By Vanessa Thomas
In order to make room for their expansion in Canada, Europeans killed natives, like the Micmac and Beothuks, who they saw as impediments to their expansion in places like Newfoundland and Nova Scotia. But in this century, aboriginals do not live in fear of being hunted, killed and scalped for 10 pounds of sterling. The real threat to their survival now is the loss of their language.
Language is probably the single most important expression of anyone’s culture. But by the year 2017, half of Canadian-aboriginal languages will be nothing more than 1 million aboriginal Canadians without their cultural heritage of identity. Cree, Ojibwa and Inuiktut languages are going strong, but the Huron, Tagish and Beothuk languages are already extinct.
The 1996 Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples investigated past government-sanctioned attempts to destroy aboriginal languages and cultural traditions. The commission found this was a last attempt at assimilating the natives who survived the annihilation of the previous centuries.
Starting in the last 18th century, aboriginal children were placed in religious residential schools where on top of suffering horrible physical and sexual abuse, they were forced to learn only English and abandon their native languages.
Up until the ‘60s, provincial jurisdiction allowed social workers to take aboriginals from their reserve and place them in white middle class homes.
Considering the importance of oral traditions for aboriginal-Canadians, the loss of language ultimately means the loss of culture and the continuation of genocide through assimilation.