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Indigenous Languages Act needs more teeth

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The government recently tabled Bill C-91, “An Act Respecting Indigenous Languages,” in the House of Commons. This long-awaited and overdue piece of legislation is a step forward in revitalizing and promoting Indigenous languages, which have suffered greatly due to centuries of colonization and cultural genocide. Bill C-91 establishes an Office of Commissioner of Indigenous Languages that will be responsible for conducting research on the use and vitality of Indigenous languages, funding language revitalization and promotion programs, and managing complaints made under the Act.

Unfortunately, the proposed bill does not recognize new enforceable language rights for Indigenous Peoples, nor does it give official status to Indigenous languages that French and English already enjoy. Crucially, it does not give Indigenous communities a central role in the revitalization and promotion of their languages.

Bill C-91 indeed recognizes that the constitutional rights of Indigenous Peoples include those related to Indigenous languages. Nevertheless, it does not articulate clearly what those language rights are, apart from the “soft” right to revitalize and promote Indigenous languages. While it is true that Bill C-91 strives to advance the language rights goals of the United Nations........

© Ottawa Citizen