By Brenda Norrell
GENEVA -- The UN Human Rights Council's half day session on the preservation and revitalization of Indigenous languages and cultures today included testimony from around the world on both what is being done to preserve Indigenous languages, and the history of discrimination and colonization that thwarts the preservation of Indigenous languages and cultures.
The priorities to preserve and promote Indigenous languages was described by the representative from Bolivia, who described the language and culture as the foundation for the protection of Mother Earth, including water. Further, Bolivia provides Indigenous language classes, at no cost, to public servants. In Paraguay, the Indigenous language there is one of two national languages.
The importance of maintaining the land, as a basis for language and culture, was stated as a priority from India, where land grabbing and climate change are devastating Indigenous Peoples. The good news included the report from New Zealand, where two television stations broadcast in the Maori language.
The preservation of languages are discussed from the Sami in Norway to the Amazon region. The Russian Federation said efforts are underway to preserve languages, including those with fewer than 100 speakers. Meanwhile, the European Union provides Indigenous language programs in Colombia and the Philippines. The loss of Indigenous languages in Australia is also described.
Special Rapporteur James Anaya describes the colonization, racism and discrimination which have hindered the preservation of Indigenous languages. Anaya urged both government funding for programs, and respect for Indigenous languages and culture with more efforts to have Indigenous languages in the mainstream society.
Wilton Littlechild, Cree from Canada, describes watching an Indigenous language die at the United Nations, as one elder speaker died one month after sharing his language at the United Nations.
In the conclusions, representatives said it is important to have Indigenous speakers providing the direction for programs to revitalize languages. It was also pointed out that children who learned their Native tongue early in life found it easy to learn a second language.