Welcome to meeting number 46 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs.
We acknowledge that we are meeting on the unceded territory of the Algonquin and Anishinabe people.
Today we are beginning our study on indigenous languages.
We are pleased to welcome Blaire Gould, who is the executive director of Mi'kmaw Kina'matnewey, as well as Gerry Guillet, who is here in person, who is the director of education at the Athabasca Denesuline Education Authority. Welcome to both of you.
Just before we get going, I'll make the usual introductory comments.
Please wait until I recognize you by name before speaking. For those participating by video conference, click on the microphone icon to activate your mike, and please mute yourself when you are not speaking.
For interpretation, those using Zoom can choose floor audio, English or French using the little globe icon at the bottom of the screen. Those in the room can use the headset and select their preferred channel. When questions are asked in Inuktitut, choose the interpretation language of your choice.
I will remind you that all comments should be addressed through the chair. For members in the room, if you wish to speak, please raise your hand. For members on Zoom, please use the “raise hand” function. The clerk and I will manage the speaking order as well as we can.
Each witness will have five minutes for opening remarks. We will start with Ms. Blaire Gould.
Ms. Gould, if you are ready, the floor is yours for the next five minutes.
[Witness spoke in Mi’kmaq and provided the following text:]
Wela'lioq, ta'n tel pekitimioq.
[Witness provided the following translation:]
Thank you for inviting me here today.
I had certainly hoped to be there in person, but maybe next time.
Mi'kmaq language has been on a decline over the last number of decades.
In comparative studies done in 1999 and 2013 by Mi'kmaw Kina'matnewey, language data in age populations found that generally the population aged 40 and above are not in an immediate threat to their understanding and speaking of Mi'kmaq; however, those 30 and under were faced with a sudden decrease in the population of speakers, but generally had a good range of people who understood Mi'kmaq. They were not able to speak it but were able to understand. Those under the age of 20—from zero to 20—were dangerously low in both the population of speakers and those who understood Mi'kmaq. We projected some linear and exponential data bringing us to 13 years later from 2013, and we predict certainly a bigger decline in those populations of speakers.
We try to project our data and our discussion with community around the realities of this data and where we sit today from where we sat in 2013. I indicated to communities that if nothing changes, this is the predicted decline, and much of it is critical. A lot of it, especially for those zero to 12, is “sleeping”, meaning that there are no active speakers in those age populations.
Mi'kmaw Kina'matnewey, along with communities, implemented quick measures and put them into place, such as teacher development, language planning curriculum and program development, and continue to do so year over year.
Standing here—virtually, of course—is something that I have done in the past as I speak to the benefit of the Indigenous Languages Act. Along with Chief Denny, I helped shape what the act looks like. We were able to receive feedback from our nation and heard engagement from across the nation of Canada, which we bring here today. We sit in favour of the act. We sit in favour of more sustainable funding to implement the measures required to sustain and revitalize languages.
Of course, speaking as a resident of the Atlantic region, and more specifically Nova Scotia, what has this act done for us? It's been a little time since 2019, when the act was passed. We have had our common share of struggles in the last couple of years. It certainly has not deterred us from the work we're doing. Very plainly, what has this done for us? I can explain what we feel: that the Indigenous Languages Act helped us advance here in Nova Scotia as a Mi'kmaq nation. We have benefited from the act. There are sections within the act that prompt provinces and territories to do work to help nations revitalize and reclaim their languages.
I'm very proud to stand here today and let you know that we co-developed legislation called the “Mi'kmaw Language Act”—“An Act to Recognize, Promote and Support the Revitalization and Reclamation of the Mi'kmaw Language”—here in Nova Scotia. We co-developed this last year and submitted it to the bill system in February 2022. In April, we saw the first, second and third readings unanimously pass through the government. As you know, we have a really unique government system.
Currently in Nova Scotia, we have a Conservative leadership, but we really collectively work with all members of government. We recognize our past work with the Liberal government and how we started the advancement of this work and concluded it with the Conservative government, as well as the NDP government. It was quite unique in that it received unanimous support in April 2022.
We're self-determined in our nation and recognize that we have our own functions of laws and our own processes for laws to be passed, so we certainly respect the way Nova Scotia planned to uphold and proclaim their law. We did so in a joint way in July 2022. The law itself came into effect on October 1. It's a significant day for the Mi'kmaq, being Mi'kmaq Treaty Day here in Nova Scotia.
What does this act aim to do for us, and what supports does it give us? For us, being very distinct here in Nova Scotia, we are just one nation. There is only the Mi'kmaq nation here, so we have one language here in Nova Scotia, which is Mi'kmaq. The act recognizes Mi'kmaq as the original language of this land, among other things. Very plainly, it aims to develop a strategy and an action plan to revitalize the language. We have gotten to work, and it's still very fresh, but we're looking forward to the future there.
Aside from that, there is a financial benefit of the act. Currently, through the act, Mi'kmaw Kina'matnewey is a third party manager to the indigenous languages component. We are currently not in any section 8 or 9 deals with the federal government, but we are exploring some options there. We do manage this small pot of money for the indigenous languages component. This allows us to really make the decisions as a collective to fund projects.
What that means in terms of investment is that, with the ongoing funding, without the enhancements of funding, that brings approximately $500,000 to Mi'kmaw Kina'matnewey. That translates to about one and a half projects that communities apply for and that we manage and provide support for, so that is not sustainable.
Thank you very much, honourable Chairman.
Good morning, honourable members. I'm Gerry Guillet, director of education and CEO for the Athabasca Denesuline Education Authority of northern Saskatchewan. Our authority is very young in its establishment. We were first organized and have been operating since August 2019. In establishing our authority to represent the far northern isolated communities of Fond Du Lac, Black Lake and Hatchet Lake first nations, we deliver educational programming for the schools. We have four schools of 1,300 students.
The Dene language, culture and land-based programming are an important part of our authority. It is our first strategic plan in improving the language abilities of our students. The remoteness of our communities creates many challenges for the authority, and we had to house our education centre in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. We can only reach our communities via air travel. One community has an all-season road, which is a 14-hour drive to the south in Prince Albert. Having said that, our land-based culture and language programs are our first priority in the strategic plan of our authority.
We have many aspects to our programming that are vital, including literacy and numeracy. However, given the culture where our students are not using their language at a significant level, certainly one of our major attempts is to improve and provide more language opportunities.
It is important to note that 75% of the staff in the schools in our communities are local and only 60% of them are able to speak the Dene language. We are planning that we would like to instill in our schools Dene immersion programming. We come across many challenges in that aspect, certainly, with the lack of resources in the Dene language. Our elders in our communities are very strong within their language, their culture and their faith dimension.
We certainly feel that the government's Indigenous Languages Act is one that we'd look at in terms of formulating all our strategies as we want to plan initiatives and activities for restoring and maintaining the fluency in our Dene language.
Our attempts to create technological tools and educational materials, including audio and video recordings, have met many challenges. We have not been able, as a new authority, to access the funds that are required for us to realize those visions, goals and aspects for our children and our community members within our communities.
Our coordinator, who is very fluent in the Dene language, has done a tremendous amount of work in the three years of our existence to improve significantly the ability of our teachers and our programs in our schools to include the Dene language in all the instructional materials as much as possible.
In the daily life of our students in the classrooms, our Dene language is spoken almost as much as the English language, despite the fact that we follow provincial curricula, all in English. Dene certainly is a language that is used throughout our schools and in our communities.
What we are asking for at this opportunity is the funding that our authority desperately needs in order to revitalize the language of our Dene people. It is being lost at a significant rate, and it is our goal to revitalize our language within our culture of our Dene people.
We have not realized any significant funding increase to date in order for us to move forward in translating many of the resources available in English into the Dene language, so that our immersion programs have the resources for our teachers to teach the language at a significant level.
I take this opportunity to express to the committee that our organization is a model. Although we are only three years old, we have established an organization founded on children coming first. Our board of directors is very determined. They hold their children, first and foremost, in their hearts and their deliberations.
All of our programming and initiatives are directed toward our children. In particular, our language is sacred to them, which we desperately want to revitalize. Our children need to learn more of their language, their land base and their culture. We are attempting to do that in revitalizing the language aspect within our communities and, in particular, within our schools. To initiate any kind of immersion program in Dene, we lack many of the resources to enable that vision to move forward.
It is my intent, Mr. Chairman and honourable members, to present to you today a challenge that the Athabasca Denesuline Education Authority faces in revitalizing our language, certainly according to Bill , the Indigenous Languages Act. We are really looking at having more opportunity within the funding regime so that we can address those issues for our communities and our people.
I thank you for that.
My name is Chief Leroy Denny from Eskasoni. Welcome to you all from Eskasoni First Nation.
I know that in the opening statement on behalf of the Mi'kmaw Kina’matnewey, our executive director touched on a few things there with the ongoing funding that has been discussed. MK receives annually $500,000. We are currently managing the funding through the indigenous language component.
The current investment from the ILC funding provides the region with a total of $1.2 million, and the goal of the indigenous language component funding is to support community-based projects that contribute to the strengthening of our cultural identity, as well as the preservation and revitalization of the Mi'kmaq language, which my community has been really pushing for a long time, and MK has been pushing.
An example is our all-immersion school here in Eskasoni. Our community members Tom and Carol Anne have been contributing to the resources by making movies and translating movies and cartoons. Even as of now, they are in Paris for the beginning of the International Decade of Indigenous Languages. I just want to call out to them for these projects, which are working quite well.
To put this into perspective, the funding we receive allows only approximately four or five projects. This means that we are forced to really choose certain projects to approve and others to deny, and we have to cut from everybody in order to provide a little to everyone. These projects are coming in, and the ideas that are coming in from our language communities are amazing projects.
We're trying to help our elders, because many of our elders are starting to pass away. Every time an elder passes away, they take the whole knowledge like a library with them, so time is of the essence here. It's really important that we have extra support and extra funding. This is simply not nearly enough of an investment. We really need to start working to move more quickly, move faster, and have more funds.
We have 13 Mi'kmaq communities in our province, and we need more funding in order to fully support everyone's efforts. We're starting to look into music and videos, and we're trying to really find this generation. Considering the generation that I grew up in, these are different now. There's a different generation, and we're trying to promote and revitalize our languages through technology and through movies in some way.
If this government is serious about the objectives set out in the Indigenous Languages Act, the funding must back the objectives. We have all the objectives laid out in front of you. Again, our concern is that it is limited. Certainly from this act, we need more room to work with our communities and all those who submit proposals, such as MK. Many proposals we submit so people like Tom and Carol Anne and our schools.... We're in the process of building a Mi'kmaq language studio to translate movies and cartoons and have young people be involved in creating and developing film for this generation for our communities.
Again, time is of the essence for us, as our Mi'kmaq language community is getting smaller and we're starting to lose more and more of our knowledge-keepers and especially our language warriors. Again, I hope that this helps to make it possible, and this is a plea that we need more funding for this and more room.
I want to thank all our guests today for appearing and presenting your testimony for us.
I'm going to start with Mr. Guillet.
Thank you for being here, Mr. Guillet. You talked in your presentation about the priorities of your educational authority being language, culture and land-based learning. I know that in earlier conversations we have talked about that being combined with literacy, mathematics and retention levels.
Recently you were denied a funding application from Heritage Canada for language programming in your school. I have two quick questions on that. Were you given a reason for the denial? Second, what could you have done? What would you have been able to do with that funding for your students in northeast Saskatchewan if you had received that?
The only reasons we were given.... Our application was submitted in November 2021. On December 2, 2022, I finally received correspondence from Canadian Heritage, which said, “in a context of limited funds, I regret to inform you that at this time, the Department is unable to approve a financial contribution for your project.”
Our project was to revitalize our language and to have the ability to provide resources for our teachers. If we are to implement an immersion Dene language program in our schools, teachers need resources to teach with, and there are extremely limited resources available in Dene. Our project was to provide more resources through translating current English material into our Dene language and to provide some videos of our elders and also some audio of our elders.
We had applied for a grant of $300,000. Our project would have cost $450,000. We applied for $300,000 and were denied.
When we submitted our agreement with ISC and it was formalized in August 2019, that submission of our agreement included a comprehensive budget. The authority received acknowledgement from our leadership in our three communities that the authority would be responsible for pre-kindergarten to grade 12 programming in their schools. We would assume full responsibility financially with facilities, programming delivery and all aspects of the delivery of education—similar to, for example, a provincial school division, although we remain an independent authority and non-political in its total context.
Within our submission was a budget submitted to ISC to recognize the geographic location of our communities. They are in the extreme north, just south of the Northwest Territories border. The isolation factor certainly creates many challenges for us to serve our schools in a comprehensive manner. The funding that was submitted to ISC was totally based on need in terms of program facilities and the operation of an education authority or a school division in a county.
To date, after three and a half years of trying to negotiate and finalize the funding, that is the only piece of our agreement that remains to be settled. We have not as yet had any kind of commitment. We have presented many arguments to finalize our agreement with our funding based on need, and every year the costs are going up and up. The funding that we currently receive is strictly what the bands were receiving at the time of our inception. All funding, rather than being directed to the bands and the leadership, is now directed specifically to the authority to operate the schools and programs in every aspect, including transportation, facilities, teacher wages, etc.
That funding doesn't even come close, now that the ISC has gone to a provincial formula. In Saskatchewan, the provincial formula does not meet the needs of our provincial schools, let alone our isolated communities. No other division has the isolation factor that we do, with its challenges. Just the flight to get my board members into our Prince Albert office for regular meetings, two days of meetings, costs our authority $45,000. That's just to get our board members there for two days.
On our funding, we have been pleading and pleading to finalize this aspect of our agreement, which to date still has not realized any kind of commitment. We have pleaded also to have an audience with Treasury Board so that we can present our package and defend it with the knowledge we have of our communities in terms of the geography and the challenges of isolated communities. We've not yet had any kind of response from the minister's office in terms of having that ability, knowing full well that others have had that ability to present their funding ask in front of Treasury Board.
All we ask for is equity and the same opportunity to defend our ask, based totally on program needs and on the needs of our students, whose current education is strictly academic. I have 50 years' experience in education. I'm not new to this game. When I see our children in our schools receiving a strictly academic program, what incentive is there for them to come to school other than to be with their peers?
We're no strangers to advocating and launching a lot of different programs and services. One of the greatest benefits for us and one of the factors in fluency is that languages need to evolve, so we've certainly embraced this, that the Mi'kmaq language needs to evolve. Ensuring that it is accessible, that it is current, that it is not outdated is something that we're always on top of.
I could show you a little bit of some samples that I got out today. We've created an oral language program that looks at assessing the oral language of children regardless of what language they speak, but most important, the exposure that they get to Mi'kmaq at home, so really connecting the home to the learning and the school and all of that so that it is centred around the child.
We have developed a lot of content that supports this program. We've done it in mathematics. We have created this supporting resource tool not just for teachers and not just for education systems, but for their homes. We understand and fully embrace that children also learn at home and their parents play a critical role in their lives.
Further into that, we've developed endless amounts of books and ways to support and tie in cultural learning and tie in—
Absolutely. We've done planners. We've done books centred around what it means to be a treaty person, certainly for us, but a little deeper than that, understanding the role of family and the responsibility within the family and the roles that we play within that.
For teachers, we've done scripts and books on how to read and write Mi'kmaq. We've done interactive games and activities, making sure that we're keeping things fresh and we're keeping things modern.
On the more popular side of things, we have used a lot of resources making them look beautiful. This was certainly a priority for us because the English resources are certainly very beautiful and so when we publish content, we want to make it look just as good. We have our learning curriculum, our language curriculum, which we assess, evaluate and monitor, on how to learn the Mi'kmaq language in the systems we are in.
Also, assessment is a big component of that. Certainly we're no strangers to creating things. We've done that. We're really careful about the way we implement things and we do it with a lot of good intentions and a lot of spirit and support. When we launch programs, it's not just a launching of the program. It's understanding that we're going to continue to be present and supportive throughout the journey of implementation before we take a step back. Certainly we are of that mindset.
In addition—and I think Chief Denny could elaborate on it a bit more—we have one immersion program in the entirety of the collective of Mi'kmaq nations. We have one immersion program. It is quite successful, but again, it exists only in one community. There is a lot of desire among other communities to have the same thing that Eskasoni has, but they are unable to, whether it be funding, whether it be numbers, whether it be support—
As a community, we do our best to.... It starts with leadership. We speak our language at our leadership table. We've started to do many things at the Mi'kmaq language studio. We're really focused on that and translating signs around the community, having people hear and see more signage around the community. That's one thing, seeing, and supporting whatever initiatives we have in the community. If I speak, sometimes I speak my language.
It's very challenging. There are a lot of successful things. We try everything. We're working with MK. We work with our partners to make our language work. We try creative things, from music to translating movies, as Tom and Carol Anne are doing. Also, they're reaching out to TikTok, having young people help them along the way. We're trying to stay on top of the game.
One thing I see that I feel is working.... This is very challenging compared to when I was younger, because then everybody spoke. Everybody was conversing. These days, everybody is talking through the phone, and there's not much conversation from our people today. We need to develop programs for young people. COVID really wasn't a good help because we didn't visit each other.
We go back to our culture. We talk to each other and have these programs, like tea and toast programs, and meet with elders, those types of things. Today we have podcasts. We have all this technology that we can really tap into.
There is one thing that really struck me about one of my councilmen. His name is Joef Bernard, and he's a land-based person. He's always on the land with his son. His son is three years old. His son is fluent in Mi'kmaq. He would always teach him about the land, about the medicines. He is very fluent. One thing that really struck me is that he told me he tries to confuse him when they watch cartoons, because everyone is watching cartoons. Most kids are watching the iPads and those things. He told me that he puts on a cartoon that's not in English. It would be in a different language, like Spanish or other languages, just to confuse him because kids only watch the cartoon, the colours and everything. He would do that. He was hoping that there would be more product out there, cartoons translated for toddlers, because they are like sponges. Three-, four- and five-year-olds are like sponges. Whatever they hear and see....
It's like a trend. Right now, the trend is that everybody is speaking English. People will just.... With all that work we do in immersion and all that families do to try to really help their children speak the language, once they go out in the outside world, they get involved in the trends, speaking English or whatever slang we sometimes hear in certain communities.
That's basically it. I think land-based culture is also key, teaching our children about the land and its terms—
I would like to thank all the witnesses today for sharing their knowledge. I would like to take this opportunity to wish them a happy International Decade of Indigenous Languages, which started this year. I hope this decade will be a positive one for indigenous languages.
As an MP, it is my pleasure to represent speakers of the Innu language, which is very much alive in my riding. We have a very vibrant cultural institute whose mission is to strengthen and sustain the language. That's what we all want for all indigenous languages.
Ms. Gould talked about how the situation is critical for people from zero to 12 years of age who do not speak the language actively at this time.
Mr. Denny talked about how, unfortunately, time is running out as we lose our elders, who are really our living libraries.
We heard a little about the $1.2 million for one-time projects under various programs. I'd like to hear more from the witnesses. Yes, a bill was passed in 2019, and that takes several years to be implemented, but there are still needs that have to be met in the meantime. There are budgets and we can already start thinking about what's going to happen when the act is fully in force.
What kind of funding do communities like yours need to revitalize, maintain and strengthen indigenous languages?
As the minister knows, the ask in this bill was for adequate, stable, long-term funding, which is not what we have right now. I think Mr. Guillet mentioned that when he talked about requests others made that were granted by Treasury Board while his Dene community did not get any funding.
Mr. Guillet, Mr. Denny and Ms. Gould, in that order, can you tell us what your communities need in terms of stable, adequate, long-term funding to strengthen, revitalize and maintain indigenous languages?
Thank you for your question.
What does it take? I think we can certainly elaborate on what it takes, but if we want to just scale it back to what it is now versus what it would be for everybody, it's important that we separate the language delivery in schools and their operation from that in the community, because those thrive in different forums and things like that.
From a school perspective, let's take a look at what it currently costs to operate an immersion school, and that's a little less than $1 million. If we wanted to open that all the way up to the secondary institution, we're looking at intensive financial support there.
The money that we manage from the indigenous languages component is $1.2 million, and, as I indicated, that's for four projects. So, if that met four communities, and we did one project each for those communities, there are still nine other communities that do not receive anything. That is not equitable to those communities. If we wanted to say, “We must meet everybody there”, we're talking about a minimum of $4 million to just satisfy one project for those communities. Most often, communities have multiple projects as their desirables, and that's just at the minimum amount.
Then, in terms of community, certainly, as well, the cost of the whole community approach is quite different. It's important to always differentiate that and consider that.
That's my response to your question, Ms. Gill.
[Member spoke in Inuktitut, interpreted as follows:
First, I thank all of you who spoke and gave this presentation today.
I am aware of what you said and what you stated as your needs. You have confirmed those needs. I want to remind committee members here that we are well informed on the federal government, and that when they have responsibilities that impact indigenous people, there is very little will and there is very little commitment. It's too bad.
Keeping that in mind, we all know that under the truth and reconciliation objectives we have to be more committed to ensuring that indigenous languages will not be lost, that they will be revived. What can the federal government do to help us ensure that we do not lose them, and that we continue to speak them and even make this better than it is now, as some are under threat?
Perhaps the three guest speakers can give us some ideas on how the federal government can be more supportive and committed to meeting our objectives, starting with Chief Denny.
Thank you for your question.
It's difficult not to just always talk about money. Certainly, that is the most important thing the federal government can do: invest adequate funding into the endeavours of nations trying to restore their languages.
At my first witness testimony back in 2018 or 2019, I was asked how many languages I thought we could save. At that time, I said “all of them”, leaving no language behind. With regard to the investments of today, while there are investments that are a lot better than they were in the past, this does leave languages behind. Even with the investment I have here in Nova Scotia that I manage, I may not leave a language behind—because we speak one language—but I leave communities behind because I don't have enough for everybody. That is a very difficult and unfair position to be in.
I hope that all languages are treated with the same dignity and respect: that they matter and they are important languages that deserve and have a right to survive. That equals adequate funding. That is the first step of it.
There is also ownership and responsibility that nations can take on. It's about making sure that planning is in place. We are very pro-planners here when it comes to language revitalization efforts. We don't want to duplicate the efforts of other communities when things are happening there, but we also want to make sure that when money—those scarce dollars—comes through, there is a plan of action immediately: that something must be done and that it is realistic and achievable by the communities. We do a lot of support in that aspect. That is a responsibility that we take on and that communities take on to make sure that we are very planned and have sound, smart planning in place.
Ultimately, I think that's my response to you.
Ms. Idlout, I appreciate your comments very much. You're right on.
It's about sustainable, predictable funding for us to achieve our visions. Certainly, in our communities, in particular, our elders are disappointed that the language is not being maintained by our young ones, who are on iPads or whatever. English is dominant. We insist, in every one of our school programs, that Dene be spoken so it can be revitalized, but the resources aren't there. Our funding is absolutely critical for this success and realization.
Our students in schools in the extreme north, in isolated communities, need the same advantages and education opportunities that students in the south, across the nation, take for granted. Our students don't have any opportunity to realize that. There are no trade programs. There are hardly any technology programs. There are no electives for our high school students. There are no extracurriculars. They can't compete with other schools. They can't have school teams. That's the essence of bringing children into school. We can't do that, because we don't have the funding, but our language is our top priority. We don't have the funding to move forward.
We have all our programs and outcomes laid out, but how do we get there when we don't have the resources? We are pleading and begging: Give us an opportunity and sustained, predictable, indexed funding, so we can move forward. Currently, in our budget ask, we're $34,000 per student short on providing an equitable education program that would be comparable to those in our southern schools. Why are our children in a third-world school? They're not able to get programs so their future can be realized, whatever their dreams are. That's our goal. It's all for the kids.
Thank you, Mr. Guillet.
With that, I'd like to thank our three witnesses this morning.
Chief Denny, Ms. Gould and Mr. Guillet, thank you for your eloquent testimonies. I think there's no question that everybody agrees there are some common themes among all three witnesses this morning, on this issue we are studying.
You are our first witnesses on this study we're undertaking on indigenous languages. Thank you very much for appearing this morning to kick us off.
With that, we'll suspend briefly to prepare for the next panel.
[Witness spoke in Inuktitut, interpreted as follows:
Thank you, Mr. Garneau.
I am thinking that it's very short notice, and five minutes is very short. Given the five minutes that we have, I want to inform you that I have given you my biography ahead of time.
I teach the Inuktitut language.
From 2003 on, I was involved with the ministerial task force on aboriginal languages and cultures. I was one of two Inuit representatives on that task force, and I have been the languages commissioner for Nunavut, but, of all that I have done in my life, Inuktitut language instructor is what I have done the most. It spans all of the Inuit areas of Canada. As well, I have gone to teach in Greenland, and I taught Inuktitut to University of Washington students, but my heart is with the people of the Inuit of Nunavut and our struggle to maintain our language. As you all know, Nunavut covers four million square kilometres of land divided into 24 communities and three regions, all accessible only by air.
In addition, I teach Inuktitut to adults at the college, but I'm also on the district education board for the community of Iqaluit, where I currently live. Therefore, I see language both through having been an elementary school teacher but also through hearing from the principals on how the language is happening.
I am currently an Inuktitut instructor to potential teachers in Nunavut. We have two streams of teacher education students. One is proficient. The other is emergent, in that the emergent students are trying to develop their own personal language skills so that they can eventually teach Inuktitut in the schools. The proficient-level students are already proficient in the language. However, having been an instructor for over 40 years and also in the teacher education program, I have noticed that, although our proficient-stream students are fluent at conversation, their knowledge of the language is not as in-depth as it was when we had students 30 years ago.
Now, as I have noticed, instead of working with “this is how our language works”, I've had to explain our language more and more, and yet this is what students still speak. It's the language in their home and in the community, but the level of language has declined. The proficiency of Inuktitut speakers through Nunavut varies. We have communities where young people who are younger than 30 have no Inuktitut, but I was back home in my home community of Igloolik last August and the children who were playing outside were still conversing in Inuktitut. It's a very wide stream of proficiency.
I have looked through the Indigenous Languages Act, and I want to address parts of it.
In the preamble, in paragraph 10, I do agree with the “urgent need to support the efforts of the Indigenous peoples to reclaim, revitalize, maintain and strengthen” our languages. That to me is paramount. Also, in paragraph 14, I was looking at Canada being “committed to providing adequate, sustainable and long-term funding”. I looked through what funding is provided throughout Canada for the French language. I'm going to mention just two examples.
In Newfoundland and Labrador, where there are Inuit speakers—there are Inuit in Labrador—there is no funding for the language, yet for the French language, there is $350,000 a year from the federal government for the French language for five years, or $1.75 million.
Also, this is an old one from B.C.: $700,000 a year for French. I know that when I was on the task force there were 60 languages of first peoples in Canada, with the Inuit language being one and, therefore, all the rest being Métis and first nations. Of those, 50 languages are in B.C., and although there is $700,000 a year for the French language, and each language in B.C. is a separate language, they are not getting that kind of funding. This paragraph 14 in the preamble is also very important to me.
I am now going to page 5—
[Witness spoke in Wolastoqey
Greetings. My traditional name is Morning Star Burning, and I represent, through my mother's side, the Crow Clan and, from my father's side, the Wolf Clan. I am from the homeland we call the Wolastoqey. We are the people of the beautiful and bountiful river.
I just stepped out of a mite ceremony, here in Winnipeg. I flew here a day and a half ago. Senator Murray Sinclair is part of our beautiful ceremonies. He spoke yesterday, at the tail end of our session, about how important language is to all indigenous peoples and how it connects us deeply to who we are and our relationship to the land, waters and all the fauna and flora. Plus, he said, it points out what our responsibilities are, as a nation and people—as citizens of our nations.
I just turned 62 years old a week ago. I am probably one of the youngest fluent speakers of our Wolastoqey language. Unfortunately, people younger than me can possibly comprehend what we're saying, but the younger ones cannot speak it. They are not fluent at all in our Wolastoqey language.
Back when I was born, in 1960, you could walk around my community of Neqotkuk, which is called Tobique, and that was all you heard: our beautiful Wolastoqey language. Because of Catholicism and the provincial school system, our language decreased rapidly within two decades. It is unfortunate that our language is on the brink of extinction. We have approximately 10,000 citizens in our nation, but fewer than 100 speakers are left. I have five sisters and four brothers. Fortunately, we grew up in a home where our parents and grandparents spoke fluently, so we're all fluent speakers, but we're some of the few who can still speak our language. We are in very dire straits, right now.
On a positive note, this past September, we started a pre-K immersion program outside the city of Fredericton. It was started by Lisa Perley-Dutcher, who is a first cousin of mine. We have six students there. I go in once a week to help and guide the teachers in our language, but we lack funding from both the provincial and federal governments. We have put in various proposals, but very few are approved. We are very fortunate that the mayor and council of the City of Fredericton gifted us with a building to teach the language in. It's an on-land teaching process we're doing there.
I was fortunate to visit our Maori sisters and brothers in New Zealand, approximately four years ago. I was so amazed and astonished that every one of their communities had a Maori immersion program. They were getting full support from the New Zealand government, because their language, over 35 years ago, had fewer than five speakers left. With the hard work of those five grandmothers, plus the support of the New Zealand government, they have more than.... I believe 75% are now fluent in their beautiful Maori language.
We are in dire straits on the east coast. In the province of New Brunswick, the Wolastoqey language is dying. We need funding and support, especially through the immersion programs. There was an elder woman, Christine Saulis, who taught for over 40 years in the provincial school system in a Wolastoqey core program. Close to her death, I remember talking to Christine. She was such a beautiful, kind lady. She said, “Ronnie, in all the years that I taught, I never produced one fluent speaker, because these little core language programs, 20 minutes to 30 minutes a day, do not work. We need immersion programs.”
I am proposing that the federal government put monies and funding to support immersion programs in our communities, as well as all over our nations.
I will end with that. Thank you.
Mr. Chair, it's Mr. Zimmer.
The Chair: Go ahead, Mr. Zimmer.
Mr. Bob Zimmer: Thank you.
Thank you both for your comments. My questions are going to be predominantly to Alexina.
I really like what you just said, Mr. Tremblay, about the outcomes, because that's the basis of what I'm going to ask Ms. Kublu about.
As a former teacher, I think what we consider a success is when we have students who are actually able to achieve what we set out to have them learn at the beginning of the year. It's part of the joy of teaching, but it's also part of what the course is meant to do.
Mr. Tremblay, I guess what I'm concerned about is when I heard you say that unless it was full immersion, you weren't seeing high success rates. You had seen only one student, you say—and I don't want to put words in your mouth—who actually learned the language or was successful.
I'll ask maybe Ms. Kublu about that. We talk about programs like this. It isn't just about the finance. It isn't just about the money. It's actually seeing those kids and students...and it's not only kids. It can be adults who have learned their language for the first time. That's a great joy.
What would be the best way, Ms. Kublu, to see our dream of enabling indigenous and Inuit people to learn their language and also pass it on? What do we need to do to make that happen at the highest success rate possible?
Now I'm unmuted. I do that when I'm teaching as well.
The traditional method of passing on knowledge among Inuit is—as I think it is among other peoples, as well—by doing. It's by watching and doing, not sitting down in a classroom and having someone talk and talk and talk at you. This happens during the summer, mainly, because it is quite cold in the winter up here. People go out on the land, away from the community, and they will focus on a skill, whether its how to make a qamutiik or how to make a harpoon, or sewing and working with seal skin. It's to relive the Inuit culture using Inuktitut.
I know that in high school here, as well as in the lower grades, they get taken out on the land by hunters and people who know what they're doing, so that they can be away from the classroom with someone who is talking to them in Inuktitut and so that they're digesting the language as they're living it.
We also sit in the classroom. I'm sad to say that our classrooms do not have beautiful, ready-made teaching material. I was—
Ms. Kublu, I'm sorry. I have to interrupt. I know the time is short here, but that's what I was going to get to.
We're talking about languages. How do we implement them so that they actually work? We all want to see Inuit maintain their language and maintain the traditions. However, from a federal perspective, is the set-up that the current government has successful to date?
If you were to give them advice—and I guess you're getting to the curriculum part of it—how would you structure it better, as an instructor yourself? How would you structure it better, so that we see a higher success rate at the end of the program? It's not just dumping money at something and spending a lot of money on something, but having something in which we see successful students who complete the program and have a good knowledge of your language.
Maybe explain that. As an instructor, I'm sure you would be able to draw up a plan that would work to see it realized. Speak to that.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you to our witnesses for joining us today.
I'll be asking most of my questions of Mr. Tremblay.
Woli-nipayiw. Kulahsihkulpon. Welcome to our committee today.
I'm speaking from the unceded and unsurrendered territory of the Wolastoqiyik here in Fredericton.
It's so important for me to have you join us today to speak in the open and to our government about a lot of the conversations that we have around the dinner table. I know just how important immersion is, in particular. I'd love it if you could speak a bit more about the new initiative that was launched here in our area on immersion and, specifically, the role of the grandmothers and the grandfathers in passing this language on. Also, what are the challenges in getting youth engaged? We know there's that gap in the middle.
Thank you. Wela'lin.
This whole process of getting the Kehkimin School ready last September was a huge chore because a lot of the people who were part of the development of the school have not taught in that setting before. There was a lack of readiness and a lack of education in teaching teachers how to teach the language. We had about one month to get the school ready and to show the curriculum to the teachers. It was really fast-paced and by the time the pre-K students came in, the teachers hadn't had a chance to get the proper training.
There was a lack of funding in the training, as well as in the curriculum development. We were working pretty much day and night trying to get the curriculum ready for the teachers, and even though we did produce a lot of resources for the teachers, they lacked time spent prior to the kids coming in.
There has been a learning curve for us. We started in September, and here it is December and it's just been in the last few weeks that the teachers really had time to sit down to go through the curriculum resources that were provided for them.
Then having the elders and the speakers coming to assist them in going through the curriculum has been a chore because there are only a few speakers around in the area who can do that.
We're trying to focus on land-based teachings. Because we're near a city, we would really love to have the area to have an immersion school right in the woods, somewhere near water. We do have Killarney Lake right there, but still there's a lot of traffic that comes in and out. There are walkers going through the park and around the lake so it's not completely in solitude and away from the public.
Those are the challenges: funding for the adequate training for teachers and giving them proper time to go over all the curriculum that we produced for them. Mind you, it's been successful up to now. We're hoping to move from pre-K to kindergarten next year, and each year move up, hopefully to grade 4, but again, space is going to be limited because we need a larger building to have these classes.
Those are the struggles: the lack of funding and the lack of space. A lot of the money, the funding and the grants, that we received is not toward the infrastructure for buildings or renovations. It's mainly toward the cost of providing for teachers and a few resources and so on.
It's been a challenge, but we've had success with these beautiful young children. When I go in, I speak the language to them and they respond to me in the language about the weather or what they're doing that day.
We're hoping we will get future assistance in funding from the government.
I don't know if I completed the question or not.
I thank Ms. Kublu and Chief Tremblay for being at this committee meeting. What they said about land was very interesting.
I should have started by wishing you a happy International Decade of Indigenous Languages.
The committee's goal is to study how the government can support language revitalization. The Indigenous Languages Act, Bill , was passed in 2019, but time is running out. Just over the past 30 years, Ms. Kublu has seen knowledge of Inuktitut and the number of Inuktitut speakers decline. In theory, the act is supposed to be implemented over five years, but action must be taken. Even Mr. Tremblay said there's hardly anyone left under 60 who speaks his language, so revitalization has to happen through community initiatives. This shows us just how important it is to take significant measures now even though the act was passed in 2019. Ms. Kublu and Chief Tremblay talked both directly and indirectly about immersion.
Now back to the land issue. In my riding on the North Shore, we have the Innu first nation, whose language is very much alive. Having read the Innu-French dictionary, I learned that a lot of the terms have to do with the land and practices upon the land, so I certainly understand the importance of language.
I have two questions for each of you. Please answer as you see fit.
Do you think that, since 2015, or since the Indigenous Languages Act was passed in 2019, the government has stepped up with financial support for indigenous languages?
Let's start with that first question, and then I will ask the second one.
Thank you, Ms. Kublu and Chief Tremblay.
Here's my second question.
I get the sense that there are some pretty good programs for targeted, short-term initiatives. However, the ask with respect to the act was for predictable, long-term, adequate funding.
Based on what you're saying, this is going to take a huge amount of money. As a witness said earlier, it's going to take an intensive and quick approach that meets the needs.
Do you agree with that? Do you think communities are ready?
Chief Tremblay, you mentioned the Maori. I think their story gives us hope and shows us that it can be done.
I will let you share some final thoughts on that. I would like to hear from you, Ms. Kublu, and then from you, Chief Tremblay.
Language is not something that belongs only in the schools, and it does not belong only out on the land. It belongs everywhere.
When you become as old as I am—almost 70—you end up doing a lot of stuff in your life. One of the things that I have done is be a justice of the peace. We are very fortunate in Nunavut that our courts are conducted in Inuktitut, with the justice of the peace either speaking directly in Inuktitut or being interpreted. Sad to say, I don't think that is the case in all of Canada.
Also, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories have official languages. Their official languages acts recognize the language of the first people of the region. Not only do we have the Official Languages Act of Nunavut, which has French, English and Inuktitut, emphasizing the two diverse dialects of Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun, but we also have the Inuit Language Protection Act, because the Official Languages Act is geared toward a government, whether it is federal, territorial or municipal. In order for the language to survive, Nunavut has the Inuit Language Protection Act, which pertains to the private sector as well.
The provision for language has to go beyond just being in the schools and go into everyday life.
[Member spoke in Inuktitut, interpreted as follows:
Thank you, Mr. Chairperson.
To all of you who are speaking to us today, you have confirmed a lot of our concerns—my concerns personally— regarding indigenous people and our language. It's very precious to us, and we do not want to lose it.
For instance, for those who speak French, I do not discriminate. I envy them that their language is protected and recognized and is an official language in Canada. French and English are official languages in Canada. I envy you.
I ask every one of the speakers today, should our indigenous languages be official in all of Canada?
We will have Alexina first and then the other speaker. You have the right to speak Inuktitut, and it will be interpreted.
[Witness spoke in Inuktitut, interpreted as follows:]
I apologize. Thank you, Lori.
We have mentioned many times at the ministerial task force that if you take indigenous language protection seriously, provinces have to support their people and their region in their language protection. I believe that provincial governments have to take the responsibility to support and protect their people in their province and their languages.
Official languages that are recognized should include all indigenous languages in Canada. The Inuit language is officially recognized in Inuinnaqtun, Dene and Inuvialuktun languages, and in Gwich'in. They have to identify in each territory or province the indigenous languages spoken in their province or state and officially recognize them as official languages so that they are protected. Do not lump them into one recognition of indigenous languages. There are specific languages to be protected in the territory you're in or the province you're in.
You have to reaffirm that we recognize the importance of protecting your indigenous language, and we want to make sure that we do not lose it and that we continue to nurture it.
. Thank you very much.
Yes, I truly believe it is very crucial for all indigenous languages to be official. Back home in New Brunswick, we even struggle to reclaim the original names of our rivers. The river that flows through our homeland is called St. John. I've never met this gentleman before, but we've always known that river as being Wolastoq, which clearly defines who we are. We are the people of that beautiful and bountiful river, so that's our responsibility.
We're struggling with the present provincial government, which is putting up roadblocks even to our simply reclaiming the name of our homeland. It is really discouraging when we come up against these roadblocks from the government and they're not following the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to action with respect to our reclaiming our names and honouring our languages.
It's a constant battle for us even to do something as simple as giving the river back her beautiful name. Our languages are the first languages of the lands we're from, and when we do ceremonies, our land, our waterways, the trees and all the animals know what we're speaking.
Unfortunately, I don't know the languages act, or haven't had a chance to go through it, but I totally agree with the previous speaker. The settlers' language is very deceiving sometimes, when you use words like “may” or “should”, because in our indigenous languages, you either do it or you don't do it when you make a statement.
I strongly agree that the original languages of Canada should be recognized as first languages, not as third or second languages. Our languages should be the official languages of our homelands. French and English should be the secondary ones.
I'm a very strong advocate for our rights, especially through our ceremonies and through our languages. As I said at the beginning, Senator Murray Sinclair spoke last night so powerfully. He said that it is only through our languages that we will save who we are and what our purposes are here on earth.
Just before we get to the point of order, Mr. Battiste, perhaps you could bear with me for a second.
I've heard quite a bit of chat about when the and the commissioner of indigenous languages will appear. For those who have been wondering, that will be when we reconvene at the end of January. They were unable to come this week.
With respect to this week, there is always uncertainty every year about where we'll be at on Thursday as we approach the end of the fall session. For that reason, we decided not to invite any witnesses. At the moment, we have only committee business, and all we have on it, at the moment, is the work plan. I just wanted to make you aware of that in case you have any suggestions from the committee.
Mr. Battiste, do you have a suggestion?