior to the building of the Klondike Highway, or as we old-timers call it, the Mayo Road.
The next group, the fifth, is the Southern Tutchone, as we have done Gwich'In, Hän, Upper Tanana, Northern Tutchone.
The Southern Tutchone occupy areas of southwest Yukon. Many traditional areas and village sites were once the centres of trading activity for these nomadic people. While many of these locations were gradually abandoned with the building of the Alaska Highway, they are still regarded with reverence as the homelands of the Southern Tutchone people.
The school there is where my 10-year-old daughter has her favourite class, and it is also where my six-year-old son had his highest mark. That is probably a tribute to the great Southern Tutchone teachers they have. It is also a French immersion school.
The Kluane First Nation, the Champagne and Aishihik First Nation, the Ta'an Kwäch'än Council and the Kwanlin Dun are also in that area. The Champagne and Aishihik First Nation have started maybe the first immersion day care in Canada. The immersion is in the Southern Tutchone language.
It was at the Calgary Olympics that a Yukon first nation person sang the national anthem in Tutchone.
The next group, as I mentioned earlier, may be functionally extinct. If not, there are not many speakers at the moment. I am referring to the Tagish language. The point about the Tagish people near the Carcross area is that this first nation people had great co-operation with the people in the gold rush, unlike what happened in some areas in North America. They helped people come in and were guides for them. They came in from the ocean over what were called “grease trails” because of the eulachon fish grease that indigenous people had carried on them for trade over the years.
Kate Carmack, whose brother was the famous Skookum Jim, recently received the great honour of being the first indigenous woman to be put in the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame for her role in the discovery that led to the greatest gold rush in the world.
As I said, there was great co-operation from the Tagish, and the inland Tlingit people as well, who traded over these grease trails. A number of generations ago, some of them moved inland from the coast to the Teslin and Carcross and Atlin areas.
The Kaska people are found in the southwest corner of Yukon, which they share with Ross River Dena Council and Liard First Nation and a number of people in northern B.C. and other communities. They have friends in the Dene people in NWT.
[Member spoke in Gwich’in as follows:]
[Gwich'in text translated as follows:]
Thank you very much for your comments.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to speak to Bill , an act respecting Indigenous languages.
As all members in the House know, indigenous issues are among the biggest challenges and the biggest opportunities facing our country. As we create together the space for indigenous peoples to be fully self-determining, with an improved quality of life, we must all work together, across party lines, in a non-partisan fashion.
It is in that spirit that I would like to thank the member of Parliament for for offering me this opportunity to speak as an independent member of Parliament on this important legislation.
The preamble, though not the body of Bill , notes that:
the Government of Canada is committed to implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which affirms rights related to Indigenous languages.
Specifically, I would like to remind colleagues that article 13 speaks to the fact that:
Indigenous peoples have the right to revitalize, use, develop and transmit to future generations their histories, languages, oral traditions, philosophies, writing systems and literatures, and to designate and retain their own names for communities, places and persons.
Article 14 goes on to talk about the fact that:
Indigenous peoples have the right to establish and control their educational systems and institutions providing education in their own languages, in a manner appropriate to their cultural methods of teaching and learning....
States shall, in conjunction with indigenous peoples, take effective measures, in order for indigenous individuals, particularly children, including those living outside their communities, to have access, when possible, to an education in their own culture and provided in their own language.
Bill takes the very important step to establish an office for the commissioner of indigenous languages.
I want to use the time given to me today to highlight some amazing initiatives across the country by indigenous peoples for indigenous peoples to promote indigenous languages.
I had the privilege of visiting many communities when I was minister of indigenous services, as well as when I was minister of health, and I want to share some of the wonderful initiatives I have witnessed.
Let us start in British Columbia.
In British Columbia, it is estimated that there are approximately 30 different first nations languages, and close to 60 dialects are spoken. We cannot speak about first nations languages without remembering Kukpi7 Ron Ignace. Kukpi7 is the name for chief in the Secwepemc language of British Columbia. Kukpi7 Ron Ignace is certainly one of the champions of indigenous languages in his first nation in British Columbia.
Together with his wife, Marianne Ignace, who is a professor at Simon Fraser University, they have written an extraordinary book. This is a book that has been worked on for a lifetime. It is called Secwépemc People, Land, and Laws.
I had the opportunity to visit the community of Skeetchestn, where Kukpi7 Ignace is the chief. I heard the children signing and sharing together in their language, and it was inspiring.
Let me tell the story of Huu-ay-aht First Nations in British Columbia. It is among the Nuu-chah-nulth-speaking first nations. The Huu-ay-aht people have taken an incredible initiative as they continue to pursue and inspire others by their efforts to be fully self-determining. They have established a social services project that takes on a number of initiatives, particularly for children. They have decided to exercise their right to take on child and family services within the Huu-ay-aht First Nations, and they are specifically ensuring they do so in order to bring their children back to their community so they are raised in their language and culture.
Let us move a little east to the province Alberta.
I want to tell my colleagues about the incredible work that is being done in Maskwacis, a region just outside of Edmonton. I had the privilege of being in this community when it announced the beginning of the Maskwacis Education Schools Commission.
I was there with Grand Chief Willie Littlechild, who used to sit in this very House. He spoke about the incredible initiative that the Maskwacîs peoples had been able to undertake in order to start a school system of their own.
Grand Chief Willie Littlechild had been raised in residential schools. He talked about how his language and his culture had been taken from him as he was taken away to one of the largest residential schools in our country. However, now the Maskwacis, which is a gathering of four Indian Act bands, have come together to start a schools commission in order to exercise self-determination. Their education system there is Cree based, based upon the language of their people and their way of teaching. The contents of their teaching are based in their Cree culture and in their language.
We will then go a little further east again to the lovely province of Saskatchewan. Many examples can be seen across Saskatchewan, but perhaps one of the highlights in my mind is when I had the privilege of visiting the Whitecap Dakota First Nation, an extraordinary community just outside the city of Saskatoon.
While I was there, the chief showed me many things, but one of the most impressive was when we went to visit the Charles Red Hawk Elementary School. I met the woman who was the language teacher in that school. She gives Dakota language lessons to the children there. Their proudest moment was when a small group of children stood up spontaneously and asked me if they could sing O Canada to me in the Dakota language. It was a moment that is indelibly impressed on my mind. I saw the pride, not only of the children but of the elder who had taught them their language.
I want to then move to the wonderful province of Manitoba. I have spoken in the House before about the things that I have learned from the first nations of Manitoba as well as the Métis nation of Manitoba.
However, today I want to share a conversation about the work of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs. The chiefs have been real leaders in one of the critical issues in our country, and that is the overrepresentation of indigenous children in care. They have highlighted the link between children being taken from their community into the foster care system and the loss of language that accompanies that. In fact, they have gone so far as to propose an act. It is called, the “bringing our children home act”.
In that act, the Manitoba chiefs speak to the fact that “We are reclaiming, practising and promoting our responsibility to pass down our knowledge, language, culture, identity, values, traditions, and customs to our children.”
This morning I had the opportunity to be in the indigenous affairs committee. A gentleman there had been in Manitoba and had experienced the foster care system. His name is Jeffry Nilles. I encourage people to look at the tape of his testimony in today's committee. He talked about what it meant to have been taken from his community, away from his family, about how he was shamed if he spoke in his language. It brought tears to our eyes as we heard about the moments he was treated cruelly because he naturally went to his native language and was punished for doing so. Now he is a man who is proud of the language of his peoples, but it has taken him some time to get there.
I will move further east again to the northern part of the province of Ontario. I would like to highlight in particular the extraordinary community of Fort Albany First Nation. I want to highlight a gentleman there who has been a real inspiration to me. His name is Edmund Metatawabin. Perhaps many members have had the opportunity to meet Edmund.
Edmund wrote a wonderful book, Up Ghost River, which had a big impact on my life. He talks about the role of residential schools. In fact, his book is an account of his residential school experience. He talks about the trauma of being separated from his language and his lineage, when he was forbidden to speak his language. He talks about the disastrous results that have ensued because languages and customs were suppressed by residential schools.
There is a good hint about the importance of indigenous languages in his book. Perhaps the most profound sentences in that book are when Edmund Metatawabin says, “There is no concept of justice in Cree culture. The nearest word is kintohpatatin.” He says that this “loosely translates to 'you've been listened to.'” Metatawabin writes, “Kintohpatatin is richer than justice—really it means you've been listened to by someone compassionate and fair, and your needs will be taken seriously.”
That is a word I will never forget. It reminds me of the richness of a word and how much a particular culture can teach us just by showing us the words of its language, as well as how much that can mean to all of us.
Let me continue to travel across Ontario. This time we will come right down to the border of Ontario and Quebec, and in fact this community crosses into the United States as well. It is the community of Akwesasne. The community has an amazing leader in Grand Chief Abram Benedict. Here again I saw how language is so much a part of the pride of this community.
I had the opportunity to visit for the first time the Mohawk immersion school there. This is a school in which elders have come together to teach the young people, who are the teachers. In turn, those teachers teach the children. People in that middle age group did not know their Mohawk language and had to learn it from the elders. Now they, as teachers, are passing it on to children.
One of the things that impressed me at that school was that they had created their own teaching materials. They had taken children's books and adapted them so that the words were Mohawk. It was not just the words; the concepts, pictures, traditions and stories were appropriate for the Mohawk community. It is an extraordinary example, and one that needs to be recognized.
And now we travel to la belle province. Quebec is home to many first nations, but I am going to talk about just one of them, the Huron-Wendat Nation. Their leader, Grand Chief Konrad H. Sioui, is an extraordinary man.
Konrad Sioui left quite an impression on me. He has many stories to share and knows much about his people's history and their places. He told me how those peoples named places, rivers and mountains. Where he lives, every place has a name in his language.
Across the country, many places have names that come from indigenous languages. Grand Chief Sioui talked about the importance of preserving those names in indigenous languages.
We know, for example, that the word Toronto comes from an indigenous language. It is believed that it comes primarily from a Mohawk name, tkaranto, which means “trees standing in the water”. Right here in the city of Ottawa, we know that the word Ottawa comes from the word adaawe from the Anishinabe language, which means “to buy”. Maybe we could sometimes think about the fact that our city has something to do with buying, but I will not spend too much time on that point.
Let us move along to some places in Quebec, since I was just discussing Quebec. Shawinigan is an Algonquin word that means “portage at the crest”. We then look at the northern part of Quebec, because we must not forget the north, where we find the amazing town of Kuujjuaq, which means “the great river” in Inuktitut.
We had better spend a bit of time in the Atlantic, although I know my time is running out. I want to talk about the incredible work of the Mi'kmaq in the Atlantic, and in particular their incredible education authority. The education authority is entirely led by the Mi'kmaq people and is called Mi'kmaw Kina'matnewey. I think the Mi'kmaq will forgive me for not getting that exactly right. I tried. We have often affectionately called this group “MK” because it is a little easier to say.
This is an education authority designed by Mi'kmaq for Mi'kmaq children. It has been incredibly successful, and this is in no small part related to its commitment to the Mi'kmaq language. It has, in fact, created an online talking dictionary, so that people can now find Mi’kmaq words online. There are now 6,000 or more Mi'kmaq words in this online talking dictionary. It offers language classes using the Internet, and video conference facilities have been set up so day cares throughout the region can teach Mi'kmaq to their children.
I was happy to hear that St. Francis Xavier University has now delivered its first program in the Mi'kmaq language.
While we are in the Atlantic, let us move north to Labrador and talk about Nunatsiavut, which is one of the four land claim regions of the Inuit Nunangat. The commitment of Inuit leaders in this country to the revitalization, maintenance and promotion of Inuktitut is something extraordinary. Inuit speak regularly about how Inuktitut is at the core of Inuit identity, spiritual beliefs and relationships to the land, as well as their world view and culture. It is fundamental to Inuit self-determination. I witnessed this myself when I went to meetings of the Inuit-Crown Partnership Committee, which are all translated into Inuktitut.
However, I should note that the Inuit do not support Bill , and it is important for us to recognize that. The Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami organization, the ITK, hopes to see the bill amended to include both an annex that addresses Inuktitut as a distinct language and provisions allowing Inuktitut speakers to access federal public services in their language.
There is an impact when those services are not available. I saw it myself in relation to health. People said that tuberculosis, for instance, was not recognized quickly enough because there was no health care provider who spoke Inuktitut and could take a proper patient history. This is an important reality.
Time does not permit me to tell members about the things I observed in wonderful places like the Northwest Territories and Yukon. There are many examples of people working to revive indigenous languages.
It is my intention to support the bill, but more work needs to be done on this issue. This work should be continued in the next Parliament by those who have the privilege of returning to this place.
I had the privilege of learning an indigenous language when I lived in the country of Niger, in west Africa. I became moderately fluent in the Hausa language. The Hausa people have a saying:
[Member spoke in Hausa]
This means “silence, too, is speech”. Let us not, any of us, be silent on this matter, on the need to revitalize, maintain and promote indigenous languages. Let us recall that the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples lays out minimum standards for the survival, well-being and dignity of indigenous peoples.
The right to use, develop and transmit indigenous languages to future generations is nothing less than a matter of survival. The duty to recognize and affirm this right rests on us all.
[Member spoke in Cree as follows:]
[Cree text translated as follows:]
This bill is important. It helps with our constituents. This is very important to our constituents.
Mr. Speaker, this bill provides hope for many of my constituents. For me, it is about reconciliation.
I represent a riding in the north end of Winnipeg where we have well over 15,000 people of indigenous heritage. Often the languages we hear, which would be better spoken if they were more a part of our communities and spoken within families, would include Ojibwe and Anishinabe, which is what I attempted to do by speaking a few words in Cree.
It has been an absolute privilege to be on the government benches for many different reasons. One that has had a positive impact is something the often talks about, which is establishing that relationship with indigenous people in Canada and looking at what we can do to advance reconciliation. In good part, Bill is all about that.
The legislation before us today deals with languages. We have legislation that deals with foster care, which is a huge issue. In the riding of Winnipeg North alone, 2,000 or 3,000 children are in foster care, 90% of whom are indigenous.
This legislation is indeed historic. I have had the opportunity to stand in my place and talk about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the many different calls tor action. Of the 94 calls to action, Bill deals with three of those calls, calls to action 13, 14 and 15. That is one of the reasons why I am a little surprised. I would have thought that members of all political parties and the independents would be supportive of the legislation. It responds specifically to those calls. No one in government is saying that this is the perfect legislation. We always have ways of looking at making some changes in the future. We have seen some significant changes made at committee. Opposition party amendments were accepted at committee.
The legislation before us today responds to three calls to action. If we really want to get behind and support reconciliation, we need to evaluate how we might vote on this. The comments of the members of the NDP at the third reading stage today have been in opposition, with some declaring they will vote against the legislation. If there is a New Democratic member in the House who disagrees with what I have said, that member should stand and justify why he or she will not support Bill or is prepared to vote in favour of it.
Opposition members try to imply there is no money tied to this and that is just wrong. Let us look at clauses 8 and 9 and other aspects of the legislation. Money will flow as a direct result of it. There is the creation of a language commissioner to work at advocating, facilitating and ensuring we continue to move forward on this critically important issue, an issue I believe in my core that all members support. The comments of members tend to support the need to recognize the true value of indigenous languages and how the enhancement of those languages will be to the betterment of not only indigenous communities but of Canada's society as a whole.
For this reason, I would encourage all members to think about this as being a historical moment for the House. The acceptance of the legislation beyond the House is great and even overwhelmingly positive. For indigenous groups and individuals and non-indigenous people whom I have had the opportunity to talk about the legislation, it has been long overdue.
The legislation would ensure that many important languages do not disappear. I highlighted three languages that are fairly prominent within the riding I represent: Ojibwe, Anishinaabe and Cree. There are many others within Winnipeg North that may not be as commonly spoken but are equally important with respect to recognizing the potential in those languages.
Within this legislation, we allow for agreements to be reached where funding would flow. Other comments from the NDP, which appears to not want to see the bill pass, deal with the sixties scoop. If members read the legislation, the sixties scoop is incorporated into it. As a society, we need to recognize the harm caused by the settlers who came to what we know as Canada today. Many mistakes were made.
I believe the general feeling from the population as a whole is that we get behind the issue of reconciliation. Senator Murray Sinclair is the author of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada and the calls for action. He demonstrated incredible leadership, which has allowed the national government, provincial governments, municipal governments and the different stakeholders to recognize the importance of indigenous people and what we can do collectively to ensure we continue to move forward. By supporting Bill , we are making a tangible commitment to moving forward on this issue.
For this reason, I encourage members on all sides of this House, in particular my friends in the New Democratic Party, to reconsider their comments this afternoon and look at making it very clear that they do, in fact, support Bill , because if we listen to what they were saying this afternoon, it is obvious that they do not support it, which I believe to be a mistake. I believe that, as the previous speaker indicated, this should be an apolitical piece of legislation. It does not have to be partisan. Members of all political parties and independents can get behind it.
When the minister introduced the bill, and when it went through second reading and the committee stage, there was a great deal of interest, and the government consistently indicated that it was open to ideas and ways in which the bill could be modified. As I indicated, a number of changes that were proposed were accepted, not just from government members but also from opposition members.
The speaker prior to me mentioned the word kintohpatatin, which implies the importance of listening. In representing Winnipeg North, I believe that I have listened to my constituents with respect to the issues surrounding Bill . I believe that the has been listening, has understood, and has been working diligently with cabinet, the caucus, and I would go further by saying all parliamentarians on this very important issue.
This is, in good part, about reconciliation, which is why it is so important that we send a strong message by talking positively about the legislation and supporting it. It does not mean that we cannot talk about ideas or thoughts we might have to improve upon it in the future. It should go without saying that any legislation brought into the House of Commons always has the potential to be improved upon. There are 90-plus pieces of legislation coming through the House. Some of them, such as this one, are really good and all parties should get behind them. This bill might not necessarily be perfect in the way each individual would like to see it, but that does not mean that one has to vote against it. We must look at the principles at hand and what is behind the legislation.
This is more than just talk or propaganda. This is real. Hundreds of millions of dollars would flow as a direct result of this legislation. Indigenous languages in Canada would be better preserved, and in some cases saved, because of this legislation. At least three calls to action would be answered by this legislation. The overwhelming majority of indigenous people, from what I understand, are behind Bill .
There will always be some who will say that we could do more or that we could do this or that. I do not question that, but at the stage we are at today, this is good, solid legislation that would have a positive impact in every region of our country. It is good in terms of reconciliation and so many other things.
I would challenge my colleagues across the way to recognize the true value and meaning of this legislation, get behind it, and vote for it.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to share my time with my hon. colleague from .
It has been a very interesting morning listening to the speeches, and I am happy to rise to discuss Bill , an act respecting indigenous languages. I have had the opportunity to study the bill as a member of the heritage committee. I participated for many hours on that committee. I learned a lot from witnesses, and we heard some very thoughtful, insightful commentary on the bill's successes. We also heard about some possible shortcomings. I appreciate my colleague across the way referring to having the opportunity to speak to some of those challenges.
Before I do that, I need to talk about a play put on by the Siksika at Strathmore High School called New Blood Dance Show, a story of reconciliation. This is a phenomenal production that relates specifically to this topic.
It was in 2014 that the director of this play was inspired when she went camping with her sister at Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park. While she was there, she saw writings that are sacred to the Blackfoot people. They are recordings of their stories. She was sad to learn that when the Blackfoot people were moved onto the reservation in the late 1800s, they were not allowed to visit their writings and learn of their heritage. For 70 years, three generations were unable to learn their stories, and the translations were lost. The show is about learning these stories.
The director met with the chief of the Siksika at the time, Chief Vincent Old Woman, and he told her many stories about going to a residential school, the loss of language and the loss of heritage. From visiting those writings, she developed a play called New Blood. This is a phenomenal play put on by high school students, the majority of them Siksika. The play has been performed many times in southern Alberta and in British Columbia.
What they would really like to do, though, is come to Ottawa to put on that play. It is a play people need to see, and hopefully, if they keep applying for grants, they will be able to achieve that goal. I hope people here are able to see that production.
I believe that there has been some discussion about the rushed nature of this piece of legislation. The Liberals brought this forward at the end of three and half years, although they said years earlier that this was a critically important piece of legislation. Not only did they rush it to the point of just getting it through to start the process in the House, we were asked to do a pre-study before it was sent to committee.
We met daily, sometimes for many hours. The rushed nature of this legislation is probably the reason for the amendments and the ongoing challenges. It was problematic in the sense that members on the committee identified specific words that were going to create problems. When I first suggested that some of these words would be problematic, there were snickers on the other side.
When constitutional lawyers showed up as witnesses and started pointing out these same words as problematic, saying that this could end up in court, it became much more interesting to see the reaction. What was then problematic was that just minutes before we started clause-by-clause, the Liberals dropped many amendments on the table that were the exact concerns I had brought up. When I brought them up, they were snickered at, but when a constitutional lawyer brought them up, the Liberals paid attention, because they could see that this could cause problems and be tied up in court.
The Liberals referred to many amendments by the opposition being accepted. They were not our amendments. I do not remember, sitting on that committee hour after hour going through clause-by-clause, the amendments from the opposition being accepted. It has been said many times that they were accepted by the opposition. I do not remember that happening.
The Liberals have a piece of legislation, which we agree with and support, but we do not agree with the rushed nature of it. They talked about the extensive consultations they had. When we asked questions about the consultations, first they talked about doing them for six months. Then they said there was a three-month window. When it came down to it, they did consultations for just weeks. In committee, they said that it was down to weeks.
When we thought of the 600 different indigenous groups and sub-groups, such as the Métis and all the varieties of people out there, we began to understand that this consultation process was flawed. When we started to hear from witnesses that they had missed critical groups of people to talk to, we began to understand why the legislation was flawed. We began to understand why the legislation has problems and why witnesses were saying that the Liberals missed the mark.
We agree to support the legislation. The government said two years or three years ago that it was going to do it, but it should have started sooner and developed legislation that could have circumvented some of those flaws. Witnesses appeared who said that the bill had nothing to do with the Inuit. They were left out and not consulted. There are constitutional lawyers who are still concerned that the language, even as amended, could become tied up in court. That is the wrong place for legislation to go. If the government wants to get something done, it has to make the legislation better before it is passed. Although we agree with having it, the process left a lot to be desired.
I think of the people I have met from the Siksika Nation, the people who work in the education system. I see the immersion programs starting in Siksika. When I visit the schools or speak at their graduations, I hear how important their language is, but I hear that they are concerned that those who are younger than the elders but older than the youth are going to miss out. Immersion programs are starting in schools, but when the students go home, who are they going to speak to, because their parents do not know the language? The educators view this as a huge problem. They were never consulted on how to deal with that.
The school systems working with this are dedicated. They want it to work. Those school systems for Michif believe that the money is headed into bureaucracies. They believe it will not come down to where it is needed at the grassroots level. They do not believe that they were recognized as key components of this particular legislation. I agree with that. From my education background, I know of many types of government legislation that has been announced that at the school level has trickled down as pennies. The dollars went into bureaucracy.
Witnesses said that they believe that the money will go into national organizations. They do not believe that it will reach the schools, where it should be, because they were not consulted. There are many instances of people talking about languages disappearing or being at risk. If this money disappears into bureaucracy, it will not save those languages. That was a concern of the witnesses.
We will support this. However, we believe it was too rushed. There are challenges with it, and we wonder if it will get where it needs to.
Mr. Speaker, on June 11, 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper delivered the historic residential schools apology. He acknowledged the two primary objectives of the residential school system were to remove and isolate children from the influence of their homes, families, traditions and cultures and to assimilate them into the dominate culture.
First nations, Inuit and Métis languages and cultural practices were prohibited in these schools.... 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.
That apology was the beginning of an earnest effort to start to heal the intergenerational harm and trauma caused to indigenous people by over a century of federal government-imposed policies. Stephen Harper's apology, which was the first by a prime minister in Canadian history, led to the final settlement on Indian residential schools and the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to ensure the full history of the residential schools and the experiences of survivors and families were made public and to provide recommendations on the path forward for reconciliation. The final report included 94 calls to action. This bill addresses calls 13, 14 and 15.
It is crucial to understand the complex shared history of the founding peoples within Canada, including when the power of the state was used to break families and to harm children in unspeakable ways in a systemic attempt to destroy traditions, beliefs and languages. The long and difficult journey of survivors and their families in speaking about those experiences and about the impacts that reverberate in real ways today can enable meaningful reconciliation in the future.
More than 150,000 indigenous children were forcibly removed from their homes as part of the residential schools program, a program that predated Confederation and continued well into the 1990s. More than 20,000 indigenous children were taken from their homes and placed with non-indigenous families, a wave of displacement that became known as the “sixties scoop”. Generations of children grew up without parental role models, without grandparents and elders, without the love and nurturing of family members to pass along foundational family and cultural values. They grew up away from their families and outside their communities, and the effects are readily obvious today.
In 2016, Statistics Canada reported that of the foster children in private homes who were under the age of 15, 14,970 were indigenous, which was over half of all foster children in Canada. The disproportionate socio-economic challenges among indigenous Canadians, such as violence, suicide and high-risk vulnerability, show that impact. There is a long and multipronged effort ahead to make right that immense and systemic trauma caused to indigenous people by a government-driven attempt to dismantle their cultural practices.
As Conservatives, we in particular believe deeply in families as the building blocks of society; in parents as first teachers; in limiting the scope of the state in intervening with families and individuals; in language as the cornerstone of generations being able to preserve traditions, values and cultural practices; and in the free and equal inherent dignity, sanctity and self-determination of every individual human being. Therefore, it should be no surprise that the Conservatives were the first to take this important step and that we support the aspiration and ambition of Bill .
However, while Conservatives made historic investments and took action regarding indigenous culture, education, housing and water treatment under the previous government, the reality is that a total reliance on federal funding will never provide the future that first nations want for their children. That is why indigenous economic reconciliation and empowerment are also important to Conservatives. When indigenous communities have access to revenues independent of the government, they can invest in their own priorities without having to get approval from a civil servant in Ottawa or fit their plan into a federally prescribed program application. Empowering first nations economically provides the tools for indigenous communities to invest in their culture and to preserve and nurture their heritage and language for future generations.
In Lakeland, Joe Dion of the Frog Lake Energy Resources Corporation has been a champion of empowering indigenous people to generate sustainable wealth for communities, elders and future generations. I represent a region blessed with an abundance of natural resources and indigenous people and communities who participate as partners, owners, employers, contractors and workers in responsibly developing these resources. I am proud to represent all communities and people in Lakeland, including the Buffalo Lake Métis Settlement, the Fishing Lake Métis Settlement, the Kikino Métis Settlement, the Frog Lake First Nation, the Goodfish First Nation, the Kehewin Cree Nation, the Saddle Lake Cree Nation, the Onion Lake First Nation and the Elizabeth Métis Settlement.
For those communities and, unfortunately, other indigenous communities across Canada, the dream of economic self-sufficiency is being blocked by the current Liberal government. The Liberals' anti-resource agenda is sabotaging the best hope these communities have to become truly independent of the federal government.
Isaac Laboucan-Avirom, chief of the Woodland Cree First Nation, said, “It frustrates me, as a first nations individual, when I have to almost beg for monies when we're living in one of the most resource-rich countries in the world.”
When this Liberal vetoed the northern gateway pipeline, the equity partners said they were “deeply disappointed that a Prime Minister who campaigned on a promise of reconciliation with Indigenous communities would now blatantly choose to deny our 31 First Nations and Métis communities of our constitutionally protected right to economic development.”
When it comes to the Liberals' no-more-pipelines bill, Bill , Stephen Buffalo, president and CEO of the Indian Resource Council, on behalf of hundreds of indigenous-owned businesses, said:
Indigenous communities are on the verge of a major economic breakthrough, one that finally allows Indigenous people to share in Canada's economic prosperity...[but] Bill C-69 will stop this progress in its tracks.
About the Liberals' oil export ban, Bill , which was announced with no indigenous consultation 30 days after the Liberals formed government, Gary Alexcee, vice-chair of the Eagle Spirit Chiefs Council, says, “With no consultation, the B.C. first nations groups have been cut off economically with no opportunity to even sit down with the government to further negotiate Bill C-48.”
If that's going to be passed, then I would say we might as well throw up our hands and let the government come and put blankets on us that are infected with smallpox so we can go away. That's what this bill means to us.
He went on:
Today, the way it sits, we have nothing but handouts that are not even enough to have the future growth of first nations in our communities of British Columbia.
Those are incredibly difficult words to read, but they reflect the deep-seated sense of betrayal that many first nations now feel toward the current Liberal government.
As the Conservative shadow minister for natural resources, I almost always talk about the multiple indigenous communities or organizations that want to develop mineral and energy projects in their territories because a majority of indigenous communities want resource development and want to partner with businesses to create opportunity for their communities and for future generations.
There are also many examples of initiatives that indigenous communities want to fund and have begun to establish across Canada to preserve their languages and culture. One of those examples, Blue Quills, is remarkable in how it has been transitioned from something used to attack and dismantle indigenous families and cultures to now champion the preservation and the future of indigenous languages, faith and cultural practices.
Blue Quills, located out of St. Paul in Lakeland, was a residential school, and now it is the largest language, cultural and sensitivity training centre in the area.
The history of the college dates back to 1865; the present campus was built in the early 1930s as a mission residential school. Blue Quills is one of the first indigenous-administered post-secondary education institutions serving first nations and other students from across Canada. It offers several courses that teach the Cree language, as well as anthropology and interdisciplinary courses on indigenous communication through art, dance and language.
Lakeland College in Vermilion, with a campus in Lloydminster, offers a specific program for indigenous educators. The college hosts an indigenous elders-in-residence program.
All of these programs are funded in part through the financial support of the local treaty first nations. Those first nations are also the very ones involved in responsible energy resource development, and they are concerned about their future and their future financial prosperity being threatened by the Liberal attacks on oil and gas in my region.
It is incumbent on all members of this House to work toward meaningful reconciliation. I want to quote Taleah Jackson, a young woman originally from Saddle Lake and a cultural guide with North Central Alberta Child and Family Services and Blue Quills University, a constituent who inspires me. She says:
My language is important to me as I am not a fluent speaker I see the value and the beauty of the language of my ancestors. But more importantly Language is the key to our ceremonies, stories, protocols, identities and our ways of life. It was told to me once that when we speak our language we are speaking from our hearts and the Creator hears our prayers. We must respect our fluent speakers and Elders for they have been instrumental to the preservation of Indigenous Languages and keep our sacred languages safe.
I agree with Taleah, because protecting Canada's indigenous languages is protecting our shared Canadian heritage.
It was on December 6, 2016, that the current Liberal promised to introduce this indigenous languages act, and over two years have gone by. I hope that the Liberals also will provide a concrete plan of how they will deliver on the aspiration of Bill .
Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask you if I can share my time with the member for . I am sure he would like to speak to this bill.
Bill , is very important to our government. This bill was studied by the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, of which I am a member.
I would like to start by acknowledging that we are gathered today on the traditional territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabe people. I am probably not saying that right, so I apologize. I am francophone, and I am sure everyone can hear it.
I am happy to express my support for Bill C-91, an act respecting indigenous languages. This initiative is incredibly important, and it is urgent to take action, especially with regard to the role of elders in the revitalization of indigenous languages. Needless to say, the reason this situation is so urgent is that the number of indigenous elders who speak these languages as their mother tongue keeps shrinking.
With their considerable life experience, elders are held in high regard as wise keepers of language and traditional knowledge. The participants and keepers of indigenous language who contributed to the engagement sessions on indigenous languages legislation last summer emphasized the importance of taking action. In many communities, the situation is critical because the number of people who can speak these languages fluently is shrinking as elders pass away. Hope that the languages can be passed on via oral tradition is fading.
In 2005, the message that emerged from consultations by the Task Force on Aboriginal Languages and Cultures was that taking immediate measures to stem language loss was crucial. That was 14 years ago, and the situation has only become more urgent since. Participants noted that first nations, Inuit and Métis languages had been under attack for at least a century. It goes without saying that revitalizing these languages may take time. Nevertheless, we must set short-term goals and get projects going immediately. Urgent action is needed, but the process is likely to take quite some time.
It goes without saying that there is a need to provide support to indigenous communities and governments to help them act immediately. For example, in the first nations context, 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. That is a huge difference.
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, the 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. Appropriate solutions to support the reclamation, revitalization, strengthening and maintenance of indigenous languages will be determined on the basis of the vitality of a given language, and will be in keeping with the communities' language strategy.
Indigenous elders must play an active role, because they are the ones with the knowledge. 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. In such cases, elders are the most valuable asset to help build resources for their languages for generations to come.
Take, for example, Peter White, an elder from Naotkamegwanning, who used his expertise and resources to record stories and songs from his elders to preserve them for years to come. People like him are making a valuable contribution to revitalizing these languages.
There is also Bert Crowfoot, from 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, 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 learn Cree by hearing voices from the past.
Elders, the carriers of indigenous languages, are also the keepers of the traditional knowledge written into those languages. It is widely recognized that the wisdom of elders is vital to transmitting an authentic interpretation of languages. Elders are known to be the true language experts.
The First Nations Confederacy of Cultural Education Centres reiterated the importance of elders in its report on indigenous languages legislation engagement, stating that elders guide our work and act as language advocates and experts within their communities and on a national scale.
During the engagement sessions that led to this bill, participants often reiterated the importance of engaging elders in any language revitalization efforts.
This legislation provides the flexibility needed to support various levels of linguistic vitality. ln certain situations, this could mean encouraging elders to take part in planning, in activities and in programs. In other situations, it might be just as important to give elders an opportunity to learn their language within their community.
This approach is based on the premise that language revitalization is multifaceted. Several different approaches might be needed to meet the needs of the various segments of the community, ranging from early childhood learning to adult immersion programs.
I will close by simply adding that, sadly, indigenous communities are losing elders every year. We must take action. I call on all hon. members to work together to pass this bill.