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)
[email protected]

Michael Hutchinson
Communications Officer
613-241-6789 ext. 254
613-299-6330 (cell)
[email protected]


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:

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:

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


on June 13, 2017


On December 6, 2016, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the development of an Indigenous Languages Act. Based on direction from First Nations, the AFN is advocating for legislation to establish long-term, sustainable, consistent, appropriate approaches to support First Nations in their efforts to recover, reclaim, revitalize, maintain and normalize First Nations languages.

Our languages are central to our ceremonies, our relationships to our lands, the animals, to each other, our understandings, of our worlds, including the natural world, our stories and our laws.

National Chief Perry BellegardeOpening Remarks to the Federal-Provincial-Territorial Ministers Responsible for Culture and Heritage, Orford, Québec. August 22, 2017

Engagement Session

On June 1, 2018 the Honourable Mélanie Joly, Minister of Canadian Heritage, announced the launch of intensive community-based engagement sessions that will be held across Canada this summer to support the co-development of First Nations, Inuit and Métis languages legislation.

The Department of Canadian Heritage will cover the travel and hotel costs of up to two participants per community/organization to attend AFN’s pre-meeting and the Department of Canadian Heritage direct engagement session in your area. These costs will be reimbursed based upon Treasury board Guidelines up to an established maximum amount.

Attendance to both the Department of Canadian Heritage Engagement Sessions and the Assembly of First Nations Pre-engagement Sessions are open to all who are interested in attending.

Download Schedule

Indigenous Languages Initiative Sessions

On-line Survey

Participate Now

Indigenous Languages Initiative Background and Resources

Report on the National Engagement Sessions

In preparation for the co-development of legislation for an Indigenous Languages Act, the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) held a series of engagement sessions across the country from June to October, 2017 with more than 500 Regional Chiefs, Chiefs, Councillors, Elders, fluent speakers, knowledge keepers, language champions and activists, Indigenous scholars and linguists attending. The Assembly of First Nations undertook the AFN Indigenous Languages Initiative Engagement Sessions in keeping with the Assembly of First Nations Executive Motion, supported by the AFN Chiefs Committee on Languages and resolutions 06-2015 and 01-2015. This report provides a brief synopsis of the extensive feedback received at those sessions and summarizes the key points which emerged. The report will be used to guide those at the AFN who will be co-developing the legislation with the Department of Canadian Heritage, the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and the Métis National Council.


Canada’s Official Languages Act

S-212 An Act for the advancement of the aboriginal languages of Canada and to recognize and respect aboriginal language rights

There is currently a private member’s bill in progress through the Senate that aims to provide recognition, but not official status, for Aboriginal languages.

Existing Legislation on Indigenous Languages


Official Languages Act 2008 General Information The Act gives official status to the Inuit language, English and French. It provides for the following rights:

  • Use of any official language in the Legislative Assembly and the Nunavut Court of Justice and appeal court proceedings.
  • Anyone can communicate with or receive services in an official language from the head or central office of any territorial institution and non-head offices also have a duty to provide a service in an official language where there is demand.

Nunavut also has the Inuit Language Protection Act 2008

  • Children in grades K-3 have the right to receive instruction in the Inuit language.
  • A new Language Authority is created to establish language standards.
  • Inuit will have the right to work for the government in their own language.
  • Municipalities must offer services in the Inuit language.
  • By 2019, all school grades will have the right to an Inuit language education. However, this will likely be delayed: [click here]

New Zealand

  • Declares the Māori language to be an official language of New Zealand
  • Gives people the right to speak Māori in certain legal proceedings
  • Establishes a commission to oversee the implementation of policies, procedures, measures, and practices designed to give effect to the declaration of Māori language as an official language.

Read the Māori Language Act 1987


French and English are the official languages but services may be provided in Aboriginal languages (Language Act 2002).


The Aboriginal Languages Recognition Act 2010 The languages of Cree, Dakota, Dene, Inuktitut, Michif, Ojibway and Oji-Cree do not have official status, but are recognized as the Aboriginal languages spoken and used in Manitoba.

Northwest Territories

Official Languages Act 1988

  • Chipewyan, Cree, English, French, Gwich’in, Inuinnaqtun, Inuktitut, Inuvialuktun, North Slavey, South Slavey and Tłįchǫ are the Official Languages of the Northwest Territories (along with English and French).
  • Grants equal rights and privileges for their use in government institutions (legislature, courts).
  • People can receive government services in a language where there is a significant demand for that language.
  • There is a language commissioner and an Aboriginal Languages Revitalization Board.


In 1978, Hawaiian is made an official language of Hawaii (along with English) and the the study of Hawaiian is accorded special promotion by the State.

United Kingdom: Wales

Welsh is not an Indigenous language, but has faced many similar challenges as a minority language native to Wales.

  • The Welsh Language Act 1993 and the Government of Wales Act 1998 provide that the Welsh and English languages be treated equally in the public sector, as far as is reasonable and practicable.
  • The Welsh Language (Wales) Measure was passed in 2011 confirming official status, creating a language commissioner and new provisions for the language.
  • Detailed language strategies and related information

Sweden, Norway and Finland

The Sami language has official status in Sweden and also in some municipalities of Norway and Finland.

  • For example, the Swedish legislation applies to areas where Sami has a long tradition and entitles individuals to use Sami in their dealings with administrative agencies and courts.
  • The legislation also gives the right for pre-school and elderly care to be partly or completely in the minority language.
  • Swedish National minorities and minority languages policy

Contact Languages Staff

Miranda Huron

Justin Lovegrove
Administrative Assistant

Sonya Howard
Sr. Policy Analyst

Julia Stockdale-Otarola
Policy Analyst

Crystal Ireland
Executive Assistant

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Angie TurnerLanguages
Assembly of First Nations