Today I grieve for my country.
I grieve for a family
that has not yet seen justice
from the moment a handgunned farmer
pulled the trigger and killed their son.
(why does a farmer need such a gun?)

I grieve for a mother
who saw the police
arrive at her house as though on a raid
and treat her like a criminal
and not like the victim she really was.

I grieve for those mothers
with empty arms
who think of their loss
at the hands of such others.
and the lack of the answers
that haunt them still.

I grieve for the youth
who now see no hope,
and whose hunger for justice
gives rise to an anger
that more and more turns
from a dangling rope
to a violence directed at them.

I grieve for the children
whose lives have embraced
an unwanted, dangerous, jeopardy.

I grieve for the elders
who’ve seen this before.
And whose wisdom will not be enough
to get all of us through this evenly.

I may grieve for some time to come.

But then to be true…
we have all been in grieving a very long time.
So long, it is part of our DNA

And so, this is why
No matter how hard we might try
we can’t “just get over it and move on”.
We all can easily say:
“My country won’t let me.”

Posted in Uncategorized | 57 Comments

Love Sucks

A Note
to my angry, broken-hearted Niece,
because she thinks love sucks.

Love sucks?
Why, yes it does, when it goes wrong
It hurts and makes you cry.
It fills you with despair and hate
and makes you wanna die.
It brings you to your knees
and makes you wonder why
you even try.
And it will drive you mad.

It will cause you to believe
you should stay out of love
and you’re never gonna let
that stupid feeling get into your life again.

Until it does.

It does… because the moment that you catch the eye
of someone special looking sideways
as you’re looking sideways too
the memory of pain will disappear.
As your heart begins to flutter
and your throat gets tighter too
and your palms begin to cool with sweat
and your tongue becomes all knotted
and speaks gibberish despite the fact,
you know just what you wanna say
but there’s this foolish little giggle
that keeps gettin’ in the way.

You try to push those feelings down,
But it makes no difference how you frown
‘Cause it won’t matter how you sound
you know inside you’re going down
’cause love will stick you in the ground.
And as your cheeks begin to flush
with warmth from who the hell knows where,
you’ll find that you’re in love again
despite the painful past despair,
You’ll breathe the purest air of airs
and every song you know, you’ll share
You’ll feel so kind and sweet and fair
You’ll smell each smell, you’ll see each hair
As time stands still.

But here’s a tiny secret truth,
escaping adults and the youth:
to keep that happy love alive
you have to feed it, make it thrive
just as it feeds and cares for you,
you have to give it something too.

That means that you must learn each day,
with things you do and words you say
just how to make that other
fall in love with you again.
For if you don’t,
or can’t
or won’t,
each day will be a sinking stone,
and, sure as hell,
for each of you

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Our children do not set out in life to fail

Our children are the ongoing prize in the cultural war that Canada declared against us over 150 years ago. Canada may believe that the war is over, but until the automatic weapons it created as part of that war, have been taken from their hands or altered in fundamental ways, or disabled totally, the war continues of its own momentum.

The Child Welfare System, the Youth Justice System and the Educational System all function from the inherent, fundamental, belief, that we as parents in our own communities do not have the right to birth, raise, educate, discipline and protect our children from Canada’s inherent racism.

Canada believes fervently in the benevolence of its policies and fails to accept its own failings, because we are the faces of those failings. They treat us poorly because we are not like them, and they ignore our wounds and the deaths that result from their actions – past and present -, because we are not like them.

We are asked to help Canada do better – to be better – and we willingly accept that challenge because Canada must change. But the struggle to create the change that Canada must undergo will be resisted and it will be a constant repetition of “two steps forward, one step back”, or sometimes three. It will not be easy.

What our leaders must realize is that we too must change. We must stop playing the victim’s role of looking to our abuser for the help we need. We must accept the challenge of standing up and walking on our own two feet. And we must walk to the beat of our own drum.

We must demand that our leaders show the leadership necessary to strengthen our communities.

We must demand that our leaders show the leadership necessary to strengthen our families.

We must demand that our leaders show the leadership necessary to strengthen our children.

We need leaders to fight that ongoing battle with the enemies on the outside of our walls, and we need leaders who will fight the enemies who are inside the walls. Our traditions have taught us that.

Our children do not set out in life to fail. They want to be someone. We have to be the someones they want to be.

We have to tell them about those of us who have come from the same ground they stand upon, who have the same kinds of community, parents and history that they have, and who look just like them, who are someone.

We have to make them believe in us and we have to train them how to become someone and we have to let them try.

…then we have to create the blankets with which we can wrap them when they stumble and fall, and we have to love them enough to help them get up and walk again.

No one escapes this world unhurt and unharmed. We will all be bruised at some point. But our traditions have sustained the warrior spirit inside us for thousands of years and they hold the key to our future. We will not survive by being better at the whiteman’s game than the white man. We will survive by being the best Anishinaabe we can be.

Tell them I said this.

Posted in Uncategorized | 11 Comments

Apartheid in Canada

Lessons From Canada’s Apartheid

In this colonizer’s editorial, recently published in the Globe and Mail, ( ) lies the racist fallacy.

On the one hand the editorialist says it is difficult to assess the population of Canada at the time of contact but then goes on to say, without any evidence, that Canada (and, by implication, North America) “was thinly populated”.

That essentially dismisses everyone else’s view but the writer’s, who has absolutely no basis on which to say it was “thinly populated”.

That argument of low numbers is essential to maintain the mythological doctrines of “terra nullius” and “discovery”.

There are several expert reports which say that the population of the Americas was higher than the population of Europe at the time of contact, and there are experts who assert, with considerable evidence, that Columbus and his conquistadors (“conquerors”) were responsible for the genocide of more than 20 million Indigenous people within a very short period of time. Some estimate that number as high as 90 million. There is no doubt that such a genocide did happen, and there can be no doubt that it was done solely for the purpose of wiping out the larger numbers of Indigenous people (“thinning the population”) in order to sustain the fallacy of terra nullius.

That genocide did not stop until the 1520s when the Pope and the Catholic Church, after much debate, ruled that Indigenous people were “humans” although a lower form of humans.
The editorial then goes on to say that eventually the number of Europeans became higher than the Indigenous population and therefore what happened here couldn’t have been apartheid, since European numbers were higher.

Excuse me, but apartheid is exactly what happened here.

Canada’s apartheid era officially started with Confederation, when Canada was created and the population of Indigenous people outside of the original confederating colonies far outnumbered Europeans.

Through chicanery, lies, and duplicity (i.e. the Treaties) the government lulled the Indigenous leaders in the West into a false sense of security, and after asserting the extension of Canada’s legal jurisdiction, enacted apartheid laws over them. Only after such laws were enacted was Canada able to increase the population of Europeans in the West in order to overcome the much higher Indigenous population.

That apartheid system still exists, and it is what we, who are working for reconciliation, are all working to dismantle.

We do have a lot to learn from the South African experience. They include:

1. Never trust the colonizer’s history.
2. Racism is hard to overcome
3. Tribalism after colonization ends can become the new “problem”.
4. Apartheid is economic as well as political and legal.
5. Even with a supportive government, reconciliation will take a long time.
6. Without immediate economic and social reform, the legacies of racism easily live on.

And so, colonizer editorialist, next time do your homework.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments


The angry, hungry, thirsty being
staggered from the darkness 
of the creature 
which had been his life
for all these many years
He sought to find
those ones who had denied 
his true existence
to see 
if just perhaps 
they now believed 
he could survive.
They did.
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Residential school reading list

Many of you have asked for a reading list on the topic of residential schools. Ask and ye shall receive. Here’s part of a larger reading list I use.

There are several related topics of course which I recommend people take a look at such as Genocide, Colonization/Decolonization, Indigenous activism, child welfare and Indigenous children, Indigenous people and the Justice system etc. I also highly recommend all of Vine Deloria’s books, Thomas King’s Inconvenient Indian, Richard Wagamese’s book Indian Horse, all of the Research papers compiled by the Aboriginal Healing Foundation at, and the website of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation

This is far more than what most people are expecting but, you can choose what you wish. Besides I had to read them all (and many others 🙂 ) and they are all helpful in one way or another. Good luck:


Barman, Jean and Jan Hare, Good Intentions Gone Awry: Emma Crosby and the Methodist Mission on the Northwest Coast. University of British Columbia Press, 2007.

Cariboo Tribal Council. Impact of the Residential School, Williams Lake, B.C.: 1991.

Chartrand, Larry N., Tricia E. Logan and Judy D. Daniels. Métis History and Experience and Residential Schools in Canada/Histoire et expériences des Métis et les pensionnats au Canada. Aboriginal Healing Foundation, 2006.

Deiter, Constance. From Our Mothers’ Arms: The Intergenerational Impact of Residential Schools in Saskatchewan. United Church Publishing House, 1999.

Grant, Agnes. No End of Grief: Indian Residential Schools in Canada. Pemmican, 1996.

Huel, Raymond J.A. Proclaiming the Gospel to the Indians and Métis. University of Alberta Press, 1996.

Jaine, Linda. Residential Schools: The Stolen Years. University of Saskatchewan, University Extension Press, 1993.

King, David. A Brief Report of the Federal Government of Canada’s Residential School System for Inuit/ Bref compte-rendu du Régime du pensionnats pour les Inuit du gouvernement fédéral du Canada. Aboriginal Healing Foundation, 2006.

Lascelles, Thomas A. Roman Catholic Indian Residential Schools in British Columbia. Order of OMI in B.C., 1990.

Métis Nation of Alberta. Métis Memories of Residential Schools: A Testament to the Strength of the Metis. Métis Nation of Alberta, 2004.

Miller, J.R., Shingwauk’s Vision: A History of Native residential schools. University of Toronto, 1996.

Milloy, John S. A National Crime: The Canadian Government and the Residential School System, 1879 to 1986. University of Manitoba Press, 1999.

Nuu-Chah-Nulth Tribal Council. Indian Residential Schools: The Nuu-chah-nulth Experience. Nuu-chah- nulth Tribal Council, 1996.

Young-Ing, Gregory, Jonathan Dewar and Mike De Gagne, eds., Response, Responsibility, and Renewal: Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Journey/ Réponse, responsabilité et renouveau. Cheminement du Canada vers la vérité et la réconciliation. Aboriginal Healing Foundation, 2009.

School Histories

Dyck, Noel. Differing Visions: Administering Indian Residential Schooling in Prince Albert, 1867-1967. Fernwood Publishing, 1997.

Furniss, Elizabeth. Victims of Benevolence: The Dark Legacy of the Williams Lake Residential School. Arsenal Pulp Press, 1995.

Glavin, Terry and former students of St. Mary’s. Amongst God’s Own: The Enduring Legacy of St. Mary’s Mission. Longhouse Publishing, 2002.

Graham Elizabeth, ed. The Mush Hole: Life at Two Indian Residential Schools. Heffle Publications, 1997.

Jack, Agnes. Behind Closed Doors: Stories from the Kamloops Indian Residential School. Theytus Books, 2006.

Haig-Brown. Resistance and Renewal: Surviving the Indian Residential School. Arsenal Pulp Press, 1988.


Ahenakew, Edward. Voices of the Plains Cree. McClelland & Stewart, 1973.

Apakark Thrasher, Anthony. Skid Row Eskimo. Griffin House, 1976.

Blondine-Perrin, Alice. My Heart Shook Like a Drum. Borealis Press, 2009.

Brass, Eleanor. I Walk in Two Worlds. Glenbow Museum, 1987.

Dandurand, Joseph A. Looking into the Eyes of My Forgotten Dreams. Kegedonce Press, 1998.

Ennamorato, Judith. Sing the Brave Song. Raven Press, 1999.

Fontaine, Theodore. Broken Circle: The Dark Legacy of Indian Residential Schools: A Memoir. Heritage House, 2010.

French, Alice. My Name is Masak. Peguis, 1976.

Goodwill, Jean and Norma Sluman, eds. John Tootoosis. Pemmican, 1990.

Grant, Agnes. Finding My Talk: How Fourteen Canadian Native Women Reclaimed their Lives after Residential School. Fifth House Books, 2004.


Alexie, Robert Arthur. Porcupines and China Dolls. Stoddart, 2009.

Armstong, Jeannette. Slash, Revised. Theytus Books, 2007.

Boyden, Joseph. Born With a Tooth. Cormorant Books, 2009.

Highway, Thomson. Kiss of the Fur Queen. Doubleday, 1998.

Lakevold Dale, and Racine, Darrell. Misty Lake: A Play. Loon Books, 2006.

Loring, Kevin. Where the Blood Mixes: A Play. Talon Books, 2009

Loyie, Larry and Manuel, Vera. Two Plays About Residential School. Living Traditions, 1998.

Mosionier, Beatrice. In Search of April Raintree. Pemmican, 1999.

Simon, Lorne Joseph. Stones and Switches. Theytus Books, 1994.
International Experiences

Adams, David Wallace, Education for Extinction: American Indians and the Boarding School Experience 1875-1928. University Press of Kansas, 1997.

Bartels, Dennis A. and Alice L. Bartles. When the North Was Red: Aboriginal Education in Soviet Siberia. McGill- Queen’s University Press, 1995.

Child, Brenda J. Boarding School Seasons: American Indian Families 1900-1940. University of Nebraska Press, 2000.

Ellis, Clyde. To Change Them Forever: Indian Education at the Rainy Mountain Boarding School, 1893-1920. University of Oklahoma, 1996.

Lomawaima, K. Tsianina. They Called it Prairie Light: The Story of the Chilocco Indian School. University of Nebraska Press, 1995.

For Younger Readers

Campbell, Nicola I., with illustrations by Kim LeFave. Shin-chi’s Canoe. Groundwood/House of Anansi, 2008.

Loyie, Larry, with illustrations by Constance Brissenden. Goodbye Buffalo Bay. Theytus Books, 2009.

Olsen, Sylvia, Rita Morris, and Ann Sam. No Time to Say Goodbye: Children’s Stories of Kuper Island Residential School, Sono Nis Press, 2001

Sterling, Shirley. My Name is Seepeetza. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 1993.

Joe, Rita with Lynn Henry. Song of Rita Joe: Autobiography of a Mi’kmaq Poet. Ragweed Press, 1996.

Johnston, Basil H., Indian School Days. Key Porter Books, 1988.

Kennedy, Dan. Recollections of an Assiniboine Chief. McClelland & Stewart, 1972.

Knockwood, Isabelle. Out of the Depths: The Experiences of Mi’kmaw Children at the Indian Residential School at Shubenacadie, N.S. Roseway Publishing, 1994.

Lawrence, Mary. My People, Myself. Caitlan Press, 1996.

Moran, Bridget. Stoney Creek Woman: The Story of Mary John. Arsenal Pulp Press, 1997.

Willis, Jane. Geniesh: An Indian Girlhood. New Press, 1973.

The Legacy and Reconciliation

Battiste, Marie and Jean Barman, eds. First Nations Education in Canada: The Circle Unfolds. University of British Columbia Press, 1995.

Burnaby, Barbara. Languages and Their Role in Educating Native Children. Ontario Institute for Studies in Education Press, 1980.

Crey, Ernie and Suzanne Fournier. Stolen From Our Embrace: Abduction of First Nation Children and the Restoration of Aboriginal Communities. Toronto: Douglas & McIntyre, 1997.

Castellano, Marlene Brant, Linda Archibald, and Mike De Gagne, eds. From Truth to Reconciliation: Transforming the Legacy of Residential Schools/De la vérité à la réconciliation – Transformer l’héritage des pensionnats. Aboriginal Healing Foundation, 2008.

Chrisjohn, Roland and Sherri Young. The Circle Game: Shadows and Substance in the Indian Residential School Experience. Theytus Books, 1997.

Regan, Paulette. Unsettling the Settler Within: Indian Residential Schools, Truth Telling, and Reconciliation in Canada. University of British Columbia Press, 2010.

Schissel, Bernard and Terry Wotherspoon, The Legacy of School for Aboriginal People: Education, Oppression, and Emancipation. Oxford University Press, 2003.

Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair (Author), Warren Cariou (Editor):  Manitowapow: Aboriginal Writings from the Land of Water – Jan 24 2012

Wadden, Marie. Where the Pavement Ends: Canada’s Aboriginal Recovery Movement and the Urgent Need for Reconciliation. Douglas & McIntyre, 2008.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | 17 Comments

On Aboriginal Languages in Canada

Following, is my speech on The Senate Bill on Aboriginal Languages.

Aboriginal Languages of Canada Bill
Second Reading—Debate Continued
On the Order:
Resuming debate on the motion of the Honourable Senator Joyal, P.C., seconded by the Honourable Senator Eggleton, P.C., for the second reading of Bill S-212, An Act
for the advancement of the aboriginal languages of Canada and to recognize and respect aboriginal language rights.

Hon. Murray Sinclair: Honourable senators, I rise to add some comments with regard to Bill S-212, which calls upon the government to take steps to address the status and restoration of Indigenous languages in Canada.

I want to first of all congratulate our colleague Senator Joyal for reintroducing this bill, as he has in the past, and for his comments at the beginning.

I want to begin my remarks by asking you to think of the answer to this question: “Who are you?” It’s not a rhetorical question. It’s a question which asks you to contemplate the fundamental question of your identity and character. To be able to answer that, you need to know where you and your ancestors came from, what you stood for, your personal and collective history, what your influences have been, what your ambitions have been and are, and what your purpose in life is.

It’s not a tough call for most of us because we have been informed and educated about those things within our families and in our institutions since the day we were born. Our answers to those questions and the ambitions they have provided to us, combined with the opportunities and the choices we have faced and made, have led us to this very place.

Yet, while we are all senators, that is not who we are. It is what we do.

We are all unique from each other, but we are confident of one thing, though, that we each know who we are. We are strong in our sense of self. We have an identity we believe in and which we know will sustain us throughout all of our challenges. We are what and who we want to be.

Language and culture are keys to personal identity. Personal identity is key to a sense of self-worth, and spiritual and mental wellness hinge on one’s sense of self-worth.
Everyone wants to feel worthy and to belong to something valid. Education is the key by which we make our society and our membership within it seem valid.

Identity also gives one a sense of being valued and worthy if one’s language and culture are considered valuable and worthy. If the language you speak and the culture you follow are denigrated or otherwise portrayed as unworthy of respect from your neighbours, disrespect is reciprocated and tension between you is inevitable.

That has significant implications for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Canada. From the time of Confederation until the end of the 20th century, a period of about 125 years, Canada did all that it could to eliminate Aboriginal cultures and Aboriginal languages. Through the use of law approved and passed by our senatorial ancestors, among others, cultural practices were outlawed and access to justice was denied to anyone who wanted to do anything about it.

Undoubtedly, residential schools were the single most significant attack on Indigenous languages and cultures. One hundred and fifty thousand children were forcibly removed from their families under threat of prosecution for those parents who resisted and were placed in institutions for the sole purpose of indoctrinating them into Canadian society.

Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald not only believed that Aboriginal people who practised their culture and languages were savages but that they needed to have their cultures and languages stripped away. In 1883, in Parliament, he stated:

“When the school is on the reserve, the child lives with its parents, who are savages, and though he may learn to read and write, his habits and training and mode of thought are Indian. He is simple a savage who can read and write.

It has been strongly impressed upon myself, as head of the Department, that Indian children should be withdrawn as much as possible from the parental influence, and the only way to do that would be to put them in central training industrial schools where they will acquire the habits and modes of thought of white men.”

He made this statement at a time when federal government representatives had already entered into treaties with First Nations leaders and would continue to enter into other treaties within which promises were made by the government, among other things, to build schools on reserves, such as the provision you find in Treaty 1. That treaty says:

“And further, Her Majesty agrees to maintain a school on each reserve hereby made whenever the Indians of the reserve should desire it.

It would be fair to say that the federal government representatives were less than forthright and even deceptive in their dealings with First Nation leaders on the issue of schools and education during those treaty negotiations.

In a study of the impact of residential schools, the Assembly of First Nations noted in 1994 that:

. . . language is necessary to define and maintain a world view. For this reason, some First Nation elders to this day will say that knowing or learning the native language is basic to any deep understanding of a First Nation way of life, to being a First Nation person. For them, a First Nation world is quite simply not possible without its own language. For them, the impact of residential school silencing their language is equivalent to a residential school silencing their world.

The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples in its report in 1996 similarly noted the connection between Aboriginal languages and what it called a “distinctive world view, rooted in the stories of ancestors and the environment.” The Royal Commission added that Aboriginal languages are a “tangible emblem of group identity” that can provide “the individual a sense of security and continuity with the past. . . . maintenance of the language and group identity has both a social—emotional and a spiritual purpose.”

Residential schools were a systematic, government—sponsored attempt to destroy Aboriginal cultures and languages and to assimilate Aboriginal peoples so that they no longer existed as distinct peoples.  This included forcibly removing children from their families and placing them in residential schools designed primarily if not solely to eliminate their racial identity. Such an act can easily be called cultural genocide and likely also fell within the definition of genocide found in Article 2(e) of the United Nations Convention on Genocide.

English and, to a far lesser degree, French were the only languages permitted to be used in those schools. Students were physically punished, often severely, for speaking their own languages.

Rights to culture and language and the need for remedies for their loss have been recognized now in international law. They are specifically acknowledged in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which acknowledged the critical state of Aboriginal languages generally.

Article 8.1 of the Declaration recognizes that:

Indigenous peoples and individuals have the right not to be subjected to forced assimilation or destruction of their culture.

Article 8.2 provides that:

States shall provide effective mechanisms for prevention of and redress for . . . Any form of forced assimilation or integration.

The Declaration also includes specific recognition of the right to revitalize and transmit Aboriginal languages in Article 13.1, which recognizes that:

Indigenous peoples have the right to revitalize, use, develop and transmit to future generations their histories, languages, oral traditions, philosophies, writing systems and literatures, and to designate and retain their own names for communities, places and persons.

We see further similar provisions in Articles 14.1, 14.3 and 16.

The attempt to assimilate students by denying them access to and respect for their languages and cultures often meant that the students became estranged from their families, from their communities and even from themselves. Some survivors refused to teach their own children their Aboriginal languages and cultures because of the negative stigma that had come to be associated with them during their school years.

My grandmother, for example, who raised me and my siblings from the time that I was an infant, could speak Ojibway and Cree, as well as French and English. She taught all of those languages to me as a young boy, but she insisted that we only speak English once I started school. I always wondered why she did that and came to some understanding when one survivor told us during our hearings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that he had had a similar experience. When he asked his mother why she had never taught him the language, she told him simply, “Because I wanted to save your life.”

In the Catholic school where she had been raised, she was taught that if she continued to practise her culture and to speak her language, she would end up in Purgatory or in Hell, places of eternal damnation. She simply wanted her children to have a chance at eternal life in Heaven, so she refused to teach them their language.

This, I believe, was my deeply Catholic grandmother’s motivation as well.

But whatever the cause or motivation, the lack of transmission of language has contributed significantly to the fragile state of Aboriginal languages and culture in Canada today.

Many of the almost 90 surviving Aboriginal languages in Canada are under serious threat of extinction. In the 2011 Census, only 14.5 per cent of the Aboriginal population of Canada reported that their first language learned was an Aboriginal language.

In the previous 2006 Census, 18 per cent of those who identified as Aboriginal reported an Aboriginal language as their first language learned.

A decade earlier, in the 1996 Census, the figure was 26 per cent.

This indicates a drop in language use and transmission of nearly 50 per cent in the 15 years since the last residential schools were closed.

There are, however, variations among the Aboriginal populations: 63.7 per cent of Inuit speak their language compared to 22.4 per cent of First Nations people and only 2.5 per cent of Metis people.

Some languages are close to extinction because they have only a few remaining speakers at the great-grandparent generation. UNESCO says that 36 per cent of Canada’s Aboriginal languages are critically endangered in the sense that they are only used by the great-grandparent generation.

It says that an additional 18 per cent are severely endangered in the sense that they are used only by the grandparent generation, and 16 per cent are definitely endangered in the sense that they are used by the parental and the two previous generations combined. The remaining languages are all vulnerable.

If the preservation of Aboriginal languages does not become a priority both for governments and for Aboriginal communities, then what the residential schools failed to accomplish will come about through a process of systematic neglect.

In interpreting Aboriginal and treaty rights under section 35(1) of the Constitution Act, 1982, the Supreme Court of Canada has stressed the relation of those rights to the preservation of distinct Aboriginal cultures. The preservation of Aboriginal languages is essential to identity and, given its past treatment, it is clear that Aboriginal people’s right to speak their own languages must be recognized as a legal right in Canada.

In the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, various calls to action were put forward to establish that point.

Call to Action 13, for example, reads:

We call upon the federal government to acknowledge that Aboriginal rights include Aboriginal language rights.

At a time when government funding is most needed to protect Aboriginal languages and culture, Canada has not upheld commitments it previously made to fund such programs.
In 2002, the federal government under Prime Minister Chretien promised that $160 million would be set aside for the creation of a centre for Aboriginal languages and culture and a national Aboriginal language strategy. But in 2006, the Harper government retreated from that commitment, pledging instead to spend only the $5 million per year in permanent funding for the Aboriginal Languages Initiative (ALI), which had been started in 1998.

The ALI is a program of government—administered heritage subsidies. It is not based on the notion of a respectful nation—to—nation relationship between Canada and Aboriginal peoples. Nor does it provide Aboriginal people with the opportunity to make decisions for themselves about how to allocate scarce resources and how to administer programs.

Other than ALI, the only other significant programs for language preservation are the Canada Territorial Language Accords, with a $4.1 million budget, which support territorial government—directed Aboriginal language services, and which support as well community projects in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories.

In Yukon, language revitalization and preservation projects there are supported through transfer agreements, with 10 of the 11 self-governing Yukon First Nations becoming eligible.

The combined total annual federal budget for those Aboriginal languages programs in Canada, therefore, is $9.1 million when those are factored in.

Compare that to the official languages program for English and French in Canada which has in recent years been allotted funding as follows: in 2012-13, $353.3 million; in 2013-14, $348.2 million; in 2014-15, $348.2 million.

The commitment to French language retention and services is commendable, and I do not want to be taken as criticizing the amount or suggesting it be reduced. Rather I point out for comparison that the resources committed to Aboriginal language programs are far less than what has been committed to French, even in areas where French speakers number less than Aboriginal language speakers. For example, the federal government provides support to the small minority of francophones in Nunavut in the amount of approximately $4,000 per individual annually. In contrast, the funding to support Inuit language initiatives in Nunavut is estimated at $44 per Inuk per year.

In the report of the TRC, we put forward a call to action dealing with the need for legislation. We also saw the need for an official with authority to promote Aboriginal languages and to monitor and report upon federal government funding support.
In addition to promoting the use of Aboriginal languages, that official, we felt, would also educate non-Aboriginal Canadians about the richness and value of Aboriginal languages and how strengthening those languages can enhance Canada’s international reputation.

As I said at the outset, cultural and language revival are keys for Aboriginal youth in their search for identity, and it is a legitimate cause of complaint for survivors of residential schools and other forms of cultural suppression. Cultural and language revival are a binding force for the Aboriginal community. However, while there is a significant role for government to play in that revival, in the final analysis cultural and language revival are the responsibility of the communities that want them.

There is no getting away from the very simple fact that if you want your culture, you must live it; if you want your language, you must speak it.

I have some concerns about this bill, though I support it. In this respect I am not convinced it goes far enough. I don’t think it goes as far as it could or should.

I am nonetheless prepared to support the bill going on to committee in order to see if the committee members will support amendments to the bill, which I intend to propose, that I believe will make the bill stronger and consistent both with the TRC’s calls to action as well as the principles espoused in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

I encourage all of you to show Canada, as well as the Indigenous peoples in Canada living with the legacy of residential schools, that the Senate of Canada as an institution is prepared to support this bill as an act of reconciliation.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment