I call this meeting to order.
Welcome to the 49th meeting of the Standing Committee on Indigenous and Northern Affairs.
We acknowledge that we meet today on the unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinabe people.
Today's meeting will be held in a hybrid format.
For those participating virtually, I'd like to outline a few rules to follow.
You may speak in the official language of your choice. Interpretation services are available for this meeting in French, English and Inuktitut. You have the choice at the bottom of your screen, using the globe icon, of either floor, English or French audio. Please select your language now. If interpretation is lost during our meeting, please let us know and we'll try to fix it right away.
Before speaking, please wait until I recognize you by name. If you are on the video conference, please click on the microphone icon to unmute yourself. For those in the room, your mike will be controlled as normal by the proceedings and verification officer.
Please make sure your interventions are made through the chair.
When you are speaking, please speak slowly and clearly. When you are not speaking, your mike should be on mute.
With regard to a speaking list, the committee clerk and I will do our best to maintain the consolidated speaking order.
I have just one housekeeping matter before we start. The next study, as you all know, per the motion adopted on November 21, 2022, is a study of improving graduation rates and successful outcomes for indigenous students. It's also known as the education study. I would just remind you to please submit your witness lists, organized by priority and by party, to the clerk by noon on February 8. That is this Wednesday.
We will now begin our fourth meeting on our study of indigenous languages. This is pursuant to Standing Order 108(2) and the motion adopted by the committee on November 21.
On our first panel today, we welcome Ronald Ignace, the Commissioner of Indigenous Languages. He is with us in person.
Welcome, Commissioner. We will begin by providing you with five minutes for opening remarks, after which we will have a period of questions for you.
If you are ready, the floor is yours for the next five minutes.
[Witness spoke in Secwepemctsin
Thank you for honouring me here to speak to this esteemed committee and to talk about the work of the commission.
[Witness spoke in Secwepemctsin]
As well, I would like to honour the lands and people of Kitigan Zibi for us being here.
Good afternoon, and thank you for the invitation to speak to you today.
As you all know, on July 12, 2021, I took office as commissioner and chief executive officer of the Office of the Commissioner of Indigenous Languages. The three directors representing the interests of first nations, Inuit, and Métis took office at the same time as I did.
The directors and I serve as the governing board of the commission. We feel privileged, humbled and honoured to have been selected as the first commissioner and directors of the Office of the Commissioner of Indigenous Languages, but we are also aware of the enormous task before us in implementing the mandate with which we have been entrusted.
As chief executive officer, I am responsible for the control and management of the commission. Over the past 18 months, our primary focus has been on establishing the commission. There was no such entity or organization prior to the act, so we have been working to build the organization from the ground up. The complexity and significance of our mandate and responsibilities require us to take the appropriate time and steps needed to establish a solid foundation for this organization. We're also working on long-term planning and strategies; we have begun baseline research to better understand the status of indigenous languages in Canada and the funding in place to support language revitalization, strengthening and maintenance. We expect the commission to be fully operational and staffed by the summer.
The Indigenous Languages Act is clear that the commission is an independent entity. The independence is critical to the integrity and credibility of the commission. It is what ensures we can carry out our mandate freely, objectively and without undue influence.
By the end of July each year, the commission must report on a number of things, including the use and vitality of indigenous languages in Canada, the adequacy of federal funding provided by the federal government, and, of particular interest to this committee, the implementation of the Indigenous Languages Act.
The act also sets out the requirement for two statutory reviews. The first is a three-year preliminary review of the act and of its administration and operation, to be commenced by the Senate, the House of Commons, or by both houses of Parliament.
The second is a five-year review requiring the Minister of Canadian Heritage to initiate an in-depth review by October 1, 2025, and within every five years thereafter.
Again, this will include a review of the act and of its administration and operation. Although the act received royal assent in June 2019, the provisions of these reviews did not come into force until some time later, to allow time for the implementation of the act.
We understand that, much like the impacts on the establishment of the commission, the COVID pandemic has also impacted the act's implementation. Given that the timing of the first review will commence soon after October 1, 2023, there is a potential that the implementation of this act will be studied by four separate parliamentary entities within the year or so, including by this committee. We intend that at the time the statutory reviews are under way, beginning in late 2023, the commission will be in a better position to provide an assessment on the implementation of the act.
Let me preface my remarks by saying the Indigenous Languages Act and the commission have just been recently appointed—on July 12, 2022—and in our focus we're mindful that we're building a national entity with a very complex mandate, so we've been working very hard to establish the solid foundation, mindful of future generations, for the commission to be able to address its mandate. Our focus primarily has been on that building of the foundation of the commission.
Where and when we've been able to speak at events in person or via link, we have done so. We did presentations to chiefs, to regional organizations and to various entities, and our directors and I did presentations to all communities, but in a very short time. Canada, as you know, is a very big country, with a lot of communities across the country. We will continue to push on in doing that, because one of our mandates is the promotion of the Indigenous Languages Act.
We've met with various parliamentarians from all parties. As well, we were invited via video link to have a breakfast meeting with the deputy ministers. I understand that it's quite rare to be invited to their meeting. Via video link, we've met with and done presentations for 6,000 civil servants across the country to inform them. It's important for such people to know about the act. We've done meetings with indigenous people across the country, but our primary focus has been to build the commission. Without the commission, we won't be able to appropriately address our mandate. We are making every effort to push forward, and we'll continue to do so.
[Member spoke in Mi'kmaq
Thank you for joining us, Ronald. Congratulations on being the first-ever indigenous languages commissioner. As a fluent Mi'kmaq speaker, I'm very proud to see an indigenous language commission in place. You once told me something very powerful at an AFN language conference, and it has always stuck with me. You said, “Our indigenous languages are the bolt cutters on the chains of colonialism.” That stuck with me; I always remember that quote, and I've always shared that quote.
As Mi'kmaq people, we're very lucky to be advanced in our stages of promoting indigenous languages—we have Mi'kmaq immersion schools, Mi'kmaq apps, Mi'kmaq resources and songs in the Mi'kmaq language, new and old—but there are two things I'm concerned about. First of all is that we've put too much of a burden on the educators to save our languages. We're putting so much of a burden on the teachers to save the language, and sometimes we don't have the incentives required to make sure our youth want to speak the language in our future, not just for the culture but also because it's going to do something for them later on in life.
Can you speak to what some of the things are that we need to do to create incentives for our indigenous youth to continue speaking their language? What lessons can we learn from maybe the francophone community in terms of what they're doing right, to make sure there are reasons to speak the language moving forward?
Thank you Commissioner, for appearing before us today.
We are, of course, speaking with the commissioner and we know that establishing the Office of the Commissioner of Indigenous Languages is a requirement of the Indigenous Languages Act, but we are interested in more concrete aspects of the act as a whole. Even though it could be improved and there will be a three-year review, to begin next year, people are interested in its implementation.
I would therefore like to ask you for more specific details about what has been done so far. You said that there was a lot of work remaining, and I agree, but I'd like to have a better idea about what, concretely, is being done. For example, you mentioned that the office would be fully up and running by the summer. The directors were appointed in 2022, and you were appointed in 2021. That means that work on setting up the Office of the Commissioner of Indigenous Languages has been under way for a year and a half, or almost two years.
There are several aspects to the office's mandate. On page 10 of the Indigenous Languages Act it is stated that the office's role is to promote indigenous languages, support the efforts of indigenous peoples to reclaim, revitalize, maintain and strengthen indigenous languages, facilitate the resolution of disputes, promote public awareness, and support research projects in cooperation with indigenous governments, not to mention funding.
In five minutes, I'd like a brief rundown of the activities planned to address each of these points. If there are none, that's not a problem, but I'd like to have some idea of what the Office of the Commissioner of Indigenous Languages is doing concretely, and which could be mentioned in a report.
I can briefly repeat each of these points. For example, with respect to helping to promote indigenous languages, what, concretely, has the office done thus far?
I'll be the devil's advocate here.
Let's take the residential schools issue, for example. I would imagine that if information were available, action would be taken quickly.
And for indigenous languages, people want to get things moving. We're talking about revitalizing some languages, but there are also some dormant languages and others that are going to disappear.
Even though the Office of the Commissioner of Indigenous Languages is independent from the government, shouldn't it have access to scientific, factual data and to something substantial, so to speak? That would enable it to do its work properly and rapidly.
The government hasn't given you any information. Have you requested any information that would help get things done faster, with no risk of duplication?
[Member spoke in Inuktitut, interpreted as follows:
] Thank you.
First of all, I'd like to welcome you. I'm happy to see you. You and I have met each other quite a few times now.
My questions will be from my understanding, because I'm getting into language history and commission work now. I'm getting orientated. It's a new organization that's just getting started and implemented. My questions will therefore address your future plans.
For instance, when it comes to indigenous people and the languages, and the indigenous peoples' languages act, they say that it's missing components. They do not have protection rights of their indigenous languages. We have no protection rights.
Have you considered protection rights for indigenous languages in Canada? Have you considered whether indigenous people and their languages can be supported more now than they were before? Because we do not want to lose our languages....
I'd like to get back to the purpose of the study, because I get the impression that we are straying from it a little, even though I acknowledge that language and culture are inseparable.
Commissioner, I'd like to comment on consultation. You said that in connection with your activities, you spoke with some ministers and parliamentarians. However, the thrust of the mandate is of course that it should be carried out in collaboration with first nations. I would therefore like to know whether you consulted first nations people, whether chiefs, band councils or organizations.
If so, where was this done? Did you consult anyone in Quebec?
[Member spoke in Inuktitut, interpreted as follows:
I tried to ask earlier, and I'll try again. Regarding the commission that you are working in, I know it is a new organization. As a new organization, are there any barriers or challenges your office has experienced that we, as parliamentarians, can try to address to make doing your important work easier?
What can we do to assist you? We need to have a better understanding of the challenges that you may have run into or that you may be facing. If we know what they are, we can support you.
If you require supplementary funding or additional support, let us know—if you could—what your needs are at the moment to make your work easier.
Thank you for that offer.
[Witness spoke in Secwepemctsin]
Thank you for the generous offer of supporting us to be able to do our work more importantly. When and if we need it, we will and have been reaching out to various members of Parliament and letting them know about the indigenous language legislation, the mandate of the commission and where we are in building up the commission.
They have all indicated, much like yourself, the willingness to support us. We know that the willingness is there, and we are very grateful for it. When we need it, we will come forward and seek that support, while protecting the independence of the commission and the integrity of that independence.
I call the meeting back to order.
Committee members, we will now resume.
On our second panel, we welcome the Honourable Pablo Rodriguez,
the Minister of Canadian Heritage, and Mr. Paul Pelletier, Director General, Indigenous Languages, at the Department of Canadian Heritage.
You may speak in the official language of your choice. Interpretation services are available for this meeting in French, English and Inuktitut. You have the choice at the bottom of your screen of floor, English or French audio.
Please select your language now. If you have interpretation problems, let us know and we'll interrupt momentarily to fix it.
Minister, the meeting will be conducted as usual. As you know, you have five minutes for your opening address. After that, we'll move on to the round of questions.
Welcome to this discussion on indigenous languages. You have the floor.
Members of the committee, dear colleagues, good afternoon. I am truly pleased to be here with you.
I'd like to begin by acknowledging that we are gathering today on the unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinabe nation.
It's truly an honour for me to be here to discuss this subject and to field your questions. It's not only important from a general standpoint but also personally. I'll explain why afterwards.
In Canada, over 70 languages are spoken by first nations, Inuit and Métis, but none of them are protected. In fact they are all threatened, in one way or another.
Our job is to continue to take concrete steps to maintain, revitalize and strengthen them. We want these languages to be strong, and we need them to be so.
It is our duty to listen and to take our indigenous partners' lead on their language priorities, because it's not about us. It's about them.
We cannot afford to lose the wealth of knowledge, wisdom and beauty that is held in each of the indigenous languages spoken in Canada. This is why we developed the Indigenous Languages Act, which I have had the honour of tabling during my time as Minister of Canadian Heritage. It is, sincerely, one of the things I'm most proud of. At this moment, as you know, we're working very closely with indigenous partners to implement that bill.
We have done much since June 2019, in spite of the problems caused by the pandemic. We established a joint implementation steering committee with representatives from the three national indigenous organizations. We have been working together on it. We have held 26 consultation sessions with indigenous peoples across Canada. We organized a symposium that had more than 800 participants.
We made the initial appointments to the Office of the Commissioner of Indigenous Languages. You have had the opportunity to meet the people in question.
And of course there was our support to the international Decade of Indigenous Languages, through the development of a national action plan specific to Canada.
We have also worked toward advancing access to federal services in indigenous languages. In particular—I know how important this is—we're working with Inuit partners to identify pilot projects that can help us develop regulations for access to federal services in Inuktut. We have established a cross-government steering committee that will work toward this goal, as the act intends.
Since the adoption of the act, we have funded more community indigenous projects than ever before. Everything is moving ahead quickly. We went from only 180 projects in 2018‑2019, which is not insignificant, to over a thousand projects in 2022‑2023. The number is still growing.
By increasing funding, we were able to support all eligible Inuit and Métis language projects since 2020, through investments from the 2019 and 2021 budgets, totalling more than $840 million over a seven-year period, and $118 million per year afterwards.
That's a lot, although it will never be enough. The needs are huge, but if we compare current funding to the $5 million available for indigenous languages in 2016‑2017, it's a giant step forward.
Indigenous partners have consistently told us that funding for indigenous languages must be long term, stable and predictable, and we agree. They've said that the processes for receiving funding must be indigenous-led, accessible, responsive, timely and transparent. We totally agree once again.
What do we do to make this a reality, to make it happen? We already have been working with communities to take the lead in decision-making and to increase flexibility in their funding. We're also working in developing new distinction-based funding models, being implemented this year, that would better meet the respective needs and goals of the communities, no matter where they live across the country.
This will allow for long-term funding agreements with indigenous governments, organizations and communities. It will also put funding decisions in the hands of indigenous people and ensure that they can make decisions based on their specific and unique priorities. So far, we have also been able to support six innovative agreements through sections 8 and 9, and we're working on more.
In spite of the rather negative picture I painted at the beginning when I said that all of the indigenous languages were threatened, there are some positive factors too. Indeed, the 2021 Census gives us some hope. Since 2016, for example, the number of indigenous people whose mother tongue was not an indigenous language and who can now speak one of these languages, grew by 7%.
There are therefore 7% more indigenous people whose mother tongue is not an indigenous language who have now learned one of these languages. More and more indigenous people are therefore speaking an indigenous language as a second language.
We've made much progress together, but there's definitely a lot of work to do. It takes years to properly implement a law like this one, and we're definitely—definitely—committed to this journey in true partnership with our colleagues and friends from across the country.
I'm ready to take your questions, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you, Minister, for being here today and for having this conversation with us. This is an important discussion.
I want to drill into a couple of numbers that I've been digging through in the last few days and see what you can offer as an explanation for some of them. Although the act wasn't passed until 2019, there is some history in the program for funding. If I go back over the program from 2018-19 all the way through 2021-22, there's a significant amount of money each year, and that number grows every year in what are called “transfers”. It's transfer payments. For example, in 2021-22, out of a total of $113 million in this program, $105 million of that was transfer payments.
Do you know where all those transfers went? I did some digging today, and I can't find where they went. My question is really around this: Is that getting to these programs on the ground, or is it for stuff happening in Ottawa? Is that money actually getting...? We've heard from a number of witnesses who are saying that they're struggling to have access to enough dollars to do the work they want to do. Personally, I would love to see this money getting to those people who are working on the ground, so to speak.
—how much is getting to people on the ground.
I have one final question. You're very quick with your answers. I appreciate it. I'm getting through my whole list here in one slot, so that's perfect.
When I look at your departmental results reports, specifically around this program, there's a target in there, which is that 83% of participants in the program should report improvement in their ability to use their indigenous language—and I'm paraphrasing here—in their everyday lives. That target has been there for four years. It had a measurement date of March 2021, and now, again, we're a couple of years past that and no results with respect to that target have ever been reported in any of the departmental results.
People on this committee know that I'm always pushing for outcomes and results from the work we do. That target doesn't seem to be getting measured, or there's nothing reported on the outcomes. I'm just curious as to whether you have a comment on whether you can provide that information, and if you don't have it today, maybe you could provide that for us along with the other information I asked for.
As I said, this is the thing I'm most proud of from the first time I had the privilege of being the Minister of Canadian Heritage. We've worked on co-developing this bill. We didn't agree on everything all the time, which is also normal, but I think we got to a pretty good bill that allowed us right away to start increasing our actions.
To answer your question directly, we've put in place, for example, $840 million for the financing of the projects. If you add to that the fact that we're putting in another $118 million per year, we're getting close to a billion dollars.
Is it enough? I would say that for languages, it will never be enough, because language is who we are. It's our identity. It's our past. It's our present. It's our future. It's how we tell our stories. We pass those stories on to our children.
I'll give you an example. When I came from Argentina.... That's why I have such a strong accent in English—we were political refugees, and I didn't speak a word of French or English. My dad said, “From the door, outside, you speak the language you want. Learn French. Learn English. Learn everything you want, but on this side of the door, inside, it's Spanish.” It was important to him that we keep our culture, just as it is for all of you.
That's what I'm saying. There will never be enough money, because the needs are so big. Of course, we are accelerating the pace, there are more projects, we're financing faster and we're putting in place agreements whereby we're going to transfer that to our friends—the Inuit, the Métis and the first nations—so that they make the decisions and we're not involved anymore.
However, there's so much to do in that, because we have to bring this to another level. It's not only teaching the language. It's also eventually having more music in indigenous languages. It's having more books in indigenous languages. It's having more television shows, more music and more movies at the movie theatre in indigenous languages. That's my dream. That's what I hope for.
We have to start somewhere. I think the start is not that bad. We've funded, I think, 77 different indigenous languages up to now in the different projects.
We appointed the commissioner. We're working with him. He's independent. We're there to support him.
Now we're working on these long-term funding agreements whereby we will transfer a big amount of money to the indigenous organizations. They will be the ones accepting the projects and taking us away from that decision, and I think it's the right thing to do.
That's a very good question.
That is what we've wanted to do since day one. When we came up with the bill, we said the structure is within Heritage. We're going to work at co-developing it, but at the end of the day, the people are the ones who know what is best for them. They're the ones who know what they need.
I'm not going to go and tell one first nation, “I think this is good for you in terms of indigenous language.” No. Never. How would I know that? It's not up to me to say that.
That's why it's so important for us to finance those long-term agreements with the Inuit, the Métis and the first nations. It's so we can transfer those amounts, and they can select the projects and have those discussions. We already have those discussions, in a way. We don't go by ourselves and say we're going to finance this project or that one. It goes through different groups. Maybe you can explain exactly how we do that, but we're going one step further, transferring the money and saying, “Okay, you know better than us what to do.”
Do you want to quickly add to that?
Thank you Minister, for appearing before the committee today.
You are aware of my interest in languages, generally speaking. Needless to say, the link between culture and language was raised earlier.
I have questions about what was done by the department.
You said that more money was allocated. More money will always be needed, of course. People have been telling me that even though we are being told that there is more money, they are not necessarily feeling a difference and they get the impression that there are barriers in terms of accessing and using the money.
Was additional staff hired by the department specifically for the needs of this process?
Can you tell us how many people were hired to provide more services to these people? I could, if you wish, give you a list of the grievances I've heard about, which were also presented to the committee.
How many additional people were hired to meet requirements?
Thank you, Mr. Pelletier. Thank you, Minister.
If you have those numbers, you could send them to the committee.
I mentioned some of the problems. We've been told that it's hard for people who want to make requests to have direct contact. Of course the matter of human resources is important, as are the delays. People told us that they had tried to get in touch with someone, but that it was impossible. It took far too long. In some instances, it was up to 11 months or even a year. That's a problematic situation.
There is also the whole issue of resources. I know that the will is there. Things improved from 180 projects to approximately 1,000. That covers all the Inuit and Métis projects. Nevertheless, people are talking about the situation, including the communities themselves, which were making requests through organizations. They don't have the resources that a very large band council would have, for example. I have even seen disparities on the North Shore, where I come from. These people need more than resources, and that's the reason for the question. I thought to myself that might be one of the first things to take into consideration if we want to give people access to the available funds.
I'd like to raise a completely different subject with you, Minister, about dormant languages.
I am aware of Huron-Wendat, a language which is not being spoken. I know that we're going to return to the review of the Indigenous Languages Act, but would nevertheless like to know how, in Bill or in the indigenous languages and cultures program, the issue of research or revitalization will be dealt with. That's really pushing it, given that this language is not even being spoken. Several activities will be funded to get people together so that they can talk about it. But in some communities, people are no longer speaking their language, even though they want to reclaim it.
How will things proceed? What will be the minister's responsibilities? We have seen interest and determination from the commissioner, but we know that it will require effort over the long term, as well as enormous resources. I've discussed it with him. However, it would appear that there are only three people at the Office of the Commissioner of Indigenous Languages at the moment. Clearly, between now and full implementation, all of the emphasis will be on the department itself.
The commissioner's role is performed independently. The commissioner's work is carried out independently of project funding. The two are not connected. I know that the commissioner is doing everything possible. He is a remarkable man for whom I have an enormous amount of admiration and respect.
During this time—as you yourself pointed out—project funding has been increased. I'm somewhat surprised to hear that there have been so many. Generally speaking, we have been succeeding in reaching out to a lot of people. We'll be only too happy to take down names and see what we can do for them.
You're right. You've put your finger on something. We're saying that we're going to increase the number of people who speak the language. In some instances, the current number is zero, while for others, there are only three or four speakers remaining. This is not specific to Quebec. I've seen it everywhere, in Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia.
The Department of Canadian Heritage is not about to dictate how they ought to go about revitalizing their languages. It's up to them to figure it out. What we need to do is give them financial support through training, pedagogical assistance, and creating dictionaries and resources to help them learn how to pronounce the words.
[Member spoke in Inuktitut, interpreted as follows:
Today, as we talk about indigenous languages, I am going to speak Inuktitut, my language.
We all understand and know that the people who were sent to residential schools have a lot of pain and have a lot of healing to do.
There are 13 communities in Nunavut. Their schools were managed by the federal government, which hired churches and other agencies to manage them. In Chesterfield Inlet, since 1951, it was the Sir Joseph Bernier Federal Day School. It was the last, and the residence itself, Kivalliq Hall, was closed in 1997 as the last residential school in Nunavut.
In Nunavut, there are 13 communities. They tried to do away with our culture and our language by taking us to residential schools from 1951 to 1997. For 46 years they tried to destroy our language and our culture.
There are 42 schools in Nunavut, from preschool to grade 12. The elementary schools teach the English language. We have one French school in Nunavut, but we do not have an Inuktitut school up to grade 12. We do not have an Inuktitut curriculum or courses up to grade 12.
I am asking you, Canada, can the Government of Canada provide for 13 communities to teach the Inuktitut language inside of Nunavut? We feel that you could also teach the language and the culture of the Inuit. For 46 years, they tried to do away with our language and culture. Can you reply, please?
Thank you for the question.
What was done to indigenous peoples, including the Inuit, was horrible. People were uprooted and prevented from speaking their own language.
As I was saying earlier, language is how we express what we basically are; it's our identity. It's our way of transmitting our history to our children. When children lose their language and can no longer communicate with their parents and grandparents, they lose some of their identity. Something inside them has been broken.
I myself worked for a long time in international development around the world, and I always said that change and progress come through education.
All the departments have a role to play in this, and it varies from one to the other. What our department does is provide kindergarten to grade 12 classrooms with educational materials like dictionaries and software to help with word pronunciation.
Other departments work more closely with the provinces and territories on other aspects.
In fact I'm going to ask Mr. Pelletier to provide more details on this.
I'm personally in favour of that, but it's not part of my department's mandate. I don't want to speak for my colleague.
As I said earlier, progress comes through education. If we want to set things right and correct the horrendous injustices committed, then children, your children, have to be able to learn their own language.
Collaboration is important. Agreements are also essential. As it happens, we have already signed eight education agreements with provincial and territorial governments.
I think that you should have this conversation with the Infrastructure Minister or the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, because that's their area of responsibility. I can't speak for them, but as far as we are concerned, we will certainly continue to provide all the required pedagogical materials.
That's perfect. Thank you very much, Chair.
Thank you, Minister, for being here for this important discussion we're having today regarding indigenous languages and culture.
Minister, I'm going to point out a headline from the Hill Times that is dated June 6: “Online streaming bill risks pushing out Indigenous voices, says APTN”, the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network. According to the article, members from the APTN were not at the table when discussions were taking place regarding this online content bill.
Given the fact that, according to the National Post in this article, you are rejecting the Senate's amendments to Bill , including this clause in the bill that one senator described as giving “extraordinary new powers to the government to make political decisions about things”, what guarantee can you give this committee and the indigenous community in general that their content will be able to be seen online and not regulated by the CRTC?
I'd also like to thank our minister for joining the committee today on the really important study we're doing right now.
A couple of questions came up today related to some of the indigenous languages that are most at risk, because we know indigenous languages across the country very much have different statuses. Throughout this study, we've heard about the urgency of acting right now, because many of these communities have few remaining language speakers. They're doing the best they can to capture this knowledge but, in many cases, it's a race against time.
Minister, I was hoping you could speak to how the government is working with those communities—I have one in my riding as well—where the future of the language is very much threatened right now. How are we able to address the pace of implementation, so that we are able not only to save the languages, but to strengthen and revitalize them for future generations as well?
Of course, I said at the beginning that such an important bill cannot be realized overnight. However, the fact there was so much work done in the process and the fact there was so much discussion and collaboration....
I remember meeting with my friends—the Métis, the Inuit and the first nations—here and in other cities. I went to Iqaluit. We had meetings in New York while we were there at the United Nations. Again, we didn't always agree on everything, which is normal, but we agreed that we had to put in a robust bill and we had to be able to start very quickly.
The second the bill was adopted—again, it received royal assent in June and was put in place in August—we started increasing the level of funding. More importantly, though, we put in place structures such that we would work with our indigenous counterparts and colleagues, because we didn't want PCH to be there saying, “Okay, send us projects. We'll be the ones analyzing them and you guys will have nothing to do”. It's quite the opposite.
We have different groups that work with us and will vet the projects. They're groups that know their own reality and know the people who presented the project. Through that, I think we're in a good spot. We can always do better, but I think we're in a good spot, where we can keep increasing the funding of the projects. I said it's been about $840 million since the implementation of the act, with $118 million ongoing. There are community projects and on-the-ground projects that make a difference in the daily lives of people and the objectives we all have.
I don't see how this bill could be politicized or partisan. It is about—this is very important—revitalizing, permeating and promoting indigenous languages.
As I said before...I gave my example of how important it was for my father and my family to keep our Spanish. I'm so proud to have kept my Spanish. I can talk to my daughter in Spanish. I can go back to Argentina and speak to my mother, who's there, my uncles and others in my language.
That is equally important for all of us. I'll always be there to defend it, and not only because it's the right thing to do. For me, it's so personal that we do the right thing.
That's an excellent question.
It mostly comes through young people themselves. I sensed that they were very enthusiastic about learning the language and being able to say that they can speak with their grandparents in the language of their ancestors.
They have to be provided with the essential tools, like software that enables them to directly translate tweets into one or other of the indigenous languages, as well as immersion activities for younger children, which are more appropriate for them than just pedagogical materials.
Access is needed to equipment to record songs or shoot videos in indigenous languages. Those are the kinds of things that will attract youth. There is a lot of talent, and some will become the major producers and musicians of tomorrow. In fact, we have one in the room with us today.
Those are some of the things we can do.
Thank you for the question.
I don't think our research is as exhaustive as what the commissioner's office is doing, because that's its role and it's part of its mandate.
I recall that work on the bill began in 2016. When I became the Minister of Canadian Heritage, work had been progressing for some time, and I continued with it.
In the course of our discussions, tours and meetings, we obtained information about the status of the situation. However, the research was done more instinctively than quantitatively. I'm not sure that everyone had much information at the time. That's also when we became aware of the fact that for some indigenous languages, there were perhaps only three living speakers, and they were over 85 years old. We asked ourselves what ought to be done in situations like that.
We were compiling this information somewhat instinctively, but not scientifically. It will be up to the commissioner's office to do this work exhaustively.
Minister, I got through most of my questions before, but I have one other that I'd like to get to.
I was doing some digging on your website this afternoon, and under the indigenous languages and cultures program, there's a second component. We talked about the indigenous languages component, but there's also the northern aboriginal broadcasting component of that program. In the riding I come from in northern Saskatchewan, that's a pretty big deal. The radio stations in many of these northern communities are a huge mechanism for them to communicate. In the context of indigenous languages, I think they're also a mechanism for maintaining and enhancing.
I'd be curious to get a bit of information and your perspective on the importance of those, and possibly on how some of those small community radio stations that are frustrated with their ability to exist.... The cost of existing in that context is really, really high. I'm wondering if you might have any advice for them on how to better access the system and on how we could support them—that perspective, if that makes sense.
That's a great question.
My answer is fundamental. On what the role is, it is fundamental. The problem, Mr. Vidal, that we've seen in the last 15 years is that those small communities—but also big ones—are disappearing. Why? Because the ad revenue is going to two big players, honestly. Google and Facebook are getting 80% of all the advertising, which has had the impact of closing 460 media outlets: small and big radio stations and small and big papers, both local and city. The solution we put in place is a $50-million program to help local media outlets. There is also the $6-million program for tax credits on la main d'oeuvre—I don't know how to say that—
A voice: Workforce.
The Chair: It's manpower.
Hon. Pablo Rodriguez: Yes, manpower in the newsrooms.
Also, there's another bill coming, you'll be happy to know, Mr. Vidal: Bill . That's coming. That will ask the big techs that are receiving $8 billion out of $10 billion to contribute to those small newsrooms.
My question for the minister is in regard to a presentation I heard from the AFN. It was their presentation about languages. They talked about 82 different indigenous language groups across the country. They expect only three languages to survive if we keep doing things the way we're doing them now.
There's been a lot of activity in the last while on indigenous languages, and it's really exciting to see. We've heard a lot of presentations over the last number of meetings we've had. Our witnesses all claim that investment in their language has to be on par with the French and the English.
For the English language, you can go to a nice facility with trained staff, and for French it's the same, but it's not the same when it comes to indigenous languages. In fact, I have an indigenous language speaker and instructor who walks around in the shop with all his material in a shopping cart and parks it in the janitor's room at night. There's no comparison.
My question is, in the government's vision, can we expect investment in the indigenous languages to be on par with investment in the French and English?
What I want is the investment to increase, which it already did.
Now, if we say to compare it to English and French, I'm not sure what we're talking about in terms of comparisons, because the plan for official languages is around $500 million, I think—the whole plan. In this case, we're close to $1 billion for indigenous languages. It depends on what we compare.
What I want—I don't want to get into too much detail on official languages, as my friend who is the there can answer—but what I want is more money.... On that thing of saving three of them—no way. There's no way. Since the start, we've invested in I'd say about a thousand projects. That touches 77 languages.
That's 77, and if we can go higher, we'll go higher, but I think the key for us, regardless, is to transfer the decision to indigenous groups—to first nations, to Métis, to Inuit—where they will sit down and make decisions based on their own needs and what's most urgent: what's more strategic to preserve the language, what's more strategic for the youth, and what's more strategic in the long term.
It's their decision, not ours, and, to be honest, the negotiations are going extremely well and we hope to get deals this year, which would pretty much take all the roles away from PCH and give them to them, because that's how it should be.