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Our Indian Languages Are At Risk

SASKATCHEWAN INDIAN      FEBRUARY 1988      p02  
A couple of years ago the Federal government commissioned a report on broadcasting in Canada. This report, the Caplan-Sauvageau report had the mandate to review the broadcasting act and recommend changes.

In the course of their work they met with a number of Indian, Inuit and native groups and received sub mission outlining concerns and recommendations.

The most disturbing statement that came out was the report on Indian language broadcasting stating that of some 32 language groups in Canada only 3 had a chance of survival. Some languages here already have ceased to exist and others will be gone in two or three generations.

The measurement here is generations. Two generations ago most Saskatchewan Indians grew up in a home that had their Indian language as their first language. The following generation used English in the Home. They may know their language but they are not passing it along to their children.

What are the factors that have created this situation? There are basically two:

First: almost every Indian home has a television set and the children watch up to eight hours of programming daily. They are saturated with the English language. In the old days children would listen to the adults tell stories and legends now they spend their time in front of a television set.

Second: Indian languages are perceived as being obsolete. The language at school, the business world, radio and T.V. are all English. If language fails to have a practical day to day application then it falls into disuse. At one time Indian people spoke their language with defiance because it was forbidden in the schools, now the languages are not being spoken for a far more benign reason. We are ignoring our language.

In this Issue we have an article from the Saskatchewan Indian languages institute that outlines their problems and the uphill battle ahead of them to save the languages.

We must make our languages practical in daily use and television and media outlets should be approached to produce material in Indian languages.

But the most important battleground is the home and the floor in front of the television set is ground zero. Parents must be aware of their use of language and spread their Indian language to their children. They should also restrict the hours of television that children watch. The first five years of a childs life are crucial for language development. When they get older they will automatically learn English but learning their own language will be very hard.

The Saskatchewan Indian Languages Institute is a valuable but underrated and undefined institution facing an enormous task. If it is not supported two generations from now we will be wondering where our language has gone.