MMIWG inquiry report being translated into more Indigenous languages

The executive summary of the final report of the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls is being translated into 10 more Indigenous languages. It has been available in Inuktitut since its release in June.

'We deserve to have everything done in our languages,' says Ojibway translator

Hilda Nicholas is one of the many people working to translate into Indigenous languages the executive summary of the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls' final report. (Jessica Deer/CBC)


It's a word in Kanien'kéha — the Mohawk language — to describe the act of genocide.

"It means to get rid of them," said Hilda Nicholas, director of Tsi Ronterihwanónhnha ne Kanien'kéha Language and Cultural Center in Kanesatake, Que.

Nicholas has been one of the many people busy over the past few months on her own time working to translate the executive summary of the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls' final report into 10 more Indigenous languages.

She said it's had a profound impact on her.

"The racism that exists, it's just really awakening to what extent it exists," she said.

"Even though I know these things were happening, when you're translating and you read what all the people have gone through, the families affected, it gives you a different feeling. It makes you enraged, makes you sad, and it's just unbelievable that this is really happening."

The report, titled Reclaiming Power and Place, is already available in Inuktitut on the national inquiry's website.

The report, which was published in June in English, French, and Inuktitut, is being translated into Mohawk, Inuinnaqtun, Denesuline, Gitxsan, Plains Cree, Ojibway, OjiCree, James Bay Cree, Innu, and Mi'kmaw.

"I think it has a really powerful impact," said Melanie Morrison, who was part of the national inquiry's Family Advisory Circle.

"This subject is important and needs to be in our language for a lot of the elders, and respectful to our people."

Patricia Ningewance says having the report in Indigenous languages will bring a sense of empowerment to language learners. (Albert Leung/CBC)

Patricia Ningewance, who has worked as an Ojibway translator for many years, said the report will also bring a sense of empowerment to language learners.

"Dictionaries don't have a lot of the terms that come up in the report," she said.

"Everything that's printed should be in the language. We deserve to have everything done in our languages."

The work hasn't been easy, however, due to its heavy content. Terminology like genocide, commission, feminism or colonialism don't exist in some Indigenous languages.

"In English, some of these words are very neutral-sounding or dry-sounding words, but when you think about what it means, it's pretty awful," she said.

"We get very traumatized by handling this kind of material."

Year of Indigenous Languages

The United Nations declared 2019 the International Year of Indigenous Languages, and has designated an International Decade of Indigenous Languages, to begin in 2022.

For former national inquiry commissioner Michèle Audette, the translations are about making the report accessible to more Indigenous people.

"For many of us across Canada, we still speak our language," said Audette. 

"Language is important, but it's also a right."

Commissioners Qajaq Robinson and Michèle Audette prepare to hand the inquiry's final report to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at a ceremony in Gatineau, Que., in June 2019. (Chantelle Bellrichard/CBC )

The report itself describes "attacks on culture," including language, from the legacy of residential schools, the Sixties Scoop and other assimilatory policies, as "the starting points for other forms of violence" Indigenous women and girls experience today.

In its 231 calls for justice, the report also calls on governments to recognize Indigenous languages to be recognized as official languages, as well as to make funds available to support revitalization efforts.

"Our culture has a lot of peace. I call the Kanien'kéha language a happy language because when speaking together, all you hear is laughter," said Nicholas.

"The language is connected to the land. The language is connected to how we think, how we see the world. If people were to speak their language again, and learn our ways, it would certainly change things."


Ka’nhehsí:io Deer is Kanien’kehá:ka journalist from Kahnawake, Que. She is currently a reporter with CBC Indigenous covering communities across Quebec.