A large delegation from the Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO) participated in an Indigenous languages engagement session in Toronto on July 12.
The information gathered during the session will inform the National First Nations, Inuit and Métis Languages legislation that will reflect the geographical, political, legislative and cultural context that impacts language preservation, promotion and revitalization. The session was one of 30 hosted by the department of Canadian Heritage between June and September with Métis, First Nations and Inuit across the country.
The session focussed on the preservation of Michif, which is the language of Métis people once spoken across the Métis Homeland. Like most Indigenous languages, the number of Michif speakers declined due to the colonization process that attempted to stamp out the use of languages other than English and French.
More than two-thirds of the 90 Indigenous languages still spoken in Canada are “endangered” according to UNESCO’s endangered languages criteria; the remaining third are defined as “vulnerable”. The number of overall speakers is also declining.
“The efforts to preserve and promote Michif, and all Indigenous languages, are an essential part of reconciliation,” stated MNO President Margaret Froh. “Michif is an important part of Métis culture and heritage and we look forward to seeing how our input is used in the development of future legislation.”
Prime Minister Trudeau announced in late December 2016, his government’s intention to introduce a languages act. A bill is expected to be tabled this fall with it reaching Royal Assent sometime in 2019.
Following the Prime Minister’s commitment to an Indigenous languages act, the 2017 budget included $69 million for the Aboriginal Language initiative, supporting a range of community language projects; $14.9 million for the digitization of existing Indigenous language and cultural materials and the development of an Aboriginal Oral Testimonies Project; as well as $6 million for the National Research Council to develop technologies aimed at preserving oral histories.
The MNO maintains a Michif language speaker group that has developed resources for schools and online to help preserve the Ontario dialect of Michif and teach young Métis their language.
“Future legislation that supports the preservation, revitalization and promotion of Michif and Indigenous languages will help support the goals of our dedicated Knowledge Holders and Michif-speakers whom have already undertaken this important work,” said MNO Chair and Chair of the Michif Language Speakers Group France Picotte. “I look forward to progress being made in this area, as it is a crucial part of Métis culture.”
A questionnaire is available online here.