Unlike ITK, First Nations, Métis heap praise on languages bill
“Canadians and all parliamentarians must support this bill”
The Assembly of First Nations and the Métis Nation, who together represent more than 1.2 million Indigenous people, are greeting the Trudeau government’s proposed Indigenous Languages Act with ecstatic praise.
“This is landmark legislation to protect and strengthen Indigenous languages, the original languages of these lands, that embrace our identity, our worldview and our nationhood,” Perry Bellegarde, the national chief of the AFN, said on Feb. 5 in a statement.
That position stands in sharp contrast to that of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, whose president, Natan Obed, slammed the bill yesterday in a caustic statement.
Trudeau had promised to introduce an Indigenous Languages Act at an AFN assembly held in December 2016.
The bill responds to three different calls to action from the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which recommended the appointment of an “Aboriginal Languages Commissioner” and funding support for languages.
So with the tabling of the bill on Feb. 5, “now there is hope” for Canada’s Indigenous languages, Bellegarde said, pointing out that the AFN co-developed the proposed new law.
The AFN, which represents more than 900,000 Indigenous people who live inside Canada’s borders, urged all others to support Trudeau’s bill.
“Canadians and all parliamentarians must support this bill because we all understand that language is identity, language is culture, language is life,” Bellegarde said.
Clément Chartier, the president of the Métis Nation, which also calls itself the Métis National Council, declared unequivocal support for the bill as well.
“We salute the prime minister for acting on this priority,” Chartier said. The Métis Nation represents more than 350,000 people.
“The bill recognizes that the rights related to Indigenous languages are among the rights recognized and affirmed by section 35 of the Constitution Act 1982 so this is reconciliation in action,” he said.
At the same time, the Métis Nation minister of heritage and culture, Clara Morin Dal Col, said the bill marks “a giant first step” towards supporting Michif, which she described as the “most neglected” of Canada’s Indigenous languages.
And like the AFN leader, she said she commended Trudeau for creating a process in which the Métis co-developed the Indigenous Languages Act.
ITK, however, has essentially rejected the Trudeau government’s Indigenous Languages Act, because it contains no Inuktut-specific content, a key ITK demand.
In a withering attack on the bill, ITK president Natan Obed accused Ottawa of acting in bad faith towards Inuit.
“The absence of any Inuit-specific content suggests this bill is yet another legislative initiative developed behind closed doors by a colonial system and then imposed on Inuit,” Obed said.
The federal bill, which Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez must now steer through Parliament, would create a federal Office of the Commissioner of Indigenous Languages, commit long-term money to Indigenous languages and create ways to promote those languages.
When asked about Inuit objections to the bill at a scrum yesterday, Rodriguez told reporters the government is open to amendments.
“Can we amend it to bring other stuff into it? Absolutely. But we have to start somewhere and this is where we start,” Rodriguez said.