Hansard, a verbatim report of legislative proceedings, plays a vital role in the democratic process, ensuring transparency and accountability in government deliberations. In British Columbia, Hansard (LABC, 2023) reflects not only the spoken words of elected officials but also the diverse linguistic tapestry of the province. This tapestry is woven with threads from numerous Indigenous languages, each rich in history and culture. In recent years, there has been a growing recognition of the importance of reflecting Indigenous languages in British Columbia Hansard. This is seen as part of a broader effort to embrace inclusivity, acknowledge historical injustices and promote reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.
British Columbia is home to over 200 distinct First Nations (FPCC, 2023 a), each with its own unique language and cultural practices. These languages are a crucial part of the Indigenous heritage and identity. However, many of these languages are now endangered due to a history of colonisation, residential schools and assimilationist policies which sought to suppress Indigenous cultures and languages (UNESCO, 2023).
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, established in 2008, underscored the urgency of acknowledging and addressing the historical injustices faced by Indigenous peoples (TRC, 2015). Its Calls to Action highlighted the importance of revitalising Indigenous languages and cultures as part of the reconciliation process. In this context, the inclusion of Indigenous languages in official records such as Hansard is seen as a step towards acknowledging the presence and contributions of Indigenous peoples in the legislative sphere.
The Government of British Columbia have been proactive in implementing initiatives to preserve and revitalise Indigenous languages. These efforts encompass providing financial resources and support for language preservation projects, educational endeavours and community programmes (GBC, 2023). A notable initiative is the support of the First Peoples’ Cultural Council, a First Nations-run Crown corporation dedicated to revitalising Indigenous languages, arts and culture within the province (FPCC, 2023 b). Additionally, the provincial Government have shown alignment with federal legislation such as the Indigenous Languages Act, which aims to strengthen Indigenous languages (GC, 2019). Efforts also extend to the incorporation of Indigenous languages and cultures into the public school curriculum, and the recognition and use of Indigenous languages in official contexts, such as British Columbia Hansard. Furthermore, the Government actively collaborate with Indigenous communities and leverage technology for language documentation and teaching (FPCC, 2023 c).
To ensure that the orthography and diacritics are reflected accurately in text, there are tools such as those provided by FirstVoices, a web-based project dedicated to supporting Indigenous peoples’ teaching and archiving of language and culture. Administered by the First Peoples’ Cultural Council in British Columbia, this organisation has created language-specific resources that, with “Indigitisation” tools, ensure access to font databases to accurately preserve and protect Indigenous languages (FPCC, 2023 d).
The Indigenous languages of British Columbia are diverse and rich in cultural significance, each with its own unique phonetic and orthographic systems. The province is home to several Indigenous language families and isolates, each traditionally spoken in distinct geographic regions. The following table provides an overview of some of these languages, highlighting their orthographic features, the word for “water” in each language and the regions where they are traditionally spoken (Poser, 2000):
|Word for “Water”
|Underline diacritics, macrons
|Fraser Valley, Vancouver Island
|Complex consonant clusters
|Symbols like ʷ, underlined characters
|Northern Vancouver Island, Central Coast
|Lateral fricatives, glottalised sounds
|Nass River Valley
|Ejective and glottalised consonants
|Acute accents for tone
|Tone distinctions, nasal vowels
|Diacritics like ḵ
|Capital letters, acute accents
|Ejective and tonal sounds
|Languages do not belong to any family
Indigenous Language Usage at British Columbia Hansard
Efforts to incorporate Indigenous languages at British Columbia Hansard serve as a testament to the province’s commitment to inclusivity and reconciliation. Indigenous languages are incorporated into Hansard in a variety of ways. Legislators frequently commence their addresses by acknowledging the traditional territories of Indigenous peoples and may incorporate phrases in Indigenous languages. Indigenous languages may be cited when lawmakers draw upon the words of Indigenous leaders or community members or when Indigenous Elders address the Legislative Assembly. Indigenous languages can be observed when traditional greetings, blessings or expressions of gratitude are articulated in the original languages during ceremonies or special legislative sessions. Legislators may also employ terms or phrases from Indigenous languages to underscore a point or convey respect.
The imperative for editors and researchers at British Columbia Hansard to accurately identify the Indigenous language being spoken in legislative proceedings is underscored by the broader commitment to respectful and precise representation. Recognising the specific Indigenous language in use is a crucial first step that enables collaboration with Indigenous language experts. Such collaboration ensures that the orthographic representation of the language – its written form and conventions – aligns closely with the linguistic nuances and cultural contexts intrinsic to each Indigenous community. By engaging in this meticulous practice, British Columbia Hansard ensures that the debates and discussions within the Legislative Assembly are accurately and respectfully documented, thereby contributing to an inclusive and culturally sensitive archival record. To assist in this regard, Members of the Legislative Assembly are encouraged to provide as much information in advance as possible. If they plan to use more than a phrase, we ask that the text and the translation be provided and note that the translation has been provided by the Member.
Evolution of Indigenous Languages’ Treatment in British Columbia Hansard
The reflection of Indigenous languages in British Columbia Hansard is more than a symbolic gesture. It is a significant step towards creating a more inclusive, respectful and representative record of debate. By acknowledging the importance of Indigenous languages and taking concrete steps to incorporate them accurately and respectfully into the record of legislative proceedings, British Columbia Hansard contributes to the ongoing journey of reconciliation and cultural preservation.
D’Arcy McPherson is the director of Hansard Services at the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia, Canada.
- FPCC (2023 a.) First Peoples’ Cultural Council, ‘Languages’. http://www.fpcc.ca/language/
- FPCC (2023 b.) First Peoples’ Cultural Council, ‘About FPCC’. http://www.fpcc.ca/about-us
- FPCC (2023 c.) First Peoples’ Cultural Council, ‘Language Technology Program’. http://www.fpcc.ca/language/Programs/Language-technology
- FPCC (2023 d.) First Peoples’ Cultural Council, ‘Language Technology Program’. http://www.fpcc.ca/language/Programs/Language-technology
- GBC (2023). Government of British Columbia, ‘Indigenous Languages in B.C.’. https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/governments/indigenous-people/languages
- GC (2019). Government of Canada, ‘Bill C-91: An Act Respecting Indigenous Languages’. https://www.parl.ca/DocumentViewer/en/42-1/bill/C-91/royal-assent
- LABC (2023). Legislative Assembly of British Columbia, ‘Hansard Services’. https://www.leg.bc.ca/parliamentary-business/hansard
- Poser, W. J. (2000) ‘Salish Evidence Against the Universality of “Noun” and “Verb”‘, in Papers for the 35th International Conference on Salish and Neighbouring Languages. Vancouver: UBC Working Papers in Linguistics, pp. 289-308.
- TRC (2015). Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, ‘Calls to Action’. http://trc.ca/assets/pdf/Calls_to_Action_English2.pdf
- UNESCO (2023). ‘Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger’. UNESCO. http://www.unesco.org/languages-atlas/index.php