People & Culture

Languages of the land: celebrating National Indigenous Languages Day

Languages represent entire worlds of knowledge and meaning. This Indigenous Languages Day, Chief Perry Bellegarde, Honorary President of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, introduces a new CanGeo digital series celebrating Indigenous languages from across the lands and waters we call Canada.

  • Published Mar 31, 2024
  • Updated Apr 05
  • 514 words
  • 3 minutes
Indigenous, languages, map, Inuit, First Nations, Metis Expand Image

In 2022, we came together to mark the beginning of the UN International Decade of Indigenous Languages as a global celebration of the richness and diversity of the languages spoken by Indigenous Peoples around the world.

The Decade is also a call to action.

The United Nations has estimated that more than half of the Indigenous languages in the world could disappear before the end of this century. More than half.

The next eight years will be critical for the survival of our languages as living languages.

Around the world, Indigenous peoples are mobilizing to teach their languages to new generations. We are working hard to create spaces for their languages to be spoken in every aspect of daily life. However, the challenge is immense.

The state of Indigenous languages is the consequence of decades of colonialism, racism, and discrimination. Terrible harm has been done. Undoing that harm requires concerted and coordinated action in every region of the world — including here at home.

Mi’kmaw. Innu-aimun. Kanien’kéha. Anishinaabemowin. Michif. Siksikáí’powahsin. Hul’qumi’num. Tsimshian. Dene. Inuktitut. These are just some of the more than 70 Indigenous languages spoken in Canada today.

Each of these languages represents an entire world of knowledge and meaning.

Any language can be translated. But there is a depth of meaning — and spirit — that can only be passed on in our original tongues.

When I speak my own language, I think of all those who came before me. I think of the old people who were speaking Cree when they named the places and features of the Qu’Appelle River Valley where I was born. The kah-tep-was. I think of generation upon generation of Elders who spoke Cree when they were passing down the knowledge of how to care for the plants and animals on which we depend. I think of our leaders who greeted the first newcomers to our territories.

Our languages come from the land and they speak for the land.

Our Indigenous languages are the languages of our songs, our stories, our teachings, our science, and our laws.

Our languages are part of our history.

It is so important that our languages also be part of our future — our collective future — together on these lands.

May we continue to honour all the Elders, the language champions, the community organizers, the speakers and the learners who are working so hard to keep our languages alive.

Throughout the International Decade may you seek people to speak your language with to honour those who made our languages “living languages” by speaking them.

These are people who inspire me. And I know they will inspire you too.

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