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AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde Says Meeting with Cultural and Heritage Ministers Must Lead to Action to Protect and Strengthen First Nations Languages

on August 24, 2017

August 24, 2017

(Ottawa, ON) – Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde said today that the commitments on First Nations languages made at the National Indigenous Organizations and the Federal-Provincial-Territorial Heritage and Culture Ministers Roundtable and Meeting held on August 22, 2017, in Orford, QC must lead to immediate action with First Nations involved as full partners.

“This meeting was important because the federal, provincial and territorial governments all have a role in working with us to protect and strengthen First Nations languages,” said AFN National Chief Bellegarde. “We need to act now because no Indigenous language is safe. Recent studies show that Indigenous people are learning their languages as second languages, so we know our people want to recover their language and identity. Our languages are central to our ceremonies, our culture and our right to self-determination. We need to work together now to build on this momentum and make sure our languages survive and get stronger.”

National Chief Bellegarde reminded the Federal Government of its commitment to work with First Nations as full and equal partners in co-developing an Indigenous Language Act, and this requires joint efforts on outreach and engagement, communications, preparing a memorandum to cabinet and joint drafting. As well, sustained long-term investments are needed to produce fluent speakers and use of language on a regular basis, including the operations of First Nations governments and in federal and provincial government services.

National Chief Bellegarde urged the provinces and territories to act immediately and not wait until the federal legislation is in place. He told the representatives at the meeting that First Nations are looking for a respectful and effective process for intergovernmental participation that reflects First Nations status under the Constitution and international law as peoples and nations with inherent rights, title and jurisdiction.

National Chief Bellegarde stated: “We want all governments to support the federal Indigenous Languages legislation as a fundamental part of reconciliation. We all have a role to play in healing the damage from the Indian Residential School system, the Indian Act, the Sixties Scoop and the overall approach of assimilation. There are efforts we can make right now, like training fluent speakers and certifying them as teachers or adopting regulations that provide them a role in the classroom. This is important work that requires our full focus and commitment but we can succeed. I look forward to hearing the next generation of First Nations children speaking their languages and learning them from their Elders.”

The AFN is the national organization representing First Nations citizens in Canada.  Follow AFN on Twitter @AFN_Updates.

For more information, please contact:

Alain Garon Bilingual
Communications Officer
613-241-6789 ext. 382
613-292-0857 (cell)
agaron@afn.ca

Michael Hutchinson
Communications Officer
613-241-6789 ext. 254
613-299-6330 (cell)
mhutchinson@afn.ca

BACKGROUND

Situational Analysis of Indigenous Languages in Canada

Language Context

  • Approximately 60 Indigenous languages in Canada
  • 10 separate and distinct language families
  • Most languages have multiple dialects, often with issues with multiple writing systems
  • Only 3 languages account for two-thirds of all mother-tongue language speakers
  • Most languages have relatively few fluent speakers
  • Most languages are not spoken by children, a key indicator of language survival
  • Language and cultural identity are intrinsically linked; maintaining both is urgent

Indigenous Rights, Legislation & Policy in Canada

The current federal government has promised to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which contains several articles that support the recovery, revitalization, preservation and education of and in the Indigenous languages of Canada. In addition, the Ministerial mandate letters, signed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, made the federal government’s commitment to Indigenous peoples clear, and the commitment to the recognition, preservation and revitalization of Indigenous languages being no exception.

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is posted online at:
http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/unpfii/documents/DRIPS_en.pdf

The current federal government promised implementation of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, which contains four Calls to Action relating to language and culture.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action is posted online at:
http://www.trc.ca/websites/trcinstitution/File/2015/Findings/Calls_to_Action_English2.pdf

Angie TurnerAFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde Says Meeting with Cultural and Heritage Ministers Must Lead to Action to Protect and Strengthen First Nations Languages
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