Question Period: Service in Indigenous Languages

By: The Hon. Pierre Dalphond

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Hon. Pierre J. Dalphond: I am asking the Government Representative in the Senate this question on behalf of Senator Audette.

As you know, Senator Gold, Indigenous peoples live all across Canada and have diverse cultures, experiences and lifestyles. Some of them still speak their native tongue, while others must fight hard to preserve that knowledge, which is so vulnerable and so important. Some had to learn English as a colonial language, while others were forced to learn French.

In Quebec, approximately half the First Nations communities use French as a first language or as a second language if their mother tongue is Indigenous. The federal government creates Indigenous programs and organizations where the linguistic realities of Quebec’s Indigenous communities are not taken into account. Because everything is done in English, the communities do not have the same access to those organizations’ expertise and services, despite the fact that we have the Official Languages Act and the Indigenous Languages Act.

How does the government intend to respond to the minority within a minority?

Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate): Thank you for the question. Today is the day we recognize and celebrate the history, heritage, vitality and diversity of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples across Canada, including their languages and cultures, which were showcased this morning in the ceremony I just mentioned.

In that regard, the reclamation, revitalization and strengthening of Indigenous languages are front and centre.

Given our history, the systems in place and the issues at stake, the challenges facing Quebec’s Indigenous peoples are admittedly sometimes troubling in terms of the relations between the First Nations and the Quebec government. The Government of Canada is working at the federal level to assess and strengthen the capacity of federal bodies to provide services and even opportunities for members of Indigenous communities to work in their language and to access appropriate services, given the challenges you’ve mentioned.

Linguistic diversity, both across Canada and in that province, is once again a significant concern. The Government of Canada is working with its provincial and territorial partners and they will continue to work together.

Senator Dalphond: Senator Gold, is the federal government prepared to work with all the Indigenous senators on strengthening the Indigenous Languages Act and improving access to services in Indigenous languages throughout the country as soon as possible?

Senator Gold: The answer is yes, and I will briefly explain how this could happen. The Indigenous Languages Act, which was passed in 2019 under this government, is landmark legislation developed in cooperation with Indigenous partners. It is being implemented in an ongoing partnership with Indigenous peoples who know best what they need to revitalize their languages.

The Government of Canada recognizes the importance of listening and following the lead of its Indigenous partners with respect to their linguistic priorities. Furthermore, I note that section 49 of this act requires a three-year independent review of the provisions and administration of this act, agreements made with Indigenous governments and organizations and provincial and territorial governments to coordinate efforts to support Indigenous languages in Canada.

I believe that work is under way in that area and that the person or body chosen in consultation with the Office of the Commissioner of Indigenous Languages is required to consult Indigenous governments and organizations about the findings and recommendations.

In addition, my staff and I are offering to those interested — I have already mentioned it to one of your colleagues who is not here today, so I will not name her — to work with them, as well as with all senators, to advance this very important file.

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