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Canada Must Invest to Keep Indigenous Languages Alive, First Nations Chief Says

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Canada’s indigenous languages need investment to survive in the country whose aboriginal languages are considered among the most endangered in the world, National Assembly of First Nations Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo said this week as the world commemorated UNESCO’s International Mother Language Day.

“As the original languages of this land, indigenous languages require significant investment and it should be comparable to that provided for the two official languages in Canada,” Atleo said on February 21, according to the Wawatay News.

“Indigenous languages represent the collective heritage and identity of this country and this land,” he said. “Our Elders have called upon us to never forget our languages, to teach them and to learn from our languages. Indigenous languages must be recognized, respected, fully supported and should be a source of celebration and pride throughout Canada.”

International Mother Language Day was designated by the General Conference of UNESCO in November 1999 and has been observed yearly since February 2000 “to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism,” according to the UNESCO site.

The University of Calgary identifies at least 11 currently spoken language families for First Nations groups, plus Beothuk, which is considered extinct.

Atleo said that national support of language-revitalization efforts is in line with Article 13 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the document endorsed by Canada on November 12. Article 13 acknowledges indigenous peoples’ right to “revitalize, use, develop and transmit to future generations their histories, languages, oral traditions, philosophies, writing systems and literatures, and to designate and retain their own names for communities, places and persons,” the newspaper said.