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This article was published 28/1/2019 (1245 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA — Winnipeg Centre MP Robert-Falcon Ouellette has made history by being the first to speak in Indigenous language in the Commons with live interpretation.
"If we don’t use (a language) here, why would anyone want to use it?" Ouellette said Monday outside the House of Commons, moments after addressing Parliament in Plains Cree.
"I was quite nervous, but I was very excited," he said, later suggesting Winnipeg’s city council and the Manitoba legislative assembly could consider integrating some of the province’s languages.
On Monday morning, Ouellette made some simple comments to make during a debate on a Conservative MP’s bid to create a ceremonial Dutch Heritage Day. (The bill would not create a holiday, but would have May 5 commemorate immigrants’ accomplishments and Canada’s role in liberating the Netherlands in the Second World War.)
"What might surprise people is the fact that many Indigenous people contributed to this liberation," Ouellette said in Plains Cree, naming two of those soldiers.
"Some of these brave soldiers were Indigenous and gave all for the freedom that Dutch people deserve."
Two months ago, a multiparty committee determined the Commons should provide interpretation from Indigenous languages into English and French when an MP provides "reasonable" notice to officials.
The change came about after Ouellette asked the Speaker in May 2017 to have Indigenous languages recognized. He argued it would help bring back major tongues from the brink of extinction.
The Winnipeg Liberal MP said Monday the bill will also help Indigenous languages incorporate new terms.
Since 2008, the senators have been able to speak in Inuktitut and have their comments interpreted, typically by giving 48-hour’s notice.
Ouellette requested an interpreter last week, and last Thursday officials called Kevin Lewis, a University of Saskatchewan professor, to do the task. He rearranged some commitments and was flown to Ottawa and compensated for his work.
Lewis instructs teachers who plan to do teach Indigenous languages. "Our elders are dying off," he said.
Public Services and Procurement Canada did not immediately know how much it cost to pay and accommodate Lewis. A spokesman wrote the government’s Translation Bureau is now building a roster of interpreters they can call on in the future.
Doing so involves working with MPs "to identify which Indigenous languages services will be requested," wrote Charles Drouin, as well as reaching out to advocates and schools to "develop stronger ties and improve Indigenous languages services."
Drouin said Ottawa has about 100 interpreters and translators in 20 different Indigenous languages and dialects — out of roughly 90 Indigenous languages grouped into 11 families in Canada.
Meanwhile, the directive Ouellette prompted does not clarify what is "reasonable" notice for officials to find interpreters.
The federal Liberals are expected to soon table a bill to enshrine protections for Indigenous languages. Last month, they designated $1,500 for every student at on-reserve schools, each year, for learning about traditional language and culture.
Ouellette said it will cost money to keep major Indigenous languages alive, after the legacy of residential schools:
"If you don't have funding… what can you do as a people?"