First Nations leader calls on UN to preserve indigenous languages

A Canadian tribal chief is calling for urgent efforts to revive indigenous languages, saying their extinction is going unnoticed while the world focuses on the preservation of cultural heritage sites.

See Full Article

Edward John, a member of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, told a news conference that ancient wonders are important but indigenous languages are "the essential component of cultural heritage" and should get international attention and support to ensure their survival.

John spoke Thursday at the end of a three-day meeting of indigenous language experts at UN headquarters on revitalizing many of the estimated 6,000 to 7,000 languages spoken by native peoples around the world.

"The priority focus that I hear from all of the experts is, create fluent speakers," he said. "That's what you need to do. How do you do it? That's the discussion taking place."

"There's been a large focus on literacy, developing books and calendars and dictionaries" in indigenous languages, John said, "but not as much of an effort in fluency."

John pointed to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's address in May 2011 to the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues where he said: "Today, one indigenous language dies every two weeks. Indigenous cultures are threatened with extinction."

What's needed urgently is a commitment from every government to identify the indigenous languages in their country and the number and age of speakers so that a global map of where they are can be drawn up for the first time, he said. Then, the focus must be on revitalizing those with fewer speakers and finding the resources to keep languages from becoming extinct.

"We know there are some languages where there are less than a handful of speakers left, and when they're gone that language is gone and everything - everything about that culture and that heritage is gone as well," John said.

Tatjana Degai, an ethnic Itelman from Kamchatka on Russia's Pacific coast, said her people's language "is severely endangered."

"There are only five elderly speakers left, all of them female speakers, about 70 years old," she said. "There are about 10 to 15 middle-aged speakers who grew up hearing the language but don't consider themselves speakers."

Degai, who is trying to help keep the language alive, said Itelman is taught in only one school, and for just 40 minutes a week.

"We appreciate that Russia is developing legislation in relation to indigenous language but we also think that it is not enough for our language to survive," she said.

Degai said Itelman is not the only language in trouble - 40 of the 47 recognized indigenous peoples in Russia are from the north, Siberia and the Far East, and most of their languages "are at the brink of extinction."

Amy Kalili, a native Hawaiian who heads an education organization promoting fluency in the Hawaiian language, said that in middle of the last century there were perhaps 30 speakers under the age of 18. But she said there was "a cultural renaissance" in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and now schools are educating 3,000 students a year in Hawaiian.

"People are passionate about not letting language die," Kalili said, and not just in Hawaii.

She said the Maoris in New Zealand not only get education in their own language but they have government-funded Maori language radio and television channels.

John, who is grand chief of the Tl'azt'en Nation in British Columbia, said he attended a residential school for native Canadians and was banned from speaking Dene, a language also spoken in Alaska and the northwestern and southwestern United States by native Americans.

He said smart phones and technology should become tools to help teach young people today their native languages.

Google sent an expert to this week's meeting, he said, and "we will reach out to all willing partners to help us in this gigantic effort of revitalization."

John said recommendations from this week's meeting will be presented to the Permanent Forum meeting in May, and then to the UN Economic and Social Council in July.



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • Rocket attack hits near U.S. Embassy in Baghdad's Green Zone

    World News CTV News
    BAGHDAD -- A rocket was fired into the Iraqi capital's heavily fortified Green Zone Sunday night, landing less than a mile from the sprawling U.S. Embassy, an Iraqi military spokesman said. The apparent attack, which Iraq's state-run news agency said did not cause any casualties, came amid heightened tensions across the Persian Gulf, after the White House ordered warships and bombers to the region earlier this month to counter an alleged, unexplained threat from Iran. Source
  • RCMP say hiker's body recovered after fall from mountain near Canmore, Alta.

    Canada News CTV News
    CANMORE, Alta. -- RCMP say a hiker's body has been recovered after he reportedly fell from a mountain west of Calgary. Police say they were called Sunday afternoon to Heart Mountain for a report that a 21-year-old man had fallen 18 metres. Source
  • Halifax group wants one-fifth of construction jobs reserved for African Nova Scotians

    Canada News CTV News
    A grassroots group in Halifax is demanding that 20 per cent of construction jobs and contracts related to a major redevelopment project be set aside for African Nova Scotians. Halifax is planning to redevelop the Cogswell Interchange area into a mixed-use community with parks, bike lanes, shops and a transit hub. Source
  • Five NDP votes in Labrador to determine status of N.L. Liberal government

    Canada News CTV News
    ST. JOHN'S, N.L. -- The deciding seat in Newfoundland and Labrador's Liberal minority setup came from a surprising race in Thursday's election, with an NDP political rookie unseating a Liberal cabinet minister by a slim margin. Source
  • Trayvon Martin's mom announces run for office in Miami

    World News CTV News
    FILE - In this July 26, 2013, file photo, Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin, holds up a card with a photo of her son as she speaks at the National Urban League's annual conference in Philadelphia. Source
  • Republican calls Trump's conduct 'impeachable,' Trump calls him a 'loser'

    World News CTV News
    WASHINGTON -- A key Democrat said Sunday that Republican Rep. Justin Amash's sharp criticism of what he called President Donald Trump's "impeachable conduct" in the Russia investigation isn't enough to count as bipartisan support to launch impeachment proceedings. Source
  • Commencement speaker announces he's paying off debt of all 400 graduates

    World News CTV News
    A billionaire technology investor stunned the entire graduating class at Morehouse College when he announced at their commencement Sunday that he would pay off their student loans ---- estimated at $40 million. Robert F. Source
  • What's on your mind, Canada? Your MP wants to know

    Canada News CBC News
    The 2019 election campaign is already underway - the CBC News Canada Votes newsletter is your weekly tip-sheet as we count down to Oct. 21. Reading this online? Sign-up for the newsletter and receive it every Sunday. Source
  • Anti-money laundering staff at Deutsche Bank flagged Trump, Kushner transactions: NYT

    World News CBC News
    Anti-money laundering specialists at Deutsche Bank AG recommended in 2016 and 2017 that multiple transactions involving entities controlled by U.S. President Donald Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, be reported to a federal financial crimes watchdog, the New York Times reported on Sunday. Source
  • Day-long lines for gasoline form in oil-rich Venezuela

    World News CBC News
    U.S. sanctions on oil-rich Venezuela appear to be taking hold, resulting in kilometres-long lines for fuel in the South American nation's second-largest city, Maracaibo. Some drivers said they'd had to wait almost 24 hours to fuel up, and people have been grabbing cat naps on the hoods of cars or in truck beds. Source