Liv­ing languages Where the Canada’s first tongues are be­ing spo­ken today T

Canadian Geographic - - CONTENTS - Bonus: Pull-out In­dige­nous languages poster, with es­say by Wade Davis

Ex­plor­ing car­tog­ra­phy

These are the languages of the land be­neath your feet. The most re­cent Statis­tics Canada cen­sus data re­veals the coun­try’s In­dige­nous lin­guis­tic land­scape, the places where 60 languages be­long­ing to 12 over­ar­ch­ing fam­i­lies — Inuit, 10 First Na­tions and Michif (Métis) — are be­ing used now. Most of these have been spo­ken, and have been evolv­ing, for thou­sands of years — far longer than English or French. The data used for this map* il­lus­trates “Abo­rig­i­nal lan­guage spo­ken at home,” ei­ther as a first or sec­ondary lan­guage. In Canada, nearly 229,000 peo­ple rely on one or more of these languages, in­clud­ing those who have re­tained their mother tongue, who have be­come flu­ent in their an­ces­tral lan­guage later in life, or who have learned the languages of the In­dige­nous com­mu­nity or re­gion they even­tu­ally set­tled in. The pre­car­i­ous state of many of Canada’s orig­i­nal languages is well doc­u­mented. The UNESCO At­las of the World’s Languages in Dan­ger project re­ports that three-quar­ters of the na­tion’s In­dige­nous languages are “def­i­nitely,” “se­verely” or “crit­i­cally” en­dan­gered. The rest are clas­si­fied as “vul­ner­a­ble/ un­safe.” Today, only Cree, Inuk­ti­tut and Ojibwa are thought to have enough speak­ers to be sus­tained in­def­i­nitely. Res­i­den­tial schools sev­ered languages across gen­er­a­tions, while the re­serve sys­tem and other colo­nial poli­cies di­vided com­mu­ni­ties from oth­ers with shared languages and tra­di­tions. The af­ter­math in­cludes on­go­ing, wide­spread lan­guage loss and in­jury to cul­ture, per­sonal iden­tity and com­mu­nity health. Of Canada’s ap­prox­i­mately 1.5 mil­lion In­dige­nous peo­ple, just 15 per cent speak their her­itage languages at home. Statis­tics can look grim, but a richer, more nu­anced story is hid­den within the num­bers, says Onowa Mcivor, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of In­dige­nous ed­u­ca­tion at the Univer­sity of Vic­to­ria and an ex­pert in lan­guage re­vi­tal­iza­tion. She was an adult learner of ne­hîyawîwin (Swampy Cree), the lan­guage of her ma­ter­nal grand­par­ents in north­ern Man­i­toba, and there are oth­ers do­ing like­wise. “In my life­time,” she says, “I’m see­ing new gen­er­a­tions born and raised as first lan­guage speak­ers be­cause their par­ents took it upon them­selves to learn their lan­guage.” The Univer­sity of Vic­to­ria is home to na­tion­ally renowned un­der­grad­u­ate and grad­u­ate pro­grams based on In­dige­nous lan­guage re­vi­tal­iza­tion, and Mcivor points to nu­mer­ous ex­am­ples of suc­cess across the coun­try: on-re­serve and ur­ban­cen­tre adult lan­guage so­ci­eties, grade-school im­mer­sion and bilin­gual pro­gram­ming, and “lan­guage nests,” which are ear­ly­child­hood im­mer­sion pro­grams guided by older speak­ers. With leg­is­la­tion, strong poli­cies to sup­port its im­ple­men­ta­tion and sta­ble fund­ing, many of the coun­try’s orig­i­nal tongues can be re­ju­ve­nated and be­come part of the fab­ric of wider so­ci­ety. To that end, the 2017 fed­eral bud­get ded­i­cated $90 mil­lion to help “pre­serve, pro­tect and re­vi­tal­ize In­dige­nous languages and cul­tures.” The fed­eral gov­ern­ment has also promised to pass an In­dige­nous languages act by 2018 — the first step in of­fer­ing any level of pro­tec­tion for Canada’s In­dige­nous languages. This is not just an In­dige­nous is­sue, says Mcivor: all Cana­di­ans can ben­e­fit from the re­vi­tal­iza­tion of In­dige­nous languages. “If you call your­self Cana­dian, then In­dige­nous languages are part of your her­itage, even if you aren’t In­dige­nous your­self.” Dur­ing early set­tle­ment, she says, Canada was for a time a mul­ti­lin­gual na­tion that in­cluded Euro­peans learn­ing and speak­ing In­dige­nous languages as well as their own languages. “Let’s cel­e­brate that and be re­minded of that his­tory, be­cause it pre­dates a 150-year an­niver­sary. That is the real foun­da­tion of Canada.”

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