Inuit say Liberals’ Indigenous languages law: ‘a gesture’

OTTAWA- The federal government tabled a new bill aimed at reviving and maintaining Indigenous languages in Canada but it doesn’t go far enough says a national Inuit organization
A national Inuit organization says it is disappointed in the Liberals’ new legislation meant to protect Indigenous languages.
The Liberals tabled Bill C-91 Tuesday, two years after promising a law to promote Indigenous languages, which Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez says are on the verge of disappearing without mechanisms for revitalizing them.
The bill creates a new Office of the Commissioner of Indigenous Languages.
The new Office of the Commissioner of Indigenous Languages will be mandated to support Indigenous efforts to protect their languages; to promote public awareness about Indigenous languages; to study and research funding for services; and annually report on the vitality of Indigenous languages in Canada and how effective the government’s efforts are.
The bill pledges long-term funding for Indigenous languages, and to create a federal commissioner of Indigenous languages.
The bill includes measures to support and promote the use of Indigenous languages and to fund measures to do so, including making it so that federal institutions to better facilitate the use of Indigenous languages, including having documents translated or providing Indigenous interpretation.
It also vows to support Indigenous people with the creation of educational material like audio and video recordings of fluent speakers, written lexicons and dictionaries, and permanent records of Indigenous languages.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the new co-developed Indigenous languages bill introduced by his government is about “strengthening” Indigenous culture.
He told reporters on Tuesday that many of the Indigenous languages in Canada are considered endangered.
While the Assembly of First Nations and Metis National Council are calling the bill a landmark piece of legislation, the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami is calling the bill a symbolic gesture from a “colonial system.’’
Natan Obed, ITK president, says the Liberals’ legislation lacks any Inuit-specific content and doesn’t address Inuit rights to speak their traditional language, or help revive and promote its use.
“Despite being characterized as a reconciliation and co-development initiative, the Government of Canada engaged Inuit in bad faith throughout this legislative initiative,” he said in a statement.
“The absence of any Inuit-specific content suggests this bill is yet another legislative initiative developed behind closed doors by a colonial system and then imposed on Inuit,” Obed said. ITK called the new commissioner role “powerless.”
ITK had sought an Inuktitut-specific standalone bill, or specific provisions in the legislation tabled Tuesday. That did not happen.
The government has touted Bill C-91 as being developed in collaboration with Indigenous people, including more than 50 “engagement sessions” across Canada, attended by more than 1,200 people.
The Indigenous Languages Act will now work its way through the legislative process with the goal of turning it into law before the House of Commons rises in June and an election campaign takes over federal politics. The government says it will work with Indigenous groups as itmakes it way through the legislative process through the House and Senate or die on the order paper for the next government to revide or not.
Other Indigenous stakeholders were more positive about the new legislation. Rodriguez was joined on stage by Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde and Métis National Council’s Clara Morin-Dal Col in making the announcement.
Bellegarde called the bill “landmark legislation” and said Indigenous languages are fundamental to First Nations’ identity.
“We need to put the same amount of time and energy into revitalizing our languages as Canada put into trying to eliminate them, and today there is hope,” Bellegarde said.
Morin-Dal Col described the bill as a “giant first step,” towards addressing the longstanding struggle to preserve Indigenous languages.
“The last time the Metis nation participated in the shaping of federal legislation was 1870,” she said.
The bill comes after the government promised to create new legislation to promote Indigenous languages early in its mandate.
“I am deeply pleased today that we’ll be putting forward Indigenous languages legislation that we worked on with Indigenous peoples. It’s a way to strengthen their culture, recognize their identity, their language and make sure that we’re strengthening it for years to come,” Trudeau said on his way into a cabinet meeting.
The bill is meant to implement some of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action and parts of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Last year, after a House of Commons committee called for better accommodation of Indigenous languages in Parliament. As part of that report, it was noted that Census data shows a decline in the number of people with an Indigenous mother tongue, and Indigenous language knowledge.
The report notes the average age of people with an Indigenous mother tongue was 36.7 years in 2016, a nine year jump since 1981.
There are 58 distinct Indigenous languages in Canada, comprising more than 90 distinct dialects. Of these languages, only six have more than 10,000 people who report it as their mother tongue: the Cree languages, Dene, lnnu, lnuktitut, Ojibway and Oji-Cree.

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