The Constitutional Status of Aboriginal Languages in Canada
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The languages of Indigenous peoples are threatened with disappearance worldwide, and Canada is no exception. Of the fifty or so Aboriginal languages still spoken in Canada today, only three can be considered relatively safe. In Canada, as in many other countries, this situation directly results from colonial policies intended to eradicate these languages and assimilate their speakers into the dominant society; policies which have been termed “cultural genocide”. To redress this imbalance and avert the loss of these languages, their proper place in our constitutional order must be recognized. The author argues that Aboriginal languages in Canada already possess constitutional status, a status which has three main aspects. First, these languages are protected as Aboriginal rights under section 35(1) of the Constitution Act, 1982. Second, that this protection, when examined in the light of important constitutional principles and Canada’s colonial past, imposes a corresponding duty on Canadian governments to support the revitalization, protection, and promotion of Aboriginal languages. And third, that the constitutional status of Aboriginal languages, as the languages of founding peoples of Canada, mandates their recognition as official languages, and that failure to do so would violate the equality rights of Aboriginal peoples, as well as amount to interference with their protected Aboriginal rights. The author concludes that the constitutional status of Aboriginal languages must be recognized and enhanced in order to enable the possibility of meaningful reconciliation between Aboriginal peoples and the Canadian state.