This Sunday, March 31 is National Aboriginal Languages Day in Canada. The day has been celebrated by Indigenous Peoples since 1993 as a way to honor the strength and endurance of aboriginal languages and cultures.
“As with all civilizations our languages, cultures, ceremonies and histories are the foundations for our identities,” said Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo in a video announcing the day. “Embedded in First Nations languages is the human history of this continent. Thousands of years of accumulated knowledge, from the oceans to the prairies, through to the woodlands to the icy north, indigenous languages convey the relationship between distinct peoples and the natural world.”
Atleo and a press release from the assembly point out that 27 years ago Hawaii had only 50 fluent speakers, but today the state’s education system supports immersion programs to teach the language throughout school.
“Their language and culture is taught in all grade levels, and into college and university programs—from early childhood education to PhD,” says the press release. “They now have more than 10,000 fluent Hawaiian speakers.”
This comparison was made because the assembly and Atleo feel that while there is a difficult road ahead, aboriginal languages must be sustained and revitalized.
Atleo says there are more than 60 indigenous languages in Canada, which represent 12 distinct language families. "Statistics Canada reports there are 213,400 indigenous peoples that speak their indigenous languages from a reported indigenous population of 1.3 million," Atleo says in the video. "In Canada, all indigenous languages are considered critically endangered." He went on to say that 83 percent of schools cannot offer immersion programs due to lack of funding.
Atleo does mention some language programs that are thriving like the Gift of Language Program in Saskatchewan.
“From coast to coast to coast, we will take action with even greater determination to assert our languages, our identities, and to seek equitable recognition and support to that which is provided to the official languages in this country,” states the release.