Coast Salish Traditional Territory/Vancouver: On January 28, representatives from the First Nations Leadership Council and the First Peoples’ Cultural Council attended the official global launch of the Year of Indigenous Languages (IYIL2019) at UNESCO headquarters in Paris, France.
The event gathered high-level governmental officials, Indigenous peoples, civil society, academia, media, information and memory organizations, United Nations agencies, public language harmonization and documentation institutions and private sector bodies to celebrate under the theme: “Indigenous languages matter for sustainable development, peace building and reconciliation.”
The First Nations Leadership Council strongly supports the designation of this year as the International Year of Indigenous Languages (IYIL2019) and will be actively involved in celebrating IYIL throughout 2019. The preservation of Indigenous languages is a top priority for B.C.’s First Nations. Efforts to support Indigenous language revitalization in B.C. are being led by the First Peoples’ Cultural Council, in partnership with First Nations communities, and with significant support from the Province of B.C. through $50 million in funding in 2018.
“Indigenous Languages are the essence and fabric of Indigenous cultures and are fundamental to our survival, dignity and well-being as Indigenous peoples,” stated Grand Chief Edward John, member of the First Nations Summit Political Executive and Co-chair of the UNESCO IYIL2019 Steering Committee.
“Language is our inherent right and is central to our cultural and spiritual identities as First Nations. Furthermore, language plays a fundamental part in indigenous peoples’ identity by connecting individuals to communities, therefore providing cultural and spiritual context in the daily lives of Indigenous peoples. The designation of 2019 as the International Year of Indigenous Languages will shine a light on our collective struggles to preserve and protect indigenous languages in B.C. and across Canada and will hopefully assist in efforts preventing them from being more at risk of extinction.”
“This is an exciting time as many individuals and groups are creating and building a wave of growth and activity, a “renaissance,” in Indigenous languages and culture,” added Regional Chief Terry Teegee, BC Assembly of First Nations.
“In particular, our youth are inspiring all of us with their creativity and use of technology in their drive to find new ways to communicate with others using their ancestral languages.”
“Canada has gone to great lengths to destroy our inherent connection to our Indigenous Languages,” remarked Kukpi7 Judy Wilson, Secretary-Treasurer of the UBCIC.
“With the destruction of our languages we lose a critical connection to our cultures, our world-views and the lived-experiences of our ancestors. Our languages hold the keys to the rebuilding of our Indigenous Nations, to healing the damages of colonialism, and to re-establishing our Indigenous legal orders and jurisdiction to our lands, territories and resources. The UBCIC fully supports UN’s launch of the International Year of Indigenous Languages. States are culpable for the destruction of Indigenous languages around the globe and it is States who must be held accountable for their resurgence.”
“Canada, and in particular British Columbia, is blessed with a rich diversity of Indigenous languages,” noted Tracey Herbert, CEO, First Peoples’ Cultural Council.
“All of the B.C. languages are severely endangered, and time is of the essence to revitalize them. Despite the challenges these languages face, I am optimistic for their future, thanks to the success we are having creating new speakers through immersion; collaborating with communities to develop language revitalization plans; and using technology to support language documentation, which is curated and controlled by First Nations. The UN International Year for Indigenous Languages is a key opportunity to bring international attention to the issues facing Indigenous languages globally and to showcase the successful strategies that are making the reclamation of our languages possible. We raise our hands to B.C.’s language leaders, language learners and to the Government of B.C., whose commitment to languages has been a game changer and an example of true reconciliation to be celebrated in this important year.”
“For too long Indigenous language revitalization was neglected,” stated Scott Fraser, B.C. Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation.
“Our government is supporting the important work of the First Peoples’ Cultural Council so that Indigenous communities can deepen connections to language and culture. As a result of new provincial funding, the First Peoples’ Cultural Council has been able to partner with First Nations over the past year to expand community grants, language documentation, community outreach and programs that connect language learners and mentors. This work is key to reconciliation.”
The First Nations Leadership Council is comprised of the political executives of the BC Assembly of First Nations, First Nations Summit, and the Union of BC Indian Chiefs.