Question Period: Protecting Indigenous Language – July 8, 2016

Here is the video and transcript of oral questions today recorded in the language it was originally spoken.

Mr. Coon: While this is great sport with a high entertainment value this morning, I have some questions. Last month, Prime Minister Trudeau spoke at a virtual town hall on the Aboriginal Peoples Televison Network. He was talking about the importance of protecting indigenous languages, some of which are extremely endangered. He described indigenous languages—any language—as an indicator of pride in identity, belonging, and culture. The Wolastoqey language is among the most endangered in the country. Immediate action must be taken to preserve this language of the Maliseet since most of those who speak it fluently are well over 60 years old. Will the Premier of the province take leadership on this issue to ensure that the Wolastoqiyik do not lose their language forever?

Hon. Mr. Doherty: We have worked very closely with both the Mi’kmaq and the Maliseet, the Wolastoqiyik, First Nations on developing programs to preserve their language and their culture. As a matter of fact, there are some wonderful innovative ideas in terms of developing games so that the children of these two wonderful First Nations can develop interactive opportunities to learn the language. As all of us know very, very well, once the language is lost, your culture is lost. I am very, very happy with the relationship that we have with our First Nations communities in terms of our discussions, attending powwows, and attending national meetings. The preservation of the language of the Wolastoqi people is paramount on our agenda.

Mr. Coon: The Wolastoqi people are on the verge of losing their language. A proposal was submitted to this government several months ago, on behalf of the chiefs of the communities calling for an emergency project to establish an immersion program at the preschool level. The intention was that it would be ready to implement this fall. Unfortunately, nothing has come to fruition yet, meaning that another year will come and go and the Wolastoqi elders fluent in their own tongue will turn another year older. Will the Premier intervene to see that this project is fast-tracked so that the Wolastoqi preschoolers will begin learning in their own language this

Hon. Mr. Kenny: As the Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development, I am honoured to stand here today and say that we are moving forward with the preservation of language with Mi’kmaq and Wolastoqey language development. I want to inform the House that we have introductory and intermediate language courses in Mi’kmaq and Wolastoqey that have been developed. In-person and online introductory courses have also been implemented. Also, the intermediate in-person course will be implemented in the near future. Also, online intermediate courses will be implemented in 2017. We are making some strides in this. We want to make sure that we do the best thing for our people in New Brunswick. Thank you.

Mr. Coon: Toddlers and preschoolers cannot go online and learn a language that way. New Brunswick has been seen, for many, as a leader in language rights due to our constitutional protection of both official languages. More than any other province, we understand and value the intimate connection between language and culture. David Leitch, a Toronto-based lawyer, is preparing a constitutional challenge that argues that Aboriginal people have a right to be taught in their own language. Let’s not wait for the courts to mandate policy on this. We have the opportunity now to assert ourselves as the leaders of linguistic rights in this country. Will the Premier establish a working group now to outline a plan of action that will restore and revitalize indigenous languages in our province?

Hon. Mr. Kenny: As I said earlier in my answer to the previous question, our department takes great pride in being able to work with our First Nations communities. As I said, with the online courses and working with the officials at the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, we are working with our First Nations communities to make sure that we can help these communities preserve their language. I also want to say that we have made record investments in education throughout the whole province. We are working with our First Nations communities along with the Minister responsible for Aboriginal Affairs. We have very good relationships throughout the province. I want to inform the member opposite that we are making some headway on this, and we want to continue to help make sure we preserve those languages. Thank you.