Language and culture

Learn how the Government of Canada is responding to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's Calls to Action 13 to 17.

Based on data provided March 2022.

13. We call upon the federal government to acknowledge that Aboriginal rights include Aboriginal language rights

What's happening?

The Indigenous Languages Act received Royal Assent on June 21, 2019, to support the reclamation, revitalization, maintaining and strengthening of Indigenous languages in Canada. Under section 6 of the act entitled 'Rights Related to Indigenous Languages’, the Government of Canada recognizes that the rights of Indigenous peoples recognized and affirmed by section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, includes rights related to Indigenous languages.

The overall purpose of the act is to support the efforts of Indigenous peoples to reclaim, revitalize, maintain and strengthen Indigenous languages. Included within the act is the purpose of establishing a framework to facilitate the effective exercise of Indigenous peoples rights that relate to Indigenous languages, including by way of agreements referred to in sections 8 and 9.

Under these sections of the act, Canadian Heritage may enter into agreements or arrangements with provincial or territorial governments, Indigenous governments or other Indigenous governing bodies, Indigenous organizations or other entities to coordinate efforts to efficiently and effectively support Indigenous languages in Canada and to further the purposes of the act.

The Government of Canada is piloting 2 pathfinder initiatives to support more language activities. These include:

  • a 6-year project started in 2019 to 2020 to fund the Nisga'a Lisims government's language revitalization plan. This plan includes gathering and collecting information on Nisga'a language, culture and traditional practices to assist Nisga'a Nation efforts to maintain and strengthen the Nisga'a language within the Nation
  • in collaboration with the Government of Nunavut and Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated, a 5 year project to revitalize and strengthen Inuktut in Nunavut by increasing access to Inuktut-language instruction, maintaining the number of proficient Inuktut-speaking Inuit educators, creating support mechanisms for educators and establishing the Nunavut Partnership Table on Language and Education

Canadian Heritage will continue to work collaboratively with Indigenous partners to fully implement the legislation and identify opportunities for further agreements Sections 8 and 9 of the act.

With the Royal Assent of the act this call to action is now completed.

14. We call upon the federal government to enact an Aboriginal Languages Act that incorporates the following principles:

  1. Aboriginal languages are a fundamental and valued element of Canadian culture and society, and there is an urgency to preserve them.
  2. Aboriginal language rights are reinforced by the Treaties.
  3. The federal government has a responsibility to provide sufficient funds for Aboriginal-language revitalization and preservation.
  4. The preservation, revitalization, and strengthening of Aboriginal languages and cultures are best managed by Aboriginal people and communities.
  5. Funding for Aboriginal language initiatives must reflect the diversity of Aboriginal languages.

What's happening?

On June 21, 2019, the Indigenous Languages Act received Royal Assent and sets out a number of purposes and mechanisms, including:

  • creating an Office of the Commissioner of Indigenous Languages
  • establishing measures to facilitate the provision of adequate, sustainable and long-term funding for the reclamation, revitalization, maintenance and strengthening of Indigenous languages
  • providing for agreements or arrangements under sections 8 and 9 to support Indigenous language revitalization and preservation with Indigenous governments or organizations and provinces and territories including in areas of provincial or territorial jurisdiction
  • recognizing the rights of Indigenous peoples recognized and affirmed under sec. 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, including rights related to Indigenous languages
  • facilitating meaningful opportunities for Indigenous governments and other Indigenous governing bodies and Indigenous organizations to collaborate in policy development related to the implementation of this act
  • outlining federal institutions' role in providing access to services in Indigenous languages where capacity and demand exists, subject to established regulations or agreements
  • requiring parliamentary reviews every 3 years and independent reviews every 5 years

A Joint Implementation Steering Committee has been created for the purpose of working together on the implementation of the act. The committee is made up of representatives of the Assembly of First Nations, the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the Métis National Council and Canadian Heritage.

Recent budget investments

Since 2019, the Government of Canada has invested $608.7 million and $117.7 million in ongoing funding to support the implementation of the Indigenous Languages Act, including the efforts of Indigenous communities and organizations to reclaim, revitalize, maintain and strengthen their languages.

Recent progress

In July 2021, the appointments of the first commissioner and 3 directors of the Office of the Commissioner of Indigenous Languages took effect.

Next steps

With the Royal Assent of the Indigenous Languages Act, this call to action is completed.

15. We call upon the federal government to appoint, in consultation with Aboriginal groups, an Aboriginal Languages Commissioner. The commissioner should help promote Aboriginal languages and report on the adequacy of federal funding of Aboriginal-languages initiatives.

What's happening?

On June 21, 2019, the Indigenous Languages Act received Royal Assent. The act establishes the Office of the Commissioner of Indigenous Languages, consisting of the commissioner and up to 3 directors who have the ability to represent the interests of the First Nations, Inuit and Métis languages.

Under the act, the office is mandated to:

  • promote public awareness and understanding about Indigenous languages
  • support the efforts of Indigenous peoples to reclaim, revitalize, maintain and strengthen Indigenous languages
  • support innovative projects and the use of new technologies
  • facilitate the resolution of disputes and review complaints
  • conduct research or studies regarding the provision of funding for the purposes of supporting Indigenous languages or the use of Indigenous languages in Canada, including for the purposes of measuring the vitality of those languages or identifying measures to restore and maintain fluency in those languages

Under the act, the office will be required to table a report for Parliament annually that assesses the:

  • use and vitality of Indigenous languages in Canada
  • needs of Indigenous groups, communities and peoples and entities that are specialized in Indigenous languages and the progress made in revitalizing, reclaiming, maintaining and strengthening of Indigenous languages
  • adequacy of funding provided by the Government of Canada for Indigenous languages
  • progress on the implementation of the act

Recent progress

From September to December 2020, Canadian Heritage held 26 virtual consultation sessions with different Indigenous partners from across the country on the Office of the Commissioner of Indigenous Languages.

In addition, Canadian Heritage collaborated with the Assembly of First Nations, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and Métis National Council to organize a virtual symposium in January 2021 on Indigenous Languages with the theme of Building on Strength and Successes. The symposium was attended by more than 300 participants and 1 day was dedicated to the Office of the Commissioner of Indigenous Languages.

On June 14, 2021, the first appointees to the new Office of the Commissioner of Indigenous Languages were announced, including the Commissioner, Ronald E. Ignace. The selection committee to support the appointment process was comprised of 3 Indigenous representatives, so that First Nations, Inuit and Métis Nation perspectives could directly inform the assessment and recommendation of candidates to the Minister of Canadian Heritage.

16. We call upon post-secondary institutions to create university and college degree and diploma programs in Aboriginal languages.

What's happening?

Post-secondary institutions lead the response to Call to Action 16.

17. We call upon all levels of government to enable residential school Survivors and their families to reclaim names changed by the residential school system by waiving administrative costs for a period of five years for the name-change process and the revision of official identity documents, such as birth certificates, passports, driver's licenses, health cards, status cards, and social insurance numbers.

What's happening?

Provincial and territorial vital statistics offices are responsible for name changes. In its capacity as co-chair of the Vital Statistics Council for Canada, a federal, provincial and territorial advisory group, Statistics Canada is supporting key federal departments, such as Indigenous Services Canada (status cards) and Employment and Social Development Canada (social insurance number cards) for name changes. Through its role as co-chair, Statistics Canada has raised the awareness of the importance associated with the process of name reclaiming.

Name changes for status cards, passports and social insurance number cards are under federal responsibility and all administrative fees have been waived when requests have been received from Indigenous peoples asking for such a change. Similarly, name changes for birth certificates, driver's licenses and health cards are under provincial or territorial responsibility and the majority of provinces and territories are waiving fees for name changes on such documents where relevant requests have been received.

Recent progress

On June 14, 2021, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada launched a process for all Indigenous peoples, residential school survivors and their families to reclaim their Indigenous names on replacement passports, travel documents, citizenship certificates and permanent resident cards free of charge until May 30, 2026.

Name changes for various federal and provincial or territorial documents are processed as they are received.

Next steps

Indigenous Services Canada (status cards) and Employment and Social Development Canada (social insurance number cards) will continue to waive administration fees for name changes requested by Indigenous peoples.

Statistics Canada will continue its role as co-chair of the Vital Statistics Council for Canada and federal, provincial and territorial partnership, by supporting key federal departments and raising awareness with provincial and territorial counterparts.

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