In 2016, the number of people who indicated an Indigenous language as their “mother tongue” dropped to 31,370 after sitting at 34,055 in 2011.
“When we hear the numbers are getting low, it does create awareness and it does create some concern,” Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) Chief Bobby Cameron said.
According to the Statistics Canada census numbers, there are fewer people speaking Indigenous languages in Saskatoon compared to 2011, but that number is on the rise in Regina.
The decline comes as efforts are underway to increase Indigenous education in schools, amid more calls to action by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for language preservation.
Currently, the FSIN is advocating for Indigenous language legislation at the federal level to commit more statutory funding for education.
“The solutions are in our First Nations communities,” Cameron said. “The answers are in our First Nation elders, and our chiefs and councils.”
As for what can be done right now to counter the downward trend, Cameron points to Indigenous communities such as the Onion Lake First Nation, where Cree immersion is being used in schools.
Cameron also believes the solution can be found within the home.
“As First Nations leaders and parents and grandparents out there, it’s our obligation, our duty to do the best we can to teach the language to our children in the home,” Cameron said.
“There’s only so much a school can do. It has to be continuous at home.”
Despite fears of communities at risk of losing their language, Cameron says preservation ties in with treaty education; a topic top of mind for many in Saskatchewan.
“We won’t lose our language,” Cameron said. “It’s our heart and soul — our identity is our language.”