On October 30, Commissioner Ronald E. Ignace addressed the 24th Edition of the Teacher’s Institute on Parliamentary Democracy who gathered in Ottawa to learn firsthand the inner workings of the branches of government. The Teacher’s Institute is hosted by the Speaker of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Commons and is organized by the Library of Parliament.

The Commissioner spoke virtually to the group of 80 Social Studies teachers from across Canada who represent a variety of education institutes and whose curriculum includes civic literacy that teaches students the role of social studies and how students can be engaged citizens.

The theme of Commissioner Ignace’s presentation was ‘Indigenous Peoples and Parliament’ with a specific emphasis on the importance of the Indigenous Languages Act (the Act) and the creation of the Office of the Commissioner of Indigenous Languages whose mandate it is to provide support to Indigenous peoples in language revitalization and preservation.

The Commissioner presented the history of how the Indigenous Languages Act evolved over a course of 30 years and told the story of the efforts of Indigenous people who have advocated for Indigenous languages over time. The Commissioner spoke to his journey, the culminative effects of residential schools, along with the Sixties Scoop, and how the traditional socio-economic structure of extended Indigenous families was torn down with the direct loss of language.

The Commissioner described the history and challenges of Indigenous peoples who have fought to bring the importance of Indigenous languages to the Canadian government’s attention and spoke to the 2005 Task Force on Aboriginal Languages and Culture. The 2005 Task Force Report first acknowledged the need for federal legislation that would ‘recognize the constitutional status of Indigenous languages; affirm their place as one of the foundations of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis nationhood; provide financial resources for their preservation (and) revitalization; and establish the position of an (Indigenous) Languages Commissioner’. [i]

The Commissioner acknowledged the work of The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the Calls to Action 13, 14 and 15 which echoed the 2005 Task Force that called for the Government of Canada to recognize Indigenous language rights.

As part of the process which led to the Indigenous Languages Act, the Commissioner spoke to the co-development process that acknowledged the distinct nature and lived experiences of First Nations, Inuit, and Metis when components of the legislation, specifically Bill C-91, was being drafted.

The Commissioner stressed the historic nature of the Indigenous Languages Act, but told the group, “The Indigenous Languages Act, in and of itself, will not bring back our languages. It is what Indigenous leaders and peoples and Canada do with the Act that will bring about transformative change to the quality of Indigenous lives.”

As it is the role of the Commission to monitor the Canadian Government’s implementation of the Act, the Commissioner stressed that the success of the Act requires not only a whole-of-government approach, but a whole-of-Canada approach. “We are mindful that it took the whole weight of the Church and State over a hundred years with systemic, colonial, racist laws, policies, and practices that gave rise to genocide and linguicide that left our languages in the state they are in today. The work of reviving and revitalizing Indigenous languages requires a whole-of-Canada approach,” the Commissioner said in his speech.

After the presentation there were several questions from the teachers in the room which gauged the interest of those present and the desire for more information about Indigenous languages and how they, as teachers, can assist in the endeavour to revitalize Indigenous languages. It is the mandate of the Commission to support the efforts of Indigenous peoples in language preservation and to promote the richness and intrinsic nature of Indigenous languages in the lives of Indigenous peoples.

“The Library of Parliament was pleased to invite Dr. Ignace to the Teachers’ Institute on Canadian Parliamentary Democracy to discuss the experience of Indigenous peoples and their relationship to Parliament, specifically in the context of reconciliation. Dr. Ignace’s insights into and passion for the preservation of Indigenous language rights resonated with teacher participants and was a highlight of the week.”

[i] Task Force on Aboriginal Languages and Culture, P 1