Difficulties in collecting census data lead to fewer speakers of indigenous languages
The number of people who speak an Indigenous language has declined overall in Canada, but the number has increased for the country’s youngest generation, according to new census data.
Statistics Canada has released 2021 census data that shows around 243,000 people reported being able to speak an Indigenous language, down from the 2016 census when that figure was around 251,000.
The agency also reports, however, that between 2016 and 2021, the number of Generation Alpha — children aged eight or younger — who can speak an Indigenous language rose from 11,715 to 28,755.
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Among the different age categories, this is the only one to show an overall increase.
According to Statistics Canada, due to difficulties in collecting census data on First Nations and other Indigenous communities, some caution should be exercised when comparing census years. The agency says it has made adjustments to follow general trends.
Wednesday’s census release on language comes as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government has outlined the promotion and preservation of Indigenous languages as a priority. In 2019, he passed legislation that he said would help with revitalization.
The fragility of Indigenous languages has long been a concern. Depending on the language, some communities say there are only a limited number of speakers left, while others warn that those who grew up speaking an indigenous language are getting older.
“Everyone is very aware that we are losing our language very quickly,” Lori Idlout, MP for Nunavut and NDP representative, said of Inuktitut in a recent interview.
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Census data suggests that among the largest generation, people aged 94 or older, the number of native language speakers fell to 120 last year from 575 in 2016, while among the middle generation In the interwar years of people aged 76 to 93, that number fell to 9,230 from 14,120.
According to Statistics Canada, more than 70 Aboriginal languages are spoken in Canada and the main ones spoken at home are Cree and Inuktitut.
Kevin Lewis, a Cree teacher from Saskatchewan, said the demand for fluent speakers is growing.
And it’s not just to meet classroom demands. Lewis said he was also approached to find operators for 911 emergency services.
“There are a lot of opportunities that have opened up now that weren’t there,” Lewis, a professor at the University of Saskatchewan of the Ministikwan Lake Cree Nation, said in an interview this week.
“It is enormous.”
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Lewis said when it comes to shouting, he sees two demographics interested in learning how to use it to communicate. One is residential school survivors, who give their children and grandchildren the opportunity to learn a language they lack the ability to speak.
“These orange shirts are very bright,” Lewis said, referring to the color people came out to wear to honor residential school survivors on Sept. 30, the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
The other demographic, he said, are Sixties Scoop survivors who, as children, were removed from their home communities by social workers and are now trying to find their roots.
Among baby boomers, people aged 56 to 75 born between 1946 and 1965, the census found about 50,500 could speak an Indigenous language in 2021, up from 57,895 in 2016.
As for Generation X, or those aged 41 to 55 born between 1966 and 1980, the number of native language speakers fell to 48,280 from 50,975 five years earlier, according to census data.
Lewis, who attended boarding school like his family members, said language revitalization is underway and credits social media platforms like TikTok and YouTube for giving young people the chance to practice Cree. , thereby exposing a larger audience to the language.
“They make the Screams fun.
He also observed a number of language camps springing up across the Prairies.
Despite this, the census recorded a drop in the number of millennials, ages 25 to 40, or gen Z, ages 9 to 24, who can speak Indigenous languages. Millennial speakers fell to 51,550 in 2021 from 54,510 in 2016, while Gen Z speakers fell to 54,700 from 61,625.
The 2021 census saw an increase in the number of indigenous communities refusing to participate in the census.
Statistics Canada said it was unable to collect information from 63 First Nations reserves and other communities. Many did not allow the agency to enter.
As The Canadian Press previously reported, briefing materials had been prepared for Indigenous Services Canada on the matter.
Officials said efforts to collect census data from Indigenous communities have been challenged by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as heat waves and wildfires that have swept through British Columbia and northern Ontario.
They also reported how census turnout had been “hampered” by the discovery of unmarked graves at former residential school sites.
More census data on Indigenous languages and identity is expected to be released in September.
© 2022 The Canadian Press