Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Editorial Exchange: Ottawa Has a Duty to Preserve Indigenous Languages

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Editorial Exchange: Ottawa Has a Duty to Preserve Indigenous Languages

Article excerpt

Editorial Exchange: Ottawa has a duty to preserve indigenous languages


An editorial from the Toronto Star, published Dec. 7:

When a language fades so, too, does a cultural identity. The worldviews and traditional knowledge embedded in vocabularies and grammars, the unique sense of community shared by fellow speakers, a body of verbal artworks - all are lost.

It's no wonder, then, that the suppression of language was a key feature of Canada's longstanding policy of forced assimilation of indigenous peoples. Robbed of their ancestral languages, First Nations were thought more likely to melt into the majority.

As a result, many of the 150,000 indigenous children that went through the residential school system had their traditional names replaced by numbers and were punished, often brutally, for speaking their mother tongues. As those schools started to be phased out, thousands more First Nations children were taken from their families and placed in non-indigenous care during the so-called Sixties Scoop, another generation stripped of ancestral languages.

The tactic was remarkably successful. Some 63 indigenous tongues are spoken in Canada today, yet all are endangered. Without significant intervention, only three are expected to survive this century: Ojibwe, Cree and Inuktitut. This decline is in no small part of Ottawa's making and, as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission concluded, it ought to be Ottawa's to reverse.

So it was encouraging to hear Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announce this week that his government will introduce an indigenous languages act in an effort to preserve and revitalize lost and disappearing tongues.

"We know all too well how residential schools and other decisions by governments were used as a deliberate tool to eliminate indigenous languages and cultures," he said at a meeting of the Assembly of First Nations. …

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