On June 15, I participated in an announcement with the federal Minister of Canadian Heritage, the Honourable Mélanie Joly, on the co-development of an Indigenous Languages Act. This proposed legislation is aimed at revitalizing, preserving, protecting and maintaining Indigenous languages.
First Nations have been pushing for many years for action to support, promote and strengthen our languages, the original languages of these lands. Language is culture. Language is identity. Language is central to our songs, stories, and ceremonies. Language is fundamental to self-determination. Revitalizing our languages is essential to reconciliation. The recognition, promotion, and recovery of First Nations languages will not only strengthen our Nations but enrich the whole country.
This is why we welcomed the response by Prime Minister Trudeau when he announced his commitment at our December 2016 Special Chiefs Assembly to “enact an Indigenous Languages Act, co-developed with Indigenous Peoples, with the goal of ensuring the preservation, protection, and revitalization of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit languages.” When a country officially recognizes and promotes the recovery of its original languages, the languages get stronger. When our languages get stronger, we get stronger.
June 15 was the formal announcement that the AFN will engage with First Nations to work on legislation to “revitalize, recover, preserve, protect, maintain and promote” First Nations languages. First Nations language champions, educators, Elders and citizens from across the country will be essential in providing input on the legislation.
Our involvement is based on some key principles that will guide this work.
One is that this work must be based on First Nations engagement and guidance throughout all stages. We are hosting a number of engagement sessions, the first one being held June 22 & 23 in Vancouver for B.C. First Nations and Yukon First Nations. On Monday July 24, we shall convene another session prior to our upcoming AFN Annual General Assembly in Regina, SK, and will continue through to the Fall of 2017 for all regions. We will keep you informed of all engagement sessions.
We maintain as well that this work must be based on a distinctions-based approach. Consistent with the commitment to an Indigenous Languages Act, the Métis National Council and the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami were part of the announcement, but each organization is going to oversee outreach and engagement with their own citizens. We know First Nations require our own unique approach to reflect our own unique perspectives, priorities and languages. We are exploring a number of options to ensure the legislation itself reflects a distinctions-based approach.
This work will be based on the recognition that First Nations governments have jurisdiction over languages. Any legislation will recognize First Nations language rights and jurisdictions. It will recognize that languages are fundamental to self-determination. It will be based on the recognition of language rights as inherent rights. The legislation will, among other things, affirm and address the right of First Nations to revitalize, use, develop and transmit their languages to future generations, including through the control of their educational systems and institutions.
We look forward to your ideas and input on this important initiative.
There are more than 58 distinct Indigenous languages and more than 90 distinct languages and dialects spoken on Turtle Island. There are no Indigenous languages that are considered to be safe. The work we are doing here, in companion with the many other efforts we and First Nations are making to support and strengthen our languages, will ensure they survive and thrive.
This work will be a lasting legacy to our children.