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Report of the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples (Subject matter of Bill C-91, An Act respecting Indigenous languages)

Report of the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples (Subject matter of Bill C-91, An Act respecting Indigenous languages)

Report of the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples (Subject matter of Bill C-91, An Act respecting Indigenous languages)

Hon. Lillian Eva Dyck: 

Honourable senators, before I begin I thank the Clerk of the Aboriginal Peoples Committee, Mireille Aubé, who masterfully arranged for all the additional meetings that the committee had to undertake in order to complete its pre-study in as quick a time as possible.

I would also like to thank Brittany Collier and Marlisa Tiedemann, the analysts from the Library of Parliament, who, of course, are essential to the operation of the committee.

During its pre-study of Bill C-91, an Act respecting Indigenous languages, the Aboriginal Peoples Committee heard from over 30 witnesses who shared their hopes, concerns and perspectives on the bill. Our report is divided into four main themes: One, regarding the inadequacy of funding; two, inadequacy of consultation; three, obstacles with regard to language, education and instruction; and four, issues with regard to service delivery in Indigenous languages, particularly in the North.

With regard to funding, Algonquin Elder Claudette Commanda reminded the committee that Bill C-91 does not guarantee funding for Indigenous languages. While there is no funding amount included in the legislation, the government has announced funding to implement its measures. Budget 2019 proposes to invest $333.7 million over five years, beginning in 2019 to 2020, with $115.7 million per year ongoing to support the proposed Indigenous languages act.

Witnesses identified characteristics that they believe are essential to ensure funding. This funding contributes to language revitalization. They requested that funding must be permanent, long term and reflect the diversity of Indigenous peoples and languages, including those who live off reserve and in urban centres.

As emphasized by the Native Women’s Association of Canada:

This funding must be consistent with Jordan’s Principle to ensure there are no jurisdictional disputes.

Further on, another important characteristic that was raised by witnesses is that funding for Indigenous languages should not duplicate existing services or create more bureaucracy.

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Bill C-91 proposes to establish an office of the commissioner of Indigenous languages. Helen Klengenberg, the Official Languages Commissioner of Nunavut, stated that the proposed office of the commissioner of Indigenous languages “. . . will be a duplication of services and an unwise use of public funds that could be used instead to enhance what is already in place in Canada.”

With regard to consultation, or what the government now fondly calls pre-engagement sessions, we heard from a lot of witnesses that they were not satisfied with that. In particular, the committee believes that Bill C-91 must better reflect the needs of the Inuit. In fact, the previous speakers to this bill at second reading, Senators Patterson and Coyle — and I can’t remember who else spoke — have raised these issues already. These are the comments that came to us from the pre-study.

If the bill does not include the specific Inuit needs and priorities, the title of the bill is misleading, because it is actually mostly silent on the needs and issues that the Inuit people wish to have included.

With regard to language education and instruction, Francyne Joe, President of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, emphasized:

. . . Indigenous language preservation and revitalization must embrace the traditional ways of passing on languages from generation to generation. This means Indigenous women must lead the development of community-based language-learning programs.

Our committee implores the Government of Canada to ensure that any Indigenous language legislation or strategy recognize the critical role of women, mothers and grandmothers in language transmission. Typically, we only think of certified teachers, but in essence, it’s the fluent language speakers, like family members, mothers, grandmothers — kookumsmooshums — who are the ones transmitting the language to family members. However, we don’t necessarily recognize them and make way for them to be incorporated into the actual payment of teaching. The committee was cognizant of that.

With regard to service delivery in Indigenous languages, we heard that in Inuit Nunangat, people whose mother tongue is Inuktut do not have access to federal services in their own first language, even though Inuktut speakers are the majority in Nunavut and Nunavik. Of course, this is not an acceptable situation.

Aluki Kotierk, the President of NTI, told of the committee:

. . . what we want to see in Inuit Nunangat, that Inuit are able to walk with dignity and receive services that are available and comparable to other Canadians who receive services, but in their own language rather than relying informally on relatives, whether it be a niece, nephew, grandchildren or children.

They would do the interpreting for that person, let’s say, at a federal office somewhere downtown.

The last comments I’ll make are with regard to our conclusion. The committee recognizes the critical importance of Indigenous language reclamation and revitalization, and understands that federal legislation to support Indigenous languages plays a key role in supporting future generations of Indigenous language learners. However, your committee is gravely concerned about key issues raised by witnesses.

First, many witnesses were concerned about the adequacy of funding. Your committee notes these concerns. However, it is mindful about the limitations of the Senate’s ability to amend legislation that would require an additional appropriation or levy a tax. The committee urges the Government of Canada to take this concern seriously and continue to address it as Bill C-91 is implemented.

Furthermore, it remains unclear how funding will be distributed to First Nations, Inuit, and Metis organizations. We believe that to truly support Indigenous language revitalization with respect to funding, priorities should be given to the communities and community-based organizations actually undertaking this work rather than going to political organizations.

Second, the co-development process led to significant disappointment for many participants, including ITK and the Metis Settlement General Council. Your committee believes that the concerns raised by them must be included in the bill. These concerns include suggested amendments to the bill to ensure the inclusion of Metis settlements under the act as well as addressing the lack of federal services in Inuktut in Inuit Nunangat.

In addition, organizations representing or providing services to Indigenous women and urban Indigenous people felt they were overlooked in the development of Bill C-91. I can’t help but mention here the Aboriginal Friendship Centres scattered across the country that provide a wide array of services, but because they are located in cities and they provide service to everybody, not discriminating on the basis of identity, they often get overlooked. It is difficult for them to get adequate and sufficient funding.

The committee believes that Bill C-91 must better meet Inuit needs and priorities. In the time remaining, the committee urges Canadian Heritage to work collaboratively with Inuit to resolve their concerns, including providing feedback on ITK’s proposed annex to the bill that sets out what they wanted to see in the bill and which was not included; it was left out.

To ensure this takes place in a timely manner, the committee will be ready. We have written to the minister to ask for update on the progress. We will likely recall the minister and ministerial representatives to appear before the committee prior to clause by clause. We actually have already done that. I don’t even know what day that is. It was just within the last week. We were having so many meetings, back to back.

The Government of Canada is seized of these matters, and we expect these issues to be resolved. However, if the issues flagged in this report are not addressed, your committee may wish to recommend amendments to the bill during its clause-by-clause consideration of Bill C-91, which is slated for the coming Monday.

To conclude, your committee has emphasized that significant improvements need to be made to Bill C-91. In addition, should the bill pass both houses of Parliament and receive Royal Assent, your committee will continue to monitor its implementation and progress to ensure the concerns raised by witnesses are addressed. Thank you.