Proposed changes to language law will create ‘barriers’ for Indigenous peoples: APN – National

Proposed changes to the Official Languages ​​Act risk creating more « arbitrary barriers » for Indigenous people who want to work in federal institutions and advance to higher levels, according to the Assembly of First Nations.

The national advocacy organization, which represents more than 600 First Nations across the country, issued its warning to a parliamentary committee studying amendments to the law.

Last spring, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government introduced plans to reform the Official Languages ​​Act to modernize the legislation, including more measures to promote the use of French.

In a brief submitted to the committee, the Assembly of First Nations states that the bill “continues the federal government’s approach of privileging English and French while devaluing Indigenous languages”.

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Among the proposed changes to the existing language law, last amended in 1988, is the extension of language rights to federally regulated private businesses in Quebec or regions elsewhere in Canada that have a French-speaking population.

It also specifies that managers and supervisors of federal institutions in Ottawa and Gatineau, Quebec, should be able to communicate in French and English.

Only about 10% of First Nations people can speak both official languages, according to the Assembly’s brief, so the proposed changes risk limiting who can access those jobs.

“First Nations people should not be forced to learn additional colonial languages ​​to be eligible for positions in federal institutions,” the document states.

“The Government of Canada’s approach to languages ​​has privileged English and French over Indigenous languages. It is a modern reflection of the exclusion of Indigenous peoples by Canadian colonialism.

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The document recommends that Parliament, when considering changes to the law, exempt Aboriginal employees of federal institutions from bilingual language requirements.

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Although it expressed its concerns to the official languages ​​committee studying the bill, the Assembly of First Nations did not appear as a witness. And a list of 45 witnesses scheduled to appear does not include representatives from other Indigenous groups.

Members of the committee have already begun debating a Liberal motion to move the bill and all of its amendments to the next stage of the legislative process.

Liberal MP Marc Serre, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Official Languages, said Tuesday that « we will consider passing the bill as it currently stands. »

Serre said organizations have been invited to submit their thoughts in writing and that the government has heard from Indigenous individuals and groups in previous consultations. But it was unclear whether he was aware of the assembly’s submission or the concerns it contained.

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Conservative MP Joel Godin, who is also a member of the committee, said Indigenous languages ​​are separate from the issue of improving Canadian laws regarding the provision of services in French and English.

Godin also said it appears the governing Liberals don’t want to hear from any other witnesses who could speak to the concerns raised by the AFN.

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The Office of the President of the Treasury Board said in a statement Tuesday that the government recognizes that speaking an Indigenous language is an asset and is analyzing data collected on the use of Indigenous languages ​​by public servants in the delivery of services to Canadians.

“The Government of Canada understands that some Indigenous public servants may view official language requirements as a barrier to career progression in the federal public service,” the statement read.

“We are developing a new second language training framework for the public service that meets the needs of all learners, including the specific needs of Indigenous people. We also work with Indigenous employees to remove barriers they may face in learning French and English.

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Tensions over bilingual language requirements are nothing new for some Indigenous employees.

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Earlier this year, the federal Treasury Board rejected a request to extend an $800 annual bonus for public servants who are required to speak French and English on the job to those who speak an official language and an Indigenous language.

Some have also called on the public service to exempt Indigenous employees from the requirement to speak both languages ​​in order to increase Indigenous representation in its ranks, particularly in leadership positions.

The federal Liberals have said they want to preserve and promote the use of Indigenous languages. In 2019, their government passed legislation to help communities do just that, after previous policies such as the residential school system sought to eradicate the existence of languages.

But the Assembly says in its brief that the 2019 legislation provides nothing that comes close to the linguistic protections offered to French in the Official Languages ​​Act.

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