Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Aboriginal languages still common up north

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OTTAWA -- Remote reserves in Manitoba have higher rates of poverty and social problems than their southern cousins but they do have one advantage.

They're preserving their languages.

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Statistics Canada on Wednesday released details of aboriginal language use from the 2011 census that found Manitoba has a better-than-average record for use of aboriginal languages among the provinces, largely driven by high numbers on remote northern reserves.

There are nine reserves in Manitoba where more than four out of five people list an aboriginal language as their mother tongue. All are in the north, and seven are only accessible by air for all but one or two months of the year.

But 16 First Nations in Manitoba count fewer than one in five residents whose mother tongue is an aboriginal language and all are southern First Nations in relatively close proximity to non-aboriginal communities.

Fewer than one-third of Manitoba's 63 First Nations reported more than half the population counting an aboriginal language as their mother tongue, according to the 2011 census.

Nationally, Statistics Canada reported almost the same number of people had an aboriginal language as their mother tongue as in the 2006 census. The number dropped by less than two per cent.

Of those who had an aboriginal mother tongue, 17.7 per cent were in Manitoba. Only Quebec, with 20.9 per cent, was ahead. Algonquin languages, such as Cree, Ojibwa and Oji-Cree, are the most common aboriginal languages in Canada and in Manitoba.

Some communities have a far higher number of people whose aboriginal language is their first language than who actually speak it at home. In Swan Lake First Nation, west of Carman, 70 per cent said an aboriginal language was their mother tongue, but just 40 per cent said they speak it home.

Conversely, in Garden Hill, 74 per cent of people had an aboriginal first language, yet 94 per cent of people spoke an aboriginal language at home.

Statistics Canada found nationally about 18 per cent of people living on reserves spoke an aboriginal language at home but it wasn't their mother tongue. Many were school-aged kids learning an aboriginal language at school.

In 2010, Manitoba passed the Aboriginal Languages Recognition Act, which lists Cree, Dakota, Dene, Inuktitut, Michif, Ojibwa and Oji-Cree as languages spoken in the province.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 25, 2012 A3

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