I'll speak a little bit to what's in our language discussion paper and some of our review of Bill C-91, before we wrap up for questions.
In March 2018, the NAFC held a two-day, “Our Languages, Our Stories” forum, with representation from all parts of Canada, to discuss and contribute input into the development of indigenous language legislation; in particular, to discuss the urban perspective on the state of indigenous languages.
There were several recommendations and highlights from the gathering that directly speak to the intent of Bill C-91. Participants shared the challenge of learning their language as a second language and the importance of immersive language learning. To quote the discussion paper:
...it must be incorporated into every aspect of peoples' lives in a wholistic way and there must be opportunities to speak the language, at every age, through the cycle of life.
Strong support was expressed for friendship centres themselves acting as central hubs for language revitalization, including providing safe and culturally relevant spaces for language learning.
This gathering provided further affirmation of how proud indigenous people are of their languages and ways of knowing and being. The youth shared how integral language is to their pride and understanding of where they come from.
Our recommendations were to create a national institute of indigenous languages; conduct a national indigenous languages needs assessment and research project; advocate to make all indigenous languages official languages in Canada; support indigenous language signage in urban centres across Canada; establish a federal department of indigenous languages and education; and support friendship centres to be indigenous language learning hubs.
I'll now speak to some of the clauses in Bill C-91 that affect friendship centres and urban indigenous communities.
Reflected in Bill C-91 is the commitment to providing adequate, sustainable and long-term funding for the reclamation, revitalization, maintenance and strengthening of indigenous languages. The Government of Canada realizes indigenous peoples are best placed to take the leading role in reclaiming, revitalizing, maintaining and strengthening indigenous languages.
Friendship centres are indigenous-owned and -operated civil society organizations, operating in urban settings. This is an opportunity to draw upon the extensive NAFC network and expertise in program delivery throughout Canada. There are friendship centres in every province and territory, except for P.E.I., and each of them provides direct services to reach the urban indigenous population.
The definition of “Indigenous organization” in the bill is unclear as to whether friendship centres are considered. “Indigenous organization” is defined as an “entity that represents the interests of an indigenous group”. Friendship centres do not claim to represent the interests of any one indigenous group or its members. In fact, we represent an urban perspective and serve all indigenous groups and all members, whether they are recognized by their communities or not.
What about indigenous media organizations? Many indigenous communication organizations that have provided radio and television in indigenous languages for decades are nowhere reflected in the act.
Under the definition of “ Indigenous peoples”, there is reference to subsection 35(2), which is “Indian, Inuit and Métis”. The NAFC would encourage that the definition be expanded to ensure the inclusion of all indigenous people, including non-status Indians and non-beneficiary Inuit, and be clear about what is meant by Métis. Indigenous language revitalization should not be tied to a political affiliation.
Under paragraph 5(b)(iii), under the “Purposes of Act”, it mentions supporting indigenous peoples to “create technological tools, educational materials and permanent records of Indigenous languages”. The NAFC would like to encourage that the purposes be expanded to support the technological tools, educational materials and permanent records that have already been developed. There are indigenous organizations that have databases, tapes, documents, materials and apps that have already been developed.
There are indigenous media organizations that have worked for decades and have reels of language material. If they were able to access funding and support, they would be able to mobilize and, for example, digitize these materials and make them more readily available to the public and indigenous communities and organizations, such as friendship centres.