Skip to main content

There are 60 indigenous languages in Canada, more or less; the most spoken are Inuktitut and the related Cree and Ojibway. But while they are many, they risk disappearing. What is needed is a national effort to preserve them.

Senator Serge Joyal has been heroically trying to get a private member's bill through the Senate to help revitalize indigenous languages. But that can't possibly work, for the simple reason that a Senate bill can't force the government to spend any money.

More promising is Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's vow to introduce a bill to re-energize indigenous languages. He offered no details when he made the announcement, but it's still progress.

Story continues below advertisement

For many, the urgent interest in this issue is about preserving dying languages, which are understood mostly by elderly people. In an era of reconciliation with indigenous peoples, putting money into the preservation of native languages would be a concrete gesture that could produce equally concrete benefits.

Section 13 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, if adopted in a measured way, can be a helpful guide. It guarantees the right to the preservation of native languages and literature, and the right to retain native place names. It also guarantees the right to a trial in one's native language, which would be too difficult to accommodate in all cases.

The teaching of indigenous languages should be a priority on reserves, especially the most remote ones. Young people there may be most in need of tools to help overcome their alienation.

But there can also be excitement and value in learning a language and culture that you don't have any hereditary link to, something non-native Canadians might be interested in.

The University of Winnipeg's compulsory policy that all its students take at least one course in an aboriginal subject goes too far. But the intention behind that requirement is good.

These are some of the principles on which the government can form new policies on native languages – and not just for people with indigenous ancestry.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Comments

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

If your comment doesn't appear immediately it has been sent to a member of our moderation team for review

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.