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

  • Drunk senior sentenced for shooting a young woman he'd taken in

    Canada News Toronto Sun
    Accidentally shooting a young woman he'd taken into his home while severely intoxicated has landed a Calgary senior a 16-month jail term. Provincial court Judge Gerry Meagher on Monday agreed with Crown prosecutor Marta Juzwiak that a period behind bars was necessary for Leslie Neil Jensen. Source
  • Paramedics, officer hurt by combative patient at scene of Calgary crash

    Canada News CTV News
    CALGARY -- Two paramedics and a police officer have been injured by a combative patient at the scene of a collision on a Calgary freeway. One paramedic's injuries are being described as serious but non-life-threatening, while the others sustained minor injuries. Source
  • Strong Indonesia earthquake damages buildings, at least 3 injured

    World News CTV News
    JAKARTA, Indonesia -- A strong, shallow earthquake rocked Indonesia's central Sulawesi province Monday evening, injuring at least three people and damaging some buildings and houses, but producing no tsunami warning. The U.S. Geological Survey said the magnitude-6.8 quake was centred in a thinly populated area 79 kilometres (49 miles) southeast of the provincial capital, Palu, at a depth of 9.1 kilometres (6 miles). Source
  • Accused Portland stabber liked Nazis, comics and pot

    World News Toronto Sun
    Jeremy Joseph Christian was a man seething with rage. The 35-year-old Oregon man is accused of stabbing to death two good Samaritans who came to the rescue of two young women being harangued on a Portland commuter train. Source
  • Germany's Merkel says U.S. no longer a reliable partner for Europe

    World News CBC News
    German Chancellor Angela Merkel underlined her doubts about the reliability of the United States as an ally on Monday but said she was a "convinced trans-Atlanticist," fine-tuning her message after surprising Washington with her frankness a day earlier. Source
  • Ecuadorean president calls WikiLeaks founder a hacker

    World News CTV News
    QUITO, Ecuador -- Ecuadorean President Lenin Moreno is calling WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange a hacker. But Moreno added Monday that even though he considers Assange a hacker, Ecuador's government will allow the Australian to remain at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. Source
  • Popular vote numbers reveal wider margin of victory for Andrew Scheer

    Canada News CBC News
    Andrew Scheer defeated Maxime Bernier by 62,593 to 55,544 votes, according to figures provided by a spokesperson of the Conservative Party. The numbers also reveal that more than 23,000 members included neither candidate on their preferential ballot. Source
  • Tim Hortons worker lends minivan to stranded strangers for relay race

    Canada News CTV News
    A Nova Scotia Tim Hortons drive-thru worker became the MVP of a stranded relay race team when she offered up her minivan to a group of complete strangers with no other way to get to the start line. Source
  • Ontario to raise minimum wage and update labour laws, premier says

    Canada News CTV News
    TORONTO -- The benefits of Ontario's renewed economic growth are not shared evenly across the province, Premier Kathleen Wynne said Monday as she planned to announce a raise to minimum wage as well as much anticipated changes to labour laws. Source
  • Sick, diabetic man says Greyhound bus driver left him stranded on highway

    Canada News CBC News
    A diabetic Manitoba man says he was left stranded at the side of a dark highway, hundreds of kilometres from home, by a Greyhound bus driver. Barry Spence, 41, travels from his home in Thompson, Man. Source