What we Heard Report: Consultations on the Implementation of the Indigenous Languages Act — October 27, 2020 — Quebec
The Government of Canada is undertaking a variety of consultation activities across Canada on the implementation of the Indigenous Languages Act, with a focus on the Commissioner of Indigenous Languages and Directors and the Indigenous Languages Funding Model.
These consultation sessions will help the Minister of Canadian Heritage make recommendations to the Governor in Council for the appointment of a Commissioner of Indigenous Languages and up to three Directors. Feedback from these sessions will also inform the development of the Indigenous Languages Funding Model.
For further details and information about the Indigenous Languages Act and current consultations, we invite you to read our Discussion guide: Consultations and Engagement on the Implementation of the Indigenous Languages Act.
A summary of the most recent consultation session is provided below. The summary is not a complete account of the discussions. Instead, it highlights the key themes that emerged from this consultation session. Please visit the online consultation portal and review the discussion guide to share your own and/or additional views.
Participants Overall Comments and Suggestions
Office of the Commissioner of Indigenous Languages
The following considerations and themes were raised during the discussion on the Office of the Commissioner of Indigenous Languages:
Roles and Responsibilities:
A recurring theme in this session was concern that the Office of the Commissioner of Indigenous Languages would divert resources for expenses such as salaries, office space, etc., away from community-led work on Indigenous languages. In light of these concerns, participants noted that the Office should:
- Look at ways to carry out its responsibilities in a virtual way in order to reduce costs;
- Streamline its activities and focus on the work of revitalizing Indigenous languages; and
- Have a greater presence in communities through a decentralized or regionalized structure.
Participants also expressed some concern about whether one First Nation Director would be sufficient to represent the Indigenous languages interests of all First Nations, given the number of communities and the overall population size. Some suggested it would be good to evaluate the Office’s performance to determine if it is helping communities revitalize their languages.
Plans and Priorities and Early Successes - Office of the Commissioner of Indigenous Languages:
Participants talked about the Office prioritizing the following:
- Working with communities to consolidate existing research and knowledge on the state of Indigenous languages, work underway to revitalize languages, and plans going forward; and
- Facilitating networks and meetings for Indigenous communities and language practitioners across Canada to share information, knowledge and best practices with each other.
Many participants thought it was important for the Office to focus on gathering the vast amount of research and knowledge on Indigenous languages that’s already out there rather than to conduct further research. If the Office were to conduct further research, it should work with communities and Indigenous-led organizations to do so.
Selection of a Commissioner and Directors:
According to participants, appointees to the Office of the Commissioner of Indigenous Languages should:
- Be Indigenous and have some fluency in an Indigenous language;
- Have significant experience in Indigenous languages revitalization work; and
- Have community-level knowledge and experience.
Indigenous Languages Funding Model
The following considerations and themes were raised during the discussion on the proposed Indigenous Languages Funding Model:
Language Vitality and Governance Capacity:
According to participants, the Indigenous Languages Funding Model should:
- Prioritize endangered Indigenous languages, taking into account the number or percentage of speakers;
- Include a population-based amount, with an adequate funding floor for smaller communities and
- Take into account, and be responsive to, community-determined needs.
A frequent theme during this discussion was that the current funding levels are inadequate in light of the needs and the multitude of languages, and that Indigenous languages should be valued and funded on a basis that is comparable to English and French.
What to Fund:
According to participants, the funding model should be flexible and responsive to communities, who know what the needs are, and have the expertise to deliver on Indigenous language revitalization. Examples of the types of efforts that should receive funding under the model include:
- Immersion programs and language nests for all ages, proper support and compensation for Elders’ contributions and for teachers, recruitment and training of language teachers;
- Efforts that increase the fluency of speakers, work with young adults and parents, and incentivize language learners; and
- Existing successful programs and activities that promote the use of Indigenous languages in schools, homes, communities, and commercial spaces; on the radio; in band council; in technology, literature and the arts, and across all ages.
Recognizing that communities are at different starting points, some participants noted the importance of providing capacity-building and other supports to communities who are “catching up”. Others mentioned that funding should respond to the strategic language plans that many communities already have in place.
According to participants, the funding model should provide long-term, multi-year, predictable funding in a timely way. Some participants thought that funding should flow directly to communities and Nations, while others sought greater Indigenous control over the funding through a regional or provincial organization.
Defining and Measuring Success:
Participants thought that success could look like an increase in the number of Indigenous language speakers or an increase in general public awareness about Indigenous languages. Some participants made the link between Indigenous languages and health, and the positive ripple effects of Indigenous language revitalization in communities.
Participants frequently spoke about the urgency of the work required to revitalize Indigenous languages. Some participants thought that Indigenous languages should have the status of “first” languages, or official languages, while others reminded the group that some languages have gone to sleep, and need to be re-awakened. Finally, some participants shared that Indigenous languages belong to communities and Nations, and not to any other entity or organization.
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