House of Commons has to do more to include Indigenous languages: committee
MP Robert-Falcon Ouellette says his Parliamentary privileges were violated when his statements in the Cree language were not translated.
Canada’s Indigenous languages should be more easily spoken and understood in the House of Commons alongside English and French, according to a new report from the legislature’s Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.
The 37-page document suggests the current lack of accommodation on the matter is at odds with Canadian values, and the ongoing reconciliation between Canada’s Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.
“It is the Committee’s desire that the unquestioned use of Indigenous languages in House proceedings becomes an established practice over time,” the report reads. “The process to be followed should attempt to strike a balance between respecting the inherent value of Indigenous languages and respecting the longstanding and time-tested practices of the House of Commons.”
Fifty-eight distinct Indigenous languages exist in Canada, comprising more than 90 distinct dialects. Of these languages, only six have more than 10,000 people who report it as their mother tongue: the Cree languages, Dene, lnnu, lnuktitut, Ojibway and Oji-Cree.
“Committee heard that since at least the 1940s, concerns have been expressed by Indigenous people about the decline in the use of their languages,” the report continues. “Alarmingly, the vast majority of Indigenous languages in Canada are considered ‘endangered.’”
Census data shows a decline in the number of people with an Indigenous mother tongue, and Indigenous language knowledge. The report notes the average age of people with an Indigenous mother tongue was 36.7 years 2016, a nine year jump since 1981.
The report calls for an incremental approach to better accommodate Indigenous language use.
The Translation Bureau has committed to meet any increase in the demand for services in Indigenous languages by helping to increase the capacity of Indigenous language interpreters and translators.
The issue of Indigenous language interpretation was raised last June by Winnipeg Liberal MP Robert-Falcon Ouellette.
Last May, in the House of Commons, Ouellette made a statement in the Cree language of Nehiyo, which was not able to be translated for his colleagues, because simultaneous interpretation is only available for English and French on a regular basis.
Ouellette said he notified interpretation services 48 hours before he delivered his statement. He argued that the inability for the House of Commons to accommodate his request to have the comments translated made him feel silenced, and said that his privilege as an MP had been violated.
The report also recommends:
-During any Parliament, all members who desire to speak an Indigenous language in the House of Commons should notify the Clerk of the House of Commons in writing and provide information on the Indigenous language(s) they are capable of speaking and intend on using at a future date in the House or its committees.
-To begin with, the Committee recommends that members be required to give reasonable notice in writing to the Clerk of the House of Commons of their intention to speak in an Indigenous language during a future sitting of the House or committee meeting
-Written text of an Indigenous language speech made in the House be inserted at a later date, but not later than the end of a Parliament, into both the English and French versions of the debates