By Dave Baxter
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
First Nations leaders are speaking out after learning that Indigenous languages will not be included in a federal program that gives extra cash to bilingual public servants, saying the feds need to do a whole lot more to show First Nations language speakers in Canada are “as valued as French and English Canadians.”
“Canada’s choice to exclude First Nations does not support language reclamation and contradicts the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action, as well as the Indigenous Languages Act,” AMC Deputy Grand Chief Cornell McLean said in a news release reacting to last week’s news that the federal Treasury Board has no plans to expand a bonus currently paid to employees who speak English and French on the job, to those who speak an Indigenous language.
The bilingualism bonus is an extra $800 in annual income employees currently receive if they work in a position designated as requiring language skills in English and French, which are Canada’s two official languages, and the program has been paying the extra income to bilingual employees since the late 1970s.
Expanding that program to include employees who speak an Indigenous language was among suggestions some senior civil servants and the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) proposed late last year, as a way to address language concerns they said were held by some Indigenous public servants in Canada.
But the Treasury Board said last week they have “no plans to broaden the scope of the bilingualism bonus to include Indigenous languages.”
As Indigenous leaders in Manitoba and across the country continue to look to Indigenous languages as one way to support and promote reconciliation, McLean said he can’t understand how the Treasury Board came to their decision.
“The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action outlines that Indigenous languages are a fundamental and valued element of Canadian culture and society, and are reinforced by the Treaties,” McLean said.
“The AMC calls on the federal government to fulfill its obligations to work with First Nations to protect, revitalize, and promote First Nations languages. Therefore, the Canadian government must include First Nations language speakers in any incentives to demonstrate that First Nations language speakers are as valued as French and English Canadians.
“We ask Canada to include First Nations in this incentive and reward First Nations’ language retention, revitalization, and reclamation by encouraging its use the same way it does for French and English languages.”
PSAC, a union representing more than 120,000 federal employees, says that currently, the union has identified nearly 500 federal employees who speak an Indigenous language on the job.
The union also reacted to the decision, in an Aug. 23 tweet saying, “Recognizing and respecting Indigenous languages builds a stronger and more diverse public service and benefits all Canadians.
It’s time this government walks the talk on reconciliation.”
According to information on the federal government’s website, there are more than 70 Indigenous languages spoken in Canada, and those languages can be divided into 12 Indigenous language families.
The 2016 census showed that 260,550 Indigenous people in Canada reported being able to speak an Indigenous language well enough to conduct a conversation and that the number of Indigenous people who could speak an Indigenous language grew by 3.1% between 2006 and 2016.
The Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) also weighed in last week on the decision, questioning if the feds were doing enough to promote Indigenous languages and reconciliation through language.
“Call to Action number 13 says, `Aboriginal languages are a fundamental and valued element of Canadian culture and society, and there is an urgency to preserve them.”’ NWAC wrote in an Aug 23 Tweet.
“Justin Trudeau made preserving and promoting Indigenous Language a reconciliation-related promise. What better way than promoting our language? We expect better from the government!”
The Winnipeg Sun reached out to the federal Treasury Board but did not get a response before Monday’s press deadline.
Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.