The Government has committed to fully implementing the Indigenous Languages Act in order to preserve, promote and revitalize Indigenous languages in Canada, with long-term predictable and sufficient funding to support the implementation of the Act.
B. Background and Current Status
On June 21, 2019, the Indigenous Languages Act (the Act) received Royal Assent, with the overall purpose of supporting the efforts of Indigenous Peoples to reclaim, revitalize, maintain and strengthen Indigenous languages.
The Act responds to Calls to Action 13, 14 and 15 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, and was developed with First Nations, Inuit and the Métis Nation following extensive engagement and collaborative development work. The Act contributes to the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as it relates to Indigenous languages.
The Act contains mechanisms to:
Seek to establish measures that facilitate the provision of adequate, sustainable and long-term funding for the reclamation, revitalization, maintenance and strengthening of Indigenous languages;
Establish an Office of the Commissioner of Indigenous Languages, including the appointment of a Commissioner and three Directors of Indigenous Languages;
Provide for agreements or arrangements under Sections 8 and 9 to support Indigenous language revitalization and preservation with Indigenous governments or organizations and provinces and territories including in areas of provincial/territorial jurisdiction;
Facilitate meaningful opportunities for Indigenous governments and other Indigenous governing bodies and Indigenous organizations to collaborate in policy development related to the implementation of this Act; and
Outline federal institutions’ role in providing access to services in Indigenous languages where capacity and demand exists, subject to established regulations or agreements.
Budget 2019 provided $333.7 million over five years and $115.7 million on going to support the reclamation, revitalization, maintenance, and strengthening of Indigenous languages and the implementation of the Act. This can be further broken down as: 2019/2020 ($15 million); 2020/2021 ($44.1 million); 2021/2022 ($71.6 million); 2022/2023 ($87.2 million); and 2023/2024 ($115.7 million – ongoing).
These funds are in addition to existing funds that support Northern Aboriginal Broadcasting ($8 million/year) and three Territorial Language Agreements (annual total $12.1 million – Nunavut $5.1 million, North West Territory $5.9 million & Yukon $1.1 million).
Indigenous Languages and Culture Program (ILCP)
The ILCP is comprised of the following:
Indigenous Languages Component: project funding for community-driven activities to support the reclamation, revitalization, maintenance and strengthening of Indigenous languages.
Territorial Languages Agreements: supports Territorial Governments for the delivery of services in Indigenous Languages.
Northern Aboriginal Broadcasting: funds Indigenous broadcasting societies to produce and distribute Indigenous radio and video content in the North.
National Indigenous Peoples Day: supports activities around National Indigenous Peoples Day, June 21, so that Canadians can recognize and celebrate the unique heritage, diversity of cultures and exceptional contributions of First Nations, Inuit and Métis.
Scholarship and Youth Initiatives and the National Aboriginal Achievement Awards (Indspire): supports scholarships, career fairs and youth initiatives that aim to improve skills, knowledge and leadership while enhancing cultural identity.
ILCP funding will also support the Office of the Commissioner of Indigenous Languages mandated to support the efforts of Indigenous Peoples to reclaim, revitalize, maintain, and strengthen Indigenous languages, promote Indigenous languages, support innovative projects, conduct or support research or studies and facilitate the resolution of disputes and complaints.
The Act allows for agreements under Sections 8 and 9 of the Act between the Crown, Indigenous governments, provinces and territories to support Indigenous language revitalization and preservation. Two Pathfinder Agreements with Indigenous groups are being piloted:
Up to $6 million over six years to fund the Nisga'a Lisims government's language revitalization plan, which includes gathering and collecting information on Nisga’a language, culture and traditional practices to assist Nisga’a Nation efforts to maintain and strengthen the Nisga’a language within the Nation.
In collaboration with the Government of Nunavut (GN) and Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated (NTI), up to $42 million over five years to support, revitalize and strengthen Inuktut in Nunavut by increasing access to Inuktut-language instruction, maintaining the number of proficient Inuktut-speaking Inuit educators, creating support mechanisms for educators and establishing the Nunavut Partnership Table on Language and Education.
To date, Canadian Heritage has introduced a number of changes to its Indigenous languages programming including introducing: fixed contribution agreements with carry forward funding; new grant agreements up to $150,000; two year multi-year agreements as a transitional step; and increased flexibility.
For the first time in the history of this funding program, PCH established distinctions-based Indigenous Review Committees to make recommendations to PCH on applications for program funding. These committees were established with the support of the three National Indigenous Organizations, and include a First Nation, Métis Nation and Inuit Review Committee.
With the investment made in Budget 2019, in 2020-2021, the government was able to fund language activities for 372 Indigenous communities, organizations and other applicants, more than ever before.
On December 13, 2019, the Minister of Canadian Heritage was mandated by the Prime Minister to “continue to fully implement the Act in order to preserve, promote and revitalize Indigenous languages in Canada, with long-term predictable and sufficient funding to support the implementation of the Act”.
A Joint Implementation Steering Committee has been established for the purpose of working collaboratively on the implementation of the Act. The Committee is comprised of representatives of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), Inuit Tapiriit Kanatamii (ITK), the Métis National Council (MNC) and PCH.
In addition, PCH is also reaching out to self-governing Nations, other Indigenous governing bodies, organizations, other federal departments and provinces and territories in a collaborative approach to implementing the Act.
The Act includes an obligation for the Government of Canada to consult with Indigenous Peoples on a numbers of areas, such as funding, appointments to the Office of the Commissioner of Indigenous Languages and regulations.
From September to December 2020, 26 virtual consultation sessions on the implementation of the Act were held with Indigenous Peoples across Canada on the appointments to the Office of the Commissioner of Indigenous Languages and on a funding model for Indigenous Languages. Approximately 500 First Nations, Métis Nation, Inuit, and urban Indigenous participants shared their perspectives in the consultation sessions that were held in all regions.
PCH is currently drafting the consultation report and will continue to work with Joint Implementation Steering Committee partners to complete the final report. Moreover, work with partners continues to develop a distinctions-based funding model that will respond to the unique needs of First Nation, Inuit and the Métis Nation.
Office of the Commissioner of Indigenous Languages
The establishment of the Office of the Commissioner of Indigenous Languages achieves a concrete milestone in the implementation of the Act. The Commissioner and Directors will provide important support to Indigenous Peoples in advancing their language goals.
Under the Act, the Office has the mandate to support the efforts of Indigenous Peoples to reclaim, revitalize, maintain and strengthen their languages; provide culturally appropriate dispute resolution services and review complaints; promote public awareness of the richness and diversity of Indigenous peoples; support research, innovation and the use of new technologies; and provide an annual report on the use and vitality of Indigenous languages in Canada and the adequacy of funding provided by the Government of Canada for initiatives related to Indigenous languages.
The appointment process is led by the Privy Council Office, and includes the establishment of a Selection Committee to assess and identify highly qualified candidates. A modified Selection Committee has been established that includes First Nation, Inuit and Métis Nation representatives to reflect the unique nature, scope and role of the Office and the Commissioner and Directors. This will ensure the selection of the Commissioner and Directors is directly informed by Indigenous perspectives.
The selection process for the Commissioner and Directors of the Office of the Commissioner of Indigenous Languages is underway, and the Government of Canada is working towards appointing the Commissioner and up to three Directors as quickly as possible this spring.
Canadian Heritage organized in collaboration with the AFN, ITK and MNC the virtual Symposium on Indigenous Languages Building on Strengths and Successes in January 2021. The Symposium was attended by more than 300 participants, and provided a forum to discuss the Office of the Commissioner, funding models for Indigenous languages, best practices and the upcoming International Decade on Indigenous Languages.
Canada is currently a member of the Global Task Force (GTF), the governance mechanism for the 2022-2032 International Decade of Indigenous Languages, under the leadership of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Three Indigenous representatives from Canada are also members of the GTF whose first task is to finalize the Global Action Plan for the Decade.
C. Strategic Considerations
Indigenous languages are fundamental to Indigenous identities, cultures, spirituality, and self-determination as well as relationships with the land and to the world. Yet the majority of Indigenous languages are in a state of endangerment in Canada.
The Act and its implementation are milestones on the road to reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples. It is a concrete response to the urgent need for action to support the reclamation, revitalization, maintenance and strengthening Indigenous languages spoken in Canada.
Indigenous Peoples and stakeholders have raised concerns that the funds allocated are not sufficient for the preservation, promotion and revitalization of Indigenous languages.
The recent release of the Government of Canada’s vision for official languages reform aimed at modernizing and strengthening the Official Languages Act and its related instruments has drawn criticism from some Indigenous Peoples, who would have liked to have seen the Indigenous Languages Act recognize Official Language status for Indigenous Languages.
Efforts to implement the Indigenous Languages Act are currently focused on the appointment of the Commissioner and Directors of Indigenous Languages, and on the development of an Indigenous Languages Funding Model to facilitate the provision of adequate sustainable and long-term funding. This focus is expected to expand in the coming fiscal year to include exploring the development of regulations around service provision in Indigenous Languages, as set out in the Act.