Languages and Culture
On June 21, 2019, the Indigenous Languages Act received Royal Assent. 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, maintain and normalize First Nations languages.
The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) Languages and Culture Sector supports Chiefs, Technicians and First Nations in advocating for First Nations language and culture rights. The AFN, along with the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the Métis National Council, and the Department of Canadian Heritage, work towards the full implementation of the Indigenous Languages Act at the Joint Implementation Steering Committee. The Act received Royal Assent on June 21, 2019. The purpose of the Act is to support the reclamation, revitalization, maintaining and strengthening of Indigenous languages in Canada. Key objectives that derive from the Act include, ensuring that First Nations have adequate, sustainable, and long-term funding and support for First Nations led initiatives.
Our languages allow us to share and communicate culture, world views, knowledge systems, values, traditions, customs, history, spirituality, and social and political identity to future generations. Our languages are living; they come from the land and they’re integral to our sense of self and a key aspect of self-determination. Despite their importance, all Indigenous languages in Canada are in danger of disappearing.
After years of advocacy by First Nations, the Government of Canada now has a legislated commitment to respecting Indigenous languages. The purpose of the Indigenous Languages Act is to enable the exercise of Indigenous language rights by creating legal assurance for adequate, sustainable, and long-term funding and support for Indigenous-led initiatives to reclaim, revitalize, maintain, and strengthen Indigenous languages.
The Notice of Opportunity for the Commissioner and Directors for the Office of the Commissioner of Indigenous Languages is live! Applications are due on January 25, 2021 and will be reviewed by a Selection Committee until appropriate candidates are identified.
For more information please visit: GIC – Commissioner and Director, Office of the Commissioner of Indigenous 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.
Why First Nations Traditions, Language and Knowledge Matter More Than EverDr. Dan Longboat, Roronhiakewan – “He Clears the Sky” – is the founding Director of Trent University’s Indigenous Environmental Studies and Sciences Program – the first of its kind in North America.
Reviving and Revitalizing Indigenous Languages w/ Dr. Lorna WilliamsWhat is the state of First Nations languages in Canada? One of the leading experts on the promotion and restoration of Indigenous culture and language, Dr Lorna Wanosts’a7 Williams of the University of Victoria, joins the Ahkameyimok Podcast to discuss that ahead of the Symposium on Indigenous Languages hosted by Canadian Heritage on January 25th.
Indigenous Languages Act
Department of Canadian Heritage Consultations on the Implementation of the Act
The government of Canada is undertaking online engagement sessions across Canada on the implementation of the Indigenous Languages Act, with an initial focus on: the Commissioner of Indigenous Languages and Directors, and the Indigenous Languages Funding Model.
Chiefs are being invited to participate in the consultations or their delegates, with up to 2 from each First Nation. Indigenous language organizations are also invited to participate.
If you are unable to participate in a regional session you can participate by filling out the questionnaire below:
An Act Respecting Indigenous Languages
What does this mean for you?
The AFN has put together a guide for First Nations Rightsholders, language experts and language entities (organizations) looking to start, or already involved in, Indigenous-led language revitalization activities. It provides an overview of the background, the Act itself, and your role in First Nations language revitalization.
Assembly of First Nations Reports and Resources
Whether your First Nations is at the beginning of your language revitalization journey, or has already begun it, we know this work can be challenging. This toolkit provides an overview of various resources and tools that might be useful to your First Nation as you set language revitalization goals and think about what is most needed for you to achieve them.
The Assembly of First Nations is working to spread the word about the importance of First Nations language education and revitalization, and has put together a guide of individuals, First Nations, language experts and language entities (organizations) looking to start, or already involved in, Indigenous-led language revitalization activities.
This toolkit is designed to help you share this information with your networks and talk about the importance of revitalizing First Nations languages.
On October 17th and 18th 2020, AFN held a National Youth Gathering. Spirit Speakers, Our Languages, Our Future was held virtually via Zoom with youth from across Canada. See what the youth had to say about Indigenous language revitalization in the report below.
Report on the 2017 Indigenous Languages
Initiative 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.
AFN Letters and Resolutions
- Assembly of First Nations Resolution on Revitalization of Indigenous Languages (Resolution no. 06/2015)
- Assembly of First Nations Resolution endorsing the TRC Calls to Action (Resolution no. 01/2015)
- Support for continued co-development work on the Indigenous Languages Act (Resolution 77/2017)
- Demarcation of Indigenous Language Signs on Traditional and Ancestral Lands (Resolution 42/2019)
How can I support AFN’s work on Indigenous languages?
- Help spread the word and share information about the Act with your networks
- Share tools and resources for learning Indigenous languages
- Check out the above guide and learn more about starting your own language plan, building capacity, doing a language assessment/environmental scan, and develop your own local language legislation and/or policies.
Join the conversation
Share your needs for First Nations languages success
Background information and resources
- AFN-Archipel Language Learning Report
- Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action (2015)
- Towards a New Beginning: A Foundational Report for a Strategy to Revitalize First Nation, Inuit and Métis Cultures; Report to the Minister of Canadian Heritage by the Task Force on Languages and Cultures (2005)
- Final Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (1996)
- Guide to the Canadian House of Commons – (page 11: How a Bill Becomes Law: The Legislative Process) (2016)
- Indigenous Languages Recognition, Preservation and Revitalization; A Report on the National Dialogue Session on Indigenous Languages (2016)
- A Guide to Language Policy and Planning for B.C. First Nations Communities
- The Report on the Status of B.C. First Nations Languages 2018, Third Edition
- United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
- International Year of Indigenous Languages 2019
- United Nations Decade of International Indigenous Languages
- Report of the 15th Session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues
- United Nations Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: Study on the role of languages and culture in the promotion and protection of the rights and identity of Indigenous Peoples (2012)
- United Nations Report of the international expert group meeting on indigenous languages (2008)
The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau
Key Speeches and Mandate Letters
Canada’s Official Languages Act
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]
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.
- 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.
- 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.
In 1978, Hawaiian is made an official language of Hawaii (along with English) and the study of Hawaiian is accorded special promotion by the State.
- Hawaii Public Schools frameworkrelated to the indigenous language and culture of Hawaii
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
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