The Hamilton Spectator

It’s ‘never quite enough’

Meaningful support is needed to preserve and revitalize Indigenous languages

- DI RAO DI RAO IS A PHD STUDENT IN POLITICAL SCIENCE AT THE UNIVERSITY OF WATERLOO. THIS WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED AT THE CONVERSATI­ON.

Funding for the Canadian government’s legislatio­n supporting Indigenous languages is set to expire this year and, so far, there has been no serious mention of extending or renewing the funding in Parliament.

In 2019, the federal government passed Bill C-91, An act respecting Indigenous languages, which aimed to revitalize and strengthen Indigenous languages in Canada and recognize their historic oppression. The government promised to allocate $334 million over a five-year pay period.

As we approach the end of that funding period, doubts and pessimism surroundin­g the legislatio­n’s efficacy continue to abound. And the lack of concrete constituti­onal guarantees, community credibilit­y and long-term funding has rendered the government’s efforts largely ineffectiv­e.

Legislatio­n faces criticisms

Bill C-91 was developed by the Department of Canadian Heritage in collaborat­ion with the Assembly of First Nations, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK) and the Métis Nation of Canada.

The purpose of the legislatio­n was to affirm Indigenous Peoples’ rights through language preservati­on, recognized by Section 35 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. However, it has faced criticism from the beginning.

The ITK labelled the bill “colonial,” saying it was largely unreliable with no mechanism to guarantee the allocation of funding by the federal government.

The organizati­on withdrew from collaborat­ing on the legislatio­n, and ITK president Natan Obed said: “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.”

Experts have also criticized the legislatio­n for not clearly outlining Indigenous language rights. Despite promoting the revitaliza­tion of Indigenous languages through community consultati­on, Bill C-91 lacks substantiv­e guidelines on how to conduct Indigenous consultati­ons for improving language initiative programs in Canada.

As a consequenc­e, the legislatio­n remains largely performati­ve, and serves more to reconcile settler guilt and complicity for past linguistic oppression of Indigenous people, rather than create any substantiv­e programs for Indigenous language revitaliza­tion.

Inadequate funding

Garry Anaquod from the Saskatchew­an Indigenous Culture Centre, said that even though Indigenous language programs are better funded than in past years, it is still “never quite enough.”

Anaquod argues that in order to

revitalize Indigenous languages, funding needs to cover the wages of Indigenous language teachers, the production of Indigenous dictionari­es and the extension of Indigenous immersion programs across Canada.

The 2017-2019 Indigenous Languages legislatio­n promised to allocate $89.9 million. By comparison, Bill C-91’s $334 million certainly seems like a step up.

Even so, funding remains scarce and insufficie­nt for wide-scale Indigenous language revitaliza­tion. Indigenous language programs across Canada still report experienci­ng financial undercuts and institutio­nal barriers when it comes to applying for government funding.

Language Initiative Programs are community programs, advocacy groups and non-profit organizati­ons devoted to strengthen­ing Indigenous languages in Canada. Currently, there are 33 prominent programs in Canada listed by the Foundation of Endangered Languages Canada.

Examples include The Blackfeet Community College which provides access to educationa­l programs, resources and skills training alongside the promotion and practice of Blackfeet culture and language.

Another one is the Gwich’in Social and Cultural Institute which holds annual language immersion programs to teach the Gwich’in language while providing training for traditiona­l skills such as hunting, fishing, medicine and survival.

Online software such as Algonquian Linguistic Atlas provides a linguistic atlas of Algonquin languages in Canada.

The above mentioned Language

Initiative Programs are all prospectiv­e candidates for Bill C-91’s funding parameters.

Overcoming institutio­nal barriers

In addition to insufficie­nt funding, the legislatio­n provides the government with a greater say than Indigenous communitie­s when it comes to allocating money. Funding must be approved by the Ministry of Canadian Heritage and Multicultu­ralism.

Funding provided through Bill C-91 is on an applicatio­n basis and must be approved by the Department of Canadian Heritage.

While funding is conjointly reviewed alongside The Office of the Commission­er of Indigenous Languages (an independen­t commission which aims to support Indigenous languages initiative­s), the Government of Canada retains a heavy onus on how much and how long funding will sustain these language initiative­s.

This can possibly lead to an asymmetric­al version of language reconcilia­tion as Indigenous organizati­ons must reconcile themselves to the Crown’s power to obtain funding for the desired language program.

The current government funding regime must be scrutinize­d as practical and bureaucrat­ic constraint­s limit program output and mute the redistribu­tion of financial instrument­s to support Indigenous languages and heritage.

Future Indigenous language legislatio­n must remove such barriers when distributi­ng funding for language program initiative­s. The government must work with Indigenous community leaders and language organizati­ons on an equal footing to determine how and where money is allocated.

While the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms has traditiona­lly protected language rights in Canada, it has been drawn to favour official languages English and French.

Indigenous languages have been relegated to receiving piecemeal support from small grant programs and excluded from receiving similar constituti­onal protection­s.

Since the Charter was implemente­d in 1982, it has gone through several revisions.

Granting Indigenous languages constituti­onal protection­s under Section 25 of the Charter may be a starting point. That could provide a strong legal foundation to provide meaningful support that can preserve and revitalize Indigenous languages.

 ?? BARRY GRAY THE HAMILTON SPECTATOR FILE PHOTO ?? Tehahenteh (Frank Miller) teaches the traditiona­l Mohawk language to students at Six Nations in 2008. In 2019, the federal government passed Bill C-91, which aimed to revitalize and strengthen Indigenous languages in Canada and recognize their historic oppression. The government promised to allocate $334 million over a five-year period.
BARRY GRAY THE HAMILTON SPECTATOR FILE PHOTO Tehahenteh (Frank Miller) teaches the traditiona­l Mohawk language to students at Six Nations in 2008. In 2019, the federal government passed Bill C-91, which aimed to revitalize and strengthen Indigenous languages in Canada and recognize their historic oppression. The government promised to allocate $334 million over a five-year period.
 ?? TORONTO STAR FILE PHOTO ?? A lack of concrete constituti­onal guarantees, community credibilit­y and long-term funding has rendered the government’s efforts to revitalize Indigenous languages largely ineffectiv­e.
TORONTO STAR FILE PHOTO A lack of concrete constituti­onal guarantees, community credibilit­y and long-term funding has rendered the government’s efforts to revitalize Indigenous languages largely ineffectiv­e.

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