Canada's Original Think Tank

Recognition and Promotion of Indigenous Languages

Recognition and Promotion of Indigenous Languages

Recognition and Promotion of Indigenous Languages

Hon. Serge Joyal: 

Honourable senators, last week, the House of Commons approved the recommendations of its Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs and authorized the use of Indigenous languages in parliamentary debate.

[English]

It is an historic and symbolic step in the rehabilitation of the status of Indigenous languages in Canada that any Indigenous MP could stand up in the House of Commons and speak his or her own Indigenous language, with translation available to fellow parliamentarians. The fact the House of Commons has accepted to move in that direction should be commended. And, honourable senators, we can be proud of the fact that we in the Senate led the way in that direction.

In a motion adopted by the Senate in 2007 — that is to say, more than 10 years ago — the Standing Committee on Rules, Procedures and the Rights of Parliament conducted a study to determine the feasibility for Inuit senators to speak Inuktitut in the chamber. At that time, there were two Inuit senators, Senator Adams and Senator Watt.

The Rules Committee concluded this would be technically feasible if senators gave advance notice of their intention to speak their Indigenous language, in which case an interpreter would be made available for translation purposes.

Following the adoption of that Rules Committee report by this chamber in May 2008 under Speaker Noël Kinsella, we were privileged to hear an Inuit senator formally speaking Inuktitut for the first time on the floor of the Senate during an official debate in our chamber with the requisite translation.

This was a historic moment, one which had not taken place over the preceding 140 years of Confederation. It also demonstrated that allowing an Indigenous senator to express himself or herself in their own language of origin was not only desirable but also very much possible. The Rules Committee report was complementary to this important achievement.

Moreover, this prompted me to introduce a bill on the recognition of Indigenous languages in Canada in 2009.

We are happy the House of Commons has adopted a similar approach. It should be a matter of pride that the Senate led the way in this regard, and we did so, senators, over 10 years ago, I repeat.

In fact, some of us, me included, were invited last year to testify in the other place to outline the work done in the Senate and the lessons they could draw from our own experience. The testimony we gave is reflected in the Procedure and House Affairs Committee’s report adopted last Thursday by the House of Commons.

I am proud of the fact that the Senate broke ground on this transformative issue and that our chamber has recognized the inherent dignity of Indigenous senators speaking their ancestral mother tongue now in both houses of the Canadian Parliament. Let’s hope the government will move soon to table its own formal bill on the recognition and promotion of Indigenous languages.