First Appointees to Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages Announced

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Preserve Indigenous Language

Steven Guilbeault, Minister of Canadian Heritage, announced the first appointees to the new Office of the Commissioner of Indigenous Languages:

  • Ronald E. Ignace, Commissioner
  • Robert Watt, Director
  • Georgina Liberty, Director
  • Joan Greyeyes, Director

The Commissioner and Directors were chosen following an open, transparent, and merit-based selection process. The Government of Canada ensured that the selection committee included First Nations, Inuit and Métis Nation representatives who assessed and identified highly qualified individuals for the Minister’s consideration for appointment.

The Commissioner and Directors were selected for their knowledge and understanding of Indigenous communities, cultures and languages, including an understanding of language vitality and endangerment, and for their ability to represent the interests of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples. They have unique strengths that will serve the interests, current needs and future direction of the OCIL. Collectively, their knowledge, expertise and leadership will facilitate better outcomes for Indigenous languages.

Engagement sessions on the Indigenous Languages Act and recent consultations with a variety of Indigenous governments, other Indigenous governing bodies and multiple Indigenous organizations helped confirm the role and responsibilities of the Commissioner and Directors and inform the selection process. The OCIL will operate independently from the Government of Canada and support Indigenous peoples in their self-determining efforts to reclaim, revitalize, maintain and strengthen Indigenous languages; promote public awareness of Indigenous languages; undertake research on the provision of funding and on the use of Indigenous languages in Canada; and provide culturally appropriate dispute resolution services and review complaints.

Steven Guilbeault, Minister of Canadian Heritage states, “It is with great pleasure that I congratulate Commissioner Ronald E. Ignace and Directors Robert Watt, Georgina Liberty, and Joan Greyeyes on their appointments to the very first Office of the Commissioner of Indigenous Languages. I am confident that they will play a key role in promoting Indigenous languages and supporting efforts and aspirations of Indigenous peoples that will allow these languages to flourish and grow.”

“Today, we take an important step forward in the protection of Indigenous languages with the first appointments to the Office of the Commissioner of Indigenous Languages. Protecting, revitalizing and promoting First Nations, Inuit and Métis languages is essential to a secure personal cultural identity. I want to personally congratulate Commissioner Ronald E. Ignace and Directors Robert Watt, Georgina Liberty and Joan Greyeyes. Together with the Government of Canada and the Office, we will continue our progress on the Calls to Action and addressing the Calls for Justice,” adds Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations

“I want to congratulate the new appointees to the Office of the Commissioner of Indigenous Languages: Commissioner Ronald E. Ignace, and Directors Robert Watt, Georgina Liberty and Joan Greyeyes. Indigenous language is an important part of reconciliation, and this office will ensure that all Indigenous languages are protected and supported,” enthuses Marc Miller, Minister of Indigenous Services

“Language is life and central to our identities and cultures. Our languages must be living languages—sourced from our lands, expressing our creation stories and alive in our ceremonies and daily lives. Revitalizing languages strengthens overall health, wellness and success and is fundamental to First Nations’ self-determination. I lift up Commissioner Ron Ignace for his leadership over many years to revitalize and reclaim First Nations languages and his efforts to help secure ground-breaking federal legislation. I commend accomplishments to date of the newly appointed Directors who will support Commissioner Ignace. I look forward to all efforts toward the full implementation of the Indigenous Languages Act. What I want most is to hear our old people whispering our ancient stories into the ears of our young people in our languages”, says National Chief Perry Bellegarde, Assembly of First Nations

“I welcome today’s announcement of the Commissioner and Directors of Indigenous Languages and the creation of this independent office entrusted to support Inuit through research and monitoring, dispute resolution services, and expert advice regarding the adequacy of funding as well as other mechanisms to ensure the protection, revitalization, maintenance and promotion of Inuktut,” states Natan Obed, President, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami.

“The appointment of the first Commissioner and Directors of Indigenous Languages comes at a crucial moment for Indigenous languages in Canada. Michif, the national language of the Métis Nation, is critically endangered and all the other languages spoken by Métis Nation citizens are also at risk. The Métis Nation is pleased that this important new office will be led by a Commissioner and Directors who appreciate the urgency of Indigenous language protection and revitalization, and who bring their expertise, experience and personal commitment to this vital work,” says Clément Chartier, President, Métis National Council.

The Indigenous Languages Act received Royal Assent on June 21, 2019. The creation of the OCIL and the appointment of the Commissioner and Directors is part of the implementation of the Act.

The Commissioner, supported by the Directors, will act as a champion for Indigenous languages and lead the independent Office of the Commissioner of Indigenous Languages.

The Commissioner and Directors will work with Indigenous peoples and their respective governments; other governing bodies, communities and organizations; the governments of Canada and the provinces and territories; and all Canadians to support the self-determined work of Indigenous peoples in reclaiming, revitalizing, maintaining and strengthening First Nations, Inuit and Métis languages.

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples affirms the right of all Indigenous peoples “to revitalize, use, develop and transmit to future generations” their languages. Article 13 of the Declaration calls on states to take “effective measures” to uphold this right.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call to Action 15 calls on the federal government “to appoint, in consultation with Aboriginal groups, an Aboriginal Languages Commissioner. The Commissioner should help promote Aboriginal languages and report on the adequacy of federal funding of Aboriginal languages initiatives.”

The Government of Canada hosted a series of virtual consultations with Indigenous peoples across Canada in 2020 on the appointment of the Commissioner and Directors of Indigenous Languages and co-development of an Indigenous Languages Funding Model.

Backgrounder – Office of the Commissioner of Indigenous Languages: Appointees

Ronald E. Ignace, Commissioner

Stsmél̓qen, Ronald E. Ignace, is a member of the Secwepemc Nation in Interior British Columbia. He was the elected chief of the Skeetchestn Indian Band for more than 30 years since the early 1980s. He also served as Chairman of the Shuswap Nation Tribal Council and president of its cultural society, where he initiated a broad program of research and reclamation on Secwepemc language and culture, including an innovative university partnership with Simon Fraser University (SFU).

He holds a B.A. and M.A. in Sociology from the University of British Columbia, and completed his PhD in Anthropology at SFU in 2008, with a dissertation on Secwepemc oral history. He has (co-)written numerous articles and book chapters on Secwepemc history, ethnobotany, language and culture, including the epic Secwepemc People, Land and Laws: Yerí7 re stsq̓ey̓s-kucw, a journey through 10,000 years of Secwepemc history.

From 2003-2005, he chaired the Ministerial Task Force on Aboriginal Languages and Cultures, and from 2016-2021, co-chaired the Assembly of First Nations’ Chiefs Committee on Languages, where he played an instrumental role in the development of Bill C-91, the Indigenous Languages Act.

Raised by his great-grandparents Sulyen and Edward Eneas, and despite being taken to Kamloops Indian Residential School for several years in his childhood, Ron is a fluent speaker of Secwepemctsin and has more than sixty years of practical experience in Secwepemc traditional skills on the land. With his wife Marianne Ignace, he was awarded the Governor General’s Award for Innovation in 2019, for their decades of collaborative research involving Indigenous people and communities.

Robert Watt, Director

Since his early career, Mr. Robert Watt has been involved in promoting, protecting and preserving Inuktitut. He organized and facilitated terminology workshops, created databases for translators and interpreters, and personally helped develop and teach the Adult Education Translator/Interpreter Program. His vision is shaped by his determination and his Inuit heritage at the Kativik School Board Adult Education Department.

As elected President of the Avataq Cultural Institute from 1998 to 2001, Robert co-created and initiated the commercial production and marketing of Avataq’s five blends of herbal teas. He ensured that all proceeds would be used for the protection and preservation of Inuit Culture and Language.

Robert also facilitated the first-ever national gathering of Canadian Inuit throat singers, organized by the Avataq Cultural Institute. This event paved the way to the Government of Quebec granting throat singing special cultural heritage status.

Co-Director of the Inuit Sub-Commission at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, he visited numerous Canadian communities, collecting almost 800 statements from residential school and intergenerational trauma survivors. Hearing the hurts and hopes conveyed by these testimonies has increased his own sense of heritage and identity.

More recently, Robert was President and Commissioner of Kativik Ilisarniliriniq, a school board created under the James Bay Northern Quebec Agreement. In this role, he actively supported initiatives to advance the protection, strengthening and development of the Inuktitut language through educational programming rooted in the Inuit identity and worldview.

Georgina Liberty, Director

Georgina Liberty has devoted her life to preserving, protecting and cherishing her Metis identity and spirit. In her teens, she worked as a researcher for the Manitoba Metis Federation, tracing the Metis land script. She has been an active member of the Manitoba Metis Federation since 1969, and is currently the Director of Metis Nation 2020 – Metis 150 for the Metis National Council,which marked Manitoba’s 150th anniversary and the historic role of Louis Riel in bringing Manitoba into Confederation.

This position allowed her to commit to her passion of educating others about the history of the Metis people and their important role in the building of Manitoba and its relationship with Canada.

Georgina’s diverse work experience includes employing and engaging Metis, First Nations and Inuit peoples in opportunities to build on their strengths and to progress in business, leadership and governance opportunities.

Georgina has many years of experience in governance and policy, and acquired political acumen working for the Metis government within the Manitoba Metis Federation for over 20 years, as well with other Indigenous organizations.

Georgina believes her strength in bringing others together has garnered the wonderful grassroots relationships she has today.

She believes that the desire to preserve, protect and strengthen identities as Indigenous Peoples is a thread that weaves all Indigenous Peoples together in a fight to have their rights recognized, protected and respected.

Her lived experience as a Metis woman in Western Canada and the leadership role her father exemplified in the community have provided her an amazing life experience and enriched work history. Her strength comes from her proud Metis family and her four beautiful grandchildren.

Joan Greyeyes, Director

Joan Greyeyes is a member of the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation within Treaty 6 territory in Saskatchewan. Joan earned a Bachelor of Education Degree, a Post-Graduate Diploma in Educational Administration and a Masters Degree in Education from the University of Saskatchewan. Her experience as a senior executive with significant knowledge working with corporate, government and Indigenous relations at the post-secondary level, have contributed to her commitment to Indigenous education. 

She brings a wealth of knowledge as the former president of the Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technologies and Special Advisor to the President on Aboriginal Initiatives at the University of Saskatchewan. She negotiated with the Province of Saskatchewan to establish the first provincial Act in Canada (the Saskatchewan Indian Institute of Technology Act) to recognize a First Nations institution as a post-secondary institution.

In collaboration with SaskTel, Joan established a call centre to provide Indigenous language coverage to the province of Saskatchewan. Joan’s recent work with the University of Saskatchewan centered on the preservation and revitalization of Indigenous languages. She has initiated programs and presented at an international level on various aspects of Indigenous language revitalization.

Her expertise in negotiating for First Nations with institutions and provincial and federal governments has assisted her in supporting the efforts of Indigenous Peoples to reclaim, revitalize, maintain and strengthen their Indigenous languages.