MP argues -- in Cree -- for indigenous languages in Parliament
Nathaniel Dove, CTVNews.ca
Published Friday, June 9, 2017 7:50PM EDT
When Robert-Falcon Ouellette rose in the House of Commons this week, most of his parliamentary colleagues couldn’t understand some of what the Winnipeg-Centre MP said. Not because of his arguments -- but because he was speaking Cree.
On Thursday the Liberal MP raised a Question of Privilege in the House of Commons that seeks to clarify whether indigenous languages should be allowed in the House. Currently only French and English are permitted.
Ouellette is not just seeking the privilege of MPs being allowed to speak indigenous languages in the House, but also to have translation provided so other members of Parliament can understand him.
“It is my belief that my parliamentary privileges have been violated because I could not be understood by my fellow parliamentarians and Canadians…thus negating the debate and point that I wished to make. I was effectively silenced,” Ouellette said.
“Imagine if a French-Canadian spoke in the House but no translation services were provided,” he added.
The issue first arose in May when Ouellette tried to address violence against two young indigenous women while speaking in Cree. But despite requesting a translation from House’s official translation services, none was provided.
“Our indigenous languages are still important,” Ouellette said on CTV’s Your Morning on May 11. “If we don’t use these languages, if they’re not used in Parliament, at some point most of them are going to die out.”
Parliamentary privileges are entitlements given to elected members of the House that are deemed necessary for them to conduct their parliamentary function. By raising the issue of indigenous languages Ouellette is seeking to extend parliamentary privilege to an area where it has traditionally not existed -- indigenous affairs.
The Winnipeg-Centre MP believes that it is important for Canada’s indigenous languages to be heard in its most symbolic places, not least because indigenous languages face extinction. According to StatsCan only 210,000 Canadians speak indigenous languages, compared to 19 million Canadians who speak English and seven million who speak French.