Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Issue 50 - Evidence - March 19, 2019
OTTAWA, Tuesday, March 19, 2019
The Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples, to which was referred the subject matter of Bill C-91, An Act respecting Indigenous languages, met this day at 8 a.m. to consider the subject matter.
Senator Lillian Eva Dyck (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: Good morning. I would like to welcome all honourable senators and members of the public who are watching this meeting of the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples either here in the room or watching via the web.
I would like to acknowledge, for the sake of reconciliation, that we are meeting on the traditional unceded lands of the Algonquin peoples. My name is Lillian Dyck from Saskatchewan, and I have the honour and privilege of chairing this committee.
This morning we are starting our pre-study of Bill C-91, An Act respecting Indigenous languages. Before we begin, I would like to invite my fellow senators to introduce themselves.
Senator Pate: Kim Pate from Ontario.
Senator LaBoucane-Benson: Patti LaBoucane-Benson, Treaty 6 territory, Alberta.
Senator Christmas: Dan Christmas from Membertou First Nation, Nova Scotia.
Senator Lovelace Nicholas: Sandra Lovelace Nicholas from New Brunswick.
Senator Sinclair: Murray Sinclair from Peguis First Nation, Manitoba.
Senator Francis: Brian Francis from Prince Edward Island.
Senator McCallum: Mary Jane McCallum, Treaty 10, Manitoba region.
Senator Patterson: Dennis Patterson, Inuit Nunangat, Nunavut.
Senator Doyle: Norman Doyle, Newfoundland and Labrador.
The Chair: Thank you, senators.
I now would like to welcome to the committee the Honourable Pablo Rodriguez, P.C., M.P., Minister of Canadian Heritage and Multiculturalism. Good morning. The minister is joined by officials from Canadian Heritage, Indigenous Services Canada and Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada. Thank you all for taking the time to meet us early this morning.
I have been informed that the minister will be offering opening remarks and the officials will help in answering questions. Minister Rodriguez, the floor is yours.
Hon. Pablo Rodriguez, P.C., M.P., Minister of Canadian Heritage and Multiculturalism: Thank you very much, Madam Chair, committee members. Thank you for inviting me to appear as part of your study of Bill C-91.
I am accompanied by Hélène Laurendeau, Deputy Minister of Canadian Heritage; Stephen Gagnon, Federal Representative, Indigenous Languages Legislation, Canadian Heritage; Adrian Walraven, Acting Director General, Indigenous Services Canada; and John Topping, Director, Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada. Mr. Walraven and Mr. Topping are here at the request of your committee. They will be able to answer questions that specifically concern their portfolios.
I also want to acknowledge that we are gathered on the ancestral lands of the Algonquin Anishinabeg.
Senators, when I introduced the Indigenous language act last month, I spoke about the urgent need for it because, according to UNESCO, most of the 90 Indigenous languages spoken in Canada are now endangered. One elder from the Oneida Nation of the Thames explained her situation this way: If the people in her community lose their language, that’s it. It’s gone forever because there is no other country they can go to learn their language, no other homeland they could visit to reconnect with their roots. That’s it. It’s the horrifying result of decades of government discrimination against Indigenous people. Although we cannot change the past, we can — and we must — change the future. We have an opportunity to do this right now with this bill, but it’s a race against time.
I’m very pleased that your committee is studying the bill before it’s referred to the Senate. I really want to thank you for that. I know it’s a bit early this morning, so thank you for that.
This law is not for us. It is for all Indigenous people in Canada and, above all, for their children and grandchildren. I will take this opportunity to clarify certain elements that were raised when studying this bill. I will focus on three aspects: the approach to legislation, funding and the Commissioner of Indigenous Languages.
First and foremost, this legislation focuses on all Indigenous languages for all Indigenous people. We have worked very hard with the Assembly of First Nations, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and the Métis National Council to co-develop the legislation over the last 18 months. It’s really the first time that the Government of Canada has engaged in such an extensive process to develop legislation with Indigenous people, and we are very proud of that.
This legislation recognizes Indigenous language rights as fundamental rights: rights guaranteed by our Constitution. This legislation implements the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, a declaration that our Prime Minister has endorsed fully without qualification. This legislation will also be applied broadly so that all Indigenous people can reclaim, revitalize, maintain and strengthen their languages.
As we move forward, we are continuing our dialogue with ITK and the four rights-holding Inuit regional organizations. The Inuit can be assured that this legislation applies to them and their languages too. Being inclusive is important to us. More than important, Madam Chair, it’s fundamental.
Then there is the issue of funding. Our objective is clear. We are going to provide adequate, sustainable and long-term funding to support indigenous languages. Clauses 7 to 10 of the bill provide for adaptable and flexible mechanisms, which will allow us to channel funds to Indigenous communities, regional and national Indigenous organizations, and self-governing Indigenous governments. All these groups are working on the front lines and know local needs better than we do. Thus, they are better positioned than we are to identify the solutions that will work best for them. At all times, we want to use the best means of ensuring that funding is given to those who need it the most, those who play a key role in revitalizing, reclaiming and promoting Indigenous languages. This base funding will give these communities and organizations the flexibility needed to distribute funds appropriately. These agreements will be entered into with Indigenous communities, self-governing Indigenous governments, partners to modern treaties, and Indigenous organizations.
Clause 9 of the bill also provides for other multiparty arrangements and agreements. It will allow agreements with organizations that are not necessarily Indigenous managed but have mandates to support Indigenous languages and cultures. This could include school boards, universities, post-secondary institutions or provinces and territories. Madam Chair, this is what we mean when we talk about flexibility, about leaving it to Indigenous people to determine the best way forward.
To further support Indigenous communities, we intend to establish a commissioner of Indigenous languages. Let me turn to this now.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call to Action 15 asks the federal government to appoint, in consultation with Indigenous groups, an Aboriginal Languages Commissioner. During our consultations on the legislation, many stakeholders confirmed that an Office of Aboriginal Languages Commissioner needs to be created. To create this position, we studied the mandates of Official Languages Commissioners in Canada, for example, in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. We also studied other international examples, such as New Zealand. We carefully noted the comments made during engagement sessions.
Among other duties, the independent commissioner will provide support like data collection, record keeping, increase Candians’ awareness and understanding of Indigenous languages, look into complaints if the law is not being followed and hold the government to account by reporting on the adequacy of federal funding for Indigenous-language initiatives.
This is not about checking off a box to say we have done it. It is not about creating more bureaucracy. It is about providing legal protections to Indigenous languages protections that have never existed before.
Madam Chair, this bill is about the future of Indigenous communities. Along with improving access to clean water and reducing the number of Indigenous children in care, this bill is part of our larger commitment to advancing reconciliation.
Last month, after we tabled the bill, we held a press conference at the National Arts Centre to celebrate this historical occasion. When National Chief Perry Bellegarde got up to address the packed room, he said, “Language is life.” It really is. Without language we lose our stories and we lose a part of ourselves. This is why the bill is so important.
I recognize that the road to reconciliation is a long one. However, with this bill, we are on the right road. Together, we will ensure that Indigenous languages are very much alive for future generations. Together, we will build a future where Indigenous children can grow and be proud to be Inuit, Metis and members of First Nations. Thank you for your time. I now welcome your questions.
Senator McCallum: I have quite a few questions about this because I have a lot of concerns with this bill. I’m going to be reading a few questions, but asking that you send the answers back in. Would that be okay?
A language that is not taught is killed. I’ve done a limited review of the existing programs, and there are so many gaps. When Canada endorsed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, it failed to implement the commitments effectively, especially Article 14 of the declaration. Under section 35 of the Constitution Act, it says that Aboriginal peoples have the right to govern themselves in relation to various matters, but the one I’m looking at is languages.
In order to revitalize the language — which is where I’m coming from, not from promotion or protection — a community must restore the capacity of its speakers to transmit the language from one generation to the next, and that has not happened so far. I have gone to Isaac Brock in Winnipeg where they have an immersion program, and they are having a difficult time in many areas.
We must also be aware of the situation in Nunavut where they have three pieces of legislation that are supposed to assist with revitalization and protection of the Inuit language: The Inuit Language Protection Act, the Official Languages Act and the Education Act. Unfortunately, the legislation created a complex bureaucracy that allows only certified teachers to teach Inuit, and it will take them five years to be recertified. The language isn’t being taught. I quote Aluki Kotierk in her speech given to the Inuit Circumpolar Council Education Summit in Greenland, February 2018:
There are 90 French-speaking students in Nunavut. They have their own school in Iqaluit, built with funds from the Canadian government because French is an official language of Canada. Canada delivers $8,189 per francophone for language programs in Nunavut, while providing $186 per Inuktitut speaker. Nunavut is home to about 90 French-speaking students, and 430 English mother-tongue students, mostly non-Inuit; and 9,300 Inuit students. It is the only jurisdiction in Canada that has a homogenous majority language spoken that is a language other than English and French.
Poorly drafted legislation can do more harm than good.
I have six questions that I will ask, but my main question is: Why is this bill not accomplishing language revitalization by following UNDRIP and section 35? If it is not, it will be just another empty box because the rights related to language are too vague and not specific enough to be enforceable and leaves control with the government. The wording is so different from the language in section 23 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees French and English language education at the public’s expense. That’s one of the questions and the concerns I have. So I’ll submit this and ask for your responses in writing to the committee.
Mr. Rodriguez: Yes. Thank you very much for the question, and thank you to all members of this committee for your work on this.
The bill recognizes Indigenous languages as a right as in section 35. I think it’s a very important advancement and key for us. We consider it a fundamental right. Why? Because language is how we tell our stories and feel proud of ourselves. What the succession of governments did to Indigenous people across the country is unacceptable. We cannot change the past, but we will together change the future.
That is why it is advancing the objectives of UNDRIP. It’s clearly mentioned in the document, and also stating that Indigenous languages are a fundamental right as in section 35.
The bill also has mechanisms and funding to start working right now in terms of funding education, trying to ensure kids are able to learn their language in order to maintain it and to pass it on to other generations. That’s the fundamental objective of this bill.
Senator LaBoucane-Benson: Good morning. The question that I have is about how funding flows. I’ll give two examples.
Language learning at the public school level. School boards would probably be able to access or write proposals to get money from the federal government to teach Indigenous language, but then those school boards that are run completely by non-Indigenous people — there are no Indigenous people on the school boards or in senior management, there are probably no Indigenous people in the lower management at the vice principal level — they will make the rules around who can instruct. They’ll place rules like, you must be a certified teacher to teach the Cree language. That means mushums and kohkoms can’t come in and they can’t teach the language. They can’t bring the culture with the language.
As another example, we have a network of Indigenous First Nations universities across this country. They are vastly under funded. They struggle to write proposals. People work 50, 60 hours a week to get funding for their university. They will be competing with the larger universities, such as the University of Alberta and the University of Toronto, where they have people who do nothing but write proposals.
How will this piece of legislation guarantee that the money flows to organizations that will ensure that First Nations universities get this money, are privileged on top of large universities, but that there is still money for other universities? If it goes to school boards, they need to open it up to include more than just language. It’s the culture that comes with the language that is an important piece.
Mr. Rodriguez: Thank you for your question. First of all, I want to say that it is not the Government of Canada that will decide what the priorities or the projects are that will be funded: it will be the organizations and the communities. It’s going to be done through agreements between the Government of Canada and Indigenous governments, governing bodies and communities.
We will provide the funding, but we will not decide what to do with the funding because we are not the ones who know what to do with it, it’s the people on the ground. We have people who are expert. I see President Kotierk right behind me and she knows a million times more than I do. She knows what is good for her community and her people, and that’s how we are going to function with agreements between us and them to do what they want to do.
Senator LaBoucane-Benson: How do you see that happening? Can you give an example of how? Is this a committee? How does this decision-making roll out?
Hélène Laurendeau, Deputy Minister, Canadian Heritage: Thank you for your question. It’s an important one. The intent behind the funding mechanism put in place is to engage directly with Indigenous organizations and, if they see fit, to have a partnership with them with a provincial institution, a non-Indigenous university or any other group. Funding will occur through them and with them so that the priorities are defined by Indigenous people, but the partnership is also defined by them.
For example, we started discussions with NTI and the Government of Nunavut. They came together to see how they could tap into that mechanism. The intention is to ensure we do not get ourselves into a myriad of proposals but to go with the definition of needs as articulated by the Indigenous groups that will approach us, at the community level, at the regional level and at the national level, if any initiative can be done at the national level.
Senator LaBoucane-Benson: What clause are you referring to in the proposal? Where would we find that?
Ms. Laurendeau: It’s a combination of proposed sections 8 and 9. I would add proposed section 10, if we are talking about a government that is either self-governing or an autonomous government. It’s a permutation among the three.
Mr. Rodriguez: That allows you to enter into different agreements.
Senator LaBoucane-Benson: Thank you very much.
Senator Lovelace Nicholas: Am I correct in assuming interpretation will be offered in the court system? You mentioned schools and every place else.
Ms. Laurendeau: The bill allows support for interpretation services. However, once again, how it will be done will be determined at either the community or the regional level because there will be various priorities. If that is a priority that is fine in a certain area, there is a possibility to fund interpretation services.
Mr. Rodriguez: I hesitated because it depends on what is requested. The bill doesn’t say “there will be this,” but if it is indicated as a priority and is requested, then the funding is there to do what they want. It doesn’t say “will” or “won’t.” It says, “You tell us and it’s possible.”
Senator Lovelace Nicholas: I asked that question because it was brought to my intention that an Indigenous family is going to court in a French region, and they are being refused English interpretation. I’m wondering if this has any effect on that.
Mr. Rodriguez: This is for Indigenous language?
Senator Lovelace Nicholas: No; they don’t speak their language because they lost their language. They want interpretation in English because they were forced to learn English. They want it interpreted into English, because it’s in a French court.
Mr. Rodriguez: This is more related to the Official Languages Act, which normally would provide access to one or the other language in court. They should have access, not based on this bill but the other act. Anyone going to court should be able to understand what’s going on. This makes no sense.
Senator Lovelace Nicholas: I don’t understand, because they are not allowing it. Thank you.
Senator Patterson: Thank you for being here, minister. I was astonished that you would say you are proud of the co-development process in this bill. As a critic of the bill and a representative of Inuit in Nunavut, I want to focus on Inuktitut and the Inuit.
As far as the Inuit are concerned, everything I’ve learned leads me to believe consultation was, shall I say, abysmal and disrespectful. The Inuit engaged in good faith beginning as far back as November 2017, recognizing the unique status of Inuktitut as probably the healthiest Aboriginal language, uniquely strong though eroding, but needing support as much as the other Indigenous languages. The Inuit developed three thoughtful documents: a national Inuit position paper on Indigenous language legislation, November 20, 2017; a draft stand-alone Inuktitut bill, August 2018; and a core Inuktitut provisions document, which was demanded by your officials near the end of the process.
This led to a series of engagements in which Inuit communicated ideas which the federal government was either unwilling or unable to provide responses to. Now, on the eve of considering this important bill — I understand it’s important to First Nations and Metis and I don’t want to speak for them — there is talk of a parallel legislative process alongside our review of Bill C-91. I thank your officials for the briefing they gave me, but they even talked about a possible section 9 side agreement. You’ve appointed Special Ministerial Representative Tom Isaac, a respected person, to work on this serious problem for the Inuit.
There were 25 amendments introduced in committee in the other place yesterday, all of which were rejected by the committee. I think this bill should be called the “First Nations and Metis Indigenous Languages Bill.” I don’t see what’s in it for Inuit. There is already a Language Commissioner in Nunavut. There is a fear that the money that is now within your department for Indigenous languages will be diverted to this Language Commissioner and the related bureaucracy.
I’d like to ask you, please, what is going on with the Inuit?
Mr. Rodriguez: Thank you for your question, senator.
This bill has been co-developed. I maintain that. It has been co-developed with Inuit, First Nations and Metis. There have been many meetings across the country. We all agreed on many things. There was consensus, including with the ITK, on this. There was consensus among all the national groups in the government on many things: First, on the 12 principles that are the basis of the bill; second, on points recognizing Indigenous languages as a fundamental right; third advancing UNDRIP; fourth, that there should be long-term and stable funding, that there should be a commissioner and that we should start right now.
We all agreed on that. No one disagreed. Now, the Inuit people want to go further. I understand that, and I agree with that 100 per cent. I was there in Iqaluit two weeks ago. We had the chance to have discussions, not only with President Kotierk but also with many of the people who worked with her, many experts on Inuit languages. We’re still discussing that in good faith — all of us.
However, that doesn’t mean that there were no meetings, agreements and consensus around all the rest, because there was consensus around the rest. It’s just that they want to go a step further. Again, I understand that 100 per cent. We now have to see how that’s feasible, because in some cases it doesn’t depend only on me. If it touches justice, education or other departments, I have to have my colleagues on board, which I’m working on. We’re meeting and discussing this with them, but I would be lying today if I said “yes” to everything that is on the table because I don’t have the authority to do that. I’m sure you understand that I have to discuss this with my colleagues. If today I could give them everything they want, I would do so because I know how important this is. But there are other players around the table, and their roles are fundamental. I will not say something that I cannot deliver.
Senator Patterson: So you’re saying that you understand the Inuit want more than they are getting. I’d really like to know what they are getting out of this bill that they don’t already have in services provided by the Government of Nunavut.
What can the Inuit do now? They lose any leverage that they might have if the bill passes, and I know they don’t want to hold up the small steps that are being made for First Nations and Metis.
If you are still discussing, for example, the provision of government services in Inuktitut where numbers warrant, which was all they asked for, can you give a commitment that there will be a time frame in which these concerns of the Inuit will be addressed? If there is going to be a funding agreement, will you commit that it be put together in a timely manner alongside the consideration of this bill over the next few months?
The Inuit, to me, are left hanging here, having participated in good faith. Frankly, if this is co-development, I don’t think a non-response to serious, thoughtful proposals is respectful co-development. I even heard that at one point the Inuit were asked to sign a confidentiality agreement where they wouldn’t talk about what was in the bill, and it was proposed they be given three pages at a time on a different day. It sounded like an extremely disrespectful process.
What will the Inuit get out of this? As you say, we are still discussing this. You have a special representative. Do we wait for the results of these important discussions before we finalize this bill? What’s the time frame?
Mr. Rodriguez: Thank you for the questions. There are many elements, senator.
First of all, anyone who was provided with the bill or elements of the bill before it was introduced in the house had to sign agreements, which is normal and also very rare. That’s why I’m saying we are co-developing, because there are segments or things that were shown to the different groups before anyone else had the chance to see it. That’s co-development, in my perspective.
When you say that it’s only language or service that was discussed, the discussion was much broader than that.
Senator Patterson: I know that. I gave that as an example.
Mr. Rodriguez: You’re right. Maybe it’s there where we can come to an agreement. We are working hard on that, senator.
The timeline is as soon as possible. We took every chance we had to meet. We even met in New York for a meeting because we were all there at the United Nations. I went to Iqualuit two weeks ago, and through this person we’re still discussing and seeing how we can make things advance.
It is as important for me, because I want this to happen, senator, but it has to be possible. I will never say “yes” if I cannot deliver. Thank you. I don’t know what else to say.
Senator Patterson: I want to see some results before we conclude our discussion of this bill in the Senate. By the way, we can’t even make money amendments in the Senate, as you know, and some of these important issues will require money amendments.
In conclusion, sir, with all respect, you said you are proud of the co-development process. The truth is the Inuit left the table midway through the process and said that the government had negotiated in bad faith.
This has to be made up in a very short time frame, or, as critic of the bill, I’m going to find myself very hesitant about supporting it. Thank you.
Mr. Rodriguez: May I say something? The co-development process brought us where we were this summer, which was the base for the bill. It has been in discussion for two years. The base for the bill was there, and then we entered into supplementary discussions with the Inuit for things that go beyond the bill a bit further, which is fine, but we have to be able to conclude those conversations.
You ask, “Is it there for them?” Right away, the bill starts for everybody. If we agree or not on the rest, this is there for them. The funding will allow us to start working right away on preserving and revitalizing language, including Inuktitut.
Senator Patterson: What’s the mechanism for the supplementary issues that you are now discussing? What comfort can the Inuit have if this bill is passed?
I don’t believe they want to stand in the way of First Nations and Metis who support the bill. What’s the mechanism for dealing with these issues that you agree have to be worked on? Is it another bill? Is it a subsequent amendment to the bill? Is it a clause 9 agreement? Can all this be done before Parliament recesses for this term?
Mr. Rodriguez: Yes. There are different options, but the important thing is to start now and have a base, and be ready to go right now and get the funding. We are still discussing and sitting down and trying to make this happen.
Ms. Laurendeau: The only thing I would add is that we had very productive conversations with the Inuit. Many of the things they are asking could be accommodated through agreements under clauses 9 and 10. There might be a few things that could be improved upon and done down the road to the legislation, but a lot of the starting points could be done through agreements, as I said, either under clauses 9 or 10.
When you are asking what can be done now, sitting down now and starting to have discussion on those agreements would actually be a very significant starting point.
Senator Patterson: Are you or your officials willing to come back before we conclude our review of this bill and report on the progress of these discussions with the Inuit?
Mr. Rodriguez: I’m ready to do anything we can to make this bill even better. I think it’s a very strong starting point. I think it brings a lot to Indigenous people across the country. I would like us to move further wherever and whenever possible with the Inuit. This is an absolute priority, not only for me but for the Prime Minister, the government and Indigenous people across the land.
Senator Patterson: Will you come back and report on the discussions?
Mr. Rodriguez: I’m open to the idea. I’m not saying no to anything. I want us to move forward with this. It’s too important.
The Chair: Thank you.
Senator Coyle: I know that was an important discussion we just had. It’s of importance not just to Senator Patterson but to all of us at this table.
I want to thank you for being with us. I believe this is a very important, historic piece of legislation. We are all very anxious because we feel the importance of it. As my colleague Senator LaBoucane-Benson said, we feel that language is closely associated with culture. It’s the bearer of culture and something we are all charged, along with you, with getting right.
My question, now that the very detailed ones on Inuktitut and Inuit have been covered very well, is about other groups. Consultation with youth, women and urban Indigenous peoples, could you talk about what you did and what your findings were from any such consultations and how those groups will be benefiting from this legislation?
Mr. Rodriguez: Thank you, senator. That is also a very important question. We have been in discussion with many groups. I have mentioned the national organizations, but there were also smaller ones. There were women’s groups.
The importance of being able to intervene in an urban context was raised many times. It’s extremely important, and we understand why. We could forget — not voluntarily — these people, and we could move forward with bills that will do great things everywhere but in big cities. We wanted to make sure that we were able to have similar programs and interventions in urban centres. That’s why this bill allows us, through the agreements, to enter into agreements with community groups that work in cities that would be able to dispense the education, training and what’s necessary.
Ms. Laurendeau: There are a few things I could add, if you will allow me. There was both direct and indirect engagement. A key component of the indirect engagement, which we don’t talk enough about, included an online survey that was completed by close to 150 respondents. We had a very good distribution of male and female; 66 per cent of the respondents were female who expressed themselves through that indirect engagement. There was also a number of people who identified themselves as being among the youth.
Among the things that we heard in those consultations, direct and indirect, was that it is very important to say that languages should be recognized as a right, which is something that the bill does. It was also said, as you mentioned, that each Indigenous language, culture and history is distinct and unique and whatever mechanism we put in place must be respectful and accommodate that uniqueness. This is what the funding mechanism is trying to do and will do once we enter into specific agreements. So those are examples of the things that we have heard. There are a few other things that I could also send to the committee in terms of what we have heard.
Senator Coyle: Thank you.
Senator Sinclair: Thank you, minister, and your team, for being here. As you know, I have a number of concerns about the legislation and I have communicated many of them to you. I note that this particular bill does not have a royal recommendation, and I note that no reference to the government’s obligation to fund language recovery and revitalization exists in the bill.
This is contrary to, in fact, the provision in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. There is a promise that there will be agreements that will be negotiated. I understand that. Ms. Laurendeau has pointed to clauses 8, 9 and 10 as a rationale for that, and I accept there will probably be funding agreements which will be arranged.
However, there doesn’t seem to be a recognition of the fact that, historically, it was the Government of Canada that effectively destroyed Indigenous languages through its actions. At present, and in accordance with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the government has a legal obligation to make funds available for language revitalization. Why is there not a royal recommendation? That suggests to me you are going to try to get the funding out of existing monies. Why is there no commitment, no statement that the government recognizes it is obliged to fund Indigenous language programs?
Mr. Rodriguez: Thank you, senator, for the question and also for your hard work and ability to discuss this. It is very important to me.
As you know, we refer in the preamble to the fact that we will provide adequate, sustainable and long-term funding for the recovery and revitalization, maintenance and strengthening of Indigenous languages. We are very clear on that. It’s something very rare in a bill, and it’s there.
It will not be through existing money. It will be through new money. Why? Because this is an absolute priority for the government. We already have a program in place, but it’s not going to take money from there or other programs. This will be new money, because it’s required and necessary.
As you say, this is a consequence of the actions of a succession of governments that acted in horrible ways to Indigenous peoples. So this is trying to do the opposite, in a way. We cannot change the past. We have to change the future.
It says here there will be stable and long-term funding. We will be able to enter into multi-year agreements, which is also extremely important, and this was requested by the different organizations. Of course, as you know, it is not in the budget. We don’t put the numbers in the bills. But it’s through documents like, for example, the budget and others, where we can get the new funding.
Senator Sinclair: I appreciate that. Just so you know, putting it in a preamble to the legislation does not make it a legal obligation or a legal requirement. So we’ll take a look at the provisions that have been referenced to determine whether, in fact, it satisfies that need.
The other concern I have with respect to the bill, and it’s contained in a number of provisions within the legislation, is the repeated reference to recognition and respect for provincial rights, provincial jurisdiction. My concern is not with provinces trying to tell First Nations communities on reserves how to manage their education monies. My concern is if there is a family in the city of Winnipeg that wants to ensure their children are educated in their language, they have no recourse to do so because the province can say no. Provincial school boards are under provincial jurisdiction and provinces can say, “We don’t have an obligation to do that,” because provinces control education within provincial jurisdiction.
So my concern with the bill is that it does not provide for supremacy of individual language rights for Indigenous people versus provincial rights over education. This is unlike the Official Languages Act which, in section 23 of our Charter, requires provinces, where there is sufficient demand, to provide language rights and language instruction to children of parents who can speak the official language that’s at issue. Why is that not there?
Mr. Rodriguez: The intent of the bill is not to be subject to the good will of the provinces. On the contrary, the bill seeks to enable different Indigenous groups, organizations and governments to define what is fundamental for them and to be able to provide these services to their people to promote, protect, revitalize and transmit their Indigenous languages. We will look at this issue and get back to you on that, senator. The intent of the bill is not to be subject to the good will of the provinces.
Senator Sinclair: There is a very strong need for collective rights to be recognized in section 35. The question that arises, though, is what about individual rights to language? This is not specifically recognized by this bill, so I’m concerned about that. That’s something that will have to be addressed.
Mr. Rodriguez: The commissioner has a job there to report not only on the funding, to go back to your previous questions, but also are we doing what we are saying we are going to go? That’s fundamental, too.
Senator Christmas: Thank you, minister, and your officials for being here. As you know quite well, Indigenous languages are quickly eroding. And I believe one of the biggest challenges today is the widespread use of modern technology, especially our mobile devices. I have an eight-year-old, and I can confirm that a large part of her daily communication is through mobile devices. Right now, in her stage of life, she is hooked on a lot of online games. As you know, almost all of those operate through non-Indigenous languages.
So given the threat of erosion of Indigenous languages because of online games, modern technology and mobile devices, I was searching through the bill to see what means are available, through the bill that would face that kind of threat and challenge that our young people face because of modern technologies.
Mr. Rodriguez: That’s a very good and also interesting question, because I have an 18-year-old, senator, and she is always on her phone. If I have to tell her to go to her room, I have to send her a text message. She’s 18, and it’s the same thing.
This has been raised during many of the consultations. We have to be able, through this bill, to support those who develop the applications so that they can have access in their own language. I have seen things done with some Indigenous languages.
Again, it’s not the Government of Canada that will say, “We are going to do this.” I would never say that, because it’s not my job to say that. But if Indigenous organizations say — I’m sure it’s going to come, because we’ve heard it — that some funding has to go to the development of applications, then it will be and it will happen. I totally understand you.
Senator Christmas: To make sure I heard this correctly, the bill will allow resources for Indigenous organizations to be able to develop or bring to development some of those technologies, games and apps that are already out there, and allow for the development of those kinds of things using Indigenous languages?
Mr. Rodriguez: Yes. I’ll pass it to Hélène after. But if it’s the intention of the people who want to do this, yes, it would be allowed.
Ms. Laurendeau: This is a very important question, senator. When we developed the purpose of the act, one of the things that was represented to us was to give very specific examples of things that were already happening that should be supported by the bill and would inspire Indigenous groups to go even further.
I would draw your attention to the purpose of the act, paragraph 5(b)(iii), where there is a reference to creating technological tools. Whether it would go as far as creating games, that would be the choice of the people who would want to see that as part of their priorities. But the purpose of the act is to make sure those examples are well supported and to inspire other types of examples. It is there as a “such as” type of thing, as examples of things that could find their way into agreements with Indigenous people, at their choice.
Senator Christmas: Thank you.
The Chair: I would like to ask a supplementary, following up on Senator LaBoucane-Benson’s question with regard to funding. I noticed in a news release from March 14, 2019, that the Government of Nunavut has actually suspended their Inuktitut instruction. One of the reasons, it sounds like, is that there are insufficient numbers of certified teachers able to provide Inuit language instruction in Grades 4 to 12. It seems ironic that the area of the country that has the largest number of first speakers of Indigenous languages is not able to have the required number of certified teachers.
In the bill, will there be funding for language teacher education, or would it be agreeable to have some sort of mechanism for certifying or acknowledging fluent elders, or kohkoms and mushums, so that deficit in so-called certified teachers can be made up in other ways?
Mr. Rodriguez: I hope it’s in there, senator. It’s going to depend on what they decide, but it certainly allows that. Actually, it’s fundamental. How do we transmit our language? Through teaching. We transmit it to another generation, which transmits it to another generation. We need more teachers. I’m sure that will probably be in the communities’ or local governments’ asks, and would be allowed.
Ms. Laurendeau: I have to say that we have been approached jointly by NTI and the Nunavut government to look precisely at this question, in two forms: increase support for the number of certified teachers but also, interestingly, to give space for non-certified teachers but speakers who can be inserted into the school system to promote the use of Inuktitut. We are in discussions. It would be nice if we could say today that we have reached an agreement, but we are very enthusiastic in pursuing those discussions. It is precisely what this bill is supposed to provide for. Of course, right now we don’t have the bill, but it doesn’t prevent us from starting the conversations in order to be ready when the bill and authorities come into place.
The Chair: I think it was Senator Sinclair who asked the question about provincial jurisdiction, and that would relate to the provincial Education Act. How will this interact, then, with the Education Act that’s being apparently amended in Nunavut? So there will be an interaction between provincial and federal legislation then.
Ms. Laurendeau: Of course, we cannot comment on what the Nunavut government does with their legislation, but we have been approached by them, jointly with NTI, to look at what can be done about that. The beauty of that particular initiative is that it is in partnership, which alleviates some of the issues that could occur elsewhere with respect to provincial jurisdiction. In this particular instance, the territory was engaging with us, with NTI, and we are very excited about that, I can say.
The Chair: Thank you.
Senator Sinclair: Thank you very much. The issue I want to come back to is what you picked up on, minister, just after my last question. It has to do with the role of the commissioner.
I’m a little concerned that we are placing upon the shoulders of the commissioner an obligation that we don’t place upon any other commissioner with similar responsibility. The Official Languages Commissioner, for example, only has to worry about two languages in Canada, and we fund that office quite significantly.
We are placing upon this commissioner not only the obligation to monitor and assist in the recovery of Indigenous languages all across the country, which number well over 200 different languages, but my concern is that we are also requiring them to start up from nothing. So whoever this person is going to be, he or she is literally starting from scratch to create a bureaucracy. This bureaucracy is going to be huge, given all the responsibilities.
Why did you not think of possibly amalgamating some of these responsibilities or learning from or working with the Official Languages Commissioner to ensure that the expertise from that office is also available to this particular commissioner?
Mr. Rodriguez: Thank you for the question, senator. You are right; that person is going to be busy. But that person will also be supported by three directors: one in consultation with First Nations, one with Inuit, one with the Metis. So there will be the national commissioner and three directors.
Their job is extremely important, as you said. It starts by helping us identify where we are in terms of languages. It’s going to help us through data, research and advice. It’s also going to help us promote Indigenous languages and the importance of Indigenous languages, and also to tell us what we are doing right and, most importantly, what we are doing wrong, whether the funding provided is sufficient, and, if not, what is the level of finding we should provide, and other actions that we are not doing and that we should be doing.
Ms. Laurendeau: The commissioner will have the authority to strike any partnership that he or she sees fit.
Part of the reason why we structured the commissioner’s office the way it is now was a direct result of the consultation we had. The structure was influenced by the engagement we had, which was to strike the right balance between a lean but efficient organization with the powers that it needed to oversee the government and ensure it is actually living up to the obligation of the act. It is a balance. Yes, it could have been cloned on the Official Languages Commissioner, but there was an understanding that we were not to create too large a bureaucracy but one that would be truly representative.
Senator Sinclair: More will be said about this, I’m sure.
The Chair: We are at the end of our time, and I know Senator McCallum will submit questions. Senator Sinclair, will you be submitting questions to which we will request a response?
Senator Sinclair: Absolutely.
The Chair: Thank you.
The committee is pleased to now welcome Clément Chartier, President of the Métis National Council, as well as Jocelyn Formsma, Executive Director of the National Association of Friendship Centres.
Thank you both for taking the time to appear before us this morning.
Clément Chartier, President, Métis National Council: Thank you. Good morning, senators.
The topic you’re embracing here today is a very important one for all Indigenous peoples and, in my case, in particular for the Metis Nation. Just to make it clear, the Metis Nation is fully supportive and encourages Parliament to enact Bill C-91. That’s not to say that amendments to make it better cannot be put forward and adopted. As we know, all legislation could be better than what we have.
This bill was co-developed by the national representatives of Indigenous peoples and nations and, in our case, the national government of the Metis Nation. I can’t sit here and speak against it, because I’m one of the creators of this particular bill, not necessarily having the pen on the last word, but we were engaged throughout. We had a good working relationship with the former minister, Ms. Joly and, of course, with Minister Rodriguez who just appeared before you.
For those who are not aware, the Metis Nation is a people based in Western Canada with our own language, culture, history, struggles — both political and armed — against Canada. Our story is not as well-known as others. If it were, I think there would be some outrage in Canada, I would hope. This includes the reign of terror that we experienced after we joined Confederation as the fifth province in 1870, the one hundred fiftieth anniversary of which we will celebrate in 2020. Canada celebrated “our” one hundred fiftieth anniversary of forming as a country in 2017.
The Metis Nation will be celebrating. I use that term with great emphasis because, up until the past few years, I would be saying marking the year. Since the election of the Trudeau Liberal government in 2015, the Metis Nation has seen an unprecedented, swift and deep relationship with Canada in terms of services.
For example, in the budget last year, for the first time in the history of the Metis Nation, we were included somewhere at about $1.5 billion. That doesn’t sound big compared to the rest of the Indigenous peoples, but for us it is a significant development. In our history we’ve been denied childcare where other Indigenous peoples have it, in conjunction with training and other programs. We did not have those, but now we have $450 million over 10 years. This is a big breakthrough for us, our families very much require this. Today we’re hoping we’ll have part two and see substantial allocations to the Metis Nation, including in the area of health, scholarships and bursaries, which our students do not get, and economic development.
I have to say, we are going to be celebrating our one hundred fiftieth anniversary.
This legislation is premised on the basis of distinctions, and that’s something I was pushing for the last 15 years at intergovernmental tables. I have been President of the Métis Nation since October 2003. Some say that is much too long, but I’ve been there anyway and at intergovernmental tables. I always pushed for distinctions-based because when we say “Indigenous,” “native,” or “Aboriginal,” particularly when the government makes announcements, it means First Nations or, in some cases, Inuit, but never the Metis Nation.
We wanted to ensure the Canadian public knew that was the case. I would have rather had them say $8 billion for First Nations, like in the first budget on Kelowna, X million for Inuit and 0 for the Metis Nation. At least people would know we got 0 as opposed to thinking we are part of this $8 billion. That is just an example.
Now, this particular piece of legislation acknowledges the Metis Nation and acknowledges a need to deal with languages, in our case Michif, the official language of the Metis Nation. Now there are fewer than a thousand — perhaps fewer than 700 — Michif speakers, all of whom are primarily over the age of 65. It’s something we cherish and want to ensure that we revitalize and be able to use it in common in our nation.
Of course, some of our people speak Dene, particularly the Metis village of La Loche speak Dene. The Metis village of Ile-à-la-Crosse, which is where I went to residential schools for 10 years, which Canada still has not dealt with. Another thing where we have been ignored in terms of restitution or recognition from Canada, including our WWII Metis veterans and so on.
We want to ensure that those languages, as well as Saulteaux, particularly in Manitoba many of our Metis speak Saulteax there. We treasure all of those languages, but for the Metis our official language is Michif. In May, in Ile-à-la-Crosse they will be celebrating their twentieth anniversary of Michif in the school. That’s a significant milestone for them.
The bill is broad and general. It’s not prescriptive. When we are talking about this, it’s quite hard to come up with overly specific things because there are so many different Indigenous peoples and nations, and there are so many different Indigenous languages. Some of the nations are on the verge of having their languages become extinct. They need to have some special attention paid in order to avoid that happening.
In other areas, as was raised this morning, for example, the Inuit still live in large numbers in their own territory, and their language is very much alive and well. On that note, I know the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami is still pushing for amendments and during the process and, just to make it clear, the Metis Nation gave our full support to the Inuit in terms of their aspirations because we believe that in such a place as Nunavut, which is a territory, that they should have recognition of their language and should have services in their language. We’re fully supportive of that.
At the end of the day, we do need to have a foundation from which to work. Hopefully, amendments that are required by Indigenous peoples can be accommodated but my caution is that we need to start somewhere. We need a foundation, because once you have the foundation you can always build on it. At a minimum, we envision having a bill that enables us to do that. The mere fact of Parliament passing such legislation, including child and family services legislation, shows that Canada is actually sincere in its reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.
I think Brian Mulroney said that perfection is the enemy of the good. I will end it with that and say that in terms of the Metis Nation, we see our government as one of the three orders of government in this country at the forefront of Indigenous languages. We will work out ways and mechanisms for our constituent parts and their communities to be able to enjoy whatever comes out of this bill.
Jocelyn Formsma, Executive Director, National Association of Friendship Centres: Before I begin, I want to acknowledge the unceded territory of the Algonquin nation.
[Ms. Formsma spoke in her Indigenous language.]
I’ve submitted an electronic copy in both French and English of the NAFC discussion paper entitled Our Languages, Our Stories: Towards the Revitalization and Retention of Indigenous Languages in Urban Environments.
To give an idea of who we are, we are a network of 112 member friendship centres and provincial territorial associations from coast to coast to coast. Friendship centres are the most significant off-reserve Indigenous civil society network, service delivery infrastructure in Canada and are the primary providers of culturally relevant programs for Indigenous peoples living in urban environments.
For over 70 years, friendship centres have facilitated the transition of Indigenous people from rural, remote and reserve life to an urban environment, and increasingly support those who were born and raised in the urban environment. For many Indigenous people, friendship centres are the first and main point of contact to find community, receive support and obtain referrals to culturally based socioeconomic programs and services, which include Indigenous language programs.
As our President Christopher Sheppard reported on May 9 to the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples, in 2015 alone the National Association of Friendship Centres saw over 2.3 million client contacts and provided over 1,800 different programs and services in many areas, including languages.
For example, the First Light St. John’s Friendship Centre offers language programming in Mi’kmaq to anyone in the community. The classrooms and conversations are recorded and available on WebEx so anyone can join, either in person or online. They originally submitted a proposal for three languages, Mi’kmaq, Inuktitut and Innu-aimun, but that proposal was not accepted. The Under One Sky Friendship Centre in Fredericton has a Take It Outside Head Start Program that takes children on the land to learn Maliseet in all seasons. The native centre in Montreal has for three years offered free weekly language classes in Innu, Cree, Anishinaabemowin, Atikamekw, Wendat and Inuktitut for both children and adults.
The friendship centre in Calgary offers Cree, Michif and Blackfoot and the Canadian Native Friendship Centre in Edmonton provides Cree classes. In B.C. they were able to secure $6 million for language programming from the provincial government.
We are here to speak to Bill C-91, An Act respecting Indigenous languages, because we are in it. We are providing language programming and we will continue to do so because we are accountable to the Indigenous communities that own and operate our centres on shoestring budgets. We offer ourselves as a mechanism.
Urban Indigenous people hold a strong connection to their identity while navigating ways to maintain cultural connections outside of their communities, and increasingly within the urban Indigenous communities they are part of or have created. Language use and revitalization need to be where the people are living. This includes in Canada’s urban landscape.
A bit about the “Our Languages” discussion paper that we submitted. We held a two-day forum with representation from all parts of Canada to discuss and contribute input into the development of Indigenous languages legislation and, in particular, to discuss the urban perspective on the state of Indigenous languages. There are several recommendations and highlights that speak directly to the intent of Bill C-91. Participants shared the challenge of learning their Indigenous language as a second language and the importance of immersive language learning. They said it must be incorporated into every aspect of people’s lives in a holistic way, and there must be opportunity to speak the language at every age through the life cycle. Strong support was expressed for friendship centres acting as central hubs for language revitalization, including providing safe and culturally relevant spaces for language learning.
This gathering provided further affirmation of how proud Indigenous people are of their languages and ways of knowing and being, and the youth shared how integral language is to their pride and understanding of where they come from.
We outlined some recommendations in my speaking notes, which you have. In the interests of time, I’ll continue to the specifics around Bill C-91.
Bill C-91 reflects the commitment to provide adequate, sustainable and long-term funding for the reclamation, revitalization, maintenance and strengthening of Indigenous languages, and that the Government of Canada realizes Indigenous Peoples are best placed to take the leading role in reclaiming, revitalizing, maintaining and strengthening Indigenous languages.
Friendship centres are Indigenous-owned and operated civil society organizations operating in urban settings. This is the opportunity to draw on the extensive NAFC network and expertise in program delivery throughout Canada. There are friendship centres in every province and territory except P.E.I., and each of them provides direct services to urban Indigenous people.
In the definition section, the “Indigenous organization” definition is unclear as to whether friendship centres, who provide direct services to Indigenous peoples, or Indigenous media organizations, who broadcast language over radio and TV, are considered an Indigenous organization. It’s defined as an “entity that represents the interests of an Indigenous group,” but friendship centres do not claim to represent the interests of one Indigenous group or its members. In fact, we represent an urban perspective and serve all Indigenous peoples and their members, whether they’re recognized by their communities or not.
Regarding the definition of “Indigenous peoples” and the reference to section 35(2), which is Indian, Inuit and Metis, the NFC would encourage the definition be expanded to ensure inclusion of all Indigenous people, including non-status Indians, non-beneficiary Inuit, including the Inuit in the South and the Metis outside of their homeland. Like all services, Indigenous peoples should not have to define who they are in order to revitalize their languages.
Under proposed section 5(b)(iii), under “Purposes,” it mentions creating technological tools, as was mentioned earlier here. The NAFC would like to encourage the purpose to expand and support the technological tools, educational materials and permanent records that have already been developed. There are Indigenous organizations that have databases, tapes, documents, materials, creative apps and so on. They have already been developed. There are Indigenous media organizations that have worked for decades and have reels of language material. If they can access the right supports, they would be able to mobilize and, for example, digitize these materials to make them more readily available to the public and Indigenous communities and organizations such as friendship centres to use.
Through Bill C-91, a commissioner position will lead the implementation and oversight. However, it’s not clear how this will be rolled out in Canada and lacks the assurance of accountability to Indigenous people. This gap leads to a potential implication for key stakeholders in Indigenous communities, including the friendship centres movement.
The NAFC will want to see direct measures clearly outlined to connect the impacts of Bill C-91 to the urban Indigenous populations, including equitable access to resources. Further, we recommend that the commissioner and three directors be given a special mandate to consider language revitalization within urban Indigenous communities or establish a fourth director whose mandate is solely focused on monitoring the revitalization of languages within urban settings.
I’ll stop there. Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you very much. We’ll now open the floor to questions from senators.
Senator Patterson: I’d like to thank Mr. Chartier for his acknowledgement of the concerns of the Inuit and support for those concerns. As critic for the bill, I totally respect that the Métis National Council is supportive of the bill.
I would like to ask about a point made by Ms. Formsma. I’m almost sure I can speak for the committee when I say that we were most impressed with the presentation we heard earlier this year from the National Association of Friendship Centres. We think they are a very important organization. We understand that a majority of First Nations people are now living off reserve. Your services are vital and impressive and should be better supported.
I welcome your willingness to work on Indigenous languages for people who patronize your excellent facilities. You asked the question about how the commissioner position will be rolled out in Canada. I just want to share with the committee that I asked this question at a briefing that I got as critic. And I was told not to worry, that this will not be a regular staffing approach for the commissioner and the three directors. It won’t go through the Public Service Commission route. We are going to consult widely and extensively with Indigenous organizations across the country to select the commissioner and the three directors. We are going to take our time to do this. The officials admitted to me that this could take up to two years.
I’ll ask Mr. Chartier in particular, having been involved with the co-development process, if your organization was made aware of this lengthy process — maybe it’s a good process, but I fear a lengthy one — to get the language commissioner and directors appointed? Were you told of this timeline of up to two years?
Mr. Chartier: That’s a direct question.
Senator Patterson: I’d like to ask you.
Mr. Chartier: I was not intimately involved in all of the negotiations. As you well know, we have officials who do that. What I do know is that two years isn’t a long time. We have waited generations to get to this stage. And even being at this stage is a success in itself.
Now, I wasn’t aware of the exact details of how long it will take. I know it will probably take at least a year, I would think, two years perhaps. But I would recommend perhaps a shorter year, but I don’t know if we were told specifically it’s going to be two years. Things take time to get organized. When you look at it, I don’t think that necessarily two years is going to make that much difference, but if we can have it speedier, so much the better.
Senator Patterson: I would like to thank you for your support for the Inuit. They pulled out of the co-development process in August 2018 and were promised bilateral discussions which have led nowhere. I have to correct myself: there were 20 amendments that were rejected by the committee yesterday in the other place, not 25. I misspoke. They believe there is nothing in the bill that addresses their unique concerns.
Mr. Chartier, I have been told that negotiations are going on with the Inuit now, that there has been a special representative appointed, that they are having discussions about a possible agreement, as allowed for in the bill under clauses 9 and 10. I know that President Kotierk is very anxious to have these negotiations come to fruition before the bill is finalized. Would you agree that we should have some clear answers about what will be done with the unique situation of Inuktitut before the bill is finalized?
Mr. Chartier: That’s a difficult one for me, because we have our own interests as well. Inuktitut is not a threatened language in the way that Michif is a threatened language. We have to wait another two years, we can do that, although that will probably mean the death of another hundred of our speakers before then and will diminish it even further. Time is of the essence for us.
We could be making Michif and Metis Nation specific interventions as well. Not speaking for anybody else, but for us we feel that what we have in front of us is relatively good. The old program didn’t really work for the Metis Nation, like a lot of federal programs have not worked for the Metis Nation. Up until now. Things are changing.
So we would want to see — if it came to it, and I hope it doesn’t — is if you want to break it up into three bills, one for the Metis Nation, one for the First Nations, and one for the Inuit, that’s fine. Then if any one of those three don’t wish to move forward at this particular time, it wouldn’t be holding up the rest. For the Metis Nation, we would want to see the bill passed in this sitting. We don’t wish to roll the dice, because we don’t know which party will form the next government. Depending on the outcome of the election, we may never see this again for a very long time.
Senator Patterson: Thank you.
Senator Coyle: Thank you, Mr. Chartier and Ms. Formsma. My question is for you, Ms. Formsma, regarding the friendship centres and two of your points on Bill C-91. I’m looking at point number 18 where you have a concern about the definition of Indigenous organization and whether friendship centres would be eligible under this bill. Have you not had a dialogue with Canadian Heritage regarding this? Could you just tell us what the status is of this particular point at this time?
Ms. Formsma: We presented before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage, and we raised the same concern. The committee had asked us to draft some language that we felt would suit the amendment, which is kind of difficult to say. Trying to craft something that would capture the essence of what we are trying to get at, I think the words that really concern me are “represents the interests.” We don’t want to claim to represent an Indigenous group. We have organizations that politically represent their peoples. As I mentioned, our organizations, friendship centres, are owned and operated by Indigenous peoples, which is why we say we are a civil society. We are peoples who are providing assistance to other people.
So I don’t know if the wording “an Indigenous entity owned and operated by Indigenous peoples” would get at that. That would be some of the language I would propose.
Senator Coyle: Did you have any response to that?
Ms. Formsma: It was just to send it in. There has been no response. I understand they are going through their line-by-line assessment of the bill right now.
Senator Coyle: Were the friendship centres consulted? Were they part of this co-development that we heard from Mr. Chartier?
Ms. Formsma: My understanding is that the co-development was with the Métis National Council, the Assembly of First Nations and the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, and details around their engagement have been discussed. We submitted the paper I referenced, and to my knowledge, that was the extent of our engagement in developing the bill.
I started in my position in November, so anything prior to that I haven’t seen and I haven’t read. When my president and I presented to the Heritage Committee, he had been in his position for quite some time and is very knowledgeable about what we had participated in. I feel like he would have told me if we had been engaged, so it’s my understanding that we weren’t.
Senator Coyle: That’s interesting. I asked the minister and the representatives specifically about the urban context. All of us here at this table realize and recognize the importance of services, in particular language services, with regard to this bill for the Indigenous population living in Canada’s cities and towns.
The second point that I wanted to ask you about is point 19, which is broadening out the definition, if you like, of those who could benefit from this. You don’t discriminate, as I understand it. If someone self-identifies as Indigenous, be they a non-status person or a non-beneficiary Inuit, et cetera, then your services are there for them. I can imagine you would not want to be in a position, as friendship centres, to have to say, “Sorry, you can have some, and you cannot,” because that’s contrary to how you operate and probably contrary to your charters.
Did you have a dialogue around this particular issue with the powers that be, and what sort of response have you been receiving on that? These two seem to be really fundamental points.
Ms. Formsma: Again, we submitted to the Heritage Committee the same comments and cautions as I have today. That was just a submission to the committee. Other than that, we haven’t had any further dialogue.
If I could just note on your previous point that we are fully supportive of the language needs within the First Nations, Metis and Inuit communities. I don’t want our comments to be seen as being in competition with that.
What we are trying to say is within the communities that we serve, we are trying to meet demands. When the communities in the urban settings demand that they really need language programming, we try to meet that need as best we can. We are just trying to reflect what our communities are telling us, and we are trying to meet those demands.
Senator Coyle: Thank you.
Senator McCallum: Thank you for your presentations. I wanted to ask, Ms. Formsma, about the comment you made in point 7, on the funding and the proposals that were denied to you. I have quite a few questions on this one.
How are you getting funding for the classes that you have now? I notice that B.C. received it from the provincial government, but what about all the other provinces?
Ms. Formsma: The friendship centres, these are just a few of the ones that we are aware of. We know that some of the funding comes from the province; some are able to leverage some own-source revenue; and some are able to, through partnerships within the municipalities, also meet some of those demands.
The Under One Sky Friendship Centre in Fredericton, the Take It Outside is a Head Start program, so I’m not sure if that fully covers the language component of it, but I know that they do get some funding in part from Head Start.
If my president were here, he would be able to speak to the St. John’s Native Friendship Centre. They have the technological component to it of where they got their funding, but I think it was to the province that they submitted the language. They requested three and were essentially told, from my understanding, that the demand for Inuktitut and Innu-aimun was not sufficient to be able to have a program, even though the community members were telling them, “We want to be learning Inuktitut.” They were able to offer just the Mi’kmaq language for now.
Senator McCallum: Despite the knowledge that there is a uniqueness of language and the context specificity of communities, including the urban where the uniqueness occurs, there is still a pan-Canadian approach to funding, and this approach blurs the distinctions between First Nations, Inuit and Metis, and does not respond effectively to their specific needs. That is based on competitiveness, because there was insufficient funding in the past.
What do you think of the proposal-driven strategy? Do you have any recommendations for us on how to make it easier for you to access funds through this bill?
Ms. Formsma: We don’t like to be pitted against our own people, because often it’s the same people. We know that there is a lot of transition of people from their communities into the urban settings and back. That’s always a hardship when it’s set up as an “us versus them” or those kinds of things.
That being said, for us, we have the network already. We have the infrastructure in place where if we were to get a national program and there was a component that said, “We’ll provide this to friendship centres,” we would have no problem rolling that out to every single friendship centre across Canada, and then they could provide language programming based on the needs of the community.
It’s not to say that we could serve every language need, but when you are in Edmonton, the communities there are Cree and Blackfoot primarily, and then be able to offer Michif as well. In places like Vancouver and Toronto, it’s probably a little more difficult to find a single language and provide those services. We would leave that to the knowledge and dedication of the local friendship centres where they know the communities that they serve.
For us, it would be easy if we were able to get something. We could roll it out across the country, and at least that’s 130 sites where language programming would be happening.
Senator McCallum: Where do you get your speakers at these sites? The schools that I have been to in Manitoba are having a difficult time because the teachers are under provincial jurisdiction. Fluent speakers are not allowed into the schools to help the teachers who are carrying out the immersion programs.
Ms. Formsma: I can’t speak to the specific language programs within each of the friendship centres. I think it’s a little more flexible because it’s a community. It would be community language classes, so the certification isn’t as key as it would be within the education system. They just find people who can speak and people who want to get together to do their best.
There was some mention of technology. I know, for example, in Toronto it wasn’t associated with a friendship centre, but people were just getting together with the resources they had available to them and doing the best they could and trying to speak.
One of the reasons First Light, the St. John’s Friendship Centre, recorded it and had it available on WebEX was so people didn’t physically have to come into the centre to access the language programming. It was available there once a week if people could make it, but if you were at home you could either watch it online live, or you could watch the webcast later and be able to speak with people.
I think the important part is just getting people together to use the language in conversation more than just having the tools available to say words like “water” and “paper.” It needs to be more conversational than that.
Senator Pate: Thank you to both of you for attending.
Ms. Formsma, I want to echo the comments that were made by other members of the committee about the incredible work we have witnessed, both in our previous capacities and certainly in the work this committee has done, that the friendship centres have done and recognizing the increasing numbers of urban Indigenous peoples in this country.
Some components of the question I wanted to ask have already been answered, so I would like to provide you, at this point, with an opportunity to perhaps elucidate further what would be most helpful from this committee in terms of some of the recommendations to assist friendship centres in providing supports for more language development. Adding to Senator McCallum’s question, what kinds of resources have you been able to use, and what would be helpful in terms of suggestions, pressure, guidelines to provinces and territories in terms of educational supports to enhance language development for your centres?
Ms. Formsma: Making sure that we are reflected in the act is important. It doesn’t have to say “friendship centres” all over it, but if there were some reference that we can latch onto when the bill is passed that says that we have a mandate to also ensure that language revitalization within the urban setting is important and a recognition that increasingly that is where the people are, that would be very helpful.
The funding issue has been brought up within this committee and has been talked about in the media, and I think that is key. People need access to supports and resources to be able to enact these Indigenous languages initiatives.
For example, the friendship centre in Montreal is offering free weekly classes in five different languages for $100,000. If you can think of any other program that can offer five different languages for $100,000, imagine what they would be able to do if they had more support. I think the funding piece is really important, as well as something that is sustainable. The ad hoc languages here and there aren’t going to bring our languages back. It’s not going to encourage people to be fluent, and that is the goal. We actually want people to be able to converse with one another, not just say specific words and count to 10.
Senator Pate: Thank you.
Senator Christmas: Thank you to both of you for being here. I have a question for both of you.
Mr. Chartier, you mentioned there were fewer than 700 speakers of Michif in the Metis community. I heard your comment to Senator Patterson that you didn’t think the language was endangered, but I get the impression that if you lose 100 speakers a year that would be very serious. Given that, what aspects of this bill give you hope or some excitement about the possible revitalization of Michif?
Mr. Chartier: Thank you. What I tried to say is that, in my view, the Inuit language wasn’t endangered but the Michif language is endangered. I based my comments on that.
I’m glad you asked that question. In 1983, I was in this building for the first ministers’ conference on Aboriginal and Indigenous rights. We were here fighting for our rights as peoples and nations. Since then we have been pushing hard for the recognition of the inherent right of self-government. Not to offend anyone here, but I think the approach you are taking right now is the wrong one in dealing with details when we should be dealing with the broader issue.
Section 35, which everyone acknowledges, recognizes the inherent right of self-government. This bill was co-developed by the three national representatives of Indigenous peoples and nations. In our case, the government of the Metis Nation. We are not an NIO; we are the government of the Metis Nation. I agreed to come to this committee, and a day and a half ago I found out it wasn’t the AFN I would be sitting with, which is what I had agreed to. No offence is meant to the NAFC, which is a service delivery organization.
It is uncomfortable for me to sit here as head of the Metis Nation government having this discussion about these details in terms of how to roll it out, as opposed to the bigger picture of the inherent right of self-government and the relationship between Canada and the First Nations, Inuit, and Metis peoples. I just needed to say that.
Basically, in terms of the Metis Nation, we have our government. I could go into what we are doing related to Michif through our Gabriel Dumont Institute, our Louis Riel Institute, our Rupertsland Institute, our communities, and all the things that are happening. Unfortunately, most of our people are urban-based, so we don’t need anybody to come to us and say they will provide these services. We provide our own services and we will continue to do that. As I stated, for the first time we had $105 billion coming to our government last year, with hopefully more this year, and we will continue building our government. That’s the way we should be going. This is what I see this bill doing in terms of Indigenous languages.
One more point on this, and again I say the three national representatives of Indigenous peoples and nations. I have no difficulty with lobby groups and service delivery agencies being involved, but we need to open up the space. Often parliament tries to narrow us down into these non-inherent-rights boxes, keeping us away from exercising our right of self-determination. We need to get away from that and start thinking more broadly.
For example, at the Council of the Federation for the last two years NWAC and CAP were the only participants there. We believe intergovernmental affairs should be representative of Indigenous nations, peoples and governments, not the service-delivery organizations or lobby groups at those intergovernmental tables as one of the three orders of government.
I see this bill going in that direction, and I would hope it continues to go in that direction and not become bogged down in who the service delivery agent involved should be. They will have ample opportunity to apply for services. The Metis Nation government may enter into agreements with the friendship centres. In my home village the friendship centre is the same people, with our Metis community and our municipal government. We all work fine together. I would hope this committee takes a broader view rather than getting caught up in these details.
Senator Christmas: Ms. Formsma, I appreciated your comments about the need to clarify the definition of “Indigenous organization” and “Indigenous peoples.” I think there is some merit in your proposal of creating a fourth director for urban settings, because you face a unique challenge. You are not dealing with one Indigenous language, you are dealing with multiple languages in urban settings. I would like to follow up on your comments about the creation of technological tools.
I want to bounce an idea off of you just to see what your reaction will be. If there were Indigenous companies — meaning for-profit Indigenous companies — who specialized in the creation of apps and games in Indigenous languages, would you look favourably at that kind of approach?
Ms. Formsma: I think technological tools are just that: a tool. It should be one of many in our language revitalization tool box. I’m thinking of the Take It Outside program with Under One Sky where they had the kids trying to follow language classes in the classrooms, and it was very hard to get the children to focus. As soon as they took them out on the land they suddenly had a lot more focus and the words they were learning had more meaning for them than when they were just sitting in a classroom. I wouldn’t want to forsake one for the other. I think that if there were for-profit language technological tools, I would want them to be Indigenous owned and operated. I wouldn’t want to see non-Indigenous companies profiting from our lack of languages. I would be supportive of that, but I don’t think it should be the only solution.
Senator Christmas: Thank you.
Senator Tannas: Thank you for being here. Ms. Formsma, I wanted to come back to what a number of us have already said with respect to the high regard this committee has for friendship centres. We witnessed, in multiple cases, those organizations in action. I think this is the place where you will likely get the best hearing for an amendment that includes reference to you.
I wanted to ask about clause 9 where it says:
. . . an appropriate Minister may enter into an agreement or arrangement to further the purposes of this Act with a provincial government, an Indigenous government or other Indigenous governing body. . .
And then it says “or an Indigenous organization.” If we simply say, “or other Indigenous organizations, including but not limited to friendship centres,” I wonder if that would open up that box to other organizations that are not governments but are, in fact, delivering services worthy of consideration and that the minister ought to think about them as he or she is executing agreements on the delivery of the services under the act. We might specifically name the friendship centres, the largest service delivery organization, in aggregate, in the country for urban Indigenous people. To me, they ought to be mentioned specifically, and if we do it that way we haven’t taken away from anybody we have simply inserted, for certainty, the work that you folks do. Would that accomplish what you need to have?
Ms. Formsma: I wouldn’t be against it, absolutely, to be specifically named within the bill. Our focus was on the definition of “Indigenous organization,” and expanding that. So I will say, “Yes, and —”
The piece I’m not seeing in here is the Indigenous media organizations. Again, they aren’t representative of an Indigenous group. I hear what Clément Chartier is saying and I don’t disagree with him, but I think when it comes to languages, we need to ensure there is a role for Indigenous civil society. Then media organizations, people who are not associated with First Nations, Metis or Inuit governments have a role to play, especially with the languages aspect.
The Indigenous media organizations have been working in language revitalization and use for decades. Look at Wawatay Radio in northern Ontario,broadcasting consistently in the languages Cree, Oji-Cree and Ojibway. Look at the Inuit Broadcasting Corporation, which is creating children’s programming on television in Inuktitut and all of the different dialects.
Similarly within the Yukon, Northwest Territories, northern Saskatchewan, all of these associations have been using their language consistently and finding the people within the communities to get the language out and into people’s ears and on to televisions so that children are able to learn. That has been picked up by APTN and now their subsidiary radio station.
It needs to be supported and expanded, and I think if we just expand the term “Indigenous organization” we would ensure we were capturing those organizations, friendship centres, and also to the senator’s point about technological organizations that might be looking to develop apps and technological tools that could be used for language revitalization.
Senator Tannas: I agree, and I think that you are being modest about the contribution that your national, in aggregate, organization makes. I respect what Mr. Chartier said, but the fact of the matter is that multiple times in your history you have been deliberately overlooked, and this is probably one time where we could make sure you are not.
Ms. Formsma: Thank you, and maybe I’ll be less modest in the future.
The Chair: Thank you.
The committee is now pleased to welcome Robert Bertrand, National Chief of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples; as well as Francyne Joe, President of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, who is joined by Casey Hunley, Policy Advisor.
Thank you all for being here this morning. Chief Bertrand will make his remarks first, followed by remarks from Ms. Joe.
Robert Bertrand, National Chief, Congress of Aboriginal Peoples: Thank you very much. Good morning, senators, representatives and guests. I am National Chief Robert Bertrand from the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, or CAP. I’m pleased to be with you all today and wish to acknowledge that we are on the traditional and unceded territory of the Algonquin peoples and their descendants.
For over 48 years, CAP has committed itself to advocating for the rights and needs of off-reserve status and non-status Indian and Metis peoples across Canada and southern Inuit, the majority of whom live in urban, rural and remote areas. CAP also serves as the national voice for its 10 provincial and territorial affiliates that are instrumental in providing us with a direct connection to the priorities and needs of their constituents.
I thank you for the invitation to be part of this significant discussion. Bill C-91 recognizes the importance of rights to Indigenous languages and links the federal commitment to upholding Indigenous languages to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, or UNDRIP as we know it, and the implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the TRC, and their calls to action.
Through landmark reports from the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples in 1996 and the 2015 final report of the TRC, we have come to recognize the revitalization of Indigenous languages as essential for achieving reconciliation. Successive decades of colonialism has led to the incremental destruction and loss of our languages and culture.
One of the core goals of the residential school system was to eliminate Indigenous languages and culture. Today, the consequences of these discriminatory and assimilationist policies is the endangerment of our languages. Bill C-91 stands as the first national attempt to enshrine the protection of Indigenous languages in federal legislation.
I appreciate the opportunity to speak to you today, because consultation on issues that impact all Indigenous peoples is something that CAP strives for in our work as a national Indigenous organization.
CAP was not included in the government’s co-development of Indigenous languages legislation with only three national Indigenous organizations. A distinction-based approach was used at the exclusion of off-reserve and urban Indigenous peoples. I must point out that the ministerial mandate letter indicated the legislation should be developed with Indigenous peoples.
CAP advocates that the diversity of Indigenous identity populations within urban, rural and remote areas must be considered when creating public policy on Indigenous languages, and we urge the federal government to engage CAP and its constituents going forward, to provide adequate, sustainable and long-term funding for the reclamation, revitalization, maintenance and strengthening of Indigenous languages, as promised in the bill.
There is a pressing need for the development and funding of Indigenous languages initiatives that reflect the diversity of Indigenous populations across Canada. The number of those off reserve, including Indigenous youth — the fastest growing segment of the Canada’s population — will only continue to rise in the years to come.
Today, over 70 per cent of Indigenous people now live off reserve in Canada. The 2016 census data indicates a stark loss of languages for off-reserve and non-status populations. Only 1.9 per cent of persons identifying as non-status First Nations reported being able to converse in an Aboriginal language, compared with 27.3 per cent of status First Nations. Only 1.4 per cent of First Nations living off reserve are able to speak an Aboriginal language, compared to 44.9 of those living on reserve.
The 2006 Aboriginal Children’s Survey also showed a trend of severe threats to the preservation of Indigenous languages among future generations. Of off-reserve First Nations children with registered Indian status, 11 per cent were able to speak an Indigenous language, and only 3 per cent of off-reserve First Nation children without registered Indian status were able to express their needs in an Indigenous language.
The data on language loss stands in contrast to the motivation of off-reserve peoples to maintain the language. According to the 2001 Aboriginal Peoples Survey, 60 per cent of parents of Aboriginal children in non-reserve areas believe it to be very important or somewhat important to their children to be able to speak and understand an Aboriginal language.
These statistics indicate the need for cultural programs, for policies and a targeted strategy for Aboriginal languages revitalization among non-status peoples, as well as status First Nations living off reserve.
It is important that the legislation be inclusive, and that the bill reflects it. It is for all Indigenous peoples of Canada. We will not be excluded based on residence, status or politics. The legislation is open to diverse Indigenous organizations, and this includes groups that represent the off-reserve and non-status people.
CAP supports the introduction of Indigenous language legislation, but the path forward must be more inclusive. At the end of the day, our constituency needs to be able to access the programming dollars. This federal commitment to revitalizing Indigenous languages must extend to CAP’s constituency: the off-reserve Indigenous peoples living in urban, rural and remote areas.
Thank you so much for having taken the time to listen to me. Meegwetch.
Francyne Joe, President, Native Women’s Association of Canada: Good morning, senators. I’m Francyne Joe, President of the Native Women’s Association of Canada. I would like to acknowledge that we are gathered on the traditional and unceded territory of the Algonquin and Anishinabek peoples.
I’m here today out of deep concern and disappointment. I’m disappointed because the Government of Canada has once again ignored the voices of Indigenous women and our importance in the co-development of legislation.
I’m concerned that Indigenous languages will not be preserved or revitalized unless Indigenous women are at the heart of the implementation, development and delivery of all language revitalization efforts.
According to the 2016 census, 205,000 Aboriginal responses reported living with a single female parent, while only 53,000 Aboriginal responses reported living with a single male parent. This means that almost four times more Aboriginal responses reported living with a single female parent than that of a single male parent.
How can we ignore these statistics? It’s clear that Indigenous women are the caregivers, the knowledge keepers and are the fundamental teachers when we pass our languages on to future generations: to our children and our nieces and nephews. If we continue to silence and ignore Indigenous women’s unique and exceptional roles as the primary language teachers of the next generation, we will fail to revitalize Indigenous languages.
You know NWAC was not a full or equal participant in the co-development of this legislation, nor were we meaningfully consulted. It is clear gender equality was not a consideration or priority. This is apparent by reviewing the witness list today. How many organizations are dedicated solely to the representation of Indigenous women?
You have the power to be different. We do not need to continue down the same broken path. The Government of Canada recently signed an historic document, the Canada-Native Women’s Association of Canada Accord, which commits to empowering Indigenous women and girls as leaders in the design and co-development of laws, programs, services, operational practices and policies.
Looking forward, we recommend that the Government of Canada make NWAC a full and equal participant in the development, implementation and delivery of all programs and services in relation to Bill C-91. Furthermore, Indigenous language preservation and revitalization must embrace the traditional ways of passing on languages from generation to generation. This means Indigenous women must lead the development of community-based language-learning programs. In fact, to ensure the effective development of community-based language programs, Indigenous women must be hired to first create the programs tailored to each community and language. Second, they must lead the delivery of these programs in their communities. This will also contribute to the social and economic empowerment of women.
Finally, we must ensure these programs are guaranteed long-term, sustainable funding. This funding must be consistent with Jordan’s Principle to ensure there are no jurisdictional disputes. As Jordan’s Principle ensures Indigenous children receive essential public services, regardless of where they live, Indigenous languages must be considered an essential service. It also means there cannot be a delay in these services because of disputes between the federal and provincial governments. Not only must this act be consistent with section 35 of the Constitution Act, but the government must go further and make all Indigenous languages official languages protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The freedom of Indigenous peoples to express themselves in their languages becomes meaningless if the government does not preserve, protect and revitalize. Thank you.
The Chair: The floor is now open to questions from senators.
Senator Pate: Thank you to both of you for appearing.
President Joe, could you outline more fully what negotiations have happened between the government and yourselves around the issue of language, if any?
Ms. Joe: In regard to languages, we were given the opportunity to engage — if you can call it true engagement — with communities, over a period in late 2017. I think it was in November or December until the fiscal year end. That was four or five months. We were limited to doing a few community-engagement sessions and an online survey. We would have preferred to have had more of a grassroots approach to this, but we weren’t given that opportunity.
When the act was tabled, we were not part of the wording. We were given the act afterwards and given, I think, 36 hours to review the act and make our recommendations to the minister.
Senator Patterson: Shameful.
Senator Coyle: Thank you, Mr. Bertrand, and thank you very much, Ms. Joe. I have a question for each of you.
Mr. Bertrand, we just heard from the friendship centres. I’m curious about the relationship between the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples and the work of the friendship centres. I’m also curious about the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples and any work that you may be directly engaged in which relates specifically to this Indigenous languages bill in the development and delivery of services?
Mr. Bertrand: I do not believe that we have any working agreement right now with the friendship centres. I was listening this morning when the young lady was speaking and I was thinking to myself that I am convinced there is so much that CAP and the friendship centres could work together on.
Your second question was if we had done any work regarding languages. The subject comes up during some of our board meetings — we call them PTOs — our organizations are across Canada, from Newfoundland all the way to B.C. Each province has their own distinct challenges when it comes to languages.
We were hoping that the federal government would include us. As I mentioned in my notes, about 70 per cent of Indigenous people now live off of reserves. Those are our constituents. We weren’t given the opportunity to go out and consult with our constituents. I read the bill, and, of course, we are in favour of it, but there might be one of our constituents from northern Quebec or southern Saskatchewan who may have brought something to the table and added something to the bill. That’s what I regret the most.
From hearing President Joe speak, I guess NWAC was not included either. I hope that answers your question.
Senator Coyle: Thank you, Mr. Bertrand.
President Joe, I appreciated your being straight up with us about your concerns on both the level and nature of engagement, as well as your concerns about the bill itself, that neither went deep enough nor far enough, if I understand what you’re saying.
You’ve got a Senate committee here, there is not much we can do about the past, all we can do now is deal with the present and the future. How would you like to see this bill dealt with by this committee? Are there specific amendments that you would like to see us consider?
Ms. Joe: Thank you. I guess one of my biggest considerations is the funding. So many of our provincial and territorial associations across this province, until February 1, were all those kitchen volunteers. We have a number of women from coast to coast to coast who understand the needs of the communities, but they don’t have the funding available.
When I was listening to some of the questions earlier about access to funding, it has only been in the last two years that NWAC hired a professional proposal writer that we were able to access more funds, but not everybody has a professional fundraiser or proposal writer. We need to make sure that the access to funds is spread across the board for the on-reserve, the off-reserve, for the northern communities and the urban centres.
Having grown up with the friendship centre in my community of Merritt, and also having family members speak the language, it makes a difference when you can speak your language outside of your family unit. Once I started school, I lost that, unfortunately. But I would like to be able to have the opportunity for funding programs available for the apps, as Senator Christmas mentioned technology, and to be able to bring it to the people, probably using friendship centres, because I have great admiration for them, to work together and have camps of some sort where you can meet the elders and involve other people who are part of your community and start learning songs, stories and prayers. It’s not just about the words. It’s about how we utilize those words.
Senator Coyle: I really appreciate what you are saying. And I appreciated what you said about the role of women and women’s leadership, specifically in this realm that we are discussing here. It’s traditional. It’s current. It’s future. It’s not just something to write about in the history books. It has got to be part of the revitalization of language, as I believe you have said. We need to see women take up significant leadership roles here. One of the things that I’m curious about is alliances. How would you see the Native Women’s Association of Canada and your various affiliates establish relationships with others in order to actively participate in a meaningful way in the carrying out of this legislation once it’s in place?
Ms. Joe: I’m quite excited about that because, as I mentioned, all of our members are grassroots members, so they have a very good understanding of what their communities need.
I was just talking to the executive director of the National Aboriginal Friendship Centres. It came up from a previous presentation I gave to the senators last fall, and Senator Dyck brought up how the Native Women’s Association and the National Association of Friendship Centres can work together very well. So we are looking at renewing our MOU. We are hoping to do that before my AGA later this year.
At the same time we understand there are different Indigenous organizations that have an expertise in other areas, either supporting the Inuit community, the Metis community or the various First Nations. Coming from B.C., with over 200 communities, there is a number of different dialects. When I went to New Brunswick, I heard a number of different dialects. There is more than just French happening on the East Coast.
We need to be very inclusive, because no one organization can protect and revitalize our languages. We need to work together in order for us to protect the languages, archive the languages and to ensure that our children are going to learn the languages just as our elders did. I wish I could.
I remember that one of the first songs was a Ntlaka’pamux song that my grandmother and my aunt, who had Down’s syndrome, sang to me. We need to be able to save those and bring those back to our mothers to teach at the daycare level, at the kindergarten level, and I think that will preserve that pride we have in our own cultures.
Senator Coyle: Thank you very much.
Senator McPhedran: My question is to you, President Joe. It is on the theme of promises and time: promises made and very little time to keep those promises.
I’m sure that you are well aware of the very powerful statements that, primarily, Senator Dyck made on Bill S-3 and the unanimous support of the Senate of her motion. That really was an alert, a reminder of promises made and the little time to keep them. I fully appreciate that you are here before us this morning on Bill C-91, on languages. I wonder if you could help this committee understand better the importance of languages in the context of sex-based discrimination against Indigenous women in generations to come. Is this pivotal legislation? What difference does this make? Please feel welcome to share any concerns you have about promises made and little time.
Ms. Joe: Since becoming President of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, this issue has affected Indigenous women across this country. My cousin Sharon McIvor has been fighting this issue since the early 1970s. It was the basis that really started the Native Women’s Association of Canada.
At some point I hope to have grandchildren, and I would like to be able to pass on that pride I mentioned in their culture. But in that culture, it’s their history, it’s their language. If we continue to postpone Bill S-3 moving forward, we need to get rid of all discrimination in order to ensure that our women are being respected by this government for the role that they have always played in our communities and in Canada.
The longer we wait, it is a disservice we do to Indigenous women across this country and to our future women. I truly feel that it shouldn’t be this hard, and I’m hoping that the languages legislation will not be as hard for us to do the right thing. It’s never too late to do the right thing. I would love to see this happen while I’m still in Ottawa. And I would love to be able to ensure that my nieces and cousins are all put on equal footing with all other Canadians to have the human rights guaranteed to them. I hope that answers your question.
Senator McPhedran: Thank you.
Senator McCallum: Thank you for your presentations. Two of my questions were answered. But the one that I wanted to continue on was about the exclusion of the urban and off-reserve populations and the female perspective of this bill.
The funding that exists now in the bill only took into consideration the on-reserve. What would your recommendation be to accommodate what would be even less funding now? You have a bigger population to serve because the two perspectives have been neglected. Do you have any comments on that?
Mr. Bertrand: Thank you very much, senator. We could recommend that the federal government include the two other Canadian Indigenous organizations in their consultations. I was listening to the questions asked earlier. The people who were here before us received the resources they needed to consult with their members. They were well prepared.
I cannot speak for Ms. Joe but we, unfortunately, received nothing. We have to work with the meagre funds we received from the federal government. Senator, we do not represent all off-reserve Indigenous people, but I do want to repeat that 70 per cent currently live off reserve according to Statistics Canada. I can assume that our organizations represent a good number of them.
In conclusion, what we are asking for is to be included and to participate in the discussions. That is all we are asking for. I can guarantee that our members will then feel included and feel that they are part of the solution to the problem.
I hope I have answered your question.
Ms. Joe: I have never lived on my own reserve, ever. I lived on my mother’s reserve but my father’s reserve was too small. My band still gets money for me and for my children. Luckily, my uncle is very open to helping us even though we live in an urban centre.
We really need to ensure that our urban brothers and sisters are not left out. I’m not sure if it’s meant to be a per capita type funding, but we need to ensure that there is some equality available to our children who live in urban centres. If we can somehow share this information, especially perhaps the availability of immersion programs — that is, if our daycare workers understand parts of the language, the songs, the stories, the prayers — that is a good start. I think we can then ensure that the funding is going to children and elders in urban centres. I think we need to pay our elders for sharing this knowledge. We can’t continue to offer them a small honorarium in tobacco because their knowledge is vast. You can’t put a price tag on that.
I get concerned when we are always looking for certified teachers and certified this and that and not looking at the life experience that certain people in our communities can share. I still believe, as I mentioned in my notes, incorporating our women as co-developers of programs and ensuring that they share this information will help them on a social and economic scale and will benefit our Indigenous women. Thank you.
Senator McCallum: I was at Isaac Brock last week to meet specifically with those in the immersion program. It’s from K to Grade 2. They have Cree and Ojibwa. I went into the Cree class. The little children smudged us. Everything was done in Cree.
I don’t know if you have in your culture where you put a string and you swing the baby in it, but they did that. Then they started to sing. I had sung that song as a little girl whenever I babysat. I thought where did I get this song from? Those girls started singing it. It’s from the Cree alphabet. It goes:
[Senator McCallum sings in Cree.]
I was shocked that it came back to me. I thought, “That’s why I did it.” I met with parents. We had lunch with them. It was all women. The teachers were women; the parents were women. They actually cried because they were really concerned that they wouldn’t be allowed to continue with their program because it goes through the school board. So I understand when you say that women are at the heart of the family.
Before I went to residential school, I went in as a fluent Cree speaker and came out speaking only English. I’m going through that language shift now and trying to get back my Cree. It’s very difficult to do, because it’s not only relearning language, it’s that conversational part that’s missing. It’s also the shame of not speaking it and getting past the deep trauma. The language programs don’t address that because they don’t address that there is trauma in here. That’s why so many of us are unable to speak it. I hear it here, but it doesn’t come out. When I try, I can’t do it the way the tongue forms over the words. I think that part has not been acknowledged.
How do we concentrate on the language and move forward with it instead of still remaining in the trauma?
I wanted to acknowledge both of you for all the work that you do and champion. Thank you.
Mr. Bertrand: Thank you.
The Chair: Any further comments that our witnesses would like to make? We have a few minutes left.
Mr. Bertrand: Again, I want to thank you for having invited the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples to your committee. I believe this is the second time I have appeared. CAP has always had a sympathetic ear with your committee, and I thank you so much.
I would like to raise a few points before I give my place to Francyne. Next month we are coming up to the third anniversary of the Daniels decision. I believe it was April 14, 2016. For those of you who are perhaps not familiar with the decision, it was a unanimous Supreme Court decision which said that the Metis and non-status Indians are now considered Indians under 91(24). It also cleared the relationship between the federal government and the Metis and non-status.
I hate to say that we have not started to engage with the federal government yet as to what the Daniels decision means. There are so many questions out there about this bill. If we are considered Indians under this unanimous Daniels decision, why weren’t we included in the discussions? Why are we being excluded from all the other conferences like discussions on the environment? There are so many of them that CAP is being excluded from. Is it possible to mention in your report what I have just said? I think that would help us quite a bit.
Second, last December we also signed the political accord with the federal government. We have the written accord, but, as opposed to the other NIOs, unfortunately, there were no resources. They have asked us to look at all these priorities, but there was no financial attachment to the accord.
All of us at CAP are keeping our fingers crossed for this afternoon, but we’ll see if the federal government takes their relationship with CAP seriously. In French we have a very funny expression:
On va voir si les bottines suivront les babines.
I can’t translate it. We’ll just wait and see if the federal government is serious about working with the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples.
Once again, Madam Chair, thank you for including us.
Ms. Joe: I truly believe that when we are looking at this legislation we need to be creative. I know it’s important for us to ensure that school boards and certain institutions that need to be involved, but institutions have not been very effective for our Indigenous communities. Institutions have not been effective for Indigenous women. We need to make sure that this act recognizes somewhere that Indigenous women are extremely important in revitalizing, preserving and passing on our languages. We know as soon as we hold our babies, you start to talk to them, teach them little words. The cradle languages are so important. It’s our caregivers, our grandmothers and our aunties.
I look back in my own past. The men are there. They are very strong. They are strong supporters of our women. It works hand in hand. But it’s the women who are nurturing the languages and really promoting that we are proud of who we are and our history. I would like to ensure that somewhere we recognize that women are part of the development, of the implementation and overseeing how this will move forward. I hope it moves forward fairly soon, because we need to. I just lost my uncle, Jimmy Toodlican, who was a very good speaker of the language. We can’t be losing our elders. Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you. I’m going to ask you, Ms. Joe, one very short question. When you were speaking, it reminded me of one time when our committee was travelling on our education study years ago and we went to Onion Lake and other places. They had a Cree immersion program. One of the things we learned was that the program was great but it also needed to include the family.
Taking that sort of model into consideration, can you envision a model whereby you have your institutions. You have your schools. But how does the family, the mother and the kohkom, get involved? With early child care programs, how does the family get involved in that?
If we are restoring a language, if you are only working on the child, you also have to include the whole family. Do you have any models in mind of that kind of situation? Let’s say in New Zealand, do they do that kind of programming?
Ms. Joe: Actually, I’m not familiar with New Zealand, I feel like there is something I should be tweaking there. My children went through French immersion programs. That started in kindergarten and went right up until Grade 12. The kindergarten teachers shared games that I could bring home. We were playing card games and learning numbers in French. There were songs for games that we could incorporate, and the mothers were helping each other. I still don’t speak very good French at all. I don’t speak French.
The mothers coming together helping each other, that’s a group that has never failed me since. It’s a different community of French-speaking families that I can see happening in our own Indigenous communities. It should be. It doesn’t have to be face to face, it can be online too. I know my Facebook community is doing pretty well. If we could be very creative and think how we are going to incorporate this, I love going home and being able to have my pronunciation corrected by my aunties and uncles. We need to think outside the box, you are right. If we learn it in the school it’s one thing, but when we are actually using it in our day-to-day life that will improve the situation.
The Chair: Thank you very much for being with us today.
(The committee adjourned.)