Sudbury

Proposed bill to prioritize Indigenous languages supported by language professor

A Sudbury language professor says the federal government could help preserve Indigenous languages by prioritizing them alongside French and English.

Act to preserve Indigenous languages expected to be introduced in the fall

A Sudbury language professor says he hopes a new federal law will fund and elevate Indigenous languages to rank alongside French and English. (Rhiannon Johnson/CBC)

A Sudbury language professor says the federal government could help preserve Indigenous languages by prioritizing them alongside French and English.

Government ministers and Indigenous representatives from across the country were in Yellowknife on Tuesday to work on finalizing a proposed Indigenous Languages Revitalization Act.

The proposed act was a promise made by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at an Assembly of First Nations meeting in December 2016.

Brock Pitawanakwat from the University of Sudbury says ranking Indigenous languages as official tongues has been suggested.

"I think that's where there is a long way to go in terms of government services being provided in Indigenous languages on a comparative level with French and English," he said.

Brock Pitawanakwat is a professor at the University of Sudbury. (University of Sudbury)

He adds assimilation into English has accelerated and needs to stop.

"Once the residential schools were shut down and children were put into the general provincial education system," he said.

"That in some ways seemed to speed up the rate of language loss."

Pitawanakwat says meaningful funding to hire teachers, linguists, and curriculum developers could also help slow down accelerated assimilation into English.    

The Act is expected to be introduced in the fall. If approved, the legislation would mean Ottawa would have a financial responsibility to keep all 58 Indigenous languages, many of which have only a handful of speakers left, from dying out.

With files from Kate Rutherford

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