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

  • Health-care havoc: Trump's 1st legislative test a 'big loser' that puts his agenda on shaky ground

    World News CBC News
    So much for the hard-bargaining American president's ultimatum on repealing Obamacare. Donald Trump's first major legislative push veered into a ditch on Friday, denting his image as a master negotiator and dealing an embarrassing blow to his young presidency's momentum. Source
  • Aid group fears hundreds of migrants drowned off Libya

    World News CTV News
    MADRID -- Hundreds of migrants may have died off Libya's coast, a Spanish aid organization said Friday, and Turkish media reported that 11 migrants died after a boat sank in the Aegean. Video footage from DHA in Turkey showed a half-dozen covered bodies that were laid out near ambulances. Source
  • SPCA in Alberta says about 100 small-breed dogs removed from home

    Canada News CTV News
    LETHBRIDGE, Alta. - The Alberta SPCA says about 100 dogs have been removed from a home in Lethbridge. The SPCA says in a news release that officers visited the home based on a tip from the public earlier this week. Source
  • Jailed Philippine senator says she 'won't be quiet' about President Duterte

    World News CBC News
    The most vocal critic of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte could be stuck behind the lime-green walls of a Manila prison for a long time. "Rot in jail" was the destiny the president predicted for his nemesis, Senator Leila de Lima, who has loudly and vigorously objected to his crackdown on suspected drug users and dealers, which has resulted in more than 7,000 deaths. Source
  • Man sentenced in death of pregnant ex-girlfriend in Hawaii

    World News Toronto Sun
    HONOLULU — A judge sentenced a man Friday to life in prison with the possibility of parole in the murder of his ex-girlfriend who disappeared while pregnant with his child in Hawaii. A jury previously convicted 27-year-old Steven Capobianco of second-degree murder in the death of Carly “Charli” Scott. Source
  • 2 killed, 22 injured in fight between Mexico union factions

    World News CTV News
    FILE -- A man checks his cell phone as he stands guard in a commercial zone in the port city of Veracruz, Mexico, Friday, Jan. 6, 2017. (AP Photo/Felix Marquez) Source
  • Shooting in northern France injures three

    World News Toronto Sun
    PARIS — Police say three people have been injured in a shooting in the northern French city of Lille. Witnesses told police that an unidentified assailant opened fire near a metro station Friday night before fleeing, according to two Lille police officials. Source
  • U.S.-led Mosul airstrike may have killed over 100 civilians

    World News CBC News
    Iraqi rescue workers continued pulling bodies from the rubble of a collapsed building in the al-Jadida neighbourhood of Western Mosul on Friday. According to eyewitnesses, the building, which was being used as a shelter by people fleeing ISIS militants, was hit by a coalition missile. Source
  • B.C. adds $150M to education, 1,500 new teachers after deal with union

    Canada News CTV News
    VANCOUVER -- British Columbia's education system will receive a $150-million funding boost after the province reached a deal with teachers to restore contract language that called for smaller class sizes. Education Minister Mike Bernier said the new classroom enhancement fund is in addition to the $180 million announced in this year's budget, bringing the total to $330 million. Source
  • Catherine Benton becomes first Mi'kmaq, female aboriginal judge in N.S.

    Canada News CTV News
    Standing on lands her people have inhabited for centuries, Catherine Benton took a historic oath on Friday, becoming both Nova Scotia’s first Mi'kmaq and female aboriginal judge. “I believe it's vital that the Mi'kmaq community and non-First Nation communities alike see Mi'kmaq people as competent, of value and respected for our contributions and perspectives,” Benton said during her swearing-in ceremony in Bridgewater, N.S. Source