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Council critical of Language Act implementation

(Marisela Amador The Eastern Door)

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At a recent meeting, Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK) chiefs were left frustrated with certain components being proposed by the federal government regarding the implementation of the Indigenous Language Act (Bill C-91).

Bill C-91 was introduced in February 2019 by the minister of Canadian Heritage and Multiculturalism Pablo Rodriguez, with the goal to reclaim, revitalize, strengthen and maintain Indigenous languages in Canada.

The bill received Royal Assent in June 2019.

According to MCK chief Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer, Council participated in previous engagement sessions, similar to this one, with the federal government.

The last one she attended was held on October 27.

“There were a few of us that were pretty critical about the way it’s being proposed at this point,” said Sky-Deer.

The legislation calls for the appointment of a commissioner and three directors.

“Who is going to fill that role? Is it going to be somebody that’s Indigenous? Is it going to be somebody that can speak an Indigenous language?” she said.

The bill was developed as a response to Action 13, 14 and 15 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report, as well as elements of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Each director will represent an Indigenous community, including the Inuit, the Metis and First Nations.

However, those three communities vary significantly in population and the MCK questions whether this choice to represent all communities with only one person is appropriate, considering the vast differences in size.

In Quebec, First Nations have the largest population, with 92,655 members, followed by the Metis at 69,360 members and lastly the Inuit with 13,945 members, according to the 2016 census from Statistics Canada.

“Then we looked at the mandate. What are they going to be doing? Research? We said, look in our communities, there’s already been extensive research,” she said.

“If they were to just focus on compiling all of the data from all of the different communities, they wouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel. And they could save a bunch of money.”

The federal government allocated $333.7 million over five years and $115.7 million thereafter to support the implementation of the bill.

Lisa Phillips, the director of the Kanien’kehá:ka Onkwawén:- na Raotitióhkwa Language and Cultural Centre (KOR), also participated in the consultation.

According to Sky-Deer, the focus should be on getting the money to the communities directly.

She also wonders how the Office of the Commissioner of Indigenous Languages will divvy up the money, and based on what criteria.

“We were a little bit irritated when we looked at the budget and saw that we’re only going to get the full amount in about five years from now,” said Sky-Deer.

“So, we’re saying if the need is now, why are you making us wait? Why all this bureaucracy?”

Despite all of this, Sky-Deer is hopeful that the MCK will continue to be part of the consultation session as they move forward. She also wonders what other Indigenous communities think about the federal government’s implementation strategy.

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