As discussed in our general introduction, it would be a misperception to understand First Peoples as a homogenous group. The variety of languages and dialects spoken by Indigenous peoples across Canada serves to underline the diversity of these communities. For several reasons, it’s hard to give an exact number of Indigenous languages in Canada, but researchers put it at somewhere between 56 and 70. The languages most spoken are Cree, Ojibway, and Inuktitut; a number of others have few speakers left, with several in British Columbia having less than 30 speakers. Indigenous languages have been lost or are on their way to becoming extinct due to multiple generations ending up within the Residential School system and, therefore, never having a chance to learn their languages. If we understand language as productive of and produced by culture, then this loss is part of the cultural genocide that the TRC recognized as having taken place in Canada. That said, First Peoples communities across the country are fighting against this trend through various activities aimed at revitalizing their languages, for example through mentorship programs pairing elders and young people or through mandatory language learning in reserve schools. See also our link on technology for a discussion of language apps as one way in which these communities are combating language loss.
1) A helpful overview of First Peoples languages and their distribution according to geographic regions.
2) A brief primer on the Cree language. Similar resources can be found online for other Indigenous languages.
3) An explanation of language loss and death which provides specific information about Indigenous language loss in Canada.
4) CBC news article on language loss in Canada.
5) Magazine article discussing the Canadian government’s responsibilities in the face of Indigenous language loss.
6) Article and news video discussing the key role Elders play in language revitalization.
7) Video explaining the language revitalization program at University of Victoria and its positive impact on nearby Indigenous communities.