NWAC celebrates languages as the primary means through which all Indigenous women, girls and gender diverse people can access their cultural teachings and reclaim their stories, meanings and places. Everyone has the right to express themselves and to communicate in ways that uphold their identity and integrity.
“Language is culture. Language is connected to the land. Language is the way home. Language will breathe life into our women and girls giving strength to lift and lead our people.”
– Survey Participant 2018. Six engagement sessions and an online survey were distributed to Indigenous women, girls and gender diverse people to discuss current programs, successes, challenges and the future of languages.
Indigenous languages in Canada are characterized through 12 overarching language families Michif, 10 Fist Nations and Inuit. Language families include Algonquian languages, Inuit languages, Athapaskan languages, Siouan languages, Salish languages, Tsimshian languages, Wakashan languages, Iroquoian languages, Michif, Tlingit, Kutenai and Haida.
In 2011, Statistics Canada reported that of the approximate 1.4 million Indigenous people in Canada only 213,490 or 15% reported an Indigenous language as their mother tongue.1
According to UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Language in Danger, 32 Indigenous languages are critically endangered, 24 are severely endangered, 6 are definitely endangered and 22 are vulnerable.2
The transference of languages from one generation to another has been severely impacted by colonization. In the Final Report of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Inquiry, the report referred to forbidding the use of languages (Indigenous added) in schools and the press.3 The report concluded that targeted elimination of Indigenous languages was one-way colonial structures attempted to end Indigenous culture in Canada.4
On June 21, 2019 the Indigenous Languages Act received Royal Assent. However, the Act did not make Indigenous languages official languages nor did the Act recognize the importance of Indigenous women in the transfer of Indigenous languages to future generations.
Indigenous language fluency creates a stronger cultural connection, which is tied to greater self-esteem, improved health and better academic outcomes. Language education for Indigenous people has been shown to lower suicide rates and decrease the risk of mental health issues. These impacts are significant; knowing traditional language not only presents the opportunity for cultural revitalization but also poses extensive social and personal benefits.5
In 2018, the Native Women’s Association of Canada completed a report on Indigenous language preservation and revitalization informed by Indigenous women, girls and gender diverse people. This project was focused on engaging with Indigenous women, girls and gender diverse people to elevate their voices and ensure their inclusion in Indigenous language legislation. The need to address disparities and inconsistencies in funding, services and delivery proved to be central in promoting and revitalizing Indigenous languages. Most of the participants found that language teachings should be community-based and informed by grassroots practices.
From these findings, NWAC has come forward with recommendations to ensure the urgency of Indigenous language revitalization is met with action. The recommendations include providing all communities and demographics with the capacity to decide the content and style of language teachings, investing in training and education to ensure no additional languages are lost, empowering women as the first teachers of language, and providing cultural, traditional and holistic language services.
1. Invest in better training for Indigenous language students and teachers to ensure more reliable and accessible services are available, and ensure no additional languages are lost.
2. Empower Indigenous women, girls and gender diverse people by educating families and communities on the benefits of early age language development.
3. Implement cultural, traditional and holistic language services with an Indigenous and gendered lens across all educational domains.
- Statistics Canada “2011 Aboriginal Peoples in Canada: Frist Nations People, Metis and Inuit <https://www12.statcan.gc.ca/nhs-enm/2011/as-sa/99-011-x/99-011-x2011001-eng.cfm>.
- Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, Volume 1A, pg. 50.
- Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, Volume 1A, pg. 232.