Canada launches United Nations Decade of Indigenous Languages in Ottawa

Canada launched the UN's Decade of Indigenous Languages in Ottawa on Friday with an event hosted by Gov. Gen. Mary Simon.

Language representatives from across the country share songs and stories

Mi'kmaw singer Emma Stevens performs during the Canadian launch of the UN Decade of Indigenous Languages at the Royal Canadian Geographic Society in Ottawa on Friday. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Representatives from across the country gathered Friday in Ottawa to celebrate the Canadian launch of the United Nations Decade of Indigenous Languages. 

The launch was held at the Royal Canadian Geographic Society by Gov. Gen. Mary Simon and Perry Bellegarde, former national chief of the Assembly of First Nations.

Simon, who is Inuk, is the first Indigenous Governor General and spoke about the importance of preserving languages, using her first language, Inuktitut, as an example. 

She said she hopes her language grows, not just survives, and said it's crucial to keep using languages in order to protect them. 

"I think we can all agree that there's no better way of preserving and enhancing one's language than using it, and using it in every possible venue, in any venue that we're able to," Simon said. 

Mi'kmaw singer Emma Stevens from Eskasoni First Nation in Nova Scotia sang three songs at the event, one honouring the MMIWG movement, another a love song to Cape Breton, and a Mi'kmaw version of The Beatles song Blackbird. She said it was an amazing experience being there to sing in her language.

"Being Indigenous myself and coming from a community myself that the language is kind of losing its value there, too… it was great to be a part of the event," she said. 

She said she hopes to use music as a way to keep the language alive. 

"I can hopefully get more language with music into my community … because music is a universal language," said Stevens. 

Gov. Gen. Mary Simon said it's crucial to keep using languages in order to protect them in her speech at the launch. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Joshua Morin, a member of the Métis Nation of Alberta who teaches Michif classes in St. Albert, Alta., spoke at the event, reciting a 1982 prayer by Father Guy Lavallee. He said the words he said were fitting, as they discussed language and were recited previously in 1982 during Constitution talks in Ottawa. 

Morin said he was honoured to be a part of the event. 

"When I think of this decade, I'm very proud of the work that people have done, that people continue to do," he said.

"[I'm] just very, very proud and honoured that I'm able to keep that work continuing going for future generations."

Morin also said he hopes to see more financial equity among Canada's language efforts within the decade. 


Renée Lilley

Reporter, CBC Indigenous

Renée Lilley is a reporter for CBC Indigenous based in Winnipeg. She is a recipient of the CJF-CBC Indigenous Journalism Fellowship for 2022 and is a recent University of Winnipeg grad with a BA in rhetoric and communications. She has reported for radio and online news in her hometown of Portage la Prairie, Man. She is also a proud Métis mama of four girls.