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‘Canada can make itself whole’

Skeetchestn chief calls on Ottawa to restore language funding
December 10, 2015 11:27 A.M.
Chief Ron Ignace speaks Thursday at the AFN special chiefs assembly. (Assembly of First Nations)

A Secwepemc chief called on the Liberal government Thursday to restore funding for indigenous language revival as a key component of reconciliation.

Skeetchestn Chief Ron Ignace told the AFN Special Chiefs Assembly in Gatineau, Que., that the last 10 years have been a setback in the struggle to revitalize indigenous language.

“I am prepared to take the first step in a 100-year journey to revive and revitalize our languages as a fundamental component of Prime Minister Trudeaus call for nation to nation relations.”

Creating a critical mass of young speakers who can carry the torch for indigenous language revival is essential not only for First Nations but for Canada’s reconciliation with its first peoples, he said.

“That’s the way Canada can make itself whole.”

“Our language is our life, after all,” he said. He paraphrased an elder who said, “What can be call ourselves without our language?”

Ignace called for a chiefs committee on languages to be re-established and for the federal government “to put the $160 million back on the table.”

The previous Liberal government had committed that sum to indigenous language after on the basis of task force recommendations. The report — calling on language instruction to be child centred, elder-focused and community based — was shelved by the Harper government and funding was dropped to $5 million a year.

“This was definitely scandalous,” after so much work was done, he said. Elders that were alive who could have helped in the effort have since passed on.

"This time we will make it to the top of the mountain," Ignace concluded.

Viola Thomas, a Tk’emlups band councillor responsible for education, is also attending the assembly in Quebec.  She was encouraged by the federal government’s announcement at the assembly declaring that it would revisit statutory legislation to honour indigenous control of education.

Thomas was highly critical of  the status quo within the public school system. She said School District 73 receives thousands in transfer payments.

“But there’s no accountability in how they spend that,” Thomas said. “We only have general figures.”

Lots of children, especially those with special needs, are falling through the cracks, she said.

“There needs to be accountability to ensure that indigenous learners are receiving the same quality of education enjoyed by non-indigenous learners.”

While the school district has a First Nations Education Council, it lacks representation from local First Nation communities.

Thomas cited the example of Nova Scotia, where there are higher rates of achievement among indigenous students. Indigenous trustees are appointed to school boards and indigenous languages are embedded in the education system, she noted.

Marie Abraham says:
December 12, 2015 01:38am

i am an elder with only disability pension coming in,.... Time is the only thing I spent on my language,, and painting,...!

Marie Abraham

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