Yukon MP Ryan Leef met with the territory’s francophone community this week.
It was part of nation-wide consultation on how to better support “language duality” in Canada.
A federal strategy on bilingualism expires on March 31, 2013.
The 17 meetings scheduled across the country are meant to get input and find a way to improve the existing system.
Leef took the opportunity at the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre on Tuesday to also announce more than half a million dollars in federal funding for culture in the territory, including $11,500 for the Tr’ondek Hwech’in’s biennial Moosehide Gathering, $25,000 for the Adaka Cultural Festival, $24,000 to the Frostbite Music Festival and $158,000 to the Association franco-yukonnaise.
For now, however, the federal conversation on “language duality” will stay focused on French and English.
The hope for official recognition for first languages like the Yukon’s Tlingit, Han, Northern and Southern Tutchone, Kaska and Gwitch’in languages will have to come from the bottom up, said Leef.
“We might not generate the right strategies at the federal level to really acknowledge what a regional linguistic community should look like,” he said. “It’s a discussion worth having, I think, but it’s one probably worth starting at that community and regional level.”
Every single Yukon First Nation language is in decline, dying off with the elders who grew up speaking it.
All six traditional languages that still exist in the territory are barely hanging on, according a report of Yukon government assessments done from 1998 to 2003.
Not a single Yukon First Nation language has more than 30 fluent speakers left, said Marilyn Jensen, co-ordinator of language revitalization programs with the Council of Yukon First Nations. Most have fewer than 20.
But Leef sees the example in Nunavut as a beacon of hope for First Nations’ languages.
There, use of the Inuit language is encouraged in government offices.
“I think there’s interest in that (in the Yukon),” he said. “Before we’re able to take that quantum leap into this as a federal discussion, I think we really want to see that starting at a community level and restore that and support the restoration of that.
“But certainly the interest is there. It’s certainly an attainable goal and it’s probably one worth achieving.”