AFN National Chief Addresses United Nations Assembly

AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde
AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde

NEW YORK – Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Perry Bellegarde addressed the full United Nations (UN), General Assembly, on December 17, 2019, and spoke forcefully about the need to protect, reclaim, and revitalize Indigenous languages. It is exceedingly rare for a First Nations leader to address the UN General Assembly, and this is National Chief Bellegarde’s second time delivering such an address.

“Language is an inherent human right,” said AFN National Chief Bellegarde. “Yet in Canada no First Nations language is safe. Indigenous languages around the world are in danger of disappearing. The International Year of Indigenous Languages helped focus attention on this emergency and created new opportunities for our language champions to share their knowledge and expertise. The AFN is encouraged that the UN will declare an International Decade of Indigenous Languages to build on the International Year and promote, protect and revitalize Indigenous languages.”

National Chief Bellegarde addressed the UN General Assembly, gathered today at UN Headquarters in New York City for the “High-level event for the closing of the 2019 International Year of Indigenous Languages.” The event brings together the Member States, Indigenous peoples, UN-system organizations and other stakeholders to assess the current situation of Indigenous languages, existing challenges and progress made, and key conclusions and lessons learned about the preservation, promotion and revitalization of Indigenous languages.

“The co-development and adoption of the Indigenous Languages Act in Canada shows what we can do when governments prioritize Indigenous languages and commit to working in collaboration with Indigenous peoples,” said National Chief Bellegarde. “We believe governments around the world can learn from this model. There is much work ahead of us, and all national governments must do more to support Indigenous peoples in our efforts to protect and revitalize our languages. In Canada, we are starting on the right path with First Nations leading the way.”

2019 was proclaimed the International Year of Indigenous Languages by the UN General Assembly in 2016. The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, endorsed by Canada, recognizes the rights of Indigenous peoples to revitalize, use, protect, preserve and transmit their histories, languages and oral traditions to future generations, and further grants the right to Indigenous peoples to establish media and educational systems in their own languages.