In its recommendations dubbed “calls for justice,” the report states governments should make Indigenous languages become official languages “with the same status, recognition, and protection provided to French and English.”
The change would mean federal, provincial and territorial governments legislating the languages, according to the report, along with funding efforts to revitalize and restore language and culture.
Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) Chief Bobby Cameron said a change would be appropriate considering First Nations language and culture predate colonialism.
“It should be paramount that it be an official language and recognized right across the country and right across the world for that matter,” Cameron said.
According to Statistics Canada data, there are roughly 70 Indigenous languages spoken in the country, which can be divided into 12 distinct language families.
Whether they all become official languages or are identified as a single entity, Cameron said it’s a conversation that still needs to happen.
“Whatever our grassroots people support, we would support too,” the FSIN chief said.
The number of people capable of conducting a conversation in an Indigenous language rose by eight per cent from 1996 to 2016, census data revealed.
Saskatoon’s Confederation Park Community School has seen growing interest in its Nêhiyâwiwin Cree Language and Culture Program, according to principal Pete Chief.
“We are now in the second year at this school where we have more students in the Cree language-culture program than in the English stream,” Chief said.
The program began in 2005 with a kindergarten class before expanding to run from pre-kindergarten to Grade 8.
In addition to learning Cree words, students attend feasts, smudges and powwows. They also connect with elders and learn traditional games.
University of Saskatchewan Indigenous Studies department head Robert Innes considers an official language change potentially “another piece to the puzzle” in dispelling negative perceptions of Indigenous people.
“Elevating Indigenous culture to being on the same level as English and French is significant,” Innes said.
The Guinness Book of World Records states Zimbabwe has the most official languages in the world with 16.