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

  • WhyIDidntReport takes off on Twitter as Trump questions Kavanaugh's accuser

    World News CTV News
    The heated conversation in the United States over the accusations of sexual assault against Supreme Court nominee judge Brett Kavanaugh, took another dramatic turn as people began opening up about their own incidents of sexual assault online. Source
  • Taiwan police arrest Cody Wilson, gun rights activist wanted in U.S.

    World News CBC News
    Authorities in Taiwan arrested the owner of a Texas company that sells plans to make untraceable 3D-printed guns who is wanted in the U.S. over an accusation that he had sex with an underage girl and paid her $500 afterward, official media reported. Source
  • NYT says deputy AG proposed secretly taping Trump — Rosenstein calls report 'inaccurate'

    World News CBC News
    Deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein denied a New York Times report Friday that he suggested that he secretly record U.S. President Donald Trump last year to expose chaos in the administration and that he floated the idea of using the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office. Source
  • U.S. Deputy Attorney General denies he suggested secretly taping Trump

    World News CTV News
    In this July 13, 2018, file photo, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein speaks during a news conference at the Department of Justice. Rosenstein is defending the prosecution of foreign agents who may never see the inside of a U.S. Source
  • 'Hot-umn?' Hotter than normal fall on the horizon: Environment Canada

    Canada News CTV News
    It’s the last day of summer, but that doesn’t necessarily mean an end to the warm weather. In fact, Environment and Climate Change Canada is predicting a hotter than usual fall. David Philips, senior climatologist with Environment Canada, says their fall outlook shows it is “going to be warmer than normal across the country. Source
  • N.S. to mark little-known connection to David Ben-Gurion and the Jewish Legion

    Canada News CTV News
    WINDSOR, N.S. -- Before he became Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion earned 50 cents a day as a soldier and slept on the ground in bell tents in the small town of Windsor, N.S. Source
  • Taiwan police arrest U.S. 3D gun man accused of sex with minor

    World News CTV News
    TAIPEI, Taiwan -- Authorities in Taiwan have arrested the owner of a Texas company that sells plans to make untraceable 3-D printed guns who is wanted in the U.S. for paying an underage girl for sex, official media reported. Source
  • Northlands to improve safety, amend statement of defence that blamed sex assault victim

    Canada News CBC News
    A statement of defence from Northlands that blamed a teen's alleged sexual assault at K-Days on her own "negligence" was released by an insurance company before the organization had reviewed it, Northlands said in a video statement Thursday evening. Source
  • New four-volume atlas highlights Canada’s rich Indigenous heritage

    Canada News CTV News
    Canada’s vibrant Indigenous heritage is highlighted in a new book collection – made in collaboration with communities across the country. Canadian Geographic’s Indigenous Peoples Atlas of Canada is a four-volume set which guides readers through land, languages, people and culture. Source
  • Turkey says it will patrol a former ISIS-held Syrian town with U.S. forces

    World News CTV News
    ISTANBUL -- Turkey will soon conduct joint patrols with U.S. forces in the strategic northern Syrian town of Manbij, once a stronghold of the Islamic State group, a top Turkish official said on Friday The announcement came as Turkey's Defence Ministry said in a Friday statement that the borders of Idlib's demilitarized zone were determined in a meeting with their Russian counterparts during a three-day meeting. Source