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Language and Culture

14. Enact an Aboriginal Language Act

In progress - Projects underway


In June 2019, an Indigenous Languages Act was passed by Parliament, but it doesn't address all the elements of the call to action.

The Call to Action:

We call upon the federal government to enact an Aboriginal Language Act that incorporates the following principles:

i. Aboriginal languages are a fundamental and valued element of Canadian culture and society, and there is an urgency to preserve them.

ii. Aboriginal language rights are reinforced by the Treaties

iii. The federal government has a responsibility to provide sufficient funds for Aboriginal-language revitalization and preservation.

iv. The preservation, revitalization and strengthening of Aboriginal languages and cultures are best managed by Aboriginal people and communities.

v. Funding for Aboriginal language initiatives must reflect the diversity of Aboriginal languages.


In June 2019, an Indigenous Languages Act was passed by Parliament.

Bill C-91, An Act respecting Indigenous languages, sets up an Office of the Commissioner of Indigenous Languages tasked with: planning “initiatives and activities” to restore and maintain fluency in Indigenous languages; creating technological tools, educational materials and permanent records of Indigenous languages, including audio and video recordings of fluent speakers; and funding immersion programs.

The office also will undertake further research on existing and extinct Indigenous languages.

In June 2021, Chief Ronald Ignace was appointed Canada’s first Commissioner of Indigenous Languages. He said he will fight to revive all Indigenous languages.

The development of the legislation was announced in June 2017 and the federal government launched a nationwide engagement process, seeking input from Indigenous leaders, language teachers and Elders, about how to draft the act.

The Assembly of First Nations, Métis National Council and Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami oversaw outreach within their own communities.

Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami withdrew its support for the bill prior to its tabling in 2019.

“The absence of any Inuit-specific content suggests this bill is yet another legislative initiative developed behind closed doors by a colonial system and then imposed on Inuit,” Natan Obed, the president of the ITK, said in a statement.

Obed said the Office of the Commissioner of Indigenous Languages is little more than a new title for the existing Aboriginal Languages Initiative program, a federal office that has largely failed to halt the decline of Indigenous languages despite having a mission similar to that of the new Liberal plan.

The 2019 federal budget promised to spend $334 million over the next five years on “preserving, promoting and revitalizing” Indigenous languages, broken down as follows:

  • 2019/2020: $15 million*
  • 2020/2021: $44 million
  • 2021/2022: $72 million
  • 2022/2023: $87 million
  • 2023/2024: $116 million

*This amount is in addition to funds already committed for language revitalization in the 2017 budget.

From 2021-22 and 2022-23, funding for the Indigenous Languages Component of the Indigenous Languages and Cultures Program will be meted out on a project-by-project basis. Interested parties must apply for it.

In the 2017 budget, the federal government committed to $89.9M over three years to support Indigenous languages and culture.

Of this, $69 million was earmarked for the Aboriginal Languages Initiative, which in turn funds the development of language learning materials, language classes and culture camps and archiving Indigenous languages.

But while it was a significant increase in federal funding for the initiative (prior to the 2017 budget, it was consistently frozen at $5 million per annum), the program is project-based, meaning applicants must apply for fund money on a project-by-project basis.

Furthermore, a 2015 Canadian Heritage evaluation report revealed that historically, much of the funding goes unused year after year, due to an overly complicated application process and bureaucratic red tape.

There is no word on whether that application process will become more accessible.

According to the federal government, the remainder of the $89.9M was to be divided as such: $14.9 million for Library and Archives Canada to “support the digitization of existing Indigenous language and cultural materials” and “the development of an Aboriginal Oral Testimonies Project to document Indigenous heritage.”

The remaining $6 million was earmarked for the National Research Council Canada to develop, in consultation with Indigenous stakeholders, information technology to preserve oral histories by converting speech to text, and creating other interactive educational materials.