Indigenous language advocates and speakers from around the world gathered at the 2019 International Conference on Indigenous Languages in Victoria, B.C., this week.
“It was really important to bring our language champions from across British Columbia, Canada, and around the globe to celebrate and to hold each other up,” said Tracy Herbert of the First People Culture Council, which organized the event.
“We also wanted an opportunity to share our gifts with each other, because there is some amazing work in language revitalization going on. And often when we get together this can really spark innovation that we can take home to our communities.”
More than 1,000 delegates attended from over 20 countries.
The conference heard 40 per cent of an estimated 6,700 languages spoken across the globe are in danger of being lost.
But Lorna Williams of the University of Victoria said in Canada Indigenous youth are taking an interest in learning their languages.
“It’s people everywhere who are feeling uplifted by their language, and who are willing to do something about keeping their languages alive,” she said.
In its 2019 budget, the federal government announced $334 million in funding over five years under Bill C-91, the Indigenous Languages Act that was passed into law just last week. But it hasn’t yet decided how the money will be spent.
The new law legislates some protections and supports for Indigenous languages – many of which are at risk of being lost – but has been criticized for not going far enough.
Inuit have asked for Inuktut to be made an official language in Nunavut, and the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls has called for all Indigenous languages to be afforded the same legal status and protections as English and French.
“Gatherings like this conference are important for sharing best practices – listen and learn from each other,” said Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde. “Your efforts to ensure that our Indigenous languages remain living languages matters immensely.”
Williams said Canadians have a role to play, too, in Indigenous languages revitalization.
“Each Canadian should be learning and knowing the language that their forebears came to, and where they now exist. And that’s what I urge every Canadian to do,” she said.