Canada has fifty Aboriginal languages, of varying sizes and strengths. In 1980 James Bauman introduced a rating scale to help people assess the state of their language. He described languages as flourishing, enduring, declining, obsolete or extinct4. During the past 100 years in Canada, nearly ten Aboriginal languages that were once flourishing have become extinct. Others are close to being extinct. In 1996, only three Aboriginal languages—Cree, Ojibwa and Inuktitut—had enough mother tongue speakers to be considered safe from extinction over the long–term5.
In the 1996 census, only 26% of those who identified themselves as Aboriginal said their mother tongue was an Aboriginal language6. Fewer than that spoke an Aboriginal language at home7. The census figures also show that there are more older speakers than younger speakers, meaning that fewer young people have learned or understand the language.
Other minority languages in Canada, like Chinese or Ukrainian, have a homeland elsewhere in the world, but for many of our Aboriginal languages, including some in the NWT, Canada is the homeland. If these Aboriginal languages disappear, they will take with them unique ways of looking at the world.
When the Aboriginal languages are lost to Canada, they are lost to the world, and the knowledge they contain dies with them.
Assembly of First Nations8
Several different factors, including the presence of a strong dominant language like English, may contribute to the decline of languages.
4 Crosscurrent Associates, Languages
of the Land: A resource manual for Aboriginal language activists. Yellowknife:
NWT Literacy Council, 1999.
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