Views / Opinion

Cree belongs in the House of Commons: Kabatay

An official petition to offer Cree language interpretation and translation services deserves Canadian's full support, writes Jasmine Kabatay.

Winnipeg MP Robert-Falcon Ouellette spoke entirely in Cree last May, forcing the Speaker of the House, Geoff Regan, to make a ruling on the use of the language in Parliament.

Robert-Falcon Ouellette/ Facebook

Winnipeg MP Robert-Falcon Ouellette spoke entirely in Cree last May, forcing the Speaker of the House, Geoff Regan, to make a ruling on the use of the language in Parliament.

Language is an important part of culture and communication. And when what you say goes unheard due to language barriers, it can be upsetting.

So last Friday when an official petition was launched for the House of Commons to offer translation and interpretation services in Cree, I was delighted.

It comes after Winnipeg MP Robert-Falcon Ouellette, who is sponsoring the petition, spoke entirely in Cree last May, forcing the Speaker of the House, Geoff Regan, to make a ruling on the use of the language in Parliament.

According to Regan, the House doesn’t have the “technical and physical capability” for the interpretation. Instead, he proposed MPs speaking any language besides French or English take the “extra step” of repeating it in either one of the two official languages.

It seems to me that this isn’t necessarily a case of “technical and physical capability.” It’s a case of fearing change.

Adding Indigenous language services should not be difficult. There are over 60 Indigenous languages spoken in Canada, with Cree, Ojibway, and Inuktitut being the most common. Finding someone to interpret Cree would not be impossible, and it’s not as if every session will have to be translated.

Not to mention the Senate currently provides interpretation and translation services in Inuktitut.

The Truth and Reconciliation report states that revitalizing Indigenous languages is crucial for reconciliation. This could be an opportunity to set the tone when it comes to including Indigenous culture in Canadian life.

Or maybe things will change when brought up by someone most other MPs can relate to.

Back in June, non-Indigenous Liberal MP Marc Miller delivered a statement to the House entirely in Kanien'kéha, the Mohawk language. He told CBC news he is learning the language to “embrace the heightened focus on reconciliation.”

Miller was met with praise.  

Yet when Ouellette did essentially the same thing, in his own language, but with the extra step of asking for it to be interpreted, it became a bigger issue of finding the resources or “physical capability.”

While Ouellette encouraged and welcomed Miller’s remarks, it does bring up a stark difference in how the statements were received, despite working towards similar goals.

This petition has the capacity to change how we go forward. If it reaches 500 signatures by Jan. 20, it will be tabled in Parliament and the government will have to respond.

If this is the first petition, I’ll be signing it. And I’ll sign the next 59 petitions if that’s what it takes for Indigenous languages to get the respect they deserve.

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