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Indigenous Languages - Bill C-91

Hon. Mary Jane McCallum: This is a supplementary to the question I asked this morning in committee. The First Nations I represent are asking further questions.

Under Bill C-91, the government’s only positive duty is to consult Indigenous organizations in order to meet the objective of providing adequate, sustainable and long-term funding for Indigenous languages. That may be the stated objective, but, with no specific Indigenous language rights and no corresponding positive obligations on the government to implement those rights, Bill C-91 amounts to nothing more than an aspirational policy statement. It leaves intact the government’s bureaucratic control over funding of all Indigenous language initiatives including the trap of block funding, which forces communities to compete with each other for available dollars and pits one against another.

On the key issue of new dollars for immersion schools the bill is silent, only speaking about immersion programs, not schools.

My question for you, minister, is this: If the government is fully committed to reconciliation and endorsing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, why do you not simply use that declaration as the foundation and basis of this bill? The solution to revitalizing, protecting and promoting Indigenous languages are prescribed clearly within UNDRIP, specifically within Articles 13 and 14. Why does the government not take their first concrete step towards implementing UNDRIP by making Bill C-91 fully representative of the solutions that document prescribes?

Hon. Pablo Rodriguez, P.C., M.P., Minister of Canadian Heritage and Multiculturalism: Thank you very much, senator, and thank you for the questions you asked this morning, too. It has been a busy day today, senators. I was at the committee for 40 minutes this morning. Now I have the pleasure to be here with you.

Those are extremely important questions. Honourable senators, this is an extremely important bill that was co-developed within Indigenous nations across the country following vast consultations for two years. With the Inuit, the First Nations, the Metis and representatives from other different groups, we came together with the basis of this bill, which has 12 principles and which recognizes, for the first time, Indigenous languages as a fundamental right based on section 35 of the Constitution. That is important.

The bill also recognizes the importance of advancing UNDRIP, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. That is also in the bill, senator. It also mentions stable and long-term funding. Bills don’t normally do that, saying that you have to provide stable and long-term funding ties the hands of the government but that’s also in the bill.

Bill C-91 also creates the office of the commissioner of Indigenous languages. That office will be there to do research at the beginning and to explain to us the state of the different Indigenous languages. What should we do better? Is the funding enough? Is the funding necessary to achieve what we want to do in terms of Indigenous languages?

Honourable senators, those are the fundamental things that are in the bill. Can we improve it? If we can do so, we will. The door is always open to keep the discussion going and to improve it, but we must start now because languages are being lost everywhere. There is not a safe language in our country, honourable senators. They’re all threatened. They’re disappearing. We have to start acting and this bill allows us to start doing so right now.

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