The Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, the largest class-action settlement in Canadian history, began in 2007. One of the elements of the agreement was the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) to facilitate reconciliation among former students, their families, communities and all Canadians.
But how has the Government of Canada been delivering on these recommendations? Let’s take a look at what’s being done under Language and Culture: Calls to Action 13 to 17 as we continue this series on the TRC Calls to Action.
Call to Action 13: Acknowledge that Aboriginal rights include Aboriginal language rights
On December 6, 2016, the Prime Minister promised to enact an Indigenous Languages act, co-developed with Indigenous peoples that will preserve, promote and revitalize Indigenous languages.
On June 15, 2017, Canadian Heritage, the Assembly of First Nations, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami and the Métis Nation of Canada launched the co-development of Indigenous languages legislation and agreed on a collaborative engagement process and the creation of a joint co-development working group comprised of all four parties.
On June 21, 2019, Bill C-91, An Act respecting Indigenous Languages, received Royal assent.
The bill has been developed to support the meaningful implementation of Calls to Action 13, 14 and 15 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, elements of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the commitment to a renewed relationship with Indigenous peoples based on the recognition of rights, respect, cooperation and partnership.
Call to Action 14: Enact an Aboriginal Languages Act that incorporates the following principles
– Aboriginal languages are a fundamental and valued element of Canadian culture and society, and there is an urgency to preserve them.
– Aboriginal language rights are reinforced by the Treaties.
– The federal government has a responsibility to provide sufficient funds for Aboriginal-language revitalization and preservation.
– The preservation, revitalization, and strengthening of Aboriginal languages and cultures are best managed by Aboriginal people and communities.
– Funding for Aboriginal language initiatives must reflect the diversity of Aboriginal languages.
Call to Action 15: Appoint an Aboriginal Languages Commissioner. The commissioner should help promote Aboriginal languages and report on the adequacy of federal funding of Aboriginal-languages initiatives.
Under Bill C-91, the Office of the Commissioner of Indigenous Languages will:
– Conduct or commission research to support Indigenous languages and to obtain information on language use and vitality in light of community language assessments.
– Work with Canada and Indigenous organizations to support innovative language teaching projects.
– Promote Indigenous language use.
– Prepare annual reports to Parliament on the vitality of Indigenous languages.
– Promote public awareness of the significance of Indigenous language rights, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action and the negative impacts of colonialism and discrimination.
– Provide facilitation or mediation services upon request.
The Office of the Commissioner of Indigenous Languages will be overseen by a Commissioner of Indigenous Languages and three distinctions-based directors: one each for First Nations, Inuit and Métis languages. The Minister of Canadian Heritage and Multiculturalism will engage with diverse Indigenous governing bodies and Indigenous organizations and recommend candidates for the positions of the Commissioner and three Directors to the Governor in Council.
Budget 2019 provides $333.7 million over 5 years, starting in fiscal year 2019 to 2020, for the preservation, promotion and revitalization of Indigenous languages, with $115.7 million per year ongoing to support the implementation of the Indigenous Languages Act.
Call to Action 16: Post-secondary institutions to create university and college degree and diploma programs in Aboriginal languages
The Government of Canada is not the lead on a response for Call to Action 16.
Call to Action 17: 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.
Statistics Canada, in collaboration with other federal departments such as Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada and Indigenous Services Canada, will engage provincial and territorial partners on a process for residential school survivors and their families to reclaim names that were changed by the residential school system. This process would be without administrative fees.
Thus far, several provinces and the Northwest Territories are waiving fees for name changes on birth records for Indigenous peoples asking for such a change. For identity documents issued under federal jurisdiction, Service Canada does not charge fees for name changes on Social Security Numbers.