The Atlas of Canadian Languages

September 22, 2008 at 11:25 pm | Posted in Alaska, Canada, Language, Maps | 1 Comment
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I arrived to this series of maps by the Atlas of Canada via the Alaska Native Languages Map blog. They offer information about the situation of languages in Canada, from three different perspectives: the linguistic group, the usage and the continuity:

Atlas of Canada

The linguistic group map

The current 50 languages of Canada’s indigenous peoples belong to 11 major language families – ten First Nations and Inuktitut. Canada’s Aboriginal languages are many and diverse, and their importance to indigenous people immense. This map shows the major aboriginal language families by community in Canada for the year 1996, and it is a part of a series of three maps that comprise Aboriginal Languages.

Some language families are large and strong in terms of viability, others small and vulnerable. The three largest families, which together represent 93% of persons with an Aboriginal mother tongue, are Algonquian (with 147 000 people whose mother tongue is Algonquian), Inuktitut (with 28 000) and Athabaskan (with 20 000). The other eight account for the remaining 7%. Tlingit, one of the smallest families, has a mere 145 people in Canada whose mother tongue is that language. Similar variations apply to individual languages – Cree, with a mother tongue population of 88 000, appears immense when compared with Malecite at 660.
Influence of Geography on the Size and Diversity of Languages

Geography is an important contributor to the diversity, size and distribution of Aboriginal languages across Canada’s regions. Open plains and hilly woodlands, for example, are ideal for accommodating large groups of people. Because of the terrain, groups in these locations can travel and communicate with each other relatively easily, and often tend to spread over larger areas.

On the other hand, soaring mountains and deep gorges tend to restrict settlements to small pockets of isolated groups. British Columbia’s mountainous landscape with its numerous physical barriers was likely an important factor in the evolution of the province’s many separate, now mostly small, languages. Divided by terrain, languages such as Salish, Tsimshian, Wakashan, Haida, Tlingit and Kutenai could not develop as large a population base as the widely spread Algonquinian (particularly Cree and Ojibway) and the Athapaskan languages, whose homes are the more open central plains and eastern woodlands.

Geography can also influence the likelihood of a language’s survival. Groups located in relatively isolated regions, away from the dominant culture, face fewer pressures to abandon their language. They tend to use their own language in schooling, broadcasting and other communication services and, as a result, are likely to stay more self-sufficient. Communities living in Nunavut, Northwest Territories, the northern regions of Quebec and Labrador – the Inuit, Attikamek and Montagnais-Naskapi – are examples of such groups.

Because of their large, widely dispersed populations, the Algonquian languages account for the highest share of Aboriginal languages in all provinces except British Columbia and in the territories, ranging from 72% in Newfoundland to nearly 100% in the other Atlantic provinces. In both British Columbia and the Yukon, the Athapascan languages make up the largest share (26% and 80%, respectively), while Inuktitut is the most prominent Aboriginal language in the Northwest Territories and practically the only one in Nunavut. British Columbia, home to about half of all individual Aboriginal languages, is the most diverse in Aboriginal language composition. However, because of the small size of these language groups, the province accounts for only 7% of people with an Aboriginal mother tongue.

The ability map

The Index of Ability compares the number of people who report being able to speak the language with the number who have that Aboriginal language as a mother tongue. The index has been compiled and mapped for each of the Aboriginal communities shown in the map Aboriginal Languages by Community, 1996. Relatively higher values of this index may suggest some degree of language revival. This map is part of a series of three maps that comprise Aboriginal Languages.

The INDEX OF ABILITY may be used to suggest some degree of language revival. The index of ability compares the number of people who report being able to speak the language with the number who have that Aboriginal language as a mother tongue (consult text Data and Mapping Notes for further information).

There are a number of factors which contribute to a language’s ability to survive. First and foremost is the size of the population with an Aboriginal mother tongue or home language. Since a large base of speakers is essential to ensure long-term viability, the more speakers a language has, the better its chances of survival. Indeed, Inuktitut, Cree and Ojibway – the three most flourishing languages – all boast over 20 000 people with an Aboriginal mother tongue. In contrast, endangered languages rarely have more than a few thousand speakers; often they have only a few hundred. For instance, the two smallest and weakest language groups, Kutenai and Tlingit, have mother tongue populations of 120 and 145 respectively.

To survive, a language must be passed on from one generation to the next. The most effective way of making this happen is to speak it in the home where children will learn it as their mother tongue. Spoken in the home, language is used as the working tool of everyday life. In contrast, when learned as a second language, it is often used in potentially limited situations, only as may be the case, for example, in immersion programs. There is, therefore, no equivalent to learning a language as a mother tongue. Unlike other minority language groups, Aboriginals cannot rely on new immigrants to maintain or increase their population of speakers. Consequently, passing on the language from parents to children is critical for the survival of all Aboriginal languages.

The continuity map

The Index of Continuity measures language continuity, or vitality, by comparing the number of those who speak a given language at home to the number of those who learned the language as their mother tongue. The index has been compiled and mapped for each of the Aboriginal communities shown in the map Aboriginal Languages by Community, 1996. The lower the score, the greater the decline or erosion of language continuity. This map is part of a series of three maps that comprise Aboriginal Languages.

One way of measuring language continuity or vitality is the INDEX OF CONTINUITY. This index measures language continuity or vitality by comparing the number of those who speak an Aboriginal language at home to the number of those who learned the language as their mother tongue (consult text Data and Mapping Notes for further information).

Between 1981 and 1996, the index of continuity declined for all Aboriginal languages. Although the number of people reporting an Aboriginal mother tongue increased by nearly 24% between 1981 and 1996, the number of those who spoke an Aboriginal language at home grew by only 6%. As a result, for every 100 people with an Aboriginal mother tongue, the number who used an indigenous language most often at home declined from 76 to 65 between 1981 and 1996.

The index of continuity has some relationship to the ratings of languages as viable or endangered. Although most languages experienced a steady erosion in linguistic vitality during these years, endangered ones suffered the most. For example, the index of continuity for Salish languages fell from 35 in 1981 to only 12 by 1996. Tlingit and Kutenai, as languages most often spoken at home, had practically disappeared by the 1990s. Given that in 1996 there were only 120 people with a Kutenai mother tongue, it is not hard to see why there is a serious concern for the survival of this language. In contrast, although the continuity index dipped for the relatively strong Cree as well, it did so by considerably less: from 78 to 65. Although Inuktitut did experience a slight erosion in the early 1980’s, the past decade has seen its index stabilize at 84.

Groups that live in remote communities or in settlements with concentrated populations of indigenous speakers appear to find it easier to retain their language. Indeed, two such groups, on-reserve Registered Indians and the Inuit, show the highest indexes of language continuity among all groups: 80 and 85, respectively. In contrast, non-status Indians and Metis, who tend to live off-reserve, as well as off-reserve registered Indians have home-language-mother tongue ratios of 58, 50 and 40 respectively. This suggests a more pronounced state of language decline. Clearly, the off-reserve environment poses major threats to Aboriginal languages.

By 1996, these rates of language erosion resulted in strikingly different continuity levels for viable and endangered languages as a whole. For every 100 speakers with an Aboriginal mother tongue, an average of about 70 used an Aboriginal home language among viable groups, compared with 30 or fewer among endangered groups.

You can read data and mapping notes here.

Produced by Nutaaq

August 5, 2008 at 12:34 pm | Posted in Canada, Education, Organization | Leave a comment
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Last week I found a production company settled down in Québec, Canada, called Nutaaq. As they explain, they are specialized on multi-cultural and indigenous subjects. This is quite interesting, isn’t it?

Nutaaq Média

Nutaaq Média, Inc. was incorporated in 1991 with the goal of producing both independent and sponsored film, video and interactive media projects.

Although most of Nutaaq productions concern the Arctic or northern issues, Nutaaq has also shot many projects in southern Canada, as well as one project in South America. Our multi-cultural experience is indeed one of our great strengths.
Nutaaq Média represents many years of production experience which allow it to create broadcast programming intended for a mass audience or sponsored projects tailored to a specific few.

Working with a team of talented professionals and state of the art facilities for digital non-linear editing and multi-media authoring, Nutaaq Média produces effective multi-media, sponsored or broadcast programming tailored to client and audience needs in whichever languages are required. In the past, Nutaaq has produced programs in French, English, Inuktitut and Cree, Chinese, Japanese, Russian, Spanish, German and Italian. Nutaaq can also title and sub-title programs in any language. We also do closed captioning.

Recent Productions

Finding My Talk:A Journey through Aboriginal Languages This one hour documentary follows the journey of Cree filmmaker Paul M. Rickard as he searches for his own language roots and discovers the tireless efforts of many individuals who are promoting, reviving and preserving the use of Aboriginal languages within their communities. Distributed by Mushkeg Media Inc.

Broken Promises: The High Arctic Relocation In the summer of 1953, the Canadian government relocated seven Inuit families from Northern Québec to the High Arctic. They were promised an abundance of game and fish – in short, a better life. The government assured the Inuit that if things didn’t work out, they could return home after two years. Two years later, another 35 people joined them. It would be thirty years before any of them saw their ancestral lands again. Distributed by Nutaaq and National Film Board of Canada.

Nunavik Heritage CD-ROM The photographs reflect the life and people of Northern Québec (Nunavik) from the 1880’s till the present. The flexibility of the CD-ROM software allows the images to be organized and retrieved by thematic categories such as specific individuals or families, geographical locations, time periods, historical events or photograph contents. The disc design maximizes user interaction and allows images to be printed or incorporated into other documents. Distributed by Avataq Cultural Institute.

Running the Midnight Sun To their friends they’re eccentric, to the Inuit they’re bizarre, but they consider themselves just ordinary people who like to push themselves to the limit. They are ultra runners. Once a year, under a sun that never sets, they gather from all over North America to challenge an 84 kilometer gravel road located 700 kilometers above the Arctic Circle. Distributed by Nutaaq.

North to Nowhere: Quest for the Pole In North to Nowhere, nine adventurers from five countries attempt the Polar trek. They include Shinzi Kazama, a motorcyclist from Japan; Pam Flowers, a ninety pound dogsledder from Alaska; Nicholas Hulot and Hubert de Chevigny, ultra-light pilots from France and Dick Smith, an Australian helicopter pilot. As well, a planeload of American tourists fly to the Pole for a very expensive one hour photo opportunity. No Distributer (unavailable).

They produced some documentaries in Inuktitut and Cree, this is interesting. I contacted them since living in Barcelona it is impossible to watch their programs, but the only option was to buy them, and that was really expensive for me too! I may wait when a relative or friend travel there, to see if they find something!

Survival’s campaign: Progress can kill

July 23, 2008 at 11:09 pm | Posted in Alaska, Canada, Rights | 1 Comment
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And actually, it does kill, as it shows one of the most shocking campaigns. To keep the post on topic I will include here only the information related with polar tribes, but please, go and check the full campaign as it deserves all your attention.

Progress can kill

Forcing ‘development’ or ‘progress’ on tribal people does not make them happier or healthier. In fact, the effects are disastrous. The most important factor by far for tribal peoples’ well-being is whether their land rights are respected. Some of the problems affecting tribal peoples are HIV/AIDS, starvation, obesity, suicide or addiction. The last three specially affect the indigenous people living around the polar circle.

Tribal peoples without land are forced into a sedentary life and many become dependent on processed foods. This change in lifestyle and diet – from high-protein to high-fat food – is often disastrous, leading to obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes.

In the Pima reservation (Arizona), more than half of Indians over the age of 35 have diabetes; while those living in the mountains suffer far less from this condition. The International Diabetes Federation predicts that excess weight and diabetes will lead to ‘earlier deaths and disabilities’. If untreated or detected late – as is common with tribal peoples – diabetes can lead to blindness, kidney failure, strokes, heart disease and amputations. The impact on future generations will be catastrophic.

‘The human costs of unrestrained development on our traditional territory, whether in the form of massive hydroelectric development or irresponsible forestry operations, are no surprise for us. Diabetes has followed the destruction of our traditional way of life and the imposition of a welfare economy. Now we see that one in seven pregnant Cree women is sick with this disease, and our children are being born high risk or actually sick.’
Matthew Coon-Come, Cree, 2002

Dispossessed and alienated tribal peoples often take to drugs, usually the cheapest and most easily available such as alcohol and petrol. The health of individuals and families collapses. Babies are born with foetal alcohol syndrome, children get little care from addict parents, teenagers follow suit, and once-respected elders are alienated from younger generations. Cycles are fixed which cannot be broken by merely treating individuals or symptoms. The entire society falls apart.

Among Innu youth, sniffing petrol is an acute problem. In the long term this addiction can cause convulsions and permanent damage to the kidneys, eyes, liver, bone marrow and heart. In 2000, 11-year-old Charles Rich died by accidentally setting himself on fire when sniffing petrol. A child who witnessed this horrific death said:

‘My name is Phillip. I’m a gas [petrol] sniffer. I sniff gas with my friends. In wintertime, we steal skidoos and we steal gas… I don’t go home because I sniff gas. And I sniff gas because both my parents are drinking and I’m mad at that… At one point Charles ran towards me when he was in flames but because I was sniffing gas and the fumes were very strong on me, I ran away. I was afraid I would be caught on fire too.’

Tribal people across the world suffer from the trauma of forced relocation and settlement. They find themselves in an environment they are not used to, where there is nothing useful to do, and where they are treated with racist disdain by their new neighbours.

Their children may be taken to boarding schools which separate them from their communities and often forbid or ridicule their language and traditions.

Alienated and without hope, many take to drugs and alcohol. Domestic violence and sexual abuse soar. Many resort to suicide. In Canada, Indian groups who have lost their connection to their land have suicide rates up to ten times the national average; those with strong links often see no suicides at all.

The Guarani are committing suicide because we have no land. We don’t have space any more. In the old days, we were free, now we are no longer free. So our young people look around them and think there is nothing left and wonder how they can live. They sit down and think, they forget, they lose themselves and then commit suicide.’
Rosalino Ortiz, Guarani Ñandeva, Brazil, 1996

I think that the words speak for themselves. If you want to learn more about it, you can take a look at the whole campaign and also read the full report.

Locating Newfoundland and Labrador

March 21, 2008 at 9:39 pm | Posted in Language, Maps | Leave a comment
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I will continue with the people in Canada. Today, talking with some workmates, this topic has come out, and they have been telling me some things. The situation it is still not clear, but now I have more clues to keep searching. They told me that it had hit the headlines that ten years ago Canada gave some authonomy to one of its provinces, traditionally indigenous. Since I have no idea about it, I started looking for it at the Wiki:

Concerning Innu’s land, in 1869, Newfoundland decided in an election to remain a British territory, over concerns that central Canada would dominate taxation and economic policy. In 1907, Newfoundland and Labrador acquired dominion status. However, in 1933, the government of Newfoundland fell and during World War II, Canada took charge of Newfoundland’s defence. Following World War II, Newfoundland’s status was in question. In a narrow majority, the citizens of Newfoundland and Labrador voted for confederation in a 1948 referendum. On March 31, 1949, Newfoundland and Labrador became Canada’s tenth and final province.

Geographically, the province consists of the island of Newfoundland and the mainland Labrador, on Canada’s Atlantic coast. While the name “Newfoundland” is derived from English as “New Found Land” (a translation from the Latin Terra Nova), Labrador comes from the Portuguese lavrador, a title meaning “landholder” held by Portuguese explorer of the region, João Fernandes Lavrador.

As of October, 2007, the province’s population is estimated to be 507,475. Newfoundland has its own dialects of the English, French, and Irish languages. The English dialect in Labrador shares much with that of Newfoundland. Furthermore, Labrador has its own dialects of Innu-aimun and Inuktitut.

The 2006 census returns showed a population of 505,469. Of the 499,830 singular responses to the census question concerning ‘mother tongue’ the languages most commonly reported were:

1. English 488,405 97.7%
2. French 1,885 0.4%
3. Montagnais-Naskapi 1,585 0.3%
4. Chinese 1,080 0.2%
5. Spanish 670 0.1%
6. German 655 0.1%
7. Inuktitut 595 0.1%
8. Urdu 550 0.1%
9. Arabian 540 0.1%
10. Dutch 300 0.1%
11. Russian 225 ~
12. Italian 195 ~

The website of the Newfoundland and Labrador Government offers some information, as well as an interesting section that focuses on Labrador’s aboriginals. But you will have to wait for the next chapters for that 🙂

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